Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Calorie Free Lasagna Gardening For People Who HATE to Dig

It's about that time again. Almost spring, and I need to start thinking about how to put in the gardens, whether to enlarge, condense or maintain.

By now the memories of the August Tomato Avalanches have faded (the ones where all my tomato plants came in at once, and I had that glimpse of sanity when I realized I must have been crazy to plant all those tomato plants, and that it's entirely my own fault that I am surrounded by bowls and bowls of tomatos, with no one to palm them off on).

That doesn't ring a bell with you?

Hmm. Okay let me help you reach my state (of insanity). The easy way.

Cause I love my garden, but I HATE digging. Never mind my back can't take it, but we also live on a solid vein of clay.

The solution is lasagna gardening. Love it. Piece of cake. No digging, all organic, and it enrichs the soil, versus tilling, which damages the soil by disturbing it and killing the microbs needed for healthy soil. Plus, lasagna gardening is a huge attraction for earthworms - you can actually get them to do the "tilling" for you. (It's really not that hard, but if you want a book with all the gritty details, try Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza. I set it over on the shelf for you.)

Like I said , our backyard is literally solid red clay - perfectly suited for making pottery or bricks but terrible for gardening. Thanks to lasagna gardening, my earthworms couldn't be happier helping me break it down.

Let's begin.

(The neighbors hate us because we don't mow twice a week, and we don't allow a lawn maintenance company to fertilize our grass, plus we live uphill from them, so their chemicals don't flow into our gardens).

Your first decision will be where to place your new garden, or if you want to enlarge an existing garden. Once you pick a spot, carry out a pile of newspapers, and your water hose. Lay out sections of newspaper, 4-5 sheets thick, right on top of the grass/weeds/dust. Don't use the comics, or the slick magazines or ads - just the black and white newsprint paper.

Use your hose to soak the newspaper. (If you decide to do this on a windy day, it will require at least 2 kids to help -1 to hold down the paper while you wet it, and 1 to lay more paper and/or chase it across the yard, while you run the hose, and laugh at them.) Cardboard can also be substituted for newspaper (did this last year for the blueberry patch).

The next layers are basically a big compost/mulch pile so you want an even mix of alternating layers of brown and green organic matter.

Brown organic matter could include: raked up leaves, pine straw, shredded newspaper, manure, peat, ground up peanut shells -use your imagination and your location for ideas. My husband's a woodworker, so I use large amounts of sawdust (but never from treated wood).

Green organic matter could include: Straw, grass clippings, trimmed plants from the garden, vegetable scraps from the kitchen, coffee grounds, and even seaweed if you live close to a source.

If you've started your garden in the fall, walk away at this point and let the layers settle over the winter. Come spring, you'll just need to push aside a bit of the top material, and set your plants right in. Then continue to add more organic matter as it becomes available.

BUT - if it's spring, add a thin layer (or two) of topsoil between the top couple layers of organic matter. If you don't have a free source, you can get the cheapest sort at Walmart or Lowe's. Your organic matter will supply all the nutrients your plants could ever want.

Then plant.

This is last year's tomato patch before planting, complete with fencing. I've toyed with tomato cages and find them inefficient and irritating. So now I just string fencing in rows, and alternate the tomatoes on either side, while running the soaker hose along the base line. The lasagna layers get pulled up along the fence, and scrap carpeting (turned upside-down) is laid between as pathways. The carpeting will last 3-4 years before being discarded. (Yard sales are a great resource for this, or your backyard neighbor who's decided to replace her carpeting-just offer to haul the torn-out carpet).

Under all those organic layers (and the carpets), the newspapers/cardboard will kill the grass, and slowly decompose. As this happens, the earthworms will come up and slowly break up the soil (YES EVEN CLAY), turning it into a rich dark loamy soil. And then come July, your garden will look just like mine - a mass of green thick healthy plants, in this case potatoes, tomatoes, and mint.

Another plus with lasagna gardening - keep a bale or two of straw around, and use it to top the potato beds in midsummer and again in November. In July-August it will keep the potatoes from sunburning, and in November, it will keep the winter harvest from freezing. Pulling up potatoes grown this way is almost effortless.

I also use my leftover layers to mulch the flower beds. These irises love the pine needles.

And not a moment of digging. It works. Really, I promise.


  1. We've tilled the past two years, but last summer Justin decided he hated pulling weeds (which I also hate), and so by the end of the summer he was mowing the garden! The fact that it wasn't full of produce is another "story".
    I stumbled upon a similar method (pretty much identical) called the "Ruth Stout Method." Since last fall we've been collecting leaves and straw and laying it down nice & thick in the garden. We're letting our compost pile settle a little bit more (chicken poop), but will add it in to the garden within a month (we're also putting up new fencing around it - how DO you keep your dogs out??!?), then cover it again with straw.
    Same basic principles. We're hopeful this year will turn out much better.
    At least one of our neighbors hates us too because of our lawn care decisions. Now the deviant in me is VERY tempted to set out some outrageous, folksy lawn art!! ;P (but it would probably do me more harm than good)

  2. I don't keep the dogs out, I keep them IN. Their part of the yard is fenced, otherwise it'd be hopeless. Yep, I ran across Patricia Lanza's book first, but have seen Ruth Stout's since, and they are ........very similar.....

  3. Looks like a brilliant way to garden to me!
    I know what you mean about being inundated with one variety of veg - with me it's usually tomatoes (can't help growing 1001 varieties) & courgettes - we couldn't keep up with using them all last year so gave them away will-nilly!

  4. Hi there and I love your blog. I must have found it on Pioneer Woman! I just made a lasagna garden for my 1001 tomatoes :-) and I think it's going to be great! I work in a bookstore (love your shelf, may have to add one to my site!) and just read "Lasagna Gardening" over the winter, cover to cover! My next favorite is "Companion Gardening". I'll be back! www.whatupduck.com