By Lena Young
Here we are in the middle of autumn, where the air is frigid and the daylight hours are limited. This is the time of year when many plants begin their descent into dormancy, and a variety of animals find refuge for hibernation - including many humans, who retreat indoors for warmth and a feeling of coziness. Though the fall and winter may seem like mother earth’s time away from work, there is plenty to be done in and around the garden. One valuable task to add to your to-do list before winter: treat your soil to some extra love before it settles in for the cold, dark season. There are many options out there for amending and mulching your soil, but if you really want to treat your soil to a hearty, nutritious meal, try a method of in-soil composting called ‘lasagna gardening.’ Nutrient-rich soil provides a welcoming environment for a microbially diverse ecosystem, and a diverse ecosystem provides further protection against disease and pests. If you have a location where you have been dreaming of starting a garden, but find the project daunting due to soil that is compacted, clay, sandy, or otherwise unsuitable for your gardening needs, the lasagna method may be a fun and resourceful option for you to try.
What is a ‘lasagna garden’?
Lasagna gardening is considered a ‘no-dig’ or ‘no-till’ method, which means that the soil will not be tilled or disrupted during this project.
How do you prepare your lasagna garden?
To make a lasagna garden you will utilize three ingredients:
- brown (dry) materials
- green (wet/fresh) materials
- Mulch cover
Let’s get started!
Much like a lasagna that you would prepare in the kitchen, you will want to assemble your ingredients in alternating layers for optimum results. It is ideal to arrange your brown layers at least twice as deep/thick as your green layers (this does not need to be exact, but having a balanced ratio will facilitate efficient and even decomposition of the lasagna pile). If it suits you, visualize that anytime you arrange a brown layer, you will reinforce it with another brown layer before adding a green layer (the pattern will be: brown, brown, green, brown, brown, green, etc.).
Start with a good solid layer of brown material for your base; if you are covering weeds or grass, it might be advantageous to use a layer of cardboard or newspaper as your base. You can spray this first layer with water until it is saturated, or you can use rocks or heavy objects to keep the base layer in place and allow the rain to soak it until saturated.
Now you can build your lasagna!
Start compiling your layers by throwing a brown layer down on the [brown] base layer, then adding a green layer on top of that, alternating until the pile is about two feet tall. Yes, two feet tall. This might seem high, but you will notice that the pile will start to break down and decrease in size relatively quick (especially in these wet, rainy autumn and winter months).
What is the end result?
Patience is a virtue, and being a virtuous gardener and farmer (and human being, for that matter) requires flexibility. Your lasagna garden will break down at its’ own pace - which will be influenced by the weather, as well as the contents of the lasagna. Temperature and moisture level will both play a role in the speed of decomposition, and some items may take longer to break down (waxy leaves - i.e. magnolias - may take longer, as well as a thick layer of cardboard at the base). Regardless of the timeline, your lasagna will transform into a beautiful garden plot that is rich in organic matter (humus).
Taking soil health into consideration is beneficial to the environment and to our local ecosystem(s). When we treat the environment with care, the environment returns the favor by providing a stable soil structure, healthy tilth, and beautiful plants.
Lena was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest residing in several locations along Puget Sound. She earned a degree in Sociology and is passionate about community nutrition and sustainable food systems - but the list hardly stops there; Lena loves to experiment in the kitchen (particularly fermentation and baking), adores exploring various forms of dance and movement, and is eager to learn everything there is to know about sustainable agriculture and soil health. Lena has completed courses through WSU Extension Program and Tilth Alliance, and is eager to assist in efforts to incorporate gardening into public schools - whether it be solely complimentary to curriculum or to feed students, their families, and the community. When Lena is not gardening, cooking, or furthering her agricultural education, she is dancing, traveling with her husband, spending time with their dog, and volunteering at local farms.