Back in May, I received an email from fellow Canadian, Paul Letby, telling me about his experimentation with “Lasagna Gardening”. Paul had enjoyed reading about my vermicomposting trenches (link takes you to vermi-trench section of “Hot Topics” page), but was looking for something he could set up quickly and not have to fiddle with too much. He still hoped to get Red Worms involved, and wanted to get my opinion on adding them to a Lasagna garden.
Based on the first set of pictures Paul sent, and the fact that we just generally seemed like long lost “brothers from other mothers” (haha), I thought it would be GREAT if I could convince him to share his project with RWC readers. Thankfully, I managed to do so!
It all started with a desire to get my own vegetable garden in my backyard, balanced with a realization I had almost no time. I could spend an evening or two making my garden and that was about it. Plus I had almost no time for weeding so I was looking for a way to reduce that too. So I poked around the internet doing searches on different forms of gardening, and came across Lasagna gardening. This looked exactly like what I wanted, so I researched the heck out of it and learned all I could. All these ideas came from the internet, and are no way mine, but I should give credit to Patricia Lanza, author of the Lasagna Gardening Series. The idea is to layer organics in a bed with a base of cardboard to inhibit weed growth.
Enough history, here’s what I did. I first got all my ingredients on hand, and in the spirit of cheapness I tried to get all my ingredients free. Cardboard was easy, we throw out vast quantities at work. Straw was also free through a friend from out of city, he even hauled five square bales in for me. Grass, turned out easy too. I pulled over on the way home from work to talk to a fellow mowing a commercial property. 16 bags delivered… free. Now I don’t know anyone who owns horses, so I did pay for about 10 bags of rotted horse manure, about forty dollars. Then one evening in May I put the whole thing together.
First I laid out the cardboard after soaking it down. Oh and I learned something here. Cardboard is really easy to tear when it’s wet. Like for my worm bin. I had actually ripped a bin full by hand while it was dry. Sore fingers. Then I spread a layer of manure on top, then alternated straw and grass until I had used it all up, ending with straw on top as a mulch(over the mulch…). Done!
I let the whole thing sit for about five days before I started planting straight into the grass. Well, except for the peas. I thought I’d try a little strip of dirt on top to get them started. Bad move, they all rotted with massive rains this spring. In a normal year, it probably would have worked. Oh, before I go any farther; my back yard is very exposed and all the neighbors can see what’s going on. They all wanted to know what I was doing, and when they found out you could tell they weren’t that sure about my sanity anymore. I love it! Especially because it worked!
Now here’s where this is a vermi-post. I added redworms from my bin to one of these three beds. I simply pulled away the straw and dumped them in with their bedding so they could get used to the new conditions at their own pace. That left two other beds. One small and another very long. I added ‘compost ecosystem’ to the small one and left the big one for now.
I’ll wrap this up with a quick update of where we stand here at the end of June. Tomatoes have gone ballistic, they’re covered in flowers and setting fruit in the Vermi bed. Strawberries are thriving, yet most of the crop lost to black birds. Lettuce and beets almost all lost to birds, those that are left look good. The bigger bed didn’t do so well and I attribute that to the crazy rain we had this spring so far. Most seeds rotted or taken by birds, and some extra tomatoes I put there are small and less vigorous. I have to replant as time allows. Compost Ecosystem bed looks good with squash and beans interplanted. All in all, the small bed with the redworms (aka the Vermi Bed) has far outperformed the rest so far. We’ll have to wait and see if that continues.
That’s it for now, I’ll send in short updates as things progress.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Paul for sharing his lasagna gardening efforts with us. I am definitely looking forward to future updates!
If you are interested in sharing your vermicomposting / vermi-gardening projects with RWC readers, please be sure to drop me a line to let me know!**Want Even More Fun With Worms? Sign Up for the RWC E-mail List Today!**
As I’ve told you already, I think this is such an awesome idea – a perfect way to combine worm composting and gardening!
Have you been keeping an eye on the worm population in the vermi-beds? If so, do they seem like they are growing in number?
Also – you mentioned “compost ecosystem”. Can you tell us what you mean by that? Is this material taken from a worm bin too? Or from a normal composter (or something else altogether)?
This is exciting, Paul! I am trying something like this on a much smaller scale this year (5 tomato plants). So far, they’re going gangbusters. At one point, the area flooded completely and because of the amount of organic material, the water drained out very quickly. Had the plants been set into our heavy clay, I’m sure they would have rotted out.
I’ll have to go out and check the worm population too. I’m curious!
By the way, how many layers of cardboard did you use?
I kind of did the same thing in a smaller scale. The tomato plants are growing fast and the worm population has increased at a higher rate than the one in my bins….i don’t know why??
BENTLEY – I haven’t been keeping regular checks on the worm population. It’s been so wet that digging through the compost was unpleasant. It’s been dry for two whole days now, so I might give it a try. I didn’t mention that I’m feeding these beds kitchen scraps. I pull away straw between plants and dump in either homemade manure or just frozen scraps, then I cover back up.
The compost ecosystem I referred to was coarse worm castings with cocoons and lotsa other critters. I put in about 2 cups, all I had.
MARK – I used one layer, overlapped 6″ of heavy cardboard.
Just got back in. Found five immature redworms, lots of big fat juicy earthworms, and that just begins the list! A swarm of fruit flies greeted me as I disturbed many buried piles of kitchen waste, and so many crawly things that I’ve never seen before it’s crazy. A very active place under the straw… Lots of roots reaching into the buried kitchen waste too. I think the Tomatoes like that stuff. I couldn’t get deep into the pile though, the roots shouldn’t be disturbed.
Darn those birds anyway…Go to your local animal shelter & get yourself a big ole hungry looking Tom cat. Make him a comfy house in the back yard & he’ll take care of your bird problem & keep them out of your garden.
I tried a net product designed for birds. You can see it in one of the pictures above, it looks like smoke unless you’re close. Seems to work so far.
HERVE – I can’t say I am in the least surprised that worms would reproduce much more quickly in a bed like this vs a worm bin. This is actually MUCH closer to their ideal habitat! Lots of air flow, plenty of space to spread out in – lots of food and great habitat etc etc.
I have been doing this type of gardening for four years . Over here in O>Z. we simply call it a no dig garden. I have One Tomayoe plant that is is six ft high and because I didnt stake it it is about 8ft wide with heeps of fruit and heaps of worms .Will send a photo next time Regards Nifty
I would LOVE to see a picture of that tomato!!! No stake but it is still 6 ft high? That’s amazing!
I would love to see that tomato too! That sounds awesome!
Thanks Paul for sharing! I was brought up with big gardens all my life and saw how much work they can be. You make something which can be quite complicated (back-aching weeding etc.) so much easier. I love how you took the plunge. Bet your neighbours think you are a genious now. 😉 Enjoy your garden!
Love the garden idea…looks great! I have raised garden beds and lots of grackles (type of bird in NM) in this area. I bought several pkgs. of kids plastic play snakes in bright colors and scattered them around. Birds seem to stay clear of the beds. I’ve heard pieces of hose have the same affect. Haven’t tried that yet. Gardening success to your venture!
DIANE – Thanks for the comment! It sure is easy to do my weeding now. I didn’t weed for the first month, then spent about 10 minutes a day for three days just plucking out wheat (or barley, I’m not sure) roots and all that came as seeds with the straw. That’s it so far.
CINDY – Kids plastic play snakes. That’s a great idea! So far this bird fence stuff I bought is working great, so I think I’ll leave it at that. I’m sure your idea will help others though, and probably cost alot less than what I did.