Sunday, April 14, 2013

Lasagna gardening

Our weekend has been pretty busy with gardening. Of all the methods for raised bed gardening that I’ve read about and used, lasagna gardening seems to work the best for me.

What is lasagna gardening? Simply put, it’s layering materials into a raised bed. The bed can be framed with lumber, logs, rocks, or just be a raised mound. I prefer it to be framed so that I don’t lose any materials in hard rains, but if done properly, even mounds should work out well and there will be minimal loss.

The first thing you need to do is decide where the raised bed will be. It should be in a sunny location for most vegetables and flowers, although you can put it in a shady spot if you are growing shade-tolerant plants.

Lay out the bed according to your needs. Squares can do well for limited space. I use rectangles that are 4 feet wide and 8 to 10 feet long. Four feet is as wide as you need any raised bed. This width makes it possible to reach to the center of the bed for planting, plant care, and harvesting, without actually walking in the bed and risking compacting the soil.

I use untreated 1x4s and 1x6s for beds. 1x4s generally need to be stacked to get the soil depth you need, but they are all quite inexpensive at the lumber yard. Three of them (that’s enough to construct one bed) run under $25. Simply cut one in half, if it’s an 8 footer, then nail or screw the long ones to the short ones so that you have the rectangle.  Now is when the “lasagna” part comes in.

These beds can be placed right on top of existing grass. You are going to lay down a layer of cardboard for the bottom. Make sure it goes from end to end and side to side, completely covering the grass. Next, put in a layer of composted material mixed with well aged manure or fresh rabbit manure. Make it pretty deep because it will pack down a bit with watering. Lay on old newspaper, but none of the shiny ads. Those take too long to decompose in the bed. (They are fine for the compost heap, though.) Again, side to side and end to end…complete coverage of 2 or 3 thicknesses of the newspaper.

Now, you can add soil and compost again, pretty thick. About 3 inches. Then, another layer of newspaper. Wet the whole thing down very well until the newspaper will tear easily. Now, you can plant your tomatoes, peppers, flowers or anything else, even seeds, simply by breaking through the newspaper in the spot where you want the plant to be, then tucking the paper back around the plant, or leaving it a bit open so seeds will sprout through it.

Final step is to layer on a thick layer of leaf mulch or other easily composted mulch, right up next to the plants or seed holes. Water again to get the mulch wet, and you’re done.

This method helps prevent weeds and grasses from sapping nutrients from you plants. It helps keep the plants cleaner. And, the layers will naturally compost as the year goes on so that next year, all you have to do is add a layer of newspaper, plant the bed, and add new mulch.

You will find that you water less often because these materials help retain moisture the plants need. They also feed the plants while they are decomposing and they attract earthworms to the bed, which are further beneficial to your plants because they produce nutrient-rich castings and they aerate the soil. We found probably a dozen earthworms while we were working on just one of these beds Saturday.

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