April 4, 2011

Lasagna Gardening

Last fall we extended the garden by about six feet and using a newly acquired technique called "lasagna gardening." It's a no-dig, no-till, simple way to create a garden or, in my case, make one bigger. If you are asking yourself, what the heck is lasagna gardening, here's what you do:

1. Pick a location with good sunshine. It doesn't matter if the area is covered in grass or bark dust or weeds or whatever. Just make sure you like this area for a new garden. We did ours right over turf grass. No tilling. For more information on picking a location and sizing, check out the page "For Beginner Gardeners" - link to the left.

2. Put a weed-barrier down. We used cardboard, broken down boxes, and newspaper (for the newspaper use about 10 sheets thick to stop weeds from penetrating). If you are starting in a really weedy area, I'd recommend linen (fabric). Overlap the edges a bit to make sure there aren't any places where the grass or weeds will get loose.

3. According to the official lasagna gardening steps we learned in class, the next layer should be of twigs or pine cones or dried leaves - something pithy that will take a long while to break down. We skipped that step because we had already burned for the fall and because our compost is about 50% straw. But I think the woody layer is important for drainage, so I'd recommend not skipping it.

4. Pile on the compost. We are lucky enough to have a lot (and I mean A LOT) of compost. But if you don't .... If you are starting now, in the spring, just buy compost at the nursery so you can plant right away. If you start in the fall, you can add compost from kitchen mixed with shredded newspaper. We put more than 50 wheelbarrow loads of compost on our garden extension. I had no feeling in my arms after that.

5. Plant. You can plant right into the compost. Really, you can. Peas, lettuce, spinach can all go in now. Or you can let it process and plant later. Which is what we did; it hung out from October until April.

Last Sunday, we dug into the lasagna and it was gorgeous! Dark brown, lots of worms. The cardboard had decomposed for the most part, but no hint of grass was to be found underneath, just lots of wonderful soil. The temperature was up to 60 F, thanks to all the microbes hard at work. We got to work moving the strawberries over.

When my parents retired they moved from Spokane to Vancouver, WA. Also, they were moved from a five-acre lovely property to a condo in downtown. My mom had never been without a garden. And I was in need of helping managing ours. So, she brought transplants with her - six strawberry and a rhubarb plants. (She also has container gardens on her balcony where she gets a better tomato crop than I do.) The six little strawberry transplants have expanded and expanded, moving around the garden. Last summer the patch was so thick and wide that we could only harvest about 1/3 of the berries. It was sad watching so many go to waste. Thus the garden extension. Sunday, Mom and moved plants to create four long, roughly 40 feet long, rows. Even at that, there were about 100 more plants that we just turned over. This year we are going to get to eat every last berry; well, except the ones the birds and slugs steal.

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