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Layer Gardening

Updated on February 24, 2013

Layer Or Lasagna Gardening

An easy, no fuss way to garden in nearly any space!

Using materials that we would normally put on a recycle pile, you can create a garden nearly anywhere, even on top of a concrete slab. Or on a roof?

Try this and see why it is quickly becoming a favorite of many gardeners.

Image courtesy of Hotblack on Morguefile.com

The Ruth Stout System

Ruth Stout, one of the premier layer gardeners made this comment to Mother Earth News:

"My no-work gardening method is simply to keep a thick mulch of any vegetable matter that rots on both my vegetable and flower garden all year round. As it decays and enriches the soil, I add more. The labor-saving part of my system is that I never plow, spade, sow a cover crop, harrow, hoe, cultivate, weed, water or spray. I use just one fertilizer (cottonseed or soybean meal), and I don't go through that tortuous business of building a compost pile.

I beg everyone to start with a mulch 8 inches deep; otherwise, weeds may come through, and it would be a pity to be discouraged at the very start. But when I am asked how many bales (or tons) of hay are necessary to cover any given area, I can't answer from my own experience, for I gardened in this way for years before I had any idea of writing about it, and therefore didn't keep track of such details."

She went on to answer these questions:

What Should I Use for Mulch?

Spoiled or regular hay, straw, leaves, pine needles, sawdust, weeds, garbage — any vegetable matter that rots.

Don't Some Leaves Decay Too Slowly?

No, they just remain mulch longer, which cuts down on labor. Don't they mat down? If so, it doesn't matter because they are between the rows of growing things and not on top of them. Can one use leaves without hay? Yes, but a combination of the two is better, I think.

What is spoiled hay?

It's hay that for some reason isn't good enough to feed livestock. It may have, for instance, become moldy — if it was moist when put in the haymow — but it is just as effective for mulching as good hay, and a great deal cheaper.

Can you use grass clippings?

Yes, but unless you have a huge lawn or have neighbors who will collect them for you, they don't go very far.

How Do You Sow Seeds into the Mulch?

You plant exactly as you always have, in the Earth. You pull back the mulch and put the seeds in the ground and cover them just as you would if you had never heard of mulching.

Isn't It Bad to Mulch with Hay That May Be Full of Weed Seeds?

If the mulch is thick enough, the weeds can't come through it.

To read her entire article please visit The Mother Earth News

Lasagna Gardening The Patricia Lanza Way

From an article/interview by Erin White on Oprah.com

A lasagna garden is not full of herbs and ingredients for an Italian pasta dish-it's a way of gardening that's easy, organic and fun!

About 20 years ago, Patricia Lanza was a newly divorced 50-something who had raised seven children and was looking for a new path in life. She turned to gardening on her small farm near the Catskill Mountains of New York as a way to relieve stress and relax. However, Patricia found the traditional gardening methods passed down from her grandmother to be difficult and time consuming.

Common sense told Patricia that layering or sheet composting would help her build rich soil for her garden easily, without digging and tilling, but Patricia took that principle a step further and developed a method of gardening that has changed the way people grow vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers around the world. Her method is called lasagna gardening, and it's the basis of three books she's written, including Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding!

For the rest of this wonderful article please visit Oprah.com

Or make sure to stop by Patricia's site Lasagna Gardening

So What Is It?

To put it in simple terms, a layer garden is exactly that. Without tilling or even disturbing the existing ground, you start by throwing down some card board or newspapers flat on the ground in the area you wish to cover. Make sure to over lap the edges. This has several purposes. First you will smother the existing plants, second you are promoting worm migration into your beds via the moisture you are holding below your new bed, which is a very good thing.

I have found it is a good thing to put down a layer of 2 inch by 1/2 inch hardware cloth (which is a wire mesh). My reason being, I have moles that would destroy the garden to get to the worms. Why not get rid of the moles? They aerate my yard for free.

Next goes a two or three inch layer of peat moss.

Next gather the materials that usually end up in a garbage bag and set out on the curb. Grass clippings, leaves and kitchen scraps are the next layer. Other things that go into this list are hay, sawdust, old stalks from previous gardens, wood ash, animal manures and other organic items that would normally go into a compost pile. One thing to note: corn cobs, leaves and stalks are suggested to be chopped into smaller pieces, so if you don't have a mulching method to do this, you may want to skip those materials.

So what does not go into the compost pile? Avoid fats, meats, bones, oils and actually coniferous materials like pine needles, bark and cones. Now the coniferous materials are high acid as they decompose, they make awesome compost for plants that need those conditions: azaleas, blueberries, rhododendrons. If you put them into your compost you will need to add lime to counteract the acid component.

So after the layer of peat moss you will add a four to eight inch layer of your organic material (the compost). Then alternate the layers of peat and compost until you are approximately eighteen to twenty four inches high. Of course you could go higher than that to save yourself from stooping over the bed, but the worm propagation is essential to the success of your garden, and the taller the bed, the longer it takes for the worms to root to the top and through the upper part of the bed. To combat this, if you should wish to have a bed that is thirty to forty inches high (desk or counter-top height), you may always purchase worms to add to your layers as you build.

There is even another method using a piece of PVC pipe by drilling holes, sinking into your layers and filling it with layers of rich compost designed to help the worms to have "an elevator" to the upper layers. This also gives you a rich compost setting. As the worms make their way toward the newer mass of compost that you add, they leave their casings behind. This is a very desirable fertilizer. Once you have good propagation you could remove the "elevator" and empty it out for mixing with your compost for indoor planting or raising seedlings.

Now before I put on the final layer of compost, I wind a piece of 1/4 inch nylon or pvc hose (from an ice maker kit available from any retailer) around in the bed. Now I use a propane torch and an upholstery needle - heating the tip of the needle and punching a hole approximately every six inches all the way through - you might come up with a method for doing the same. You don't want a huge hole, just enough to drip.

Of course, you could wait until the final layer and drop in an old garden hose with holes or even purchase a drip hose. My idea springs from the thought that roots will grow deeper to find water. You may have to replace the small line after a few plantings because of the roots growing into the holes. But I typically cut out the clog and splice with simple brass inserts, then dab a touch of pvc glue or super glue over the connection. My first line is still in use after over five years.

Now that you have your final height, you may wish to add some phosphorus or potassium. A light scattering of bonemeal and wood ashes should be all you need.

That's all. Your exact materials might change depending on your season and what you have available. Mrs. Lanza points out that someone living close to a ocean would be able to use seaweed, for instance. But you are ready to plant this bed! Honestly, you very well could have a small bed - from plotting to planting in under a day's time.

Are You Layering Your Garden?

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    • profile image

      BarbaraCasey 6 years ago

      Learned something new... thanks! Also may thanks for visiting my keyboard symbols lens.

    • dedolex profile image

      dedolex 6 years ago

      Good ideas to use this coming spring...Great lens!

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 7 years ago from Vermont

      I've been gardening this way for more than 30 years - I just thought it made sense and save time. Nice to see there's a name and a movement for layered mulch gardening. We tried out trench composting last winter - this year our tomato plants growing in that part of the garden are 6 feet tall - and it's only mid July.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 7 years ago from Central Florida

      I read Stout's book over 20 years ago. Made sense to me then and I should start using it now that I have a garden.