Last year, I posted an article about double-digging, and how to turn some problem soil rapidly into a healthy garden that you could plant right away. Well, summer has flown by, and although I double-dug a new strawberry patch large enough for 100 strawberry plants (which are doing great, by the way) there is another old patch of garden that I started several years ago, and then abandoned because the soil was just hard clay, and I planned to amend it “next year.” Well, yes, another next year has come and is rapidly going, and I managed to keep the weeds down before they went to seed, but there were just too many other projects that took priority over that old garden. This time, I pledged to make a preemptive strike! I am going to start a large-scale sheet composting operation and make the garden a lovely warm winter meal of lasagna!
Sheet mulching is a permaculture technique that utilizes alternating layers of different types of compost materials. By alternating your “greens” (nitrogen-rich, fresh plant material like grass clippings and kitchen peelings) and “browns” (older, dry material like leaves or straw) you can create compost right on top of the garden, where it is needed.
“Lasagna Gardening” is a type of sheet mulching initially popularized by gardener and author Patricia Lanza. Patricia discovered that by using a layer of old newspaper or cardboard as the first layer of a new sheet composted bed, you don’t even need to remove the grass or weeds before starting. The paper or cardboard smothers the grass and weeds, and they eventually break down and decompose. You can build your new layers of soil right on top of the cardboard, and just make holes through the cardboard layer when you want to put in plants that need more room for their roots.
Basic Steps to Setting up Your Own Lasagna Garden
1. Mow or chop weeds or grass. Try to avoid leaving a lot of seedheads- if the weeds have gone to seed, it’s best to rake them out before covering.
2. Lay out your cardboard or newspaper over the new bed. I like cardboard, because it really smothers the stuff underneath, but newspaper works fine over lawn grass. Just do it on a still day! And spray it down with water as you go. For cardboard, I like to hit the recycling center and pick up appliance boxes. They are big and cover a lot of space in one shot (watch out for those big staples!)
3. A lot of experts suggest putting down peat moss as the first layer. This is great, except if you are doing a big garden, this can get pricey. Other “browns” will do as well… I like the free wood chips from the city compost facility (yes, I am a cheapskate.) I look for the oldest piles to get the stuff that is pretty well broken down.
4. Add a layer of “greens.” This can be weeds pulled from the garden (again, watch out for seedheads) grass clippings or vegetable peels from the kitchen.
5. Continue to alternate greens and browns, and add a layer of composted manure (if it is easily available). Barn waste from a local riding stable or a neighborhood chicken farmer is good, or if you are in a more rural area, cow manure is usually not hard to come by. Alternatives are compost material from your compost heap, or from your vermicomposter (see my earlier article on setting up a worm condo).
If you get started now, by fall you can be adding leaves, and you should have a nice “lasagna” built by winter. Next spring, you can jump right in and plant, without dealing with tilling! Lazy person gardening…you can’t beat it! Want more details? Pick up the book for about $15 on Amazon: