Lasagna Gardening

singcharlene(Zone 5)December 5, 2006

I bought the book "Lasagna Gardening" by Pat Lanza. I got it used for $3.00 on that website for books and cd's.

The concept is very appealing to me because I don't like to dig but I love to garden. I plan on trying out her layering methods around most of the inside and outside perimeter of my vegetable garden fence which is about 60'x40'.

I've been gathering newspaper, leaves, my own compost, cuttings from our property, and all the rotted straw, hay and horse manure I can wheelbarrow back and forth across the street from the my neighbor's rented horse barn. I will probably have to buy some compost as well.

She recommends alternating layers of organic matter with peat moss in between each layer.

Is using peat moss environmentally irresponsible? She doesn't give an alternate other than the peat moss.

Any thoughts, hints, advice on the lasagna garden method would be appreciated.


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Hi Charlene

I suppose that the peat issue has been beaten around and most every notion, opinion, and fact has been presented by somebody. One really has a hard time sorting it out but just the fact that it is such a heated issue suggests to me that there must be something to the idea that the resource is being depleted. I recently read somewhere that the issue for the home gardener should be whether it's being hauled 1,000 miles and resulting in the consumption of non-replenishable petroleum. There must be something to that also.

The parents of a neighbor have a home along a very small creek in a partially forested area. They have put in 3 small ponds for some lovely trout and have the continual chore of removing algae from the ponds. They say that during the summer, it takes only a day or so for the ponds to become "clogged" with algae. So they rake it out and cart it off to dump in their forest land.

A field downstream from the ponds seems to have nothing but peat below the surface of grass and weeds. Their little creek is a "peat-generating factory." I suppose it takes at least a few years before the algae can be properly called peat but the field indicates that the creek has been engaged in this process for centuries or millennia before these folks moved there to live.

The problem for me to take advantage of this resource is that it was suggested that I carry off the wet algae. Ten miles in mountainous country with a truckload of wet algae hasnÂt too much appeal to me  not while a farmer will fill the pickup with aged cow manure for $4 not more than 2 miles from one of my gardens. But, I digress . . .

I've read Ms. Lanza's book and have to say that I don't see much difference between her approach and sheet composting. That method starts off with finished compost on the soil surface, a weed barrier (newspaper, cardboard, etc.), an in-progress compost layer, then a top layer (about 3-4 inches deep) of weed-free materials like wood chips, sawdust, bark, etc. The top layer will slowly decompose into the compost and requires replacement.

Ruth Stout wrote a book a long time ago called No Work Gardening Book on no-till gardening. I read that too and wondered whether all the hauling of hay and such wouldn't qualify as "work."

One concern I have is pests. Slugs and especially earwigs do a fair amount of damage in my gardens. Neither are very easy to control if they've got daytime cover. Sometimes the cover is just the plants they are enjoying but deep mulch looks problematic.

Nevertheless, lasagna, sheet-composting, and deep mulch are probably well worth trying. I'm all in favor of doing as little soil lifting as possible in the garden.


    Bookmark   December 5, 2006 at 4:05PM
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You might want to post the question on the Soil, Compost and Mulch forum. There are a number of lasagna gardeners there. And many of them don't like peat and can offer alternatives.

I would avoid the peat moss, for the reasons already mentioned and also for the reason that once it dries out, it can repel water, and in the intermountain west, it's just about a guarantee that it'll dry out. I think most people who lasagna garden/sheet compost do some modified version of what they've read and tried on their own. I think it should work fine if you just skip the peat and alternate layers of "browns" (high carbon materials) and "greens" (high nitrogen materials). Note that some so-called greens are actually brown in color (such as coffee grounds, which can also repel water if they're applied too thickly and allowed to dry).

    Bookmark   December 5, 2006 at 9:22PM
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singcharlene(Zone 5)

Thanks Steve and BP!

I think I will avoid the peat moss for all the various reasons. I'll do some "digging" for info in the Soil Forum too. Browns, greens that are really browns and vice's confusing as to which layer goes where. Or maybe it's a trial and error thing. I'll do some more research. I got frustrated with the "right way" to compost and now I just throw it in a pile no matter what color it is and let it do it's thing with the occasional squirt from the hose. It seems to be working.

