Lasagna gardens, also known as sheet mulching or composting, is a cool no-dig and no-till method of starting your raised garden bed. A lasagna garden allows you to create similar conditions of healthy topsoil for your plants to benefit. But, why would you create similar conditions instead of using topsoil directly? Simple, healthy soil leads to healthy plants! But, due to poor farming practices, about a third of the earth’s soils are at risk of moderate to severe degradation.
Nevertheless, with a lasagna garden, you can bypass topsoil by creating an organic and nutritious environment for your plants to thrive and help rebuild the soil underneath. Here are four tips to help make sure your lasagna garden in your raised bed goes off without a hitch!
Benefits of Lasagna Gardening
A lasagna garden is a cool way to start your raised bed! This no-till and no-dig gardening technique can help you create similar conditions of nutritious topsoil for healthy plant growth. Besides higher yields, the benefits of lasagna garden are:
1. Time Efficiency
It would take hundreds and thousands of years for nature to create ½ inch of soil from the parent rock. Although soil is renewable, because it isn’t recoverable within a human lifespan, many experts classify it as non-renewable. Lasagna garden helps you mimic topsoil’s desirable growing conditions in a reasonable timeframe, so if you start early, you may be able to start planting for the next growing season.
2. Helps Rebuild Soil
Poor farming practices like using chemical fertilizers, excessive tilling, and not rotating your crops have led to soil degradation. As a result, about a third of the earth’s soil has little to no nutrients or organic matter for healthy plant growth and can rarely replenish itself against the pace of modernity. A lasagna garden will help you rebuild the soil under layers of organic material without chemical fertilizers.
3. Cost Efficient
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure? Yes, when it comes to lasagna gardening! You can easily source organic materials that you’ll use in your lasagna garden from your yard and your neighborhood. Scavenging the materials you need to build a lasagna garden is cheaper than acquiring garden soil and pumping it with soil amendments and conditioners to improve its drainage and retention qualities.
4. Less Labor Intensive With Higher Yields
Thanks to the newspaper or cardboard (at the base of your lasagna garden) and mulch, you’ve taken action to reduce weeds. The cardboard will suppress the weeds, and the mulch won’t let them see the light of day. You also won’t need to worry about adding fertilizers to your raised bed because of your lasagna garden’s nutrient-rich compost. All this, with higher yields, makes a lasagna garden worth the shot.
Tips to Start Lasagna Gardening in a Raised Bed
Ensure the materials you start layering with are organic and don’t contain any component that won’t decompose, like produce stickers, styrofoam, rubber, or glass. Always wear your protective gear, gloves, and goggles before digging in.
1. Selecting an Area for the Lasagna Garden
Your lasagna garden should receive at least six hours of direct sunlight, dappled sunlight, and partial and deep shade daily for healthy plant growth. Ensure this location is away from heavy foot traffic, especially if your raised bed has no support frames. Since your lasagna garden will have layers of compost, ensure it’s not located too close to an open window because compost can be quite smelly!
2. Pick Good Organic Materials
Your lasagna garden will be alternating layers of green and brown. The green layers are grass clippings, fallen leaves, tree or plant prunings, compost, and organic kitchen scraps, while the brown layers are wood chips, hay, dried leaves, and straw. The brown layers make up about 45 percent of the lasagna structure because they’re rich in carbon, an essential plant macronutrient. The green layers make up 55 percent of the lasagna structure because they’re rich in nitrogen, another important plant macronutrient.
Pro-Tip: Do not use meat-based products as part of your greens because that could attract rodents to your garden.
3. Use Good Quality Water for Irrigation
Every time you layer brown materials, you’ll need to water them thoroughly to hold them in place. During this time, don’t use poor-quality water to moisten the lasagna garden. Water with high salinity levels and high levels of fluoride, chlorine, and certain ions like sodium or boron is considered poor quality and can affect your crops and yields.
Poor quality water accelerates soil degradation, so it’s definitely not something you want in your garden, especially since the brown materials create a suitable environment to attract earthworms. You can learn to harvest rainwater that you can use to water your lasagna garden. You can also use this water on your houseplants.
4. Be Mindful of Your Raised Garden Bed Materials
If you’re planning to upgrade your raised garden bed to start a lasagna garden, don’t use materials that will leach toxins into the growing crops. Some raised garden bed materials, like treated wood, methyl bromide pallet, and railroad ties, are unsafe to use in the garden. Instead, opt for untreated wood, galvanized steel, and natural stone for your raised garden beds. Your garden beds will last longer if you care for and maintain them.
Building Your Lasagna Garden
Now that you’re ready to build your lasagna garden, you’ll need to ensure all your green and brown layers are organic and chemical-free. Remove any food stickers, plastic wraps, or other inorganic materials that won’t decompose before layering them.
1. Lay Your Base
The first step is to add a 4-inch deep layer of small twigs and branches at the bottom to aid drainage. Ensure none of the twigs or branches you’ve added are diseased or laced with chemicals.
2. Add Your Browns
Now add a mixture of shredded newspaper, cardboard pieces, dry leaves, and straw or sawdust. This layer should be between 2 and 8 inches deep. Thoroughly water your brown layer before moving on.
3. Add Your Greens
Your green layer should contain compost, kitchen scraps (without meat), manure, plant prunings, grass clippings, used coffee grounds, and tea leaves. This layer should be about 2 to 6 inches deep. Ensure the plants you add are pest and disease free, and the kitchen scraps are organic. Begin by layering 2 inches of compost and manure, followed by 2 to 4 inches of plant pruning, grass clippings, coffee grounds, and tea leaves.
Now all you have to do is repeat the layers, alternating between green and brown layers. Remember to thoroughly water every time you add the brown layer to keep the materials in place and accelerate decomposition. Continue alternating until you’re almost at the top of your garden bed. When you’re at the top, end with a brown layer to keep rodents and pests away from the garden. Water thoroughly to encourage the nutrients to spread throughout the multiple layers and keep them in place.
5. Wait to Plant
If you started this process in the fall, come spring, you can begin planting. If not, you’ll need to wait four to five months until it’s ready to use. This will give your garden ample time to decompose and transform into nutrient-rich soil for healthy plant growth. Before planting, add 6 inches of topsoil to your raised garden bed. Heavy feeders like tomatoes and peppers will be thrilled to grow in your lasagna garden!
Around the time of your last harvest, most of the organic matter would’ve decomposed, and your lasagna garden would’ve shrunk in size. All that’s left is to start the process again; surely, you should have more greens and browns by then!
No Bake Lasagna!
Unlike hot compost, lasagna gardening is a cool way to start your raised garden beds. It’s a highly nutritious and chemical-free way to grow your plants and improve your soil simultaneously. As long as you keep location and garden bed materials, you’ll easily be able to scavenge the organic materials needed to layer your lasagna garden.
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