Fall is the time to start next year’s garden beds the easy-peasy way. You can start brand-new garden beds over grass without the digging and back-breaking work, using a technique called ‘lasagna gardening’. It’s also sometimes called ‘sheet mulching’ or ‘sheet composting’.
Garden Beds Using Lasagna Gardening or Sheet Mulching
Follow this easy method to get new garden beds off to a great start for next spring’s planting. Extra bonus; it builds amazing soil as well!
- Mow grass (or weeds) very close to the soil.
- Take a sharp, flat spade and plunge it into the edge all the way around the new bed space. This cuts the rhizomes (of the grass plants) and makes it more difficult for the grass to invade your new beds!
- Lay down soaking wet cardboard over the entire area, overlapping as you go.
- Lay down several layers of soaking wet newspaper (no colored or shiny pages) again, overlapping as you go.
- For the next layers, you’re going to alternate browns and greens. This step is just like creating a compost pile—we are essentially ‘composting in place’.
- Browns = dead, dried organic materials such as: fall leaves, straw, wood chips, shredded paper, dryer lint, aged compost (manure), small twigs
- Greens = kitchen scraps (fruit & veggie peels, stems), grass clippings, egg shells, coffee grounds, hair
You can continue to add to the top layers all winter long. Make sure that your bed stays moist, but not too wet.
How Sheet Mulching Works
Think about how a forest floor looks. Leaves drop, trees die and fall over, critters stop by and urinate and defecate. Natural life happens. On the microscopic level, tiny micro-organisms are attracted to the dying materials and begin to eat and multiply. Fungus drops by to consume the parts of the rotting wood that other creatures can’t digest. This attracts worms and nematodes. Mammal urine is naturally high in nitrogen which gets the micro-organisms working overtime and creating heat. The worms plow through the piles (including the fecal matter) and aerate the whole mess, which keeps the composting action happening. The forest floor very quickly has a new layer of incredibly rich, fertile soil (compost). Don’t believe me? Next time you’re in the woods, scrape back the top layer of debris to see the rich black humus underneath. Black gold! Nature ‘composts in place’!
In our lasagna garden, we are mimicking this process! The cardboard and newspaper that we laid down in the first and second layers attracts fungus, which attracts worms. All of the green and brown materials get the micro-organisms going. You can add composted manure to further attract worm activity. (**Note: don’t try and use human, cat, or canine manure unless it has been aged separately for at least 18 months.) And, . . . if you can get past the idea that urine is gross, human urine has a high nitrogen content. (Human urine is sterile and safe to use unless you are on medications or have a bladder infection.) Simply collect urine in a lidded container, dilute it with water at about 10 parts water to 1 part urine, and sprinkle it over your garden beds to jump-start the composting action.
Planting in Your New Garden Beds
When spring planting time rolls around if your composted bed is not quite ready; add a bit of soil or finished compost to the top to plant in. Pop in your plants and grow!