Gardening layers make planning beds simple

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

I love to eat vine-ripened tomatoes and fresh garden vegetables but don't really have a great place to grow my own. But I've found a way to get the fresh-tasting vegetables I want with the limited gardening space I have.

I've started using the "lasagna gardening" method, recommended by Patricia Lanza in her book "Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces."

The idea is simple and actually saves time. Most people probably have all the tools they'll need for such a project lying around the house or garden shed.

I've used the lasagna method for all the new beds I've planted this spring, and I don't have many weeds to speak of. You can build a new bed in as little as an hour or two. To get started, I carry out a stack of old newspapers, minus the glossy ads, a bucket of water and compost, peat moss and topsoil to the site I want to plant.

To start, thoroughly wet the newspaper sections and place them on top of the area you want to plant. I typically cover the grass with a thick layer of newspapers. Then add a layer of mulched leaves or peat moss. Next, add a layer of compost, finishing with a layer of soil. You can repeat the second and third layers as much as you need to get the right height for your bed. For a circular bed at the base of a shade tree, I added several wheelbarrow loads of dirt before adding the peat moss and compost layers. It added height to my bed without using up my precious compost.

The new bed is ready to plant as soon as you're finished layering. Or you can just cover the space with a tarp for a month or so and then plant the bed.

I don't like to wait and tend not to plan too far ahead for my garden beds, so I don't cover the space. However, if you're planning to build a new bed this fall and want to plant it in the spring, this method should work. You can substitute layers of wet cardboard for the newspapers if you like. The cardboard just takes longer to decompose.

The beauty of this grading method is that I seldom have to weed my beds and when I do, the weeds seem to come up with a single yank. And because the soil is so rich, you can easily place more plants into smaller spaces without digging. Simply push the layers aside, set in your plant and water.

Even if you don't have a yard to landscape using the "lasagna gardening" methods you can try the same technique with containers. I'm growing lettuce in a window box by my front door and several herbs in a strawberry pot. I planted a patio tomato and several green peppers in a 10-inch container that I placed among the other plants in my side yard flowerbed. The herbs and tomatoes get full sun but don't need that much space, so I've got plenty of room left for flowers.

Lanza's book changed how I thought about gardening and how much space plants actually need for growth. So far, I've been happy with the results and I'm sure you will be too.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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