Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Building a lasagna garden

 I wanted to talk a little bit about gardening today.  It's the backbone of my world these days, lol, especially this time of year, when it's the backbone, the head and the heart! lol   One of those landmark moments in my life was the day that I stumbled across an old book by a woman named Ruth Stout.  She wrote about mulching and composting and a no-till garden. She was a feisty old woman that I could really relate to. I had already read books by Helen and Scott Nearing called Living the Good Life, where they waxed eloquent about the practical realities of living off the land.  This was back in the early 70's.  The Mother Earth News  magazine had begun publishing filled with information for people who wanted to "get back to natural living" and "live off the land".  I was young and energetic and had become a bit of an idealist.  I had a young baby and was determined that he have a better beginning than I had had myself, so I breastfed him until he was almost 6 months old, when he started walking. I made my own baby food fresh every day. I grew my own organic (I say organic--we didn't put any chemicals on our food, but our place was surrounded on 4 sides by farm fields that were sprayed to death for generations and probably the water table was full of it too, so...lol). But by golly, I had a DREAM!  I became an eco-warrior before it was chic. lol

  Fast forward through my life, and I have lived in several places, tried to garden in most of those and wasn't always successful. I grew pots of veggies if I couldn't garden in the dirt. I always at least had window herb gardens, and as much as I did not want to move back to Illinois, I always yearned for that kind of gardening and that kind of country life. In 1995, I moved near Asheville, North Carolina. After the first year of living in a log cabin on a lake where the lots were small and too densely wooded to get enough sun to grow anything, we bought a little 1/3 acre lot with a tiny blue house on it. It even had a white picket fence all around the front yard.  The back yard was long and deep and narrow, and perfect for a garden.  All the way at the back was a tiny stream that ran through it, and right in there, we set up 3 beehives.  About this same time, I came across a book by a woman named Patricia Lanza called  Lasagna Gardening.  I read it in one night and was so excited I could barely wait to get started.

  The basic premise of Ms. Lanza's book was a no-till garden with long rows no more that 4-5 feet across (depending on how tall you are).  She said you didn't have top dig or till the ground at all. Just lay out your beds with newspaper or other paper layers and wet it down good as you put the papers down. Thick layers if you have a lot of grass.  We looked at our lawn, looked at each other and got to work. Instead of newspaper, we used heavy brown paper that came from where we worked. It was untreated paper that lay between layers of other fragile paper used in making plastic in the plant we worked in. The beauty of this stuff was that it came in 5x10 foot sheets. We brought some home and got to work. Put down the paper and water the heck out of it. We laid out 4 beds that first year. about 20x5 foot long.  From a local nursery, I ordered several truckloads of finely mulched material as well as compost. ( For the record: we spent quite a bit that first year buying mulch and compost, because we didn't know things that we know now. That hasn't happened since.)  Asheville has a leaf composting facility where the city picks up residential area leaves and dumps them and then continually maintains the place by scooping and turning and it makes the most beautiful compost I have ever seen. You can go there and they will load you up with as much as you can use. For free. 

 Ms. Lanza has a formula for the beds, which consist of layering (like a lasagna) organic materials. We had a friend with horses and got a whole load of spoiled hay for free. We also were given free access to all the pony poop we could use. YIPPEE!  So that first year we started the beds with paper, hay, mulch, compost, leaf compost, manure, and some grass clippings thrown in.  You layer and layer until you're out of materials...at least, that's what we did. The final layer on top was a couple of inches of the finely ground mulch. Now...she said you could plant right into this top layer the first year, even though it wasn't dirt, and you could grow vegetables. I was skeptical, naturally, being from the farming center of the country. I thought it couldn't possibly work WELL, tho it might work some. But I wanted a garden so bad I was willing to give it a try. So I bought some seeds and some plants and started making holes.

  Even that very first year, my garden was magnificent.  Our house was on a corner lot, and people were always stopping traffic to gawk at our gardens and to talk. I had 12 ft tall sunflowers bordering one of the beds. All the vegetable beds were interplanted with zinnias and marigolds and nasturtiums. Everything grew like crazy. And I was hooked on lasagna gardening. I couldn't fathom any other way to garden, it's so easy. Weeds are at a minimum, the raised beds hold water better than flat ground. There's no need for any extra fertilizing because it's really one big bed of compost. At the end of each garden year, we lay the dead vines and stalks down on the bed and cover them with more straw and whatever chicken house material we've gathered over the summer and lay it to rest. And in the spring, we add more and more and beds get a little higher and the soil more beautiful and it is a sight to behold.

Here's one of the beds in June of last year. This is the 3rd year of gardening here since we moved to IL and had to start all new beds.  I was heartbroken to have to leave my garden beds in NC..they were so beautiful. 
(Here's one pic I could find from NC) This was probably the second year gardens.

    I cannot imagine my life without being able to grow my own food. As things change in this world we live in, it's a skill we had all better cultivate if we want to know how to keep ourselves alive and healthy.  My food keeps me nourished physically and spiritually and emotionally. It does not make me sick. It gives me a financial freedom.  It connects me to Creation. It fills my pantries.  And I am blessed to be able to do this...to share with others. Every year I donate fresh vegetables to local food pantries. And the more I give, it seems the more I get.  And that, my friends, is a Universal Law.

   So---I hope that you got some information you can use from this. I hear people all the time say they would like to garden but can't, because they can't and have no one to till the ground for them. This is your  lucky day!  NO more tilling or digging or any of that hard work.  We have chickens and we also have a 3 compartment compost system in our backyard. We compost everything that comes out of our kitchen and flower beds. When we clean the chicken coops, all that manure and straw goes into the compost. After the first bin gets full and composted a bit, it gets moved and eventually finds its way to the third bin which is ready-to-use compost.  We have a neighbor out here with horses who is more than happy to supply us with all the manure we can use free for the hauling out of his stable cleaning piles.  One year we met a woman with goats and got loads of goat poop.  All in all, it's a great FREE system for building heavenly garden beds.

"A garden is a work of ART..using materials of Nature..."~~Anonymous



  1. Love this post. That second to last paragraph though is just beautifully written. Nice job!!

  2. Akannie - you have hit on some of my fave things in this post - Ruth, the Nearings and Ms. Lanza - all of whom i admire and have learned tons from! we are practicing one new thing this year - have you heard of hugelkultures? look it up - it's another easy peasy way to no-till. we will not be tilling our beds and tires anymore - in the future we will lasagna our beds and from here on in - it's hugelkulture all the way! (we have a lot of rotting wood on our land).

    your friend,

  3. I had a lovely garden at home. No garden comes with an apartment. I am proud of you Annie!

  4. excellent post, informative, interesting, timely, and fun to read. beautiful gardens. we have just begun RV traveling, this house is sold, alas there is no garden.

    thank you, for sharing.

  5. Hi! We have just discovered the organic waste recycling center this year. Enjoying all the free mulch and compost! Wish I would have known about it sooner! I have both the Nearings book and the Lasagna gardening one and Ruth Stouts. Just started blogging about our gardening on a small lot this year. Nancy at Cozy Thyme Cottage

  6. Annie, this is inspiring. I have excellent soil here because the garden was once an alluvial river bed. I also have very large raised beds made from old fruit crates used for storing grapes on the farms around us and I fill those with compost and layering. Then I grow bush tomatoes and annual herbs like basil or small bushes of bell peppers, chilli peppers, eggplants.


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