Lasagna gardening is a technique gaining in popularity, especially for those of us living in high-desert terrain. It’s drought-tolerant, requiring minimal watering, for one thing; also, in preparing the bed, you won’t be trying to hack and whack your way through dry, hardpacked caliche and bedrock because with lasagna gardening, you’re literally building new soil from the ground up. In her straightforwardly titled book Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding!, author Patricia Lanza lays out the fundamentals for the simple, effective—and fun—technique she developed about 20 years ago. It incorporates levels of nitrogen and carbon, which together produce the energy and organisms essential for organic plant and soil health. You can be creative with the materials you use, as long as you follow the rule of Lanza’s recommended ratio, which is two inches of carbon-rich “lasagna levels” interspersed with one inch of nitrogen-rich materials…
First, outline your plot area, to be determined by what you’re planting and the amount of sun and shade your plants require. Lay newspaper pages in stacks of six to ten, or one thickness of corrugated cardboard, overlapping the edges, across the entire area of your garden, liberally soaking this whole initial bottom layer with water (this will kill weeds and attract earthworms).
Now you begin to build your lasagna, interspersing the layers and watering each one as you finish it. Start with a nitrogen layer. Materials for this include green plant material (grass clippings, old cornstalks and the like), and food-based materials such as you would ordinarily compost: fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, eggshells, animal manure. Steer clear of meat and any type of fats.
Your carbon layers are composed of any dry, dead yard materials, including dry leaves, straw or hay, small twigs and wood chips, along with newspapers. Make sure your material is free of seeds so unwanted plants don’t sprout up.
Continue to layer until your bed is 1 to 2 feet tall. The mound will shrink as materials within it break down and are absorbed by the soil. It’s a good idea to cover the newly composed bed for the first two weeks under a sheet of plastic in order to protect the top layers from wind (a big consideration in New Mexico!) and to provide extra heat to encourage the decomposition process to begin.
You can build a lasagna garden bed any time of the year. Fall is good for gardeners not immediately ready to plant; then you can let your lasagna “cook” as it over-winters and begin your planting in the spring. Or, in the case of high-desert gardening, as spring temperatures begin warming the air, ushering us rapidly into summertime heat, you can do it now and then plant immediately after the two-week plastic sheet incubation period—just be sure to finish off with a carbon layer as you complete the lasagna and water it heavily. Then add three inches of compost directly on top of the straw, water again and it’s ready.
Because this type of garden bed resembles a sponge, water is retained much longer than it is in a standard garden bed. For those of us struggling with the challenges of rising food prices versus our consciences over pouring so much water into what our conventional gardens require, this is good news.
Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding! by Patricia Lanza.
Story by Gail Snyder