No noodles in lasagna garden

Tom Riley of DeKalb arranges hay in his garden.
Tom Riley of DeKalb arranges hay in his garden.

DeKALB – A lasagna garden probably isn’t what you think.

Author, lecturer and gardening innovator Patricia Lanza came up with the term about two decades ago. It describes a garden in which flowers and vegetables are planted in carefully constructed layers of organic material rather than in topsoil.

“I continued to alternate layers of waste material and peat moss,” Lanza wrote in an article for the magazine Mother Earth News. “Midway through, it struck me that the peat moss was akin to the cheese layer in a real lasagna.”

Lasagna gardens are a relatively new addition to the gardening world, but local gardeners like Tom Riley of DeKalb have adopted the technique for use in their personal gardens and in community gardens while eagerly sharing information about the benefits of the innovative technique with fellow gardeners.

“I’ll never go back to that (dirt gardening),” Riley said. “It’s just too easy to have a lasagna garden.”

Riley, who is president of the DeKalb Area Garden Club, said traditional gardening requires tilling and weeding, both chores that are essentially eliminated by lasagna gardening. Lasagna gardens also require less water and are “greener” because they reuse organic waste and do not require pesticides or herbicides.

Riley’s technique starts with a thick layer of wet newspaper or cardboard, and then alternating layers of hay, grass clippings, compost, manure, leaves and other organic material. Lasagna gardening, like composting, does not include protein-based materials like meat or bone.

Riley layers the materials to a height of 24 inches. He then waters the layers for an hour each day. After two weeks the layers partially decompose and compress into a loose fertile material about eight inches tall that is ready to be planted.

“You could even start a garden on a concrete slab,” Riley said. He said that the blight that had affected his tomato plants in past years has not returned to the tomatoes planted in his lasagna garden, since the thick bottom layer of cardboard acts as a barrier between the original topsoil and the planting material. Riley does not use any chemicals in his garden.

Dan Kenney, co-coordinator of DeKalb County Community Gardens, plans to plant lasagna gardens in a majority of the new plots that have been donated to the group to raise vegetables for needy families in the community.

“They require less sweat equity and it’s very organic and safe,” Kenney said. “When we rely on volunteer labor, it requires less time to get a good return.”

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