While it is raining today where I live on the East Coast, while many of the neighboring states are dealing with a Nor'easter, we haven't had much rain or snow in the past six months. That means that the ground is dried out and rock solid, and if I want to start a garden, I'm going to have a bear of time digging in the soil.
If your landscaping conditions mimic mine but you want a garden this summer, I would recommend that you give lasagna gardening a try. It was how I got a garden started a few years ago, under similar planting conditions.
I know this seems like a weird concept—a garden that sounds like an Italian dish—but the only reason you invoke the word "lasagna" is this: the way you make this garden bed is a lot like how you would cook lasagna, and that's with lots of layers. That is, you lay down alternating layers of newspaper or cardboard with compost matter, such as leaves, grass clippings, or the dirt from your composter, and eventually it all breaks down to create nutrient rich soil in which it is easier to plant.
Remember: the key to a lasagna garden is that you're building up the area where you're going to plant so no digging down is necessary.
Here are 4 steps to starting your garden bed:
- Lay down a layer of newspaper or cardboard as your base. See the photo (left)? That was how my lasagna garden looked when I'd finished my first layer of newspaper. Why newspaper or cardboard? They are used to choke out any weeds or other plants that exist. I made the mistake of first trying this gardening technique on a windy day. I quickly learned that working with newspaper when the wind is blowing is not a good idea. Take my advice: wait until the weather is calm to start your lasagna garden. No newspaper on hand? Use the pages from an old residential phone book instead.
- Put down a "brown" layer. In this instance a "brown" layer is any organic matter that can compost easily into dirt. That could be leaves leftover from fall, or grass clippings from the last time you mowed the lawn—remember how I said in my recent article on mowing the lawn how clippings were good for the soil? Those grass clippings can help in this instance as well.
- Lay down a "green" layer.If you have a compost bin or pile, you can use the contents of that for your "green" layer. By the way, if you compost, you know that to get your organic matter to break down, you need to layer it brown, green, brown, green, etc. The lasagna garden, which is really a composting garden, is no different. So the first layer of leaves or grass clipping is your first layer of brown, even though they're green.
- Continue alternating brown and green layers.For a really rich lasagna garden, you're supposed to build up the "brown" and "green" layers until they are close to two-feet high. If you're hoping to have a big space for gardening, you'll need to collect a lot of leaves, grass clippings, and compost to cover a space this big, and make it two-feet high.
To be honest, with my first attempt at a lasagna garden, my "pile" only ended up about a foot high. It took about three months for the material to break down and give me butter-soft soil. However, that two feet of "lasagna" compacted into about six inches of dirt, which really limited my options for planting—i.e. I could only work with small plants that needed shallow holes. Nonetheless, getting those plants into the ground was so much easier, thanks to lasagna gardening.