Monday, January 17, 2011

Lasagna gardening

In grad school I grew the most tasty, prolific, heirloom tomatoes in my rental house yard.  Of course, I thought this was due to some skill of mine.  When I married Scott and moved to our first home in the county on 5 acres of degraded farm ground, I was shocked that not only did my heirlooms shrivel up and die, but even the commercial hybrids refused to thrive.  With next to no organic matter in any bit of our yard, the plants had to weather rounds of flood and drought stress.  I grew a fine crop of weeds and cucumbers each year we lived there.
Karen and baby Katherine in the weedy tree garden

Though our new farm had deep topsoil, I'd been burned often enough that I was content to snuggle a few lettuce plants into our tree garden and call it good.  Still, the weeding was overwhelming.  I wanted to be less reliant on grocery store produce and commercial animal feed, but I needed a new way of doing things.  Last winter I started to research alternatives to the traditional tilled garden.

The idea I decided to try is called "Lasagna Gardening," based on a book by Patricia Lanza.  The upshot is that instead of tilling to remove weeds, you smother them with layers of wet newspaper and mulch.  As a soil scientist, I always had trouble with the idea of tilling, and as a wife I always had trouble my tiller, so I was ready and willing to replace this part of gardening.  I also am blessed with an abundance of multi-species manure that was perfect for the job.  I moved spoiled hay from the cow lot, and the contents of all my animal housing, onto an area of the yard 16 x 32 feet to a depth of about 12 inches.  I never once touched the tiller or any chemicals; this all happened on top of a thick stand of yard grass.

Plants are nestled down in the mulch where their roots can spread out or down through the newspaper to the topsoil below.  Plants below the newspaper can't push up through it, so any weeds that grow in the garden have shallow roots and pull out easily.  In 20 minutes I could pull every weed in the garden any time of year!
New, expanded Lasagna garden

Allowing for experimentation, the garden produced very well and I expanded it to 30 x 40 this fall.  Never again will you see soil exposed to the sun here.  I even moved 10 loader buckets of mulch into the old hog pen this winter.  When this composts down a little in the spring or summer, I intend to plant a feed crop of beets and oats for the livestock.  I have high hopes for an edible flower and berry garden in front of the house some day, too.  Lasagna gardens everywhere!

1 comment:

Patti Broyles Harper said...

Can't wait to try this at our Turkey Road Farm!