Grit Blogs > Of Mice and Mountain Men

Lasagna Garden

Of Mice and Mountain MenI love lasagna, don't you? A flavorful concoction made of noodles, meat, cheese, and tomato sauce, layered in a deep pan and baked so the flavors meld. Yumm! My garden beds this year will be going lasagna.

Over the years I've tried several different techniques for the raised beds in my mountain-side garden. I have to use raised beds because the slope is steep enough that even a light rain washes away top soil that is not firmly pinned down by a thick carpet of grass.

Keeping the soil in these beds rich and productive has been my primary focus. When I established the beds I made my “dirt” using commercial compost, peat, and some native clay soil. I've added home-made compost each year. This involves digging-in the compost and turning the soil.

Lately I've been reading that turning the soil is not the best approach, but is a hold-over from large scale agriculture where the time and effort saved by plowing a field makes sense. In a garden, tiling and digging are less important as time savers when the soil structure is considered.

I started my quest when I began finding white fungus-like strands growing in the soil, especially near the wooden boxes, and asked myself, “What is that? And is it good or bad?” Research showed it is indeed fungus and it is good.

Briefly: good soil is more than just dirt. You know that. Good soil for planting needs a high degree of organic matter and oxygen to promote good plant growth. This fungus promotes this. But if it's ripped to shreds by digging or tilling, you lose that benefit. Thus, no-dig or no-till gardening has been gaining in popularity. Lasagna beds are a part of that school of thought. I started my trial of this method last fall.

 Lasagna Beds 1

We get a lot of fall leaves because we live in a forest, on most of our property I leave them lie. In the dog play-yard (which includes my garden) that is not practical, so I gather up the leaves in the fall and run them through a shredder. The shredded leaves are carted over to a storage bin.

 Lasagna Beds 2

As I take out the last of my summer garden, I strip off leaves and light stems and spread them in a thin layer in a garden box. The heavy stems and root balls of these pepper plants are too tough to break down quickly, so I'll run them through the chipper/shredder after the next batch of leaves. I also use the last of the seasons grass clippings, tree trimmings and, as the winter progresses, I add kitchen scraps and coffee grounds from in the house.

 Lasagne Beds 3

Using the formula recommended for compost: two parts brown (carbon) to one part green (nitrogen) I fetch ground-up dead leaves from my bin to layer over the green layer. Each new green layer gets a new layer of brown. These layers are why it's called lasagna gardening. I also sprinkle the brown layers with well rotted compost to get the process started.

 Lasagne Beds 5

A completed bed will be mounded up above the sides of the box because this will compact as the components react with each other and rot down.

Like any composting system, the beds need to be kept moist but, because the components are added in thin layers, the bed does not need to be rolled like a compost pile. By adding new layers of “lasagna” on top of the old bed each year, you keep the soil enriched and the boxes full, but do not destroy the eco-system that naturally develops in undisturbed organic soil.

In my book, anything that keeps the soil productive and reduces labor spent on turning soil has to be a good thing. Almost as good as a big pan of lasagna fresh from the oven.

2/18/2016 8:49:34 AM

Hi Rich, I enjoyed the video: you folks are really fast workers! And I liked the canine quality control inspector. It would be helpful if you added cations listing what you are adding in each layer, but maybe you describe that elsewhere. Great job in any case.

2/17/2016 12:45:16 PM

Awesome usage of the plastic pipe and netting to keep the material in the box while allowing for lots of air around the lasagna garden. I've seen other methods where the box is wood, or straw bales like I did. Do you think that the wood or straw containers help keep the moisture in? Here is a video of my family building our lasagna garden.

2/15/2016 9:36:48 AM

Whoohoo! I finally figured out how to log in and post a reply. Sort of. Thanks, Dave for your input,lots of interesting stuff there. When I first started my garden, I too was digging into the red clay and pit-planting for the widely spaced stuff. That made more sense than tilling up all the unused space between plants, just laid cardboard down to smother the grass and weeds.

2/14/2016 9:53:39 AM

Allan, I use something similar to what you are doing. I just call mine in the bed composting. In the fall I do as you and pile up a leaf/grass mixture over the bed about a foot deep. During the Winter months the loose pile becomes packed down to about an inch or two. I do turn mine into the soil and find that the worms are already working the partially compost mixture. By fall the process is ready to be done again. It works really well for me.***** When I started my garden four years ago it was a sticky gumbo type soil with no tilth in it. It was very dark rich black soil down to a depth of two feet but not very fluffy. Since then Ipve dumped about 1000 bags of yard waste on a 64X64 garden area. The planting areas where I would plant tomatoes, green peppers, squash, pumpkins, watermelons and such, I used a post hole digger to dig a hole to the depth of one foot. I would mix the soil with peat moss, perilite, and potting soil. The hole was filled with the mixture and the plant was put in the center of that. It's a method that works for me. ***** Have a great lasagna gardening day.