Triumphant Return of Green Thumb!: Lasagna Gardening

I love gardening. I obviously inherited this love from my father and grandfather who had very large and vigorous New England gardens. My Mom, however, is still completely dumbfounded that I have pursued this hobby in my adulthood. Perhaps, it is because I spent the better part of my childhood summers coming up with excuses as to why I could not help out in the garden. Picking rocks is not all that appealing to children, but if the love is truly genetic, there is hope for Juliette yet :)

Last year, I blogged quite a bit about my garden until I had to leave it at the end of May to move into our new house. This house has kept me plenty busy, but there was a void that could only be filled by dirt between my fingers. I told Dean he could help me LOVE this house by adding a garden to our priority list.

Fortunately, my father-in-law is handy and more than happy to make me some raised garden beds when he visited for Christmas. The dirt at the new house is very different from the old, although we are only 3 miles down the road. Instead of a clay soil (which was not fun to prep beds), we have very shallow topsoil with limestone underneath. We discovered this very quickly when we needed a pick axe to plant even 4″ starter plants by the pool. This would mean a LOT of work to prepare a 20×12 garden area like I had previously, so we decided to have three raised beds instead. I pinned a lot of raised beds on my pinterest idea board and found several sites boasting of plans for inexpensive raised beds- as low as $10. We got a good laugh out of that one when Lowes rung up all our materials. We opted for cedar for its longevity and I, err, went a bit over budget. Here are my beautiful boxes- two 4x10s and one 4×12. My FIL even routered the edges. Very fancy!


The next task was filling the boxes. I found a handy soil calculator online. You enter the length, width and depth of your beds and it tells you the amount of soil needed in cubic feet and cubic yards. The bad news was that my beds called for about 40 cubic feet for the smaller beds and 48  for the larger beds. That’s nearly 5 yards of dirt! Yikes!

In researching an alternative way to fill my beds, I stumbled upon a concept called lasagna gardening. Lasagna gardening is a form of no dig gardening that involves alternating layers of carbon rich and nitrogen rich organic matter that will compost over time giving you rich, fluffy soil. This is typically done in the off-season so that the layers will cook down in time for spring planting; however, it can be done at virtually any time if you add a 4-6 inch layer of soil mix to the top. This is the option I chose since I didn’t prep my beds until the end of February.

Much of the layers can be gathered for free with a little bit of leg work.

Green nitrogen-rich layers include:

  • Grass clippings
  • Spent blooms, trimmings from pruning garden and flower beds
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Coffee grounds (free from Starbucks)
  • Tea leaves and tea bags
  • Alfalfa
  • Manure
  • Seaweed
  • Blood meal or bone meal

Brown carbon-rich layers include:

  • Crushed leaves
  • Shredded newspaper (black and white ink only is preferable)
  • Peat moss
  • Hay or straw (straw preferable because it is less likely to contain seeds that will sprout)
  • Pine needles
  • Chopped brush

In general, your brown layers will be 2x as thick as your green layers.

Your planting soil will go on top of your lasagna layers and will follow the standard recipe:

  • 60% topsoil
  • 30% compost
  • 10 % soilless grow mix (i.e. peat moss, perlite, vermiculite)

Here’s a look at my layers. First, I laid down cardboard and/or newspaper. This doubles as both a weed block and carbon (brown) layer. You can either wet down your newspaper as you lay it down or give it a good soaking with the garden hose.

IMG_5905 IMG_5901

Next came the alfalfa hay, which I purchased at a local feed store. I was able to use 1 bale for all three of my beds.

IMG_5906I covered the alfalfa with a thin layer of composted manure and wet everything down.

IMG_5907On top of that came the coastal hay. Again, I was able to use one bale for all three of my beds and I still have extra left to use as mulch once my garden is established.

IMG_5908I covered the hay with another thin layer of composted manure and gave it a good soaking. My next green layer was kind of a free for all. I had one bag of garden clippings, 5 big bags of coffee grounds from Starbucks and a couple weeks worth of fruit and veggie scraps to be composted. I distributed these as best as I could across the three beds.

IMG_5910 IMG_5911For the next carbon layer, I used fall leaves, which are plentiful in my yard. These are better for a bottom compost layer since they take a while to break down, but I crushed them to give them a head start and figure they will have plenty of time to compost while my garden is growing in the soil mix I add to the top.

IMG_5912Since I had so much alfalfa left and space to fill, I added another alfalfa layer.

IMG_5915Next came my soil mix. For my 4×12 bed, I used 2.2 cubic ft peat moss, 2 cubic feet Organics by Gosh triple power compost, 4 bags of Scott’s premium topsoil, 2 bags of Organics by Gosh composted manure, 3 bags of Organics by Gosh Texas friendly topsoil, 2 bags of EarthGro topsoil, 1 bag of Earth Gro humus/manure and native soil excavated when I removed the sod and scraped the area around the bed.

The two 4×10 beds used 2.2 cubic feet peat moss, 2 cubic feet flower power compost, 3 bags Earth Gro topsoil and 3 bags EarthGro humus/manure and a good amount of native soil. I also added about a cup of bone meal to each of the beds.

IMG_5916 IMG_5918When I finished, the soil came within a few inches of the top of the beds. I watered them down daily and we then had several days of rain prior to planting.They have already shrunk down by a few inches. I imagine they will continue to bake down throughout the summer and hope all will turn into lovely compost by next planting season!

In my next Green Thumb post, I’ll talk about how I organized my beds using a method called companion planting. Now this momma has to get herself to bed ASAP. Another long day of yard work and mothering is on the horizon. Oh how I love spring!

For more reading on this topic, check out my sources:

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