Try this at Home

try this organic gardening technique at home

create a new garden for free or increase your vegetable garden yield dramatically while banishing weeds and grass

A lasagne garden is created by layering types of mulch and compost to create new soil or to improve existing soil and banish weeds. Why do it? It's inexpensive, it's easy in the short and the long term, and it's very ecological. Lasagna gardening creates sustainable gardens that are made from locally-sourced materials and resplendent with the type of healthy, organic soil that grows gorgeous plants and is easy to keep weed-free. 

The Lasagne Garden Technique vs. Conventional Vegetable Garden or Flower Garden Construction

Removing sod mechanically (with a shovel (hard work!) or a rototiller (not particularly effective because it just churns the grass roots and weed seeds into the soil!) or a bobcat (expensive!) is the conventional way to create a garden in a grassy area. Once you've got the area cleared (a feat of painstaking labor) you must then spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on topsoil to dump over the area. This conventional method works in an instant-gratification sort of way. Once the soil is spread, you can immediately plant some tomatoes or perennials in your new garden. But! Quack grass and weeds will come back with a vengeance, and when they do they'll be all uppity and quoting Aristotle: "Nature abhors a vacuum," they'll tell you, meaning, wherever there's bare dirt, weeds will grow. 

Conventional garden construction is hard, expensive, and creates a nearly perfect environment for quack grass and weeds. Buying soil is costly in terms of money, labor, and the environment. Moving topsoil around the planet by the truckload is simply not a sustainable practice.

Instead of buying topsoil, let healthy soil build itself!

There's a better way. Instead of buying soil, build it yourself, or rather, let nature do the work for you and allow a healthy soil system to build itself. How? Yup, lasagna gardening.

1) Choose your gardening space. It can be a patch of lawn you want to put a rectangular vegetable garden on top of, it can be a weedy overgrown part of your garden that's out of control, it can be a curvy masterpiece where you want to tuck some perennials to create privacy and beauty. Dream up something that will fill your belly with organic veggies, or your senses with beauty. It's your lasagne garden, you pick the pan.

2) Collect your materials: think local and cheap or free:

  • Paper Mulch: you need enough cardboard or newspaper (or a combination) to cover the area you are converting or rehabilitating twice over including a few inches of overlap around individual pieces. I prefer cardboard, preferably large appliance boxes scavenged from my local recycling depot. The paper mulch is the layer that suppresses weeds and grass. It is the noodle layer of your lasagne garden. Plain cardboard is best -- any paint, ink, staples or tape will end up in your soil once the cardboard has broken down. You don't need to keep your paper mulch materials dry before working with them, in fact, damp cardboard is easier.
  • Brown Compost: uncomposted organic matter will provide nutrients and fiber structure in your new soil. My favourite is straw which is easy and effective. I bought a bale for $6 from a garden center but if you know a farmer who can toss you a bale, that's even better. You can also use shredded paper, lawn clippings, fallen leaves, kitchen scraps and/or coffee grounds. A combination of all these things is great. It's cheaper, easier and more ecological to use whatever there is an excess of where you live. Collect enough brown compost to create a layer about 30 cm (or 1 foot) thick. Brown compost is the meaty/chunky layer of your lasagne garden. 
  • Black Compost: if you don't have a big bin of rich, dark compost like I do, you might need to buy some. You can get it by the bag (composted manure at your local garden center will do, or buy a scoop from a landscaping center). Black compost is the cheese layer of your lasagne garden.
  • A Pinch of Michorizzal Fungi: I recommend a sprinkle of michorizzal fungi or an envelope of compost accelerator if you can find one. It's completely natural and like a super-food for soils. It will speed the process up and produce healthier soil. If you can't find this, don't worry about it. Michorizzal Fungi is simply the freshly ground parm on top of your lasagne garden.
  • Water: water is the sauce and you can't make a lasagne garden without it.

3) Build your garden. I recommend starting in the fall. Layer your materials as follows:

  •  Wet your entire gardening area down well with water. This is like spreading sauce on the bottom of your pan.
  • Layer cardboard (or whole newspapers) around the entire surface area of the garden you are create or rehabilitating. This is the step that will kill grass and weeds and will create the shape and outline of your garden. You want to overlap these materials by a good six inches. Cracks and gaps are not a good idea, as quack grass will seize those opportunities to grow. Laying down your paper mulch is like putting a layer of noodles at the bottom of your pan. 
  • Layer brown compost materials about a foot high (or more!) on top of your paper mulch. These materials are the food for the soil that will be created via the composting process, so make sure there's enough fiber and nutrition there to build healthy soil. I like straw because it provides cellulose fiber and nutrients to the soil. Lots of grass clippings with some leaves and kitchen scraps tossed on top will certainly work too.
  • Sprinkle black compost on top of the whole shebang. I recommend about an inch. The healthy bacteria in the black compost will help the brown compost break down and add healthy nutrients to your soil.
  • Water this in. Remember, you don't want a lasagne without any sauce. Water it well.
  • Sprinkle compost accelerator or michorizzal fungi on top (if you've got some.) This is an optional step for a more gourmet soil that builds faster.
  • Add another layer of cardboard.
  • Water again.
  • You can leave it like so with some bricks or rocks to hold the cardboard down or, add some decorative mulch on top if you don't mind adding that to your bill, or if you have some on hand.
  • Wait. The sun, beneficial microbes, and time will "bake" your lasagne for you. The result? Rich, loamy, soil where before there was not. How long it takes to cook depends on your climate and the materials you used to construct your lasagna garden. Do not let it dry out, as that will slow down the composing process. Water as needed.

Lasagne Gardening is a Process, Not a Quick Fix

The only drawback I can think of to lasagne garden construction is the waiting part. We can be an impatient lot, us modern people. Quick gardening solutions like fertilizer, pesticides, and truckloads of topsoil might seem appealing when we're wanting to get a garden started or reclaimed A.S.A.P. but they don't pay off in the long run. When we're paying bills for something we could have gotten for free or pulling weeds in a garden with poor soil and a chemical dependency that is just not sustainable, a quick fix doesn't seem nearly as desirable.

Start a lasagne garden in the fall (or anytime that's more suitable to you) and relax knowing that nature is shouldering the lion's share of the work for you. Your garden can "cook" all winter and in the spring, you'll be treated to rich, loamy soil that's so easy to plant and keep weed-free.

If you want to get started right away:

If you want to plant your lasagne garden before it's finished composting, simply cut a hole in the cardboard so root systems can penetrate through it, add a bag of garden soil to the spot you want to plant in, and plant it! Otherwise, be patient and you won't have to spend a dime.

Can you dig not digging it?

Lasagne gardening is a great no-till technique. Because the soil is healthy and virtually weed-free, you don't have to rototill or turn it with a spade. In fact, the less you disturb the soil system, the healthier it will be. Spot-pull any weeds. To plant a seed, just poke a hole in the soft soil with your finger and drop the seeds in. Soil is a living thing, and it "knows" the best way to organize itself. Respect the soils' "wisdom", and it will pay off in terms of effort saved. Let the soil work for you, not vice versa.