Steve, I don't blame you for not wanting to haul wet algae 10 miles. It's tempting at times though? My husband is in agreement with what you said about all the work hauling the hay but thinks that the hauling seems a better alternative than the digging in rock hard soil. He loves the garden and when people visit it's one of the first places he takes them to but he doesn't really share my love for it....yet? Maybe when I take up golf?

Earwigs...yuck. I'm not a prissy girl when it comes to bugs but those earwigs sure gross me out and we have a lot here too!


    Bookmark   December 6, 2006 at 11:55AM
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david52 Zone 6

I do a mean lasagna garden with newspaper, card board, and grass clippings. The worms really help.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2006 at 2:12PM
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I don't worry too much about the mixture of browns and greens. What I do is if it starts to stink, I add more high carbon material (leaves, shredded paper, wood shavings, etc). If it dries out, I add some water. In the summer, I turn it every few days.

Until a Starbucks opened in a convenient spot, I usually had too many browns, and my compost went pretty slowly. Now in the summer, I can get a batch in about three weeks. I don't have much luck with winter composting in my bin (I think it's too small).

I've never really lasagna gardened, but I may be doing it this year by default because I had a lot of leaves clogging the gutter in the street, so I just shovelled them up and piled them on the garden. I've been putting coffee grounds on top of them, but I don't know whether they'll decompose in time for spring planting. I may just end up with a really thick mulch.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2006 at 2:46PM
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Charlene, I make compost in a very similar manner to your approach. (If you look at the pile and process from the right angle - you may be able to claim that they are high tech ;o) The underlying idea is that I'm likely to be gardening a couple years from now. I use 2 slow techniques and both require just a little digging but no turning.

A - - The simplest approach is digging out a bed in the garden to a depth of about 8 inches. This trench is then filled with compostables - I often do this at the end of a season so these plants may well be frost-killed. Piled up to as much as 3 feet above grade, the pile then receives a dose of fertilizer (cow or chicken manure in the veggie garden) and then covered with soil.

The following year nothing is done with the pile other than it is watered when everything is irrigated and the weeds are pulled off of it. The third growing season, the bed can be planted. Squash works well.

B - - My other approach is using bins - really just frames over shallow pits about 8 inches down. One bin receives plants and kitchen trimmings, etc. thru the season with periodic applications of manure and/or soil (if I only layer on soil, ammonium sulfate is usually applied and the resulting compost is used in the ornamental garden). Besides their importance to the composting practice, soil and manure help compress the pile when it starts getting too high. The following year, this bin is watered and kept free of weeds while compostables are layered into a second bin. The third season the compost is moved into the garden and the first bin is freed-up for this continuing process.

Having the piles where they can be watered is critical.

It helps to have at least some of the pile below grade because moisture is better retained throughout the pile. Layering in soil works very well, better IMO than manure by itself but extra fertilizer is needed. Ammonium sulfate for the flowers or a few bags of chicken manure works well for the vegetable garden compost.

I have a neighbor who built a bin above ground, with a wire floor..!? His "pile" has been there for years - I think the bin will need to fall apart and dump the material on the ground before any composting will EVER take place.

Sheet composting (if I understand the process correctly). It looks like the idea is to,
a - start with material on the soil surface that is already nearly decomposed and available to the plants
b - then use a barrier that will keep any weeds from coming thru the first season
c - then pile on just about everything, trying for a balanced offering for the micro-organisms and worms, and finally
d - topping it off with what is essentially mulch material (weed free and slow to decompose). The mulch material will need to be raked off when new compost offerings are added and the mulch should be replaced as it slowly decomposes.


    Bookmark   December 7, 2006 at 11:03AM
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singcharlene(Zone 5)

Thanks for taking the time to give the step by step recipe! That's helpful! I'll add some soil and manure to my piles next year. I may hit up my neighbors that aren't big gardeners for their scraps. If you had told me when I was younger that I'd be asking for people's rotted leftovers and animal poo I wouldn't have believed you.

But in sheet composting, you wouldn't plant right on top of this as Pat Lanza does in her lasagna beds would you?

