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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Low Cost Lasagna Beds

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

One of the things that I've begun doing this year is to expand on my outreach efforts to new gardeners in my community. It's not that I'm an expert on all things garden related, by no means do I fit that bill. I have however learned a lot of things through trial and error and this spring my wife and I attended a two and a half month training program called the Master Gardener program. I learned a lot of new information and it's really helped with my efforts.

In talking to neighbors and friends, a few of which have been affected by the global economic down turn, one of their concerns is that starting a garden can be a costly adventure. That is particularly true here in northern Utah where we call home. We are very near to the shore of the Great Salt Lake and because of that our soil is salty and alkaline. Add to that the fact that it is a sedimentary soil that over thousands of years has become hard pack clay and it's not what most would call the optimum conditions for starting a new garden. Because of these factors and because Mel Bartholomew of Square foot gardening fame began his whole movement in Utah just a half hour from where we live, raised bed gardening is very big here. It's not cheap to get started though, so I felt concerned with telling people that were already tight on money that they should spend a good size chunk of it on starting a raised bed. At the same time, I know that most people starting gardens directly in the ground have a couple of years of amending the soil ahead of them before they really starting seeing the "fruits" of their labors.

Enter the "Lasagna Garden". I picked up a book at our local thrift store last summer about a garden called a lasagna garden. It wasn't what it sounded like, a garden to grow lasagna ingredients, but rather was a raised bed garden that could be started with little investment and promised little effort for good return. The basics of what this is all about is building a garden bed from miscellaneous organic materials and letting them essentially compost in place to build a fertile soil that can support a garden.

I hate to suggest anyone try something that I haven't done myself so last fall, as a part of our "liberate the lawn" efforts in the back yard, we decided to give it a shot as a sort of experimental garden plot for this year. We already had plans to build a new raised bed there, so it was easy to just modify our plans to go with this new idea. We built the raised beds along our fence line using the same type of recycled concrete blocks that we'd used for the rest of our yard landscaping and, after breaking up the ground a bit with a pitch fork, layered the bottom of the bed with cardboard pieces that were gotten for free from work.

Next I filled the bed with layers of organic material like I was putting together a sort of organic compost lasagna. I took pictures of the process.

To fill the bed, I pulled over a thin layer of soil from the existing raised bed that I was tying into. Onto that I added layers of material like straw, homemade compost, grass clippings, composted chicken manure, course sawdust that was used as chicken bedding, coffee grounds from the local coffee shop and some left over peat and vermiculite that I happened to have on hand at the end of the season.

I filled it very full knowing that it would sink and left it to sit over the winter. The fall rains soaked it, the winter snows insulated it and by early this spring we had what was beginning to look a lot like soil. A few months later and I dug into into it to plant my first crops; a mix of different plants that I hope will give me a good idea of if this benefits some more than others. I've planted watermelons, casaba melon, tomatoes, bush cucumbers, peppers and eggplants in it. The soil was soft and friable and I needed so tools at all to plant the starts.This picture was taken a little less than a month ago. So far, I am VERY impressed with the results of this method. The rich organic matter of this bed drain well, while at the same time holding a good amount of water. Below the surface, the soil looks to be very rich and fertile. This is the first time I've been able to get watermelons to grow well at all, and I'm already starting to set fruit on my pepper plants.

If your feeling a pinch in your pocketbook, or maybe have friends that are, this is a nearly zero cost alternative to building a raised bed garden that can support a lot of garden and can be worked very easily. It seems to be a good alternative and is certainly one that I look forward to exploring further.

All the best to you all.


Eilleen said...

THANK YOU so much for this P~! Now I know what I'll be doing this weekend. :) I might even take photos of it as I go. :)

livinginalocalzone said...

I love the name of it, and yes, I thought it would be ways to grow ingredients that are made into lasagna :-) But raised beds are wonderful, the more I learn about them the more convinced I am of that and how solid of an investment they are.
My raised beds are just done the ordinary way, but I like the sound of the lasagna method... something to consider for next year, and an incentive to get myself sorted out and educated about the composting.

Cynthia said...

Thanks so much for the information. I have wanted to plant on my fence line but could not figure out how to do this, becasue I have already built 2 raised beds and they are pretty large (costly). So I am looking for something a whole lot cheaper and this is the perfect time to start adding the ingridents so it is ready for next years planting.

Jenn said...

Excellent idea. Now, if only I could convince my landlords that some raised beds would be infintely preferable to the beaten down grass currently on display outside...

Chookie said...

I wonder how old your book is? This method was espoused by the wonderful Esther Deans -- here's some info:

P~ said...

I'm glad some of you found this to be helpful. I was really skeptical to begin with but so far I'm really happy with it.

As for the book, it's not all that old. I think someone may have taken Esther's method and refined it. Here is a look at the book in case anyone is curious.

Best of luck to you all on your endeavors.

brittany, steve, and gabe said...

love that you used "recycled concrete". we did the same, and aside from some hard labor, it was totally free and a lot nicer looking than most of the alternatives within our price range!

Anonymous said...

I love this idea! You always have the best ideas. I look forward to your future posts

Nina said...

Looks good. I do the same. I layer newspaper, compost, food scraps, pine straw, grassclippings and whatever. Because of the extreme heat here it decomposes pretty quickly.
I was also pleased to find that the worms LOVE the hay I put down for my dog. I raked that into a pile and happened to find TONS of worms. After it was good and composted I added that to my garden beds. I think the worms really like the newspaper and hay, and they help the dirtmaking process along.

Duane & Patricia said...

This spring we moved AGAIN so time to reclaim part of the lawn on the acreage we are renting. First time in KY and this awful red hardpacked clay! We read that you can do the lasagna beds in the spring and was able to get a dumptruck load of compost from WKU for $75! (We always have huge gardens) We even did our potatoes this way, laid on top and covered over with straw and more straw as they grew. Worked great for some things and not others. The ground was still too hard for carrots to penetrate so they are growing up and sideways. Beets came up out of the bed when one inch in diameter. I would definitely recommend starting it in the fall for the following year, but what can you do when you move so often? I wonder what a third year garden looks like?