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Lasagna Gardening: a no-dig approach

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Lasagna beds, also known as sheet mulching, require little weeding, no additional fertilizer, and only moderate watering. (Photo Credit: Heather Squires)

The quest for greater self-sufficiency is leading more people to throw their hands (and their backs) into the garden in an effort to grow at least some of their own food. With this resurgence of ‘growing green’ comes a corresponding interest in methods that are less taxing on the body – and on the soil itself.

Lasagna gardening is a no-till, no-dig approach that eliminates the need for digging out existing weeds or turning sod to start a new garden. No, it has nothing to do with cooking or eating lasagna while you garden (though that idea could also be a winner!). Rather, it means building a raised bed garden by creating layers of organic and compostable materials.

The fine print

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(Photo Credit: Heather Squires)

A lasagna garden is essentially a hot compost bed made by adding layers of compostable materials that will heat up and ‘cook down’ over time. Nutrients are released as the organic matter breaks down, fertilizing your garden as it ‘cooks’. Vegetables and flowers can all benefit from this process, growing right alongside the organic matter that is breaking down to provide the growing medium.

Autumn is great time to start building a lasagna garden. Begin with a layer for weed suppression, such as cardboard or sheets of newspaper. Lay this over existing vegetation and water well to create a good, moist base and block out weeds. Some advocates suggest preceding this step by sprinkling a little bit of lime to help the pH, or a little bit of raw animal manure for an extra shot of nitrogen. Either can be useful neither is essential.

Once your first layers are down, continue layering ‘brown’ and ‘green’ layers like you would in a normal compost pile, sprinkling each layer with a good dose of water before moving on to the next. Just like in a typical compost pile, the ratio is a thicker layer of brown materials than green. (For those that need a refresher: ‘browns’ are things that add roughage – leaves, shredded paper, peat, straw, seaweed; ‘greens’ include veggie scraps, garden and grass trimmings.)

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Carrots can grow stunted and deformed if composting layers get compacted. (Photo Credit: Heather Squires)

Continue layering until the mounds are about two feet (60cm) high. The lasagna bed can now be left to do its thing – breaking down, shrinking in size and composting. Over the next few months, the bed will have winter’s moisture to aid it along and by spring you will have luscious, fluffy and nitrogen-laden soil ready for your seeds and seedlings.

You can also plant in the lasagna bed straight away. If you do, it’s a good idea to cap the bed with a couple of inches of topsoil or peat, to provide something for your seeds or plants to germinate and grow in immediately.

As this harvest season continues, put aside your post-harvest scraps, leaves and kitchen waste and try your hand at this easy and environmental approach. It’s not too soon to be thinking of spring planting!

Heather Squires farms pastured pigs, goats and chickens and maintains an expanding lasagna garden at Sweetwood Farm on the south shore of Nova Scotia.

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