by TAMERA DILLON
My green thumb runs deep in my family roots; I was always out in the garden as a child with my mother and grandparents, and have managed to have various types and sizes of gardens wherever I’ve lived, even if it was a patio full of pots in my first apartment. I just love growing anything and everything.
About six years ago, as I moved into a home with 40 acres to rent, the owner told me I had an entire field just about an acre in size to do whatever I wanted with… oh boy was I excited. I acquired a rototiller as a gift from my mentor, and got started in on tilling up some fresh ground. About half way thru tilling one area, the tiller died on me. After hours and hours of trying to take the carburetor apart, cleaning and back together again, I just couldn’t get the thing running again. So how was I going to get my garden going without paying an arm and a leg for the tiller fix? Perusing the internet in the days after, researching and trying to find options, I stumbled upon Lasagna Garden Raised Beds which is a method of no-dig gardening. The more and more I researched, I fell in love with the non-traditional method of gardening called Permaculture Gardening. If you’d like to read a great article that perfectly explains the basic Permaculture concept including the Core Ethics of Permaculture and Permaculture Principles, read the article on the Maximum Yield website called Permaculture Principles (a great resource for gardeners). You can also simply Google any of these words for tons of great ideas.
With my newfound love of the concept, I set out to gather the materials needed for my lasagna garden beds: cardboard, horse/cow manure, straw, alfalfa hay and compost soil. And of course, pallets — lots of pallets — to build those raised beds in the field. I stripped boards off of the pallets, cut them in half, placed the boards between the gaps and made boxes, rectangles and any other shapes that worked to make my beds. You don’t have to build boxes with tall sides like I did. You could make a lasagna bed with eight-ten inch sides using boards, a bed with rocks around the edges, or a bed with no edges. I built roughly ten raised beds altogether using the following ‘lasagna’ layers methods:
1. Be sure the grass/soil underneath your area is cut down as far as possible, then put down a ½” thick layer of soaked newspaper and/or cardboard. Be sure to wet it down plenty. No need to remove roots of weeds or grass; the cardboard will smother them.
2. Lay down a 4” layer of alfalfa/lucerne hay. You’ll want to break it up half-way after you place it in your bed — not compacted too much, or too loose — you want there to be a good layer of resources for the roots of your vegetables as they grow down. Water the layer well.
3. Spread a 1-2” layer of fertilizer down — this could be fresh or slightly aged cow, horse, llama and goat manure to name a few. Just be sure to not use fresh chicken manure as it takes longer to break down than the others. If you use chicken manure, be sure that it’s at least 9 months aged. Water the layer well.
4. Next comes an 8” layer of bedding straw (not feed straw as it has seeds). Like the hay, be sure to break it up a bit. Water the layer well.
5. Spread another 1-2” layer of fertilizer over the straw. Water the layer well.
6. And lastly, layer down a good 4-6” of compost soil. Do not use top soil as it does not contain enough good nutrients for your plants. Water the layer well.
7. Ready to plant.
I also sprinkled small amounts of bone meal and blood meal between the layers. There are many different methods and ways of creating lasagna beds —
Google is your best friend to find what works for you with what you’ve already got on hand like the big pile of leaves from your tree, grass clippings and household food waste.
It took a lot of work to build it all, but it was so worth it. By the end of that summer, I had so much growing it was truly amazing. I was able to share with neighbors, family and friends, and preserve a lot of food by canning, freezing and drying the harvests. In the fall, I covered all of the beds with a fresh two inch layer of manure, and a two inch layer of straw and covered with black plastic. In the early spring, I removed the plastic, added a one-two inch layer of manure, four inches of straw, and four-six inches of compost soil — ready to plant again. And what’s even better, is that last years efforts of layering has created a beautiful, nutrient rich soil full of beneficial worms. And yes, the second year’s harvests were even better than the first.
Unfortunately, I had to move from the 40 acres, but I have since moved from the Oregon Valley back to my home town of Bend, and I couldn’t be happier to be back. Although, it has come with many challenges to learn different ways of incorporating my methods of gardening with the shorter growing season and colder climate. I have made hoops from PVC pipes to cover my raised beds to protect from frost. I’ve built hot beds — which is fresh manure piled 24-36 inches high (definitely need walls for this), with a six inch layer of compost soil on top. As the manure heats, it sends warmth up which will in turn warm the soil temperature and keep your vegetables’ roots warm. I cover these beds to protect from frost as well. You can also make a hot bed in your greenhouse with four pallets in a square, fill with fresh manure, and place your seed trays on top — the warmth will germinate the seeds and you’ll have compost soil for the garden come summer. I still have so many more ideas for projects and much to learn in my new growing environment. I’m working towards having a few greenhouses built soon, not only for my family’s consumption, but also for selling vegetable starts this coming spring, fresh produce and flower baskets this summer.
I am passionate about what I do and want to share my knowledge, and more importantly I want to learn from others as well and I would love to hear from you with any ideas or questions. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can also follow along in my adventures on Facebook and Instragram @junipineacresfarmstead.
photos courtesy of Tamera Dillon