Lasagna gardening: A tantalizing technique

The word “lasagna” brings mouth-watering thoughts of baked pasta noodles layered in tomato sauce, fresh garlic, meat, and melted cheese. Ahhhhh… you can almost taste it.

But in the world of gardening and composting, “lasagna gardening” is far from tasty, or even edible, at first. It gets its name from the layers created on Mother Nature’s giant sheet pan.

‘Sheet composting.’

Let’s get more specific. Lasagna gardening is a nontraditional organic gardening method that relies on a layering method called “sheet composting.”

It refers to the method of building the garden bed by adding layers of organic materials that will “cook down” over time.

Essentially, these beds are formed the same way ingredients are layered when making a pan of lasagna. The concept is actually quite simple, almost obvious, but at the same time ingenious.

In her book, Patricia Lanza clearly spells it out, Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding!

Mimics Mother Nature

Each spring, millions upon millions of people spend hours hunched to toil with the soil, preparing the sacred garden ground, planting, then praying for produce. All the while, they carefully nurture their gardens using valuable hours tilling, seeding, weeding, and watering with the hopes of striking the homegrown jackpot.

But lasagna gardening says, “Yo! Put down that hoe and let Mother Nature run the show!”

In essence, it mimics the way a forest builds dark, rich humus by dropping debris to the floor in autumn and allowing the magical microbial community to slowly build nutrient-rich layers over time.

Lasagna gardening makes good produce and good sense. By recycling your yard and kitchen waste and eliminating tilling time and fuel, you’ll improve your soil’s health and see higher-than-average garden productivity.

How to start

Thick layers of organic materials are the main ingredients of every lasagna garden and newspaper is usually the first layer applied. Chopped leaves, grass clippings, straw, hay, sawdust, wood ash, peat moss, and compost are just some of the materials that might make up the layers of a lasagna garden. Individual materials will vary in each individual’s garden according to what is available locally.

To make a lasagna garden, track the lighting in your yard and determine the right site by where you get the best light.

Next, decide on the size, shape, and content of your garden. Create a list of materials needed and a strategy for obtaining these materials.

When your homework is complete, stake out your garden site and begin building up the beds layer by layer.

Fall is perfect time

Though you can create a lasagna garden any time of year, fall is ideal because of the abundance of organic materials and yard waste that become available. Winter will quietly work her magic and by spring, your lasagna garden will be ready to plant in with minimum efforts.

Now, back to building that bed.

The first layer involves laying down newspaper to kill the existing grass. Thoroughly water the newspaper to moisten the area. Next, begin layering organic material, such as compost, approximately 3-5 inches thick and evenly distributed. Then add another layer of a different material on top and spread it out. Another layer would be added on top of that, then another and another.

There are no hard and fast rules about what to use for your layers, as long as it is organic material and does not contain protein like meat or bones.

Continue the layering process on and on until the beds reach 18-24 inches high. This small mound that you have created should be watered down and left alone all winter to build a nutrient-rich bed that can be used in the spring.

The lasagna advantage

The benefits of lasagna gardening continue even after planting in the spring.

Watering and weeding are reduced through the heavy layers of mulch. Fertilizer will not be needed due to the abundant nutrients in your compost.

Lasagna gardening works great in small spaces — even containers.

There is no such thing as a work-free garden, but the lasagna method sure makes gardening easier while benefiting our soil and water resources. In fact, like many things in life, the hardest thing about lasagna gardening is just getting started.

With snow right around the corner, now is the perfect time to make your “grocery list” and start planning your lasagna garden today. You’ll be rewarded with an easy garden and bountiful produce all summer long.

Ahhhhh… you can almost smell the garlic growing!

About the Author

Gail Prunty is the education/communications specialist for the Geauga Soil and Water Conservation District. More Stories by Gail Prunty

3 Comments

  1. maggie b says:

    Sounds good except wild animals will dig for goodies and chickens would decimate such a system. Short of that it would be good. I’ve done sheet composting at times when my crops were in and I got a great load of rich horse manure. I laid down the newspaper, then the manure and topped with hay so I could walk on it between the rows. Everytime it rained the crops got manure tea. I had bumper crops of cantelope & sweet corn that year that were planted together as companion crops.

  2. What is equally as tantalizing, is a page online about the dark side of lasagna gardening or sheet mulching, explaining how it can trigger pollution.

    Not everywhere, but in places where recycling programs are in place.

    Dennis

  3. email says:

    my friend did this in Missouri last year. They are only 2 people right now, as their kids have moved out, but they grew a large lasagna garden and drove the free home grown produce to their favorite food pantry and gave the neighbors they knew who needed supplementary groceries. Brilliant much needed kind deed from this style of planting!!

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