Lasagna Gardening 2011

Last year RWC-friend, Paul Letby, was nice enough to share his vermi-lasagna-gardening project with us (you can find a link to his posts >>HERE<<). Seeing what Paul was able to do in just his first season easily convinced me that this was an approach I really needed to try out myself! So, that's exactly what I'm going to do! Yesterday I set up a fairly modest "lasagna"-style test garden in my yard using an assortment of materials I had on-hand.

Once I had selected the site for the bed, I laid down some corrugated cardboard. Last fall, I actually stacked a fair amount of cardboard outside in the yard, so I had a nice selection of wet, partially-rotten material all ready to go for the occasion.

I also recently did some yard/garden clean up work, which left me with a nice mix of rotten sunflower waste, old straw, fall leaves, lawn thatch and various other dead/dry plant materials. I decided to use this for my “brown” bedding layers, including a fairly thick layer directly over the cardboard at the bottom.

My next layer consisted primarily of coffee grounds and filters. I decided not to go overboard with the grounds in this bed since it’s a fairly acidic waste material, and also tends to be a bit less “worm-friendly” in zones where a lot is added at once.

After watering everything down…

…I added another layer of “brown” wastes (still looking a tad unsightly, wasn’t it? haha)

Next, I added a fairly thick layer of material I often refer to as “compost ecosystem” (essentially aged-manure habitat material + worms etc).

Although I had a decent amount of frozen food waste available (have been saving it up for some time), I decided to only use a couple bags of the material – I have something else in mind for the rest once it thaws out. I’ll certainly be adding plenty more to the bed over time, but this should be perfectly fine for getting the ball rolling.

I then added another thick layer of compost ecosystem material along with some old straw…

…before covering the bed with a thick layer of new straw (as shown in the first picture above).

I’m not 100% sure what I’m going to grow in this bed. I thought some sort of squash would might be a good choice since they seem to thrive in compost-gardens like this. The only problem is that the plants will likely end up spreading all over the yard, which might be a pain. Will have to give it some more thought while I let the bed age prior to planting.

Speaking of which – the very earliest I’d be planting anything in the bed would be towards the end of May (likely later if the weather remains cooler than normal). I’ll be sure to provide a status report sometime between now and then, though.
Stay tuned!

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    • Steve L.
    • May 3, 2011

    Have you tried the growing Delicata squash? It is my current favorite, and is a bush variety. It is sweet and has a thin skin that can be eaten with the meat. However, as you well know, the worms love squash skin with a little meat left on it for their dining pleasure. 🙂

    • Bentley
    • May 3, 2011

    Thanks for the tip, Steve! I have not tried that one – great idea! I didn’t even realize there WERE “bush varieties” (other than things like zucchinis). lol


  1. Somehow I kinda knew you were going to try this!

    • Peter
    • May 4, 2011

    I’ve always wondered.. if overfeeding was to be avoided due to effect like sour crop, how do systems like this work with a huge initial setup and a few worms?

    Curious as I’ve a worm inn (which I love) and while it’s working I’m either impatient or something is getting my worms keeping population down. I see lots of babies, but also do see the occasional lumpy worm (and I know how quickly they vanish once dead). But I can’t believe it’s due to excess food if systems like the one above work.

    • Bentley
    • May 4, 2011

    Ahah! Excellent question, Peter!
    Here are some KEY factors:
    1) Excellent air-flow – big open systems like this (and open systems in general) are less likely to get into trouble since any nasty gases will dissipate and it will be easier to keep the system mostly aerobic
    2) Habitat – if the worms have good habitat options and space to spread out, nothing is going to harm them. The “compost ecosystem” material I added is an outstanding habitat and would serve as a protective zone for the worms – once the rest of the system is more worm-friendly (in this case, I suspect it always is based on what I added) the worms can venture out as they see fit.
    3) Thin layers of material – by adding everything in relatively thin layers you are not concentrating potentially harmful materials (eg excess amount of coffee grounds in one spot).

    Worm Inns work very well thanks to their open nature, but they ARE fairly small (compared to a big backyard system) so it’s still possible for the worms to suffer. I did ok with my “overfeeding challenge” (would have killed off plastic bin population of worms LONG before being able to add that quantity of waste materials), but I’m sure it would have eventually caught up with me if I’d continued in that manner. Hard to say for sure what might be going on with your system – quite a few factors that can play a role.

    • Anna
    • May 4, 2011

    I second the recommendation of the delicata squash. They are DELICIOUS. I’m trying to grow them for the first time this year and would love to have a partner in crime.

    Now for the questions…(1) are you planning to water this system on a regular basis? (2) did I miss the part where you added worms? how many did you add? (3) Why does this work? Shouldn’t all of the uncomposted materials tie up the nitrogen that the plants need? (Note that I’m not questioning that it actually works. As you know, I did this last year and managed to grow tomatoes under a black walnut for 4 months before they finally succumbed.)

    • brenda bowen
    • May 4, 2011

    Thanks Bentley for the great post. I read it and ran out to my blue bin and took out all the cardboard lol. Then phoned Timothys and going to pick up a bucket of grounds. Got the site all picked out.
    Brenda B

    • Bentley
    • May 4, 2011

    Hi Anna!
    1) We shall see what the weather brings and how moist the system stays. Ideally, with a reasonable amount of rain and plenty of water-rich wastes, my hunch is that it won’t need all that much extra water. I do tend to collect/store quite a lot of rain water though, so that may come in handy if it DOES get a bit dry.

    2) The “compost ecosystem” material would have had quite a few worms, cocoons etc – plus I have loads of them in my backyard systems so they tend to find new sources of rich organic waste with little trouble! This is my typical approach when setting up new systems – I prefer to let the worms establish themselves – or by adding wormy material from another system – for the most part VS actually stocking a given quantity of them.

    3) Good question – thus far, I haven’t seen any evidence of this being the case in my systems. Likely due to the fact that I tend to add aged manures to all my beds. By the time the plants go in I suspect that the worms/microbes will have helped to create an environment fairly well-suited for plant growth. Will be interesting to see how things pan out!

    • Peter
    • May 4, 2011

    Thanks for the info, it’s what I was thinking due to your worm inn challenge. I’ll go by the rule that no smells = OK and it not just dependent on having food around (no where near the amounts you had in the video 😉 ).

    Good luck with the bed, makes me wish I had a yard and not an apartment.

    • Olga
    • May 5, 2011

    Bentley, thanks for bringing up this topic! I set up my own lasagna bed recently. However, I added a couple of layers of horse manure to it. Do you think I can add my worms (from my indoor vermicomposting bin) to it? or is it not a good idea with the horse manure? my indoor bin is overflowing with worms and I was hoping to transfer some of them to the lasagna bed. Any thoughts?
    also, your site is very inspiring! Thank you!

    • Maggie
    • May 6, 2011

    This will be my third year of having a lasagna garden and I can’t imagine not having it.
    When I first planted in it everything started off really slow compared to my traditional garden but midsummer it came back with a bang and by the fall my crop was double from the lasagna garden then my traditional garden. You’ll love it Bently.
    Also thanks for the amazing website!

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