Monday, July 14, 2008

Lasagna Gardening: Part 2

A few days ago, I talked about creating lasagna beds. Click here to read that post first if you missed it.

In my area, we have a mushroom plant, I can pick up a truck load (or trailer load) of spent mushroom compost for $15 or $20—a great deal. I put down the layers of newspaper, laid out three or four inches of mushroom compost, then added shredded paper or leaves (I scoured several people’s yards to pick up leaves that hadn’t been raked in the fall), and manure I picked up at the race track (spread thinly since I wasn’t sure how well composted it was—fresh manure can burn you plants’ roots), I threw in egg shells, banana peels, and anything else from my kitchen that would work (again, nothing from an animal). Finally, I laid on another several inches of mushroom compost. Ideally, you should end up with twelve to fourteen inches of bedding when you are finished, though that will compact over time.

Many cities have compost available for sale to residents for a nominal fee, and some universities do, too. Check around and see what you can find in your area.

Plants don’t always like to have their roots in compost, so I planted most of mine with a handful of potting soil to give the roots something to cling to while it adjusted to the new setting. This is especially true if you are planting out bare roots. I didn’t worry about this the second year, and everything seems to be doing just fine.

After my plants started poking through the soil, I began begging neighbors for grass clippings, and covered my beds with a layer to help with moisture retention and to keep the roots cool. Drip irrigation is best in these kinds of beds, but with the number of plants I have jammed in together, it’s not really possible, so I top water. Just be aware that grass clippings will begin to matt together and make the water sheet off after some time so you might want to consider other mulching options.

It’s really best to create lasagna beds in the fall so they can ‘cook’ all winter, (good news for those of you in the southern hemisphere) but it’s not necessary. Another way to ‘cook’ the beds is to cover them with plastic sheeting for six weeks or so—this accelerates the composting process and gets the ground ready to plant in faster. In my case, I started building beds in late February as soon as the weather was warm enough to be out for extended periods of time, and the ground was dry (wet clay is no fun to work in). At the local mushroom plant they treat the compost with salt to keep the diseases down, so I started building mine early so the spring rains would flush the salts out. Alternatively, I could have watered them heavily before planting in them.

Before you begin planting, water the beds until they are good and soggy. They are raised beds, so the water will flow away, rather than leaving the new plants in a puddle, but you want them to be completely wet. Then cut a hole in the lasagna and pop your plant in.

A major advantage for me of this kind of gardening is the fact that weeding is a snap. When I try and weed beds that are made of regular soil, I have to water the beds really well, then dig the weeds out. Most of the time my weeds pull right out of my lasagna beds with little effort.

This is a great way to build accessible gardens for those who can’t bend over easily to weed, or who have other disabilities that make long hours of maintenance too difficult. Many people create a rectangle of straw bales or other materials, then build the lasagna inside. This brings the planting surface closer to the person working in it. I’ll continue to build up my beds over the years with more compost, leaves and clippings since the beds will shrink over time.

Worms seem to love this kind of bed, and though I rarely see them in my yard, I do find them in the lasagna beds—a major plus as earthworms are great diggers and tillers, doing a lot of work for you.

As I finish off my yard, I plan to add more lasagna beds because it’s been such a great experience for me. For more information about lasagna gardening, do a Web search, there are scads of sites with more information.


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