I thought about moving my compost piles out of the garden but decided I better not as they'd never get watered, turned or even added to if I didn't see them all the time.

This weekend I'll thaw out all the bags & bags of zucchini I painstakingly shredded in the food processor and measured out into two cup increments back in September for holiday zucchini bread. If I don't use em all for gifts, I'll add em to my pile!


    Bookmark   December 7, 2006 at 11:18PM
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I just recently moved to WY from San Jose. There, I had extremely, extremely hard clay. I did my own version of lasagna gardening. In the fall, I put down the newspaper and covered it with all the leaves I could scrounge from the neighbors. The leaves covered the newspaper about 4-6" thick--this was on a steep slope. The next spring, I had unbelievable soil with lotsa worms. I don't think it is the layering that it important--it's the newspapers! I am trying it here in WY--but have to use soil, manure, and mulch as it is spring. Hope it works as well.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2007 at 10:50PM
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I think you'll have less luck in WY if you try to use just leaves. You'll need something to provide N, or it will take a really long time to break down. I usually use leaves for carbon and coffee grounds and/or grass clippings for nitrogen. Even with the N, it's not always broken down in the spring.

If you're simply talking about the improvement to the underlying soil and the extra worms, that's just a function of all the added organic matter, and doesn't really have anything to do with the layering or the newspapers (except for the newspapers as a source of organic matter).

    Bookmark   May 21, 2007 at 12:22AM
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Hi Charlene,

I didn't get a chance to talk to you about this at the swap, but it looks like your lasagne garden is well underway.

I did my entire garden this way, but in my location, I learned I had to kill the grass first with Roundup. I hated doing it, but where we lived used to be a ranch and the original property owners had planted some kind of noxious pasture grass that would outlive Armageddon! My first small section of lasagne gardening was re-invaded by the grass that I was trying to kill, hence the Roundup.

What I ended up doing was:

1) Roundup
2) 3-4 layers of cardboard boxes
3) Alpaca manure (we have an alpaca farm just down the road)
4) 4-6 in shredded wood mulch

I did this in the early/mid summer and could plant the following spring. Worked great! Now I maintain just by normal weeding and adding alpaca manure as a topdressing around the roses. I maintain the mulch layer with pine straw as it's plentiful and FREE.

I wish you lots of success with your new garden beds :)


    Bookmark   May 21, 2007 at 10:20AM
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singcharlene(Zone 5)

Readpioneer-I think you're right in that the newspaper does help to keep the soil moist and attractive to soil beneficials. What I've noticed in my garden is that whenever anything has been in place for a while, especially with a few good rains, underneath it (like all the black bags of organic materials I've been collecting 'body bags' haha) is teaming with worms-huge ones!

Nancy-That's encouraging that you did your entire garden in this method. I worked most of the day Saturday and all day Sunday putting together my lasagna beds. I didn't count the bags that I'd been collecting but as you saw, it was a lot and my body is sore!

I did various layers of newspaper or cardboard, pine needles, grass clippings, partly rotted compost (the little I had), shredded leaves, peat moss & mushroom compost (some of the beds). This weekend I'm going to buy some topsoil to make pockets to plant in right away.

It would have cost me a fortune to build all of those beds if I had bought the compost and soil instead and none of it went into the landfill.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2007 at 8:21PM
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Azura(z5 CO)

I finally read the Lasagna Gardening book you recommended and I am wondering how your lasagna beds are doing. Have they composted well? How much did they settle? Are your plants growing well?
You've inspired me to start a new bed now for next spring.
I also wanted to thank you for the recommendation. I have used Amazon's used book sellers but I like using Paypal through and they have better prices on several books Ive ordered now.
And since Im thanking you for everything else, thank you again for hosting the swap. :)

    Bookmark   July 7, 2007 at 4:32PM
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singcharlene(Zone 5)

Hi Azura,

Well thank you! I'm glad you liked the book; I am rereading parts of it myself right now. I love too and find great books for a few dollars or less.

