This lasagna recipe isn’t for dinner tonight. It’s for your garden. More especially, it is a recipe for building garden soil that will grow magnificent vegetables you can use in your regular lasagna recipe.
The soil in your garden is a special thing. It isn’t just dirt; it’s a living organism. It hosts bacteria, fungi, and insects, all of which are necessary to process and release the nutrients that plants require. With each of these pieces, the puzzle is incomplete, and the soil becomes unhealthy.
A garden with healthy soil produces strong, vigorous plants that are better able to withstand the pressures of disease and insects. It also is less prone to weeds and other invasive plants and is easier to maintain for the gardener.
Creating Healthy Soil
Nature has been creating healthy soil to support abundant plant and animal life for eons. We can never hope to replicate those processes perfectly, nor can we imagine to manage them better than nature does. We can, however, make sure that nature has all the necessary ingredients that are necessary for the processed to function.
The soil needs a source of carbon and nitrogen and myriad other trace elements. In a forest or grassland, these come back to the soil in the form of decomposition. Everything eventually returns to the soil, be it plant or animal. The process is inexorable and inescapable. In this way, the nutrients are recycled back into the soil to be used again and again.
Plants are very good at maintaining a proper balance of the nutrients, minerals, and other elements they need to remain healthy. When they die and fall to the ground, they begin the process of decomposition. The insects and microorganisms in the soil begin to break down the plant material and return those products to the soil. Because the plant keeps them in balance, a balanced return occurs as well.
The Way of Nature
No one comes into the prairie or the forest floor and tills the soil. No one comes in to add fertilizer. This system works quite well and has for millions of years. God designed it so that he didn’t have to tend his creation. It is a self-sustaining system when it is left alone. Don’t you think it is a little presumptuous of us to think we can improve on or manage such a masterful design?
How do we translate that into our gardens and landscapes? It is easier than you might think.
Man’s Answer to Nature
If you are starting a new vegetable garden (or an ornamental garden for that matter) traditional methods would have you use a chemical herbicide to kill all the weeds and grasses, use a mechanical tiller to turn the soil, add various products to amend the soil and then each season repeat this process. You can get vegetables and flowers to grow using this system, but at what cost? It can work, but it is labor-intensive, and it is destructive to the soil.
Let’s think about that for a few moments. First, you are going to spray poisons all over the same place you want to grow things you are going to eat. You really should read the label of some of these herbicides and then think about what you are doing. Tilling. No one tills the prairie. No one tills the forest. What is really happening when you till the soil every year.
Don’t do it Wrong
The first thing that happens is you disturb or destroy a lot of the life that is in your soil. The fungi that work with the roots of your plants to bring nutrients and water in from much further away than the plant roots will ever grow.
The bacteria that make all those nutrients available and the earthworms and other small life that create the structure of the soil that allows plants to feed, drink, and breathe. Yes, those organisms will regenerate over time. That is the time that they should be working with your tender seedlings to let them grow into healthy and strong plants during the first weeks of life in your soil. How much better would it be if that multitude of life in your soil was undisturbed and ready to begin to nurture your new plants? Better to design a system that allows the microbiome of the soil to remain intact from year to year, to proliferate and do its job while we merely do our part to provide the raw materials.
So, lets’ build a Lasagna Garden.
Layout your garden. Once you have decided what size and where you will be gardening, the first step is to lay down a thick layer of cardboard or paper, ideally, it should be 2 to 3 inches thick. Any paper will work, even newsprint. Depending on the size of your garden space, it may be easier to do the second step at the same time to aid in anchoring your paper in place.
The Layered Approach
The second layer is a thick layer of wood chips. Avoid old and dry chipped wood. Preferably your wood chips will be about the size of potato chips and have a large volume of green material mixed in. There should also be a generous portion of smaller and smaller pieces. Once you have a 4 to 6-inch layer of wood chips on your site, spread a 4 to 6 inches layer of composted manure on top of the wood chips.
Top the entire pile off with a 6 to 8-inch layer of good organic garden soil. Try and get composted material if possible. Depending on where you are, you may need to amend your garden soil with rock minerals and other materials. See our article on rock minerals. If not, make sure that your source material is free of weeds and other nuisances. When you have your topsoil in place, mulch the whole thing again with either wood chips (the same stuff you used in the lower layer) straw, weed-free hay, or any other quality organic mulch.
Let it Cook
Now you need to let it cook. It is best to prepare your garden area during the late summer and let it winter over. By planting next spring, you should have a rich fertile garden site just waiting for your plants and seeds. Don’t worry if you are late or early. The lasagna method will work anytime. Fall is just the optimal time to start.
Plant into the soil beneath the layer of mulch. Once your plants have established themselves, pull the mulch back up around them and refresh it where it is needed. As time passes, the top layer of mulch will begin to decompose, and you will need to add another lather of mulch. Mix it with composted manure to return the nitrogen to the soil, practice good crop rotation habits and enjoy the benefits of never tilling again.
You may still need to weed occasionally, but you will find it much easier. The mulch layer will inhibit weed seed germination, and as the soil develops, you will find that pulling weeds is much easier and less strenuous.
Links and Resources
For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.
If you found the information here helpful, you might also find these articles on our website of interest.
If you have more specific questions or problems, you can contact us using the contact form on our website. You can also post your question to our community forum at this page; West Texas Organic Gardening Community Forum.
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