Welcome to the turnaround decade! Ten years to make huge shifts in the way we live. We have been forewarned that climate chaos will bring disruption to global food supply, so what better way to respond to the looming climate emergency than by planting a food garden? This year, my monthly columns will be on the topic “What to Do in Your Garden,” and hopefully they will inspire you to follow along as your contribution to saving the world.
Right now you are either thinking, “I am way too busy” or “there’s no room in my garden.” So I’m going to share a method of food growing that is fast and easy, and that anyone can do, anywhere and on any day. I will tell you how you can grow organic soil and food at the same time! I learned how to do this when I was inspired to try “lasagna gardening.” The secret to success is in growing the soil, which releases nutrients as layers breakdown, which supports growing food. It starts from the ground up (on top of your lawn?), building layers of organic materials (like making a lasagna) to create a food bed. The finished bed should be no less than 12 inches in height, and the top layer (the cheese) should be one that you can sow seeds or transplant starts into. The transplanting method produces prolific harvests of food in record time. See photo.
It requires no digging, no tilling, no sod removal or weeding. It recycles free organic waste, feeds plants and cuts down on watering. It’s up to you whether you contain the garden with boards or rocks, you don’t need to, but you can be creative if you want to.
Site a lasagna garden where it gets 11 or more hours of sun a day. Seven hours is possible for cool-weather plants; less than four is impossible for any food plant.
Your role is to start stockpiling ingredients to build the lasagna bed(s). Gather any organic waste that is uncontaminated and biodegradable. The bed can be any size, as long as there are enough materials to build it. The high fertility of the growing medium means it’s possible to plant rows close together when overlapping leaves will keep weeds at bay. If weeds do appear just add another layer to smother them. It takes one cycle of production for a bed to decompose six-inches, as the layers of organic matter break down and release nutrients to the plants. High fertility results in huge plants with few problems from pests and disease. Lots of organic matter locks moisture in, which means less watering too. Before planting another crop simply rebuild and renew the bed with fresh layers of organic waste. Now how great is this?
Building a Lasagna Garden
Cover the area of the bed with overlapping sections of plain cardboard (no colour inks, staples removed).
Build the bed by adding two-inch layers of any of the following:
manure (cow, sheep, horse, llama, goat or chicken),
leaves (tip: stockpile in circular wire cages in fall),
spoiled hay (horse stables),
sawdust (not cedar),
dolomite lime (neutralizes pH, adds calcium and magnesium),
seaweed (in winter), and/or
Finish with a top layer of screened compost or topsoil. The finished bed should be 12 inches in height. Water well, and you are ready to sow seeds or transplant starts.
To get a head start, sow cool weather crops into seed trays (72 cells) and grow under lights or under cover on a heat mat. Transplant out into the top layer of the lasagna bed in spring when the weather has settled, placing a scoop of granular organic fertilizer into each planting hole.
Cool-weather crops: lettuces, chicory, arugula, leeks, onions, endive, parsley, peas, spinach, swiss chard, kale, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, rutabaga, celery and celeriac.
Early crops of spinach, radishes, peas and lettuce can be replaced by later plantings of tomatoes, carrots, squash and beans. Garlic, winter-hardy leaf and root crops can follow in fall. You don’t need to own the land you create a lasagna garden on because the beds are temporary, and when no longer needed, all they leave behind is quality soil!
Carolyn Herriot is author of The Zero Mile Diet, A Year Round Guide to Growing Organic Food and The Zero Mile Diet Cookbook, Seasonal Recipes for Delicious Homegrown Food (Harbour Publishing) available at your local bookstore.