Patricia Lanza, author of the Lasagna Gardening
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First Lasagna Gardener
you buy the first plant, or lay down the first sheet of wet newspaper,
take a look around your property. Check to see where you get the best
light; that's where you'll put your garden. Decide on the shape and
contents of your garden. The size of your plot will determine how much
material you need to make your first lasagna.
Your material list will change
depending on where you live. Some folks have more leaves than others,
some have seaweed, others ground cornstalks or apple pulp. Some of
the lucky ones have access to animal manure.
There's no hard and fast rules about what
to use for your layers, just so long as it's organic and doesn't contain
any protein (fat, meat, or bone). Before I go any further, let me
just say that the basics of making garden lasagnas are simple:
- Don't remove the sod or do any extra
work, like removing weeds or rocks.
- Mark the area for your garden using a
water hose or a long rope to get the desired shape.
- Cover the area you've marked with wet
newspapers, overlapping the edges (5 or more sheets per layer).
- Cover the paper with one to two inches
of peat moss or other organic material.
- Layer several inches of organic
material on top of the peat moss.
- Continue to alternate layers of peat
moss and organic material, until desired thickness is reached.
- Water until the garden is the
consistency of a damp sponge.
- Plant, plant, plant and mulch, mulch,
Start with layers of
newspaper or sheets of cardboard.
Then cover with mulch.
You need less loose material to plant in
than you might think. In the spring of '98, I layered an area where a
dog pen had stood for years. The property belongs to a 79-year-old man
who was upset about his inability to garden as he once had. Until
recently, a 100-year-old white pine tree had occupied the center of the
fenced-in area. But its roots had begun to do real damage to my friend's
house and surrounding properties, and so the tree had to be taken
down. Once the tree was removed, the area was bright and sunny,
but, unfortunately, the ground contained 100 years worth of layered pine
First, we covered the area with lime, then laid whole sections of wet
newspaper on top of the pine needles and covered the paper with peat
moss. We bought a small truckload of barn litter mixed with our local
clay soil and covered the peat with two inches of this mix and then two
more inches of peat moss. Additions of one to two inches of grass
clippings, two inches of peat moss, one to two inches of compost, and
more peat gave us a total of about six to eight inches to plant in.
We pulled the layers apart and planted 31 tomato plants, four squash,
six cucumber, four basil, two rosemary, four parsley, and twelve cosmos.
It was a jungle, but with staking, pruning, and tying, the garden
produced so much fruit that the entire neighborhood helped eat the
harvest, and the cosmos were so beautiful they took our breath away.
Once the harvest was finished, I pulled the stems and disturbed the
layers for the first time. Pieces of the paper layer came up with the
roots. So, too, did the biggest earthworms you can imagine. The soil was
still probably a bit acidic, but it will get better in time.
To prepare the new garden for another year of planting, we spread the
contents of a large composter onto the space, and the garden took on
several inches in height. The last mowing of grass provided enough
clippings to add another few inches. When the fall came, we mowed the
leaves for a top dressing of four inches of chipped leaves. I love an
edged garden and so the last thing I did was cut a sharp, clean border
around the sides, throwing the edging material up onto the garden, with
grass side down, for another layer of more good dirt. It looked
Close planting and mulching greatly reduced the amount of weeds in the
dog-pen garden, as they do in all my gardens. It also meant less
watering, since the paper and mulch kept the soil around the root zone
cool. Even though we pushed it a bit by planting 31 tomato plants, the
staking, tying, and pruning, in addition to close planting, created a
healthy growing environment, with few garden pests. It was another test,
and the results have left my friend confident that, as he enters his
80th year, he will be able to continue gardening with the lasagna
Indeed, lasagna gardening is so simple that the hardest part may be
getting started. I suggest beginning with that walk around your property
to determine what you can do with what you have. If you get lots of
shade, plant a shade garden or cut some tree limbs. Track the light for
a couple of days during the spring and summer. You probably have more
light than you think--not sun, but light. Lots of rocks? Try rock
gardening. You might learn to love the wonderful world of small plants
that thrive in rocky terrain. Too little space? Look again. If there's a
foot of space, you can plant in it.
There's no such thing as work-free gardening, but the lasagna method is
close. Once you train yourself to think layering, and learn to stockpile
your ingredients, you will work less each year. Following are some
of my favorite vegetables, along with tips on how I grow them the
Many gardeners shy away from this tasty
crop, mainly because it's difficult to grow through traditional means.
Not so with lasagna gardening. I still remember the first year I planned
my asparagus patch. Turned out to be one of my best vegetable trials
yet. For fun, I grew a tray of plants from seed, started indoors in
February. In early spring, I added the small seedlings to the assembly
of roots--one, two, and three years old--that I had accumulated to plant
Using a mattock blade, I scraped a shallow opening in a newly made
lasagna bed, an inch or two deep. I combined the roots and seedlings in
the opening and covered them with a sifting of soil and peat moss. Once
the roots were planted, I covered the top of the row with a mixture of
manure and peat moss.