I'm SO addicted to Lasagna Gardening now. I don't know if I'll ever go back to digging. Start asking your neighbors, friends, and family members now for their garden "junk" which is gold to the lasagna garden: grass clippings, leaves, pine needles, coffee grounds, etc.

My lasagna beds are doing very well. The plants are growing nicely including seeds I sowed directly in the beds (corn, bush &pole green beans, parsley, various greens). We outfitted them with soaker hoses and with a very thick layer of straw; I have only had to water twice a week even in this heat. I threw the rotted pumpkins from Halloween and some winter squash in the compost pile last year which I then used as a layer in the lasagna beds and now I have squash and pumpkin plants everywhere which I'm pulling except for one bed.

I'll try to take some pics and post this week. I'm behind on my garden page.

Have fun!


    Bookmark   July 8, 2007 at 1:52PM
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Does lasagna gardening stink up your back yard?

    Bookmark   January 26, 2011 at 5:03PM
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singcharlene(Zone 5)

Priscilla~ I've not had any smell from lasagna gardening. There's no meat, dairy or anything like that. I cover my lasagna beds with a layer of soil (usually because I want to plant in them right away) and no smell. :)

    Bookmark   January 26, 2011 at 5:13PM
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Thank you for the answer, Charlene.

This question has been tormenting me the last 4 years.

I have been agonizing over the right moment to ask it.

Steve's digits

    Bookmark   January 26, 2011 at 8:37PM
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I feel stupid even mentioning this, but at first I though she was talking about growing ingredients that go into lasagna. I had never heard of this method. I am definitely interested for the future though. Would this method work well in a hoop house, or not because of needing the elements in winter?


    Bookmark   January 30, 2011 at 9:29AM
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Melanie, I have a hoop house but don't do lasagna gardening. (I also don't feel any special levity, frivolity, offhandedness - or much of anything else today, after all these weeks of winter.) My hoop house won't be set up for a few more weeks (can I believe that!) so it is just a couple of raised (frozen) beds with hoops, right now.

Despite not being in production this winter, I have been out there now-and-then prepping the soil - sorta. There were a couple of thaws, the piles of snow melted and I dug a few holes for the compostables that had piled up and were mostly frozen in a bucket near the backdoor.

This is what I've done a number of years now - bury compostables in those 2 beds. The soil is very fertile. The material is mostly straight out of the kitchen and we generate quite a lot of vegetable and fruit peelings.

Thru the spring and the entire growing season, those beds will see lots of use. I will grow things just to dig and transplant out into the open garden. A lot of lettuce and a few green onions and such will come out of that hoop house, early. Also, things like Chinese cabbage will stay in there for their full life-cycle.

After the weather really heats up and the plastic is pulled off, those beds will continue as home for Cucurbits that need a longer season than what the outdoors usually affords. The hoop house is in the most protected location in my yard. It is very sunny and this amounts to a kind of "tropical" demand on that soil.

Would a lasagna approach work? Sure, I think so. But, there's so much going on thru the extended growing season, I find it better not to use my "sheet composting" on those 2 beds . . . just what works for me.


    Bookmark   February 2, 2011 at 11:23AM
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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)

I've done lasagna gardening before but prefer to call it sheet mulching. I don't see why it wouldn't work to improve soil in a hoop house as long as there's adequate water. Something to consider though with heavy mulching is promoting habitat for slugs. I tend to remove most of my mulches sometime in spring. I'll either throw them in the compost pile or simply pile them up in a corner somewhere to be used later in early summer when most plants can withstand some slug damage.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2011 at 12:30PM
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That is very insightful, Gjcore.

Slugs are a real problem in my hoop house - with no mulch. I'm not sure where they come from. Maybe they hatch from eggs laid in the soil.

I have to buy a good-sized box of iron phosphate bait to sprinkle about in there, every year.


    Bookmark   February 3, 2011 at 9:59PM
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gjcore(zone 5 Aurora Co)


I'd guess that slugs are something of a problem for you because hoop houses tend to be more humid, slightly lower light levels and lack of predators. You're probably not getting birds and probably not toads or snakes.

I've had pretty good luck using Sluggo the last couple years in the battle against the slugs.


    Bookmark   February 4, 2011 at 3:50PM
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