Lasagna Garden

AmandaAlna(z4 ME)December 19, 2004

My husband and I are planning a HUGE extension of our gardens to be planted next spring, but we're definitely not looking forward to digging into all that clay in the field, or losing the healthy few inches just below the surface. We're looking into lasagna gardening, on recommendation from some friends of ours, and we still have a couple questions:

If we put the effort in and get all the newspaper/hay/manure/etc down on the grass now and wait til the spring to plant (obviously), will the frost affect the process at all?

What kind of compost materials are best for fighting clay?

Should we mix the layers before planting?

Thanks so much in advance for any info you can give us!

Amanda and Ross

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This is based on one person's experience....

"If we put the effort in and get all the newspaper/hay/manure/etc down on the grass now and wait til the spring to plant (obviously), will the frost affect the process at all?" Not enough to help. Your lasagna might need to cook for a whole summer because you need heat for the decaying process. Otherwise the manure's nitrogen will burn anything you try to plant there.

"What kind of compost materials are best for fighting clay?" Just plain compost, because it adds lots of organic matter which builds up soil structure. Unfortunately this takes several years. I know people who also mix in sand but I have not tried this myself, beyond the plain sand I use on my driveway that then gets swept onto the lawn.

"Should we mix the layers before planting?" If it's decayed enough, you shouldn't be able to tell the layers apart.

One alternative I use when I want to plant right away, is to make a 6" high 2-layer lasagna with newspaper, topped with a mixture of loam and compost. The only problem is the ground underneath tends to thatch up for the first couple of years which makes it difficult for roots to punch through. So it's a trade-off - you can plant annuals in the bed immediately my way, but it will be root-ready for perennials/veggies a lot sooner, your way.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2004 at 5:51PM
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veilchen(5b southern Maine)

I agree, it's too late in the season to start lasagna beds. The organic matter will still be there, mostly un-decomposed, next spring. I have built lots of these, but only when it is an area that I don't mind waiting for the soil to build vs. digging. I have built them in late summer/early fall, and this seems to give them enough time to decompose mostly by the following spring. But mulching the lasagna beds and waiting an entire growing season is optimal.

You can pile your OM now and then plan on digging or tilling it in soon as the ground is workable next spring, if you really want to plant next year. Or you can pile it up, let it sit winter/spring/summer, then plant in early fall.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2004 at 7:19AM
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AmandaAlna(z4 ME)

I don't think I was clear enough in my question, sorry. I'm not expecting the material to decompose in the cold weather. Decomposition of this kind always requires heat, and we won't see that again here until...oh, July or so! We just want to get the labor of physically putting the stuff down on the ground out of the way because once the warm weather gets here, we'll just be too busy with the rest of the garden to see straight. You know how that goes. We won't get to the planting part until the herbs are a healthy size, probably late June. As for leaving the beds to rot for a whole season, I know for a fact that that's unnecessary. The friends of ours who recommended the process are commercial organic farmers. They lay down the paper, hay, and manure and a week later plant their crops. Perfect every time. We don't have to worry about ammonia burn because our other friends, the llama farmers, provide us with a never-ending supply of the best fertilizer in the world from their 37 llamas. My real question was whether or not the frost will affect the outcome of the garden. By affect, I mean harm. My husband says that the layers of compost will "trap" the frost, and I say that the black plastic sheeting on top of the beds will defrost the ground a couple of days sooner than the rest of the lawn. Which one of us is right?

    Bookmark   December 20, 2004 at 7:53AM
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This is fun, want to place bets? I'll wager 25 cents that if you test the ground in the same microsystem as the amended bed, frost-out date will be the same.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2004 at 4:17PM
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gardengardengardenga looks to me that you are a lot like I am. I come up with some great heroic ideas and just try them. Rarely do I have a following to support my ideas...but if I follow it through I am usually pleasantly surprized. However, if my attempt is so heroic that I put in a feeble effort,well the results depend on the seriousness of the executer.

If your compost pile is large enough it will heat up, so I am not sure how when our temps have already frozen the ground that you expect decomposing to happen in a lasanga style bed.

The llama "beans" was recently in another forum as a topic. It is true that these turds are garden ready and not as high in nitrogen or urea as say chicken manure or pig ( which would burn plants if planted 2 weeks later as you suggested). So in that sense, it may just work.

