Lasagna Gardening 101

Have you ever neglected a garden and found it over-run with weeds the next growing season?

“Ugh! So much work!” you may initially think.

Well… for a garden permie (which is what you are).. it is not quite “so much work!”

A permaculture garden is essentially, a lazy garden. Why is that?

Because as much as possible, we let nature do the heavy-lifting. Our job is to put the design / thought-work into place so that the natural systems can most effectively function.

1. Do not till.

When we till the soil we are essentially killing the intricate network of life below the ground upon which the life above the ground depends.

Dr. Elaine Ingham, Founder, President and Director of Research for Soil Foodweb Inc states that most of the problems associated with poor soil are caused by tillage and the “use of toxic compounds such as pesticides and inorganic fertilizers which kill the organisms that build structure in the soil.”

A single teaspoon (1 gram) of rich garden soil can hold up to one billion bacteria, several yards of fungal filaments, several thousand protozoa, and scores of nematodes,Kathy Merrifield, a retired nematologist, Oregon State University.

Mychorryzal fungi (a beneficial plant fungi) also known as the “internet of the soil” can be found for miles on end in one contiguous plot of land.

Because this fungi is so extensive and so entrenched in the landscape, it can essentially “field” nutrients to those plants and fellow fungi that need it from one part of your yard that has these nutrients in abundance.

Mycologist Paul Stamets book, “Mycelium Running,” is a fascinating read of the secret life of fungi.

The growth of mycelia can be extensive. A form of honey fungus found in the forests of Michigan, which began from a single spore and grows mainly underground, now is estimated to cover 40 acres. The mycelia network is thought to be over 100 tons in weight and is at least 1,500 years old. More recently, another species of fungus discovered in Washington State was found to cover at least 1,500 acresEncyclopedia.com

What happens when we till?

Now when we till, we break those fungal connections and killing and churning up the beneficial bacteria and micro-organisms in the soil. Initially, our soil may have a surge of oxygen, but then without the life to maintain the soil structure, the ecosystem falls apart.

The Ida Le are Community Gardens are mowed and tilled down every spring, destroying the life in the soil.

The Ida Le are Community Gardens are mowed and tilled down every spring, destroying the life in the soil.

There is a community garden plot in Leesburg, VA that is a source of great sadness to me & Dave because every year, they till the soil over there and have people start from a blank canvas of lifelessness.

What if my soil is compacted?

We use a “broad fork (affiliate link).” Or something that aerates the soil, without chopping up the earth worms.

See video below on how to use these forks.

2. Lasagna Garden:

Here is one of many possible formulas for a “lasagna garden.”

We always start with cardboard at the bottom. This acts not only as a weed barrier but somehow mimics the bedrock layer of the soil on the upper crust of the earth.

Lay down cardboard, overlapping about 6-inches, in order to block off the weeds without having to pull them all out. Now you do not need to pull any weeds. Less work for you.

Please note: You may still have weeds in your garden even after putting down the cardboard, but they will be much less and grow to be less and less every year as you build up your soil to be rich and fertile.

In the diagram above, I have put the “kitchen scraps” below the cardboard, just in case, you want to make extra sure that no rodents start smelling the scraps from your backyard and dig them up before they have time to decompose.

The middle layers can be whatever you have on hand + the organic compost/soil mix that you are initially building a garden with. But the top of the lasagna garden for us is always a nice bed of straw mulch.

Straw mulch works well in the heat and works well in the cold. It eventually disintegrates and becomes part of your soil layers. But initially, when it is newly placed, it helps protect the soil from evaporation and from extreme frost. It’s like a blanket!

Dave likes to use scissors and snip the straw mulch up into finer cuttings so that they don’t stifle the plant growth underneath.

Watch the video below to learn how to build a lasagna garden from scratch using whatever materials you have on hand.

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Comments 2

  1. Hi Nicky,

    As requested…

    Here are 8 videos of tours of Paul Gautschi’s garden (ranging from 2 to 5 hours!)

    I don’t know which to recommend as they each have both overlapping and unique info. And if you’re short on time, try increasing the youtube video speed settings so you can play it faster. The channel also has other shorter clips of Paul.

    Also, here’s the documentary made about Paul’s garden called “Back to Eden” (though I found the above garden tours more informative):

    I wish everyone could see what’s happening in Paul’s garden and be inspired to make the whole earth a fruitful garden 🙂

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