As the roots sprouted and grew, I added sifted compost and grass
clippings. In the fall, I added more manure and a thick layer of chipped
leaves for winter mulch. During the first spring, I watched the
asparagus emerge and grow. I invited inn guests into the garden to help
me cut and eat the first tender stalks. Then I mulched, mulched, then
mulched some more.
The second spring, I cut so much asparagus we had some to freeze. It was
all so easy: plant, mulch, harvest, and enjoy.
Site and soil. A heavy feeder,
asparagus needs well-drained soil and at least six hours of sun. The
fall before planting, build a lasagna garden on the site you've chosen
for your asparagus, using a base of newspaper topped with 18 to 24
inches of layered organic material. By spring, the lasagna bed will have
composted to ideal soil conditions for asparagus.
Planting and harvest. The time is
right when the soil is thawed and crumbles in your hand. Plant in rows
two feet apart in two shallow trenches, with a rise in between. This
lets the crowns sit on top of the rise, with the roots in the trenches.
Plants should be 18 inches apart and covered with two to three inches of
soil and compost mixture.
As the plants grow during the summer, continue covering with the compost
enriched mixture until crowns are four inches deep. In the fall, cover
the entire bed with a blanket of eight to ten inches of chopped leaves
or other organic mulch. Each spring, feed the bed compost enriched with
manure. In colder regions, pull the mulch back on half the bed to get an
extra early harvest, saving half the bed for later harvesting. Once the
harvest is over, the remaining shoots expand into ferny top growth. When
the ferns turn bronze, cut them back.
I usually wind up planting many more
beans than I actually need. But with so many varieties--all so much fun
to grow--who can resist! Once the last chance of frost is past,
plant your favorite bean seeds. Divide your seeds into thirds and plant
every two weeks for a longer harvest.
Once I have a lasagna bed in place, I plant bush bean seeds along the
edges. They only need a few inches, since the plants will lean out over
the sides of the garden, leaving room for taller crops. I plant pole
bean seeds around the base of teepees made from six-foot bamboo poles.
Plant seeds around the base of each pole, and when they start to climb,
give them a boost up the trailing twine you have tied from the top.
Site and soil. Beans grow best in
well-drained soil that's high in organic matter. A new or established
lasagna bed in full sun works best for all types.
Planting and harvest. Fix supports
in place before planting pole bean seeds. For both types, pole and bush,
just push the seeds into loose soil about two inches apart. Cover the
seeds and press the soil around them for direct contact.
Keep the soil evenly moist until seeds emerge, then cover the soil with
a good mulch to keep the soil cool, the leaves clean, and the garden
weed-free. To avoid rust, don't work beans when foliage is wet. Once
beans start to appear, keep crop picked to encourage new bloom. Rotate
crops every year to avoid pests and disease.
Bush cucumbers can be grown in small
spaces and containers. Climbing cucumbers need strong support, so plant
close to a fence or trellis. I like the climbers and try to see what
kind of new supports I can come up with each year to make the garden
more interesting. I loved the string cradles we tied to a stockade fence
one year. The vines grew up strings hanging down into the row, then up
the string cradles and onto the fence.
Site and soil. Cucumbers need good
drainage and rich soil. Lasagna gardens are just the thing, when
enriched with fresh manure. However, wait three years before planting in
the same place to avoid pests and disease.
Planting and harvest. Wait until the
last frost is past, then plant prestarted seeds covered with floating
row cover in colder regions, and seeds sown directly in the garden in
milder climates. Keep mulched and don't till, as cucumbers are shallow
rooted. Maintaining at least six inches of mulch at all times keeps the
roots cool and moist, but they still need an inch of water each week.
Pick the fruit when it's small and most flavorful. Once the harvest
starts, don't miss a day, or you'll have candidates for the compost pile
instead of the salad bowl.
If you've never tried growing garlic,
you've missed something special. I make a rich lasagna bed, let it cook
for four to six weeks under black plastic, set strings up to keep my
rows straight, and push in single cloves just enough to see they are
covered. When the foliage is full and seed heads form, I cut and use
them just as I would cloves. When the foliage turns yellow or brown,
it's time to lift the garlic.
Loosen the earth and gently shake off any dirt. Let the cloves cure by
hanging them in a dry place. The individual cloves will each make a
head, so you will have plenty to use, as well as to save for next year's
Site and soil. Good drainage, full
sun, and plenty of manure-rich compost are best. A well-built lasagna
bed has the perfect growing conditions to start, then all you have to do
is add grass clippings or chipped leaves for mulch to keep the soil
evenly moist and weeds at a minimum.
Planting and harvest. Gardeners in the Northeast and zone
5 and colder climates will get best results from hard-neck garlic
planted in the fall and harvested the next summer. Milder climates can
grow soft-neck; plant in the spring and harvest that same fall.
