Sunday, January 01, 2006

Lasagna Gardening, a/k/a sheet mulching

I am a lazy gardener. There. I said it. I hate tilling, hoeing, weeding, and watering. I'd much rather plant seeds and plants, propagate, harvest, and sit on a bench in the sun admiring the results of my not-so-hard labor. Yet the clay forms an impenetrable slab, the weeds grow, and the summer sun dries my poor plants out every day. What's a lazy gardener to do?

Well, a couple of years ago I picked up a book by Ruth Stout called How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back. It's a wonderful book, in which the author describes how she was able to have a huge garden with minimal work by sheet mulching or sheet composting, piling organic matter around her plants rather than digging in finished organic ingredients. That year I snatched up bags of leaves and other yard debris from unsuspecting neighbors and layered it over a part of my vegetable garden in the fall. Come spring, I didn't have to weed or till! Not bad.

Earlier this year, I found a newer book that describes similar techniques in lots more detail: Lasagna Gardening, by Patricia Lanza. It's a great book for beginning gardeners. Lanza spends about a chapter describing lasagna gardening in loving detail, but then she spends the rest of the book actually telling you how to grow stuff. She covers edibles -- vegetables, herbs, and berries -- and flowers, with lots of practical tips and helpful drawings. A few years later she published Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces, which is even better because of the wonderful recipes she includes.

I have become a lasagna gardening convert. I've layered newspaper and leaves on my tomato patch and front yard flower garden, and I'm planning to make more garden lasagna as soon as the weather warms up a bit this year. I have better soil and fewer weeds -- even the horsetail struggled to come up last year through my 8" layers of mulch.

To purchase any of the books mentioned in this post, just click a link below:


Rose said...

I was wondering how long you have been doing this now. This is my first year, and I've just read Steve Solomon's "Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades" and it advises that sheet mulching doesn't work on the west coast because it doesn't break down fast enough and pill bugs and earwigs come in hordes and consume the vegetables by the second summer. I still love the idea and find breaking sod unbearable. So I was wondering about your success and whether you've had any particularly bad infestation. Thanks for any advice.

Janet said...

Yeah, I read that too. I don't do heavy sheet mulching for my vegetables, though I do add layers of leaves and other organic matter every winter to the area where I grow my tomatoes. Whatever doesn't break down gets raked into the pathways, and I've never had any problems as a result. I use raised beds for my other veggies. I usually mulch those beds in the winter with icky straw from my chicken coop (mulch and fertilizer in one!). Again, what doesn't break down by spring, I rake back to plant, then when the soil warms up and the plants are growing, I scoot it back around them. I have very few pest problems, even though I never spray with anything stronger than insecticidal soap (and that, rarely). Slugs are a problem, but iron phosphate bait keeps them at bay. Solomon talks about some other creature that's a problem here (symphylodons?) and decreases crop yields. My yields vary from crop to crop and year to year, so I don't know if that's a problem here or not.

I'd say experiment a bit and see what works for you. I have friends who swear by cover crops, especially those that fix nitrogen, so you could try that instead of heavy mulching.