Fall into Gardening with the Whole Family hen people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them that I am an organic fruit and vegetable farmer, it usually isn’t long before the conversation starts to sound like an episode from the radio show “You Bet Your Garden.” I have fielded many questions over the years about gardening, from pest control to proper watering techniques, but the one question that I get asked the most is, “How would you start a backyard family vegetable garden?” There are, of course, several answers to this question. However, I often suggest a method that I have seen successfully done in many school gardens called “lasagna gardening” because it is family friendly, inexpensive, quick, requires no equipment, and is good for the environment, too. Lasagna gardening, also known as “sheet composting,” is a way of preparing a raised garden bed by layering various organic materials such as leaves and grass clippings directly on top of a ground surface without first having to remove sod or weeds or having to double dig. The fall and early winter months are the perfect time to get started on preparing your garden bed (or beds, for those ambitious green thumbs out there) because most of what you will need has already been delivered to your backyard, thanks to Mother Nature. The rest of the materials can be gathered up from your recycling bin and compost bucket, or from a neighbor. Preparing your garden bed in the fall or early W By Jennifer Schmehl winter months, rather than in the spring, will give the layers of organic material extra time to slowly break down and turn into beautiful, dark, nutrientdense compost in which to plant next spring. Now, bundle up the family and let’s get started! First, mark off the area where you would like the garden bed to be. Remember, you are building up, so this foundation can be rocky, weedy, clay-packed, sandy… no problem! Just make sure it is a place that gets plenty of sunlight for a good part of the day. Once the area is marked, it is time to place the first layer of the “lasagna,” which is pieces of brown corrugated cardboard or sections of newspaper 6-10 sheets thick. The cardboard or newspaper should be either soaked or sprayed generously with water to help hold it in place and to maintain moisture during the slow composting process. Also, you’ll want to overlap all the edges a couple of inches between the pieces of cardboard and sections of newspaper. This layer is intended to prevent weeds from poking up through your garden bed, and it also encourages beneficial earthworms to make this place their home. The next layer in your lasagna should be a nitrogen rich or “green” material, such as chemical-free grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, yard trimmings, hay, or manure. Follow this green layer with a layer of carbon rich or “brown” material such as leaves, sawdust, pine needles, straw, or woodchips. You will basically want to use a ratio of 2:1, meaning your brown layers should be twice as thick as your green layers. Try not to worry too much about the ratio or making sure that the layers are even or exact—nature will work that all out. Continue alternating layers until your bed reaches the height of 18”-24”. Then, fire up the campfire, roast some well-earned marshmallows with the kiddos, and sit back and let the magic of decomposition begin. When you are ready to plant in the spring, just use your hand to pull back the rich, airy compost and nestle in your seedlings. If you would like to directly seed into your garden bed, you may need to create a shallow trough with your hand, add some finer compost to the trough, plant the seeds, and then cover them with additional compost. This is because seeds require direct soil to seed contact in order to germinate properly. If the soil is too loose, it could prohibit germination. Care for your lasagna garden as you would any other garden by watering and weeding as 16 Piedmont Family Magazine 2013 • Issue 6