If you haven't room for an entire bed just for garlic, plant some in
groups of three to five cloves in flower or vegetable beds. Folks who
have bug problems swear by the positive effect garlic has on its
Anyone can grow lettuce. The problem is
most folks grow too much at one time. Use a little restraint and make
successive plantings. Mix lettuce seed with sand so you will not have to
do so much thinning. I broadcast a mixture of cut-and-come-again lettuce
once a month for the duration of growing time for my zone.
Site and soil. Lettuce likes it cool
and so is ideally suited for spring and fall plantings. I use other
taller plants to shade my lettuce in summer. It's best to prepare a site
for lettuce in the fall, adding a high nitrogen amendment (such as fresh
grass clippings) to the top two inches of soil.
Planting and harvest. Lettuce is a
fun crop to grow in containers, as borders, and in tiny spaces that
would only go to waste otherwise. There's really no safe place to hide
when I start looking for places to plant. I've planted Ruby Red and
Oakleaf lettuce in my herb and edible flower containers and flower
boxes. I interplant herbs and lettuce in the border gardens that
surround my antique roses. The Mesculun mixes are wonderful in big terra
cotta saucers that stand alone in part shade.
When guests come for dinner, I give them a colander and a pair of
scissors and point them toward the garden. They come back with an
interesting collection of edibles and never forget the experience. Lots
of good gardeners start out by getting their feet dirty in someone
No need to dig trenches or to hill up.
Build a lasagna bed to eliminate grass and weeds, don't use any lime or
nitrogen-rich materials (such as grass clippings), lay down one or two
sheets of wet newspaper, lay seed potatoes on top of the paper, and
cover with spoiled hay or compost. You can use pretty much anything you
have that is dried. Chipped leaves are great for covering the tubers. I
use hay that is well-cured and lying next to my potato bed, so I don't
have to carry it too far.
Site and soil. Potatoes need full
sun, good drainage, and can tolerate acid soil. Preparing a lasagna bed
and adding bone meal or rock sulfate produces a good harvest and large
tubers. Avoid planting potatoes where you have grown them or their
relatives (including eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes) for the past three
Planting and harvest. Be ready to
plant in early to midspring and have enough material to cover the bed
with ten inches of mulch. Be prepared to add several inches of cover to
the bed as plants grow. The important thing here is to keep the tubers
covered so they will not see the light of day. By the end of the growing
period, the plants will be propped up with hay or other soil amendments.
Slip your hand under the mulch to harvest a few small potatoes when the
beans are ready to pick. Let the rest continue growing until the foliage
has yellowed. Don't try to dig! Lift the mulch and pick the clean tubers
up off the newspaper.
Be on the watch for potato bugs. Try to catch them when they are small.
Sweep across the foliage with a broom. They will fall into the mulch
and, when small, not be able to find their way back up to the leaves.
The toughest part of growing tomatoes is
choosing the kinds you will grow. You'll likely want to plant several
different varieties each year: there's early, midseason, and late ones;
tiny pear shaped, cherry, patio, plum, slicing, and cooking varieties;
plus, tomatoes for juice and for stuffing, not to mention new types and
Site and soil. Tomatoes need full
sun, an inch of water per week, and protection from the wind. Ideal
conditions are a lasagna bed that has been around for at least a year
and has not grown any of the relatives: potatoes, eggplant, or other
I prepare my site by installing water jugs buried up to their shoulders
between where every two plants will be. A pin hole in the sides facing
the plants should let enough seep out to keep up consistent watering. I
place a tall stick in each jug, its top colored with red paint or nail
polish. This helps me find the sticks, which helps me find the openings
to the jugs when all the foliage hides them from view. I fill the jugs
with a funnel and the water hose. You can add liquid plant food to the
water if you like.
Planting and harvest. Wait until
after the last frost, then plant the seedlings. Create a well of soil
around the stem to help catch any rain. If you have prepared the lasagna
bed in advance, all you will have to do is scrape the soil aside and lay
the plant down up to the last four leaves. Press the soil around the
plant to make direct contact and push out any air pockets.
Once the jugs and plants are in place, make a collar of one or two
sheets of wet newspaper, place it around the stem, and cover the paper
with mulch. Depending on the type of tomatoes you have chosen, you will
need to stake, tie, prune, and pinch. Keep the water jugs full and check
plants regularly for bugs or disease. Don't get impatient; tomatoes need
lots of long hot sunny days and warm nights. Again, depending on the
cultivar you have chosen to grow, you can look forward to your first
harvest in 55 to 100 days after you set the plants out.
And, oh, what a delicious harvest! I love tomatoes warm from the
garden--standing over the row, biting into one, the juice running off my
chin, dripping from my elbow, the acid tingling my tongue. It just
doesn't get any better than that.
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