You may be wondering what a common Italian meal has to do with your garden. A lasagna garden is the name given to a method used to make new growing areas. But it does not have anything to do with layers of sauce, pasta etc… In this article, you will find an introduction to this growing method. We’ll talk about its benefits, and how to go about making one where you live.
What is a Lasagna Garden?
One way to create a new garden bed is to use the lasagna garden method. A lasagna garden is essentially a composting system. Except that rather than composting in a separate heap or container, you are composting in place.
Layers of ‘brown’ carbon-rich materials and ‘green’ nitrogen-rich materials are layered up in much the same way that they commonly are in a traditional composting system. But the difference is that you will top the decomposing materials with a layer of compost/ potting mix/ topsoil and can plant into it as you would any other bed in your garden.
This is a common method used to make new growing areas in a ‘no-dig garden’. Since materials are layered on top of the existing surface, the soil below remains undisturbed.
Of course, this type of garden takes its name from the idea that the layers you create of different organic materials within the bed are a bit like the layers built up in the traditional Italian dish.
Why Make a Lasagna Garden?
There are many benefits to adopting a no dig gardening approach. Understanding why this is a good idea begins with recognising that soil is far more than just dirt. The soil is a complex web of life, nutrients and minerals. Soil health is one of the most important things to get right in an organic garden.
Making a lasagna garden is one of the strategies we can employ to allow for and foster a healthy soil ecosystem that teems with life. A lasagna garden can both protect and preserve the existing soil system and improve it slowly.
Over time, adopting this approach can improve soil texture, fertility and moisture retentiveness. It can also, through increasing soil organic carbon over time, help our gardens to remove more carbon from the air, which is, of course, helpful in the fight against climate change.
Making sure that the soil is healthy can improve the size and quality of the yield that your garden can provide. As can taking steps to improve the soil where you live over time.
Lasagna gardens also bring other benefits to the individual gardener, as well as to wider systems. One thing to recognise, for example, is that these types of beds can be made without any back-breaking digging. There are still materials to move, of course. But creating this type of new growing area can be much easier to achieve than it is in typical dug garden bed creation.
A lasagna bed can often be made using free (or cheap) locally available materials. So this also means it can be an affordable choice. It can be a far cheaper to make this type of garden bed than it is to make a raised bed filled (as they often are) with bought potting soil/ compost.
Choosing a Location for a Lasagna Garden
The first step in creating a lasagna garden should always be gaining a better understanding of your site. Where exactly should your new growing area be positioned? Of course, it is important to take many environmental factors into account. And, of course, to consider which plants you wish to grow.
When it comes to the immediate environment, you should of course think about which areas of your garden are in full sun. Think about sunlight throughout each day and throughout the year. Consider wind and water too. The patterns of movement and flows of energy through the site can help you work out where exactly to position your new garden.
You may, of course, be limited by other factors. Such as where existing buildings and plants are positioned, for example. And by the terrain. Lack of space may be a factor.
Another consideration when deciding where to locate your new lasagna garden is practicalities. Think about positioning in terms of your own movement on the site too. Consider how frequently you will be visiting this growing area. Think about how close it is to your home or the centre of operations, and other elements in the garden. Ponder rainwater harvesting and composting areas, for example. And determine how easy it will be to move between the different elements in your garden.
Sourcing Materials for a Lasagna Garden
Once you have decided on a location that is suitable for the plants you wish to grow, and in the other ways mentioned above, it is time to think about the materials for your lasagna garden. It it likely that you will already have many of the materials you need to make your new bed.
Brown organic materials
For the carbon rich layers of your lasagna garden, for example, you might use:
Straw/ dried grasses.
Wood chip/ wood shavings/ sawdust.
Green organic materials
For the nitrogen rich layers of your lasagna garden, you might use, for example:
Leafy green vegetation (non-invasive weeds that are not seeding, pruned foliage, deadheaded flowers, etc..)
Fruit and vegetable scraps, and other compostable kitchen waste.
For the top layer
Topsoil (from a pond excavation, perhaps, or another project on your property.)
Loam (maybe from stacked turfs removed in the course of another project.)
This is the layer into which you will plant before you add a finishing layer of mulch around your plants.
Marking Out a Lasagna Garden
Many factors will determine how large your lasagna bed will be. Of course you will take the space available into account. And may also consider your own available time and needs. It is also worthwhile to consider the availability of materials when making a choice about the dimensions of your new lasagna garden.
Decide how large the bed should be, and what shape it will take. Make sure you are able to reach all areas of the bed from the edges, so you do not tread on your beds.
Once you have made your decisions, it is time to mark out your new lasagna garden. You can do so using a series of stakes, by laying string, rope or a hose pipe, or by dusting flour or chalk to mark the edge.
Bed Edging Options
You may decide to edge your lasagna garden with bed edging to keep all the materials neat and in place. While you can simply heap the materials up on the ground without any bed edging at all, most people will choose to have some form of edging for their garden.
There are plenty of bed edging options to consider. But it is a good idea to think about using natural or reclaimed materials. This is a far cheaper and more environmentally friendly option than buying something in.
Building The Layers in a Lasagna Garden
Now, it is time to begin construction of your lasagna bed.
Lay cardboard on the grass or soil within the marked out area. This will help to suppress grass or weeds until the bed is established, but as it breaks down, will allow organisms to pass into your new growing area from the soil below.
Next, place a layer of brown materials. (5-10cm thick)
Then a layer of your green materials (again, 5-10cm thick)
Add another layer of brown and another of green. And continue until you have a bed of the required height. (usually at least 35-45cm deep – though this will of course sink over time as the materials break down).
Make sure you tamp down the materials and fill in air pockets.
Finally, add a top layer to your new growing area.
Water well and plant up your new growing areas as soon as possible to avoid leaving the surface bare.
Mulch around your plants with more organic matter, and continue to build up layers through sheet mulching over time.
A lasagna garden is a relatively simple concept, but one which could make it easier to make new growing areas in your garden.
Have you built a lasagna garden where you live? How have you found it? Let us know in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.