Good luck and keep us posted- get your camera ready to prove us all wrong this summer!

I am wintering over outside a key lime tree which I was pretty much laughed at by every one I know. I hope its still alive, but with those single digit temps, I fear the worse and hope the best! I first used chicken wire and stuffed it with leaves, then two blankets on top of that and then burlap. I still need to get more insulation in before January and a tarp to keep it dry. there is about 3 feet of insulataion on that tree!



    Bookmark   December 20, 2004 at 8:10PM
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AmandaAlna(z4 ME)

Believe me, I'm just as intrigued as you guys. This whole lasagna thing was my husband's idea. All I said was, "Honey, could you dig me a new herb garden this spring? Maybe a 40x40' one?" He of course asked our friends at Buckwheat Blossom Farm if he really had to do all that, and they said...well you know what they said. Meanwhile, this spring we're also introducing two beehives into our garden and increasing our poultry flock by 26 chickens (which will need a bigger place to live than the shed in place right now). So. That's where the idea of doing all the hard labor in December came in. Once again, NOT because we think the poo and stuff can decompose at -15F! Come on, how dumb do you think we are? Plus, the lack of early spring sunlight should (in theory) give the thatch a head start on going away. Anyway, we'll try it, till it up when it thaws, and see what we've got. Like I said, nothing we put into the mix will be harmful to the roots without decomposition, so (in theory) this should work. We'll see how it goes. If it does, you'll have something to do next January. If it doesn't, you're up 25c!

    Bookmark   December 21, 2004 at 7:39AM
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Hey, any labor that can get down now instead of June, is money in the bank, right?

    Bookmark   December 21, 2004 at 9:28AM
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AmandaAlna(z4 ME)

That garden DID thaw a week early, and is now the healthiest garden on the property.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2006 at 8:14AM
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Amandaalna, I have been following this posting for some time hoping you would give a followup. Can you tell me exactly what "ingredients" you used and the proportions? When did you begin to work the soil or did you even have to do much before planting.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2006 at 11:14PM
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AmandaAlna(z4 ME)

I ended up laying down a 1/4" layer of newspaper right on top of virgin lawn. I even let the grass grow a little first for extra organic matter. On top of the newspaper, I put a dusting of kelp powder. The book says to use peat moss, but I'm a hippie environmentalist and avoid peat where I can. On top of that I put about 6" of green grass clippings. Then another dusting of kelp. Then 6" of fresh llama manure. If you don't have access to llamas, you can use composted manure from chickens, horses, cows, goats, sheep, etc. If you live anywhere rural, especially in Maine, you'll see homemade signs, "horse s**t, 207-555-5555," everywhere once you have your eyes open. Dump a load somewhere out of the way on your property in the spring, and by the fall it'll be ready for layering. Or, dump it directly on your garden and wait a season to plant it. On top of the manure, more kelp, then a 3-4" layer of compost. I used lobster compost from the store just because I'd already used all of my on-site compost for the year. Top with more kelp and dark bark mulch, if you're planting herbs or perennials. You can really use whatever ingredients you want as long as you have some kind of green matter and some kind of brown to balance out the buffet. I hear salt hay works well if you really can't find manure. The garden was put down just before the deep freeze, but I've found since that I could have put it down in the spring and planted the very same day. Our gardens have doubled, thanks to this method.

So here's the break-down:
1/4" newspaper or cardboard
sprinkling of kelp (something absorbant)
6" green grass clippings (something green)
sprinkling of kelp
6" fresh llama manure (something smelly)
sprinkling of kelp
6" compost
sprinkling of kelp
optional mulch

Try it this year!

    Bookmark   May 19, 2006 at 9:26AM
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AmandaAlna(z4 ME)

Dollmaker-"The only problem is the ground underneath tends to thatch up for the first couple of years which makes it difficult for roots to punch through."

This didn't happen for me. All I saw was wormy, black goodness by July. See how important the green and smelly layers are?

    Bookmark   May 19, 2006 at 9:33AM
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Amandaalna, What a delightful recipe. I am going to begin gathering my ingredients and will do my first bed. I would like to plant it in fall so it should work well. Thanks so much and good luck.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2006 at 11:29PM
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