Sunday, October 10, 2010

Putting the Garden to Bed

For those who garden, October means time to put the garden to bed for the winter. I recently took a class, offered by the Clark County Master Composters, about lasagna gardening. This is a technique for creating a no-till, no-dig garden. And you start it in the fall. This is also a really good option for anyone planning on starting a garden, or a new bed, in the spring. Here are the steps starting from the ground up:

1. If you are starting a new garden or bed, you need a weed barrier. News paper, about one day's worth thick, works well. Cardboard is also a good option. Cotton, linen, burlap or any other all natural fiber will work too. Lay the material out, overlapping slightly, over the entire area where your garden will be. Note - If you already have a garden, then skip this step.

2. Add a woody layer. This layer helps with drainage. Use twigs, corn stalks, pine cones - anything with a lot of structure that won't decompose quickly.

3. Layer "greens" and "browns", alternating, until it is 18-24 inches high. "Greens" are food scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, grass clippings, manure, etc. Don't use any meats or fats in your "green" layer because the smell will attract rats. "Browns" are dry leaves, straw, shredded newspaper,shredded office paper (no color ink), etc. If you are starting a new bed, make it 24 inches high. It will shrink down as it composts.

4. Cover it. If you are doing this in the fall, end with a "brown" layer of dried leaves. If you are doing this in the spring and need to use it soon, cover it with black plastic. The black plastic will keep the heat in and cook the compost. It will be ready to use in 6 weeks. If you are going to cook it, add more layers of "browns" than "greens".

In the spring, plant right into your compost. No tilling or turning needed. The following fall, start at #2 above but only build the compost up 12-18 inches.

The best question asked in the class was "What if I don't have enough food scraps and shredded news paper to build my bed all at once?" The answer was to do it a little at a time. Put down the weed barrier and the woody layer over the whole area you intend to have as the garden. Over the fall and winter add "greens" and "browns" as you have them available. In the spring it won't be completely composted but you can actually plant right into the still-composting material - the plants will do just fine.

Happy gardening!

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