Lasagna gardening, or sheet composting as it is sometimes called, uses the basic concept of raised bed gardening, but takes them in a slightly different direction.
If anything, it may be easier to get your garden beds going with this type of gardening than with a traditional raised bed garden.
That’s because with lasagna gardening, there is no digging or tilling required. You won’t have to take the time to remove sod or get rid of weeds. A lasagna garden is built right on top of the existing soil, even if it’s rock-hard clay, or sieve-like sand.
Although you can start a lasagna garden virtually anywhere, the number one ingredient for success is the right lighting. For vegetables and fruit, that generally means lots of direct sunlight, with a location facing south being best. For flowers or plants, it will depend upon what you’re planting. Some flowers love the sun, while others thrive in part sun or shady conditions.
Once you have the location chosen, you can start to construct your lasagna garden. Just like when you make lasagna, there are going to be lots of different layers in your “recipe”. What you add can be based on what’s available in your area, but every ingredient will be organic material. The basic rule of thumb is if you would add it to your compost pile, you can use it in your lasagna garden.
Before starting on the construction of your organic garden beds, you’ll want to decide on the size and shape of the beds. You can put a border around the edges for a tidier appearance but it’s not strictly necessary, as the thick layers of mulch reduce the opportunity for weeds to grow.
It’s a good idea to limit the width of your bed to about three feet, for ease in reaching the middle when you want to work in your plot. The length is a matter of your own personal preference, although four feet seems to be a preferred length for many gardeners.
To start, you may want to sprinkle lime onto the area you’ve selected. This will neutralize the pH. Most experts recommend making the first layer out of newspaper or corrugated cardboard as this will quickly kill the grass and weeds on your site. (By the way, it’s best to avoid using colored paper or cardboard in your garden.)
Place a layer of either cardboard or three to five sheets, or more if you wish, of newspaper onto the ground and water thoroughly. The wet paper becomes a dark, moist layer that will attract earthworms which will tunnel around and help till the soil for you.
After that you will add layers made up of a variety of organic materials. Aim for a ratio of three to four parts brown, carbon-rich, material to one part green, nitrogen-rich, material for the best results. Make use of what you have, even if the proportions are off slightly.
Part of the appeal of lasagna gardening is that you can use such a wide variety of organic materials and still get great results. Some materials will just take longer to decompose. Be sure to water each dry layer thoroughly as you progress, to get your pile breaking down more quickly.
Aside from cardboard and newspapers, other examples of brown materials include fall leaves, hay, straw, mulch, peat moss, and other yard debris.
Green layers include materials like kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, garden trimmings, grass clippings, and manure (preferably well-rotted).
Continue adding layers until the whole thing is at least 18 to 24 inches thick to start. As the organic material decomposes, your pile will shrink a lot. But in the end, you’ll have a garden plot full of rich, crumbly humus.
Although the best time to start a lasagna garden may be in the fall, you can begin a lasagna garden in the spring. In the fall, you’ll have access to a multitude of leaves, trimmings from plants, and lots of grass clippings from a summer’s worth of cutting, along with materials from your end of the year yard clean-up.
When you start your lasagna garden in the fall, the organic materials you added will have the whole winter to begin breaking down, so your garden will be pretty much ready for planting in spring.
If you decide to wait until spring, be sure to save up some of the organic materials that are so readily available during fall clean-up. But you may also want to add some compost, top soil, or other soil-like materials around the roots of each plant. This is to give the roots something to grab onto, until your lasagna bed begins to turn the organics you’ve added into humus. .
Once your lasagna garden is started, you can easily maintain it by adding layers of brown and green organic materials. If you get in the habit of doing this each fall, your site will be ready for planting first thing every spring. .
One of the main benefits of lasagna gardening is that both watering and weeding are reduced because of the mulch effect that occurs in this type of garden.
Because of the richness of the planting environment, you can set your plants closer together. This does two things. It shades the soil, holding onto moisture better than in a traditional garden. And because your plants are closer together, there is less room for weeds to sprout.
With a lot less overall work, you can build your plot and plant your seeds or seedlings. If you are used to the heavy workload of daily watering and frequent weeding that comes with a regular garden plot, you’ll be amazed at how much time you’ll have to sit back and watch your garden grow.
But beware because you’ll be kept extra busy when harvest time arrives. You see, lasagna gardening produces an abundance of healthy, tasty vegetables and fruit.