Credit: istock / Carolyn Herriot

Harvest baby greens by picking off leaves rather than pulling the plant out of the ground

Harvest baby greens by picking off leaves rather than pulling the plant out of the ground

It’s never been easier to plant a vegetable patch – simply layer it over your lawn or onto any available strip of land

Last year I was inspired to try a new method of growing food called “Lasagna Gardening,” which was introduced by gardener Patricia Lanza and supports the theory that the secret to success is growing the soil before growing the food.

Site in the Sun

Site a lasagna garden where it receives 11 hours or more of sun a day for heat-loving plants such as tomatoes, squash, zucchini, beans and carrots.

Seven hours may be adequate for cool-weather crops such as lettuce, chicory, leeks, onions, endive, parsley, peas, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, rutabaga and celeriac. 

Less than four hours of sunlight is insufficient for any food plant. 

It all starts from the ground up, by adding layers of organic materials (like making a lasagna) to create a planting bed. The finished bed should be no less than 30 cm (12 in.) in height, with the top layer prepared for seeds or transplants. 

Lasagna gardening produces prolific harvests in no time, and does not require digging, tilling, sod removal or weeding. Simply layer it right over top of your lawn! It recycles free organic waste, feeds plants and cuts down on watering. It’s up to you as to whether you border the garden with boards or rocks – it’s not necessary to contain it at all, but you can be as creative as you wish! 

The first step is to plan ahead and stockpile lots of ingredients to build the lasagna garden. Gather any organic matter that is biodegradable and uncontaminated. The size of the bed is only limited by the amount of material required to build it.

It takes one cycle of production for a bed to decompose by 15 cm (6 in.), as the layers of organic matter break down and release nutrients to plants. The high fertility of the growing medium results in huge healthy plants, which can be placed close together for increased productivity.

Before planting another crop, simply renew the bed with fresh layers of organic matter, which also smother any weeds that may have appeared. Organic matter also locks moisture in, which means less watering. How can you beat all this?

I just love the simplicity of lasagna gardening. It’s possible for anyone to do, even if you don’t own the land you wish to plant on, because lasagna gardens can be temporary – when beds are no longer needed, all that’s left is quality compost!

We could grow lots more food by creating lasagna beds on vacant lots and in unused spaces, and we would solve many of our waste-disposal problems at the same time.

Step-by-step lasagna garden building


GWO-Spr2010-ZeroMileDiet-3a.jpg 1. Put down a 5-cm (2-in.) layer of manure and rake level. You can use fresh manure only in the bottom layer, where microbes will have broken it down before plant roots can access it. This manure will provide a nitrogen kick to plants later in the season. Cover the manure with overlapping sections of plain cardboard (no colour inks).
GWO-Spr2010-ZeroMileDiet-3b.jpg 2. Spread out some dolomite lime (neutralizes pH, adds calcium and magnesium), and then build the bed up by adding layers of no more than 5 cm (2 in.) of any of the following: manure, leaves, spoiled hay, grass clippings, wood ash (uncontaminated), sawdust and fine woodchips (not cedar and always from untreated wood), seaweed, compost and topsoil.
GWO-Spr2010-ZeroMileDiet-3c.jpg 3. Finish with a top layer of screened compost or topsoil. The finished bed should be 30 cm (12 in.) in height. Water well and now you are ready to sow seeds or tuck in transplants.
GWO-Spr2010-ZeroMileDiet-3d.jpg 4. Three weeks after planting, this garden is chock-a-block with lettuces, spinach, chicory, peas, carrots and broccoli.

Tip: Harvest baby greens by picking off leaves rather than pulling the plant out of the ground. Early crops of spinach, radishes, peas and lettuce are replaced by plantings of tomatoes, carrots, squash and beans. Garlic, winter leaf and root crops can follow in the fall.

GWO-Spr2010-ZeroMileDiet-3e.jpg 5. This owner uses his garden to feed his family and share with neighbours.
 He puts the cardboard on top!

Carolyn Herriot is author of the bestselling A Year On The Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. Look for her new book, The Zero-Mile Diet: A Year-Round Guide to Growing  Great Organic Food, available at bookstores now.

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