In an effort to fight our own clay and bind weed, we went in search of an inexpensive way of building raised beds. What we found instead at a local nursery was a new way of thinking. Instead of amending and tilling the clay soil to death, we were introduced to “lasagna gardening”. the idea is to build up layers of organic materials such as peat, grass clippings, stable litter, manure and compost. Starting with a layer of thick newspaper to keep down the weeds. There are several books by Patricia Lanza on the subject. We are very interested in this and are wondering if anyone has tried it and if it worked for you? We want to get started as soon as possible so don’t have time to build the layers as stated in the short article from Mother Earth News we were given. We are thinking of starting with sonme nice soil to start, right on top of the clay, then letting the layers build up over time with mulch and organic matter. Think this will work?

I have used lasagna gardening for several years now in the high desert of California. I have an area about 4′ wide and 16′ long enclosed by a two course cinder block wall. I put down about an inch thick newspaper layer and just started with grass clippings, sawdust (no particle board or plywood dust due to the glue used), manure, and compost and just add to it each year. As the inside depth increased I banked up our soil (rocky sand) on the outside for support and ease of access. I have virtually no weeds and great veggies. I water it with a soaker hose laid out in a sort of double figure 8 pattern; in the summertime I water every day, spring and fall less often. I have the soaker hose on a battery operated timer attached at the faucet so I don’t even have to be home. Our temps are up to 115 degrees in July and August, we get occasional high winds with blowing rocks and sand and have alkaline soil; we get down to 20 degrees in winter with occasional snow. Quite extreme but we have learned to deal with it all very successfully! I had a tomato plant last year (Sweet 100) that was at least 8 feet wide and 8 feet tall and loaded with fruit.

Concerning the the Newspaper ink. Once upon a time the ink in newspapers contained lead but in the mid 1960’s the EPA and The health Depatment on the fedral Level joined together in one of those rare instances and issued a ban on that type of ink. That’s not to say that the ink is okay but it does mean that it is realitively safe in the garden. The plastic sheeting materail has one major draw back,and that is that slugs like to hide out under it. The second problem with the plastic is that if it is not treated to withstand ultraviolet light its life span is very short term and then you end up with it going to the dumps and so on and soforth. Plastic containers are great and versitale and last a long time. However before you plant in them make sure they are clean. I wash mine out with a 50/50 blend of bleach and water before planting.

We use sheet composting all the time. This is why it is EZ for us to wait to form the bed with boards or whatever. Don’t follow any set formula for the sheets, but basically add what is available at the moment – usually at least kitchen waste, newspaper, cardboards, garden waste, leaves, wood chips, cow or horse manure, etc. We also get buckets of coffee grounds very regularly from coffee shops and big bags of fluffy coffee bean chaff from a couple of major roasters in the East Bay. If we are short of green stuff we might get veggies scrap from restaurants or the produce terminal.

Our newspapers are printed with soy inks which are OK for organic farmers. I do not really understand your inquiry about plastics. Are referring to the use of plastic mulch? We do not put any plastic in our soil at all. We do not store water either. Occasionally, perhaps 6-7 or times a season, water a patch using non-stored water pour into a watering can. That’s as close to plastic as we get. If do understand their are some plastic mulches that will biodegrade as they are made from corn. Otherwise, don’t know much and do not use plastic or vinyl, but do use straw and wood chip mulch, coffee bean chaff, coffee grounds, rock powders, composted manures, compost-compost-compost, gypsum or dolomite as other usual suspects.

Structures are fence wire, concrete reinforcing wire, bamboo, willow, rocks, untreated wood, rocks, broken concrete, sisal or jute twine, etc. As for container gardening, use old food grade containers such as pickle or soy sauce buckets. Would not use any bucket that formerly contained a toxic industrial substance. Visit restaurants, bakeries, etc., for good buckets for peppers or tomatoes. To start these plants try yogurt or cottage cheese containers with holes punched in the bottoms.