Building a lasagna garden

No, we can’t cook and eat it, and we’re not growing food you’d eat in a lasagna.  Lasagna gardening is a technique of building up your raised beds, rather than digging down.

I first heard of the technique this past summer at graduate school.  One of my colleagues purchased a book on the topic, and I eagerly flipped through it. Upon returning from school, I discussed the technique with David and we decided to purchase the book and give it a try!  Our future garden was a jungle of morning glory vines with mystery lurking beneath. We knew there was at least a tire, car battery and basketball hoop buried in the vines, and we were a little fearful of the soil quality.

This is what our garden looked like last winter:

morning glory

It almost had a fairy garden feeling.  David and I saw it as a wasted space for food!

We liked that the fence was covered with vines, but we figured we could grow sweet peas, string beans and scarlet runner beans up the fence, and get food out of the deal!  We toyed with growing jasmine, but as we don’t own our house, we decided that we didn’t want to purchase plants if we didn’t have to.

In December, I got an email about the Social Justice Learning Institute, at Morningside High School in Inglewood, giving away free fruit trees!  We signed up, and David went down to pick it up.  He stood in line for about 2 hours, but came home with a new apricot tree!  It was a bareroot little stick when David planted it, and he had to clear morning glories from the fence and the corner before planting.  After trying many different ways to hack away the vines, he decided that pulling a section out with one hand, and cutting it with the hedge trimmer with the other was the way to go!

dave watering ants

After David planted the apricot stick, he donned his Ghostbusters style backpack, filled it with water, and started flooding the ants that were occupying our corner.  At this point we didn’t have a hose to reach the area (that came during my dad’s visit in March) and we had to get creative!

When the ants were adequately flooded, we planted daffodils, irises and sweet pea seeds, and continued pulling morning glories from the rest of the space.

first apricot buds

We were all excited to see the apricot tree begin to get leaves this spring!

While the tree grew, we began to build the three lasagna beds. I took pictures of each step during the bed that I built last weekend. During our research of lasagna gardening, we learned that we should layer brown and green layers. We wanted to spend minimal amounts of labor and money, so we started to think about what we could use.

Building the beds:

First we laid down cardboard boxes or newspaper over the area.  Ideally we should have leveled it and checked that all the morning glories were out.  I did that in some places; other places I was anxious to get it done.

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Over the cardboard we put grass clippings and green yard waste. We only have a small amount of grass in the front yard, so this step took about two weeks. We wanted to have a thick layer of nitrogen rich material on top of the cardboard. We hoped that none of our grass was flowering, but we weren’t that concerned with weed seeds, as this layer would be buried deep.

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Then we layered a thick layer of straw. Purchasing straw in Los Angeles took a fair bit of research and question asking. We live about 15 minutes from downtown LA, and 15 minutes from the beach- not the best places to find straw.  Lucky for us, we went up to Bakersfield recently, and returned with three bales of straw!

I put only cardboard straw on the path, and under the rain barrel. The paths only contain carbon-rich layers.

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And Rosie and her ball are usually in the aisles as well.  Of course, the cool driveway works for her too.

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While David is out at the mulch pile, I shovel out bin 2 of our compost for the next layer.  (Notice my footwear- I’m ordering new garden clogs soon!)  The compost has been sitting in this bin since the beginning of March, and has been breaking down really nicely. Of course, egg shells, stone fruit pits and avocado skins still had a way to go, but we figured that’d break down within the lasagna.

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I shoveled almost all of the compost out, noticing that each scoop was writhing with worms!  We’ve been blessed to have TONS of native worms and they will do great in the new garden bed, helping all the ingredients break down.
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The nitrogen rich compost was spread onto the straw. I tried to spread it out, and tried to make sure that it was spread evenly.

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Then I raked up the leaves from under the avocado tree and spread them on top of the compost.  I thought I’d need to add shredded paper in this carbon layer also, and was really surprised to find so many leaves had fallen from the trees within the past month!  These leaves have been our standard carbon addition for our compost.

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The next step was nitrogen, and we used composted manure, as it’s under a dollar a bag! This is also the point where I washed Rosie’s ball, and decided that we needed to play for a little bit, until David returned home with the mulch.

The mulch pile: 

Los Angeles gives away free mulch, made from composted waste out of the green bins. On occasion we find small pieces of glass or plastic, but for the most part it’s good and it’s FREE!  We’ve been using the city mulch for a few years on our roses, and the mulch has broken down and helped loosen and enrich our clay soil.  Yes, we are a little worried about what else may be in the pile, and we haven’t used this often with our food gardens.  However, bales of soil are $7/each and this is free.  We decided in the lasagna gardens, that we would go with free.

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David took this at the mulch pile.  Some days it’s bigger, some days it’s smaller.  He often runs into other gardeners and chats about projects.  On this day it was steaming as he raked into the bins, and the mulch was still warm when we put it in the bed.  David brings all the containers and pots that we have, and he fills them all.

IMAG0314Soon many of these pots will be filled with plants, and our mulch gathering will be slowed until fall.  All of this mulch was then used to fill the aisles and the lasagna bed.  We will need more next weekend for the side yard, roses, front yard flower bed and front yard herb garden.  Probably two more trips.  This is why we’re going with free mulch!

When I was a kid, my dad would have a dump truck full of mulch poured on the driveway, and my sister and I would shovel and spread it as part of our chores.  I get it now.
P1010511Here’s the mulched and almost finished bed.  We continued to add mulch on top of the straw, and then added one bale of potting soil onto the mulch.  This newest bed will have our winter squash, watermelons and cantaloupe that will climb the bamboo A-frame that David will build.  Today, a week after building this, we have already planted Kazakh Asian melon, Sweet Dumpling squash and Sugar Baby watermelon.

That’s it for this week!  Our tomatoes, peppers and tomatillos are flowering.  Our early planted squash is budding.  The cucumbers and beans are perking up and taking off.  I’ll update this week with pictures– there’s so much going on out there right now!

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8 thoughts on “Building a lasagna garden

  1. I love, love, love my “lasagna’ or “no dig” garden. I am nearing two years into this method trial and it has surpassed my expectations. I don’t think I’ll ever use the old way of tilling again. Good luck with yours! Thanks for stopping by WryGrass.

    • I’m so glad to hear that! We’re enjoying it so far and it’s so much more practical for our needs. Looking forward to seeing more growth!

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  3. So I’m just curious. Why didn’t you just build the whole thing out of the “Mulch Pile” from LA? It’s like you went through all that effort to build a lasagna garden and then top it with a mulch layer that I would prefer through my entire bed. Just a thought. I loved the timeline pictures. Great job!

    • Good question! We’re building soil that will decompose and get better over time. We’ve used the mulch in pots before, and the pots get waterlogged and die. The mulch is from green waste bins, partially decomposed and questionably nutrient rich (there’s also been a debate about pesticides, treated lumber, glass fragments, etc). The effort for the garden was minimal, and two months later it’s breaking down really nicely!

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