It's not too late to grow a garden this summer. Here's a great idea for building a raised-bed garden that won't break your back and gets your kids interested in gardening. The technique is called lasagna gardening and it creates an instant garden out of materials right at hand. There's no need to till or dig up the lawn, because the sod will break down and actually feed your plants as the summer progresses. Instead, you simply build the raised bed with layers of mulch, organic matter, kitchen scraps, and compost on top of the lawn or sod. You can't eat this lasagna, but the food you grow in it will be delicious!
Lasagna gardening is normally done in fall for a spring planting, which gives the bed all winter to decompose and turn into rich soil for planting. However, by altering the procedure slightly you can build a lasagna bed in June and plant in it immediately. Here's how to do it.
Step 1: Collect materials: You can use all types of organic matter to make a lasagna bed -- grass clippings from mowing your home lawn, leaves and clippings from a landscaping service (don't accept clippings from lawns that have been treated with pesticides and herbicides), and mulch hay from farms. You can buy compost and peat moss from garden centers. Collect kitchen vegetable scraps, coffee or tea grounds, and newspapers, as well.
Step 2: Level existing vegetation. Mow the area, leaving clippings in place, or stomp down tall grass and weeds so they lie flat on the ground.
Step 3: Define your beds. Use stakes or a garden hose to mark the edges of your bed or beds. Make each bed narrow enough that you can reach the center without straining. That way, you and your kids can avoid compacting the beds by working on your plantings from the paths.
Step 4: Smother it! Fill a tub with water and moisten 4 to 6 pages of newspaper at a time. Lay the damp paper over the defined area, overlapping the edges by at least two inches. This step smoothers the lawn, killing the grass without any digging on your part!
Step 5: Make the Lasagna. Spread 2-inch-thick layers of the organic matter on top of the newspapers to form the bed. Alternate green layers (grass clippings, kitchen scraps) with brown layers (hay, peat moss). Keep off the bed as much as possible while making the layers to reduce compaction. Spray each layer of dry materials with water until it is as damp as a well-wrung-out sponge before adding the next layer. If you use materials that contain weed seeds, such as hay or horse manure that isn't fully composted, put them in the lower layers in your lasagna to minimize weed growth. Keep adding layers until the bed is 12 inches high.
Step 6: Planting. If you made the lasagna bed in fall, you'd now leave it for a few months to decompose and then plant the beds the next spring. However, if you're planting right away, the procedure is slightly different. Instead of planting directly in the decomposed matter, you will place your flower and vegetable transplants in pockets of compost nestled in the bed. These pockets will give your transplants the nutrients they need while the lasagna bed is breaking down.
To get started, make a list of annual flowers, vegetables, or perennial flowers you'd like to grow. Design your bed, keeping the proper spacing between plants in mind. For transplants, pull mulch away to form a hole large enough for your root ball, fill the hole with compost, and set your plants in place. To sow seeds, sift two inches of compost or soil over the surface of the mulch, plant the seeds, and cover them with more compost. Keep the seedbed moist, and as soon as the seedlings emerge, gently pull mulch around them. Monitor seedlings and young transplants daily to make sure they have enough moisture. By fall the roots of your plants will have spread throughout the bed and the materials will be decomposing.
Maintaining Lasagna Beds
Keep the bed well watered. Drip irrigation and soaker hoses are ideal, but watering by hand is fine, too. You can also use one-gallon milk jugs or 2-liter soda bottles as free, slow-drip watering tools. Using a pin, punch holes in the lower half of each jug -- both bottoms and sides. Bury the jugs in the bed near plants and fill them; they'l leak water slowly for the plants to use. Remove any weeds that form on top of your bed and add an extra layer of mulch once the plants are actively growing. This last layer will help to conserve soil moisture and reduce weeding through the summer.