Most people aren’t thinking about prepping their garden at Thanksgiving. But due to a delay known as “having small children,” that’s what we were doing on Sunday, prepping the layers of our inedible lasagna garden. Lasagna gardening, also called sheet mulching or sheet composting, is a permaculture method of gardening that’s easy, cheap, and fun to do with kids.
Lasagna gardening mimics the natural process of leaf litter and other organic matter building up on the forest floor. In the forest, the dead leaves and other plants slowly accumulate and then decompose into soil. Lasagna gardening speeds up this process. Because the organic matter you layer is largely cheap or free, you save quite a bit of money. This technique also doesn’t leave any disturbed soil for weeds to root in. Even though it takes some serious prep time in the fall, it makes for a nearly maintenance-free garden in the spring and summer.
After pulling out this past year’s plants, we laid down cardboard across the entire garden. While we tried to clear all of the weeds, the cardboard barrier would smother any remaining ones. Fortunately, all of the baby furniture provided us with plenty of cardboard boxes.
Next, we emptied out the composter and spread the compost on top of the cardboard. Frankly, this was pretty gross. Unfortunately, our compost didn’t break down quite as much as I had hoped it would. Nonetheless, Sprout still thought it was fascinating. After all, the food and newspapers we threw in transformed into dirt! How cool is that? A little wonder goes a long way.
Then came the foot-high layer of leaves. We would have normally put down a layer of sheets of newspaper in-between, but I forgot. That’s what happens when you’re trying to keep a three-year-old busy and a baby entertained while gardening.
To get our leaves, we perform a bit of public service. We have a few trees in our yard, but most of them are pine. (We use the needles to mulch our acid-loving blueberry bushes, but they aren’t great for growing vegetables.) So we trek over to the cemetery next-door to help clean up. I’m sure they don’t mind. If you don’t have trees or a friendly neighborhood cemetery, see if any of your neighbors would like help raking and bagging.
This step is particularly great to involve kids in. I raked up the leaves and then Sprout plopped his bottom down in them, his cautious version of “jumping.” He then piled them onto a tarp, which we used to drag them from the cemetery to the garden. His role was particularly important the day I was working with Little Bird strapped onto me in the baby carrier. After a couple of particularly nasty spit-ups, I realized I was probably roiling Little Bird’s little tummy with all of my up and down motion!
To keep the leaves from blowing away, we piled on some LeafGro. While that particular brand is specific to our county’s composting program (and is gloriously cheap), garden stores generally sell large bags of compost that work just as well.
We finally added our newspaper layer as well as some paper bags from our local natural foods store.
After laying down more compost, we piled on a broken-up bale of straw. We pick up the straw around Halloween, use it as a front porch decoration and then recycle it into our garden afterwards. Multi-use FTW! Apparently “ruined straw” that’s been used for animal bedding is even better, but we don’t have that because Chris drew the line on raising chickens. If you use this in addition to leaves, make sure it’s straw and not hay. Hay still has seeds in it, which will emerge as weeds in your garden in the spring.
To finish it off, we added another layer of newspapers, compost and leaves.
Here’s our family lasagna garden recipe:
– Newspapers / brown paper bags
– Leaves (minimum 1-2 feet high)
Lay down cardboard. Then create alternating layers of newspapers, compost, straw and leaves. Do as many as your time and back can handle. In the spring, put small portions of potting soil specifically where you will plant seeds. This gives them something to root in without giving the weed seeds enough space to plant themselves.