Down this long gravel road and to the right sits my parents' farm in Iowa. In an attempt to have a garden here, more than 150 miles away from my Chicago apartment, I decided to build a lasagna garden. Don't let the name fool you—a lasagna garden is not full of tomatoes, oregano and other ingredients that go into an Italian dish; it's a method of gardening that yields terrific results.
During late winter 2008, my dad and I measured out a 20-by-10-foot plot behind my parents' house and marked the boundaries with limestone and some flags.
Coming up with the materials to build the garden was a bit of a challenge. We needed lots of organic materials—the type of things used to make compost
—to layer over the garden site.
My dad and I were able to load his truck bed with several bags of leaves a family friend had left over from the fall. A trip to local garden center yielded a half-dozen bags of discounted peat moss from last season and several bags of organic wood chip mulch.
The first step when building a lasagna garden is layering pads of newspaper or several cardboard boxes to smother the grass on your garden site. I ran across church members collecting old newspapers to recycle and took at least seven or eight bundles off their hands.
My dad and I dipped the pads of newspaper in a bucket of water until they were soaking wet and placed them on the grass, overlapping the papers until the ground was covered with news headlines and not a blade of grass could be seen. Then, we layered a few inches of peat moss across the newspapers.
This is what the garden site looked like covered with a layer of newspapers and a layer of peat moss.
We spread several inches of leaves over the peat moss and topped that layer with wood mulch. I also sprinkled some blood meal over a few of the layers. After building each layer, we sprayed the materials with water from a garden hose and continued layering until the garden was well over 2 feet high, piled up high like a lasagna!
We covered the garden of layered materials with a black tarp, weighing the tarp down with bags of leftover leaves and some old cinder blocks. The idea is to let the lasagna garden "bake" for a few weeks or months, but this step isn't necessary. You can plant in the garden as soon as you build it. The garden site does have the appearance of a grave, doesn't it?
Just two months later, in late May, I planted several vegetable seeds and seedlings in the garden.
The first veggies I harvested were radishes. They were spicy and crisp and popped up from the ground just a few weeks after I planted the seeds!
By late June, many of my vegetable plants were thriving. I had planted radishes, beets, squash, snap peas, cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, red cabbage, tomatoes and a miniature pumpkin. The tomatoes, peppers, little pumpkin and red cabbage were planted from seedlings I bought at a garden center. The rest were from certified organic seeds. Some of the seeds, such as the carrot and cucumber seeds, struggled to germinate.
My tomato plants thrived! I had tomatoes from mid-July until mid-September. I also had a ton of yellow and butternut squash.
My red cabbage produced a nice head, but it was covered with some green worms early in the growing season. The worms didn't seem to harm the cabbage itself, and I made it into a tasty Asian coleslaw
at the end of July.
My dad and I built a fence to keep out the bunnies and deer that run freely across the farm. We used chicken wire and dug several steel posts into the ground and secured nearly three rolls of the wire around the garden. Then, my dad and I made a little gate with a livestock fence.
I only made it home to tend my garden a half-dozen times last year, and because of that a few weeds and pests did invade it. It wasn't the prettiest garden in the world, but the bounty of food it produced—with very little upkeep and no chemicals—was phenomenal. I can't wait to try it again this year! Meet the author of Lasagna Gardening