Lasagna Gardening/No Dig Gardening

What is Lasagna Gardening?

Lasagna Gardening (often referred to as No Dig Gardening or Sheet Composting) is a rather neat way of preparing your garden for planting without digging, removing sod, or tilling, and at the same time preparing a feast for worms. (As you are probably aware, worm castings is a humus rich soil amendment,  and the more worms play around in your garden, the better your plants will flourish.)

No Dig Gardening/Sheet composting is called Lasagna Gardening because of the way ingredients are added layer upon layer like a lasagna. When the ingredients decompose, the gardener then has a garden full of rich crumbly, dark soil ready for planting.

So how is Lasagna Gardening or Sheet Composting done?

First you choose a site with lots of sun, hopefully protected from high winds, and mark off this area with stakes and a string. Let’s say you want to start small. so you stake out for your first lasagna garden an area roughly 4 ft by 8 ft which will give you enough room to grow several different crops.

Next if you don’t have that much homegrown mulch and compost, consider buying some of your sheet composting material.

One great ingredient found in any gardening nursery is the sphagnum peat moss which can be bought in huge bags.

Other ingredients which will help the composting procedure are bonemeal (to add phosphorus which promotes root growth) and bloodmeal (a high nitrogen material that can substitute for manures or grass clippings).

If your soil test shows that your soil is acidic, adding powdered limestone to the pile will add calcium and raise the pH of the soil.

If on the other hand your soil is alkaline, adding powdered sulfur will help lower the pH of the alkaline soil.

A pH above 7 means your soil is alkaline. A pH below 7 means your soil is acidic. Most plants thrive in soil that has a pH somewhere between 6.5 and 7.2

If this is your first lasagna garden, you need something heavy as your first layer to smother the grass and weeds which may be in the area you picked. You can use wet flattened, overlapping cardboard boxes or thick layers of wet newspaper. Do not include the glossy flyers.

Now that you have gathered your ingredients, you can proceed to creating your “lasagnagardening compost pile by adding your composting ingredients in layers.

Here’s an example of a “lasagna” compost pile

Layer 1: A heavy layer of wet cardboard or wet newspapers over the sod.  You may want to cover these newspapers with a 6-inch layer of soil.

Layer 2: A 2 inch layer of peat moss

Layer 3: A 4 to 6 inch layer of barn litter

Layer 4: A 2 inch layer of peat moss

Layer 5: A 4 to 6 inch layer of compost

Layer 6: A 2 inch layer of peat moss

Layer 7: A 4 to 6 inch layer of grass clippings

Layer 8: A 2 inch layer of peat moss

Layer 9: A 4 to 6 inch layer of chopped leaves

Layer 10: Another 2 inch layer of peat moss

Sprinkle bonemeal, or wood ashes, lime or sulfur (depending on your soil’s pH) over the top layer of peat moss.

The ideal materials are chopped leaves, grass clippings, compost, manure, other organic materials, and even sand alternated with 2-inch layers of peat moss. You can also add 3 to 4 inches of wood chips where you might want a path throughout the garden.

Keep adding layers until your pile is 18 to 24 inches high.

After decomposing has occurred, you will be left with about 5 to 6 inches of rich crumbly soil.

The good news is that as the worms work in your garden, they will also tunnel through the soil under the newspapers perhaps to a depthof 3 to 4 inches. This could give you a total of 8 to 10 inches of super soil to plant in.

When is the best season for creating your lasagna pile?

Fall is a great time time for doing this type of lasagna gardening, for you can use as many chopped up leaves as you want since it is readily available.

Also, during the winter the pile will decompose and the end result should be dark and loose soil, much like deeply dug soil ready for you to set out your plants or sow seeds in the spring.

If you do this sheet composting in the spring, you might want to “cook” it by first making sure you put about 4 times more brown material as you do green (high-nitrogen) material as you are building your pile. Then cover the pile with a black plastic and weigh down the edges all around the pile with bricks.

The black plastic helps keep the materials moist and traps the sun’s warmth for fast heating. After about 6 weeks, most of the pile will have broken down into a dark, crumbly material. Remove the pieces which have not quite decomposed.

Yes, you can change an unplantable area into an area full of rich crumbly soil not by digging, tilling, or removing sod but by sheet composting better known as Lasagna Gardening or No Dig Gardening.

Marcie Snyder

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