Lasagne Gardening

Putting the Garden to Bed, Lasagna Style!

By Faye

With shorter days, colder nights and the last glorious fall colours fluttering to the ground, my veggie beds are tucked in for their winter sleep. Most of us know about ‘lasagna gardening‘ (just Google it) for building new beds but I decided to use this method to give my hard-working soil an extra treat this year.

1. Lime and straw

After emptying out the remnants of summer bounty, and working around the areas still laden with carrots and beets, I limed the soil then topped the empty beds with a layer of straw.

2. Manure and leaves

My first ‘green’ layer was well-aged chicken manure from Firbank Farms on Island View Road, then for the ‘brown’ ingredient, I added a thick layer of precious leaves. Lasagna gardening focuses on alternating layers of ‘green’ (nitrogenous) with thicker layers of ‘brown’ (dried, carboniferous) amendments. 

On top of the leaves, I put a 2-3″ layer of my own freshly dug compost. Having been too busy to dig it last spring, I left it and the summer warmth produced my best compost ever! Yes, good black compost is considered ‘green’, as is manure.

3. Top with compost and leaves

With a final, generous frosting of more autumn leaves, my soil beds are now piled higher than the raised beds themselves, but the army of microorganismsearthworms and their friends working beneath the surface will have this digested and shrunk down by planting time in mid-spring. What isn’t broken down by then will provide extra humus and help keep the soil moist all summer.

4. Bed ready for its winter sleep

I anticipate much gratitude from my newly-restored soil in the form of bountiful crops next year.

*NOTE: If you didn’t get to do this yet and winter arrives, save those leaves and start layering in the spring! It’s never too late. If done in spring, consider adding some topsoil so you can just plant right into the layers.


Soil Testing – What Can It Tell You?

By Faye

Most of us don’t speak the language of soil, so we rely upon our plants to interpret. But sometimes even the plants are unclear; “I’m not feeling well” is all we can read from them.

Having your soil tested is the sure way to know what’s happening underground, and it’s an easy process available locally.

There are two levels of testing, just pH or a full soil analysis. Soil pH is a measure of acidity and alkalinity in soils and can have a significant effect on plant health. A neutral pH of between 5.5 and 7 is the level at which nutrients in the soil are available for many of our landscape plants to absorb them. Our high rainfall tends to keep soil on the acidic end (lower pH) of the spectrum.

Most vegetable crops however, like soil to be more alkaline; beets for example are very sensitive to pH and won’t form bulbs if the pH is too low.

Adding lime to the soil is the best way to raise the pH but it helps to first know whether you NEED to do this, depending on what you are growing. Generally, lawns and veggie beds need lime every year, with the veggies preferably done in the fall, at a rate of 1 pound of dolomitic lime per square yard.

Bagged and labeled samples


A further analysis is also available, with a more detailed level of nutrient values. For most of us, just the Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium measurement is all we need. (This is the NPK you see on fertilizer packages.)


Collecting the soil samples is easy. The important thing is to gather it from the depth at which the plant roots will be reaching for nutrition, about 6-8″ down. In any given garden area, take several samples at this depth then mix them together in a bucket. Take about 2 cups of the mixed soil and put it in a clean plastic zip lock bag, one bag per area. The photo shows my samples taken from 4 beds. I was shocked to see how acidic my soil was, and it certainly explained those bulbless beets!


Where to take the samples?

Two choices are available locally:


  • MB LABS in the Sidney industrial area offers different levels of testing, either just pH which is 4 bags (areas) for $20, or NPK analysis with fertilizer recommendations for either organic ($48) or chemically ($37) fertilized soil. Email: or drop in at 2062 Henry Ave. W, Sidney.


  • Integrity Sales offers complete soil analysis for $60, including advice on what to do regarding fertilizer amendments and soil improvement. Located at 2180 Keating X Road, just take your soil samples in and the results will be available in 2-3 weeks.


We highly recommend both of these resources; they are reliable, accurate and your plants will thank you for testing your soil!

Building layers

The Joy of Creating a Lasagna Bed

By Faye

Has your appetite for growing your own food expanded as mine has?
With the warmer weather these past few summers, harvests have been plentiful and deliciously sweet, but planting space had not kept up with my lust for more. I wanted more of what I’ve already grown, and more new crops as well.

Fall is a good time of year to take stock of your garden and decide if it’s meeting your needs. If not, make it happen. Building a new raised bed isn’t complicated, it’s simply a frame placed atop unused, weedy ground or even on top of lawn grass, in the sunniest spot you have. Cedar is the best material for this, but rocks would work, or even just a piled mound is fine. Don’t use pressure-treated wood. It should be at least 12 inches tall, with the bed no wider than 4 feet so you can reach from either side to weed and harvest. Once this is done, the rest is easy, fun and so rewarding.

Raw materials at the ready

Raw materials at the ready

‘Lasagna Gardening’ was first coined in a book of that name by Patricia Lanza, and has become the natural way to build your own soil that is weed free, organic, with good tilth and rich in nutrients. It is moisture retentive and needs less fertilizer. Also called sheet composting, it’s simply a matter of layering organic materials which will ‘cook’ down to create the best soil you have ever crumbled between your fingers.

My layers started with about 7 sheets of newspaper, but cardboard is another option. This creates a moist and dark bottom layer that attracts earthworms, which will be your labour force to break down and aerate your new soil. On top of this I spread some of my own compost, then a good layer of leaves. This time of year falling leaves provide us with brown, red and gold bounty. It’s free, widely available, and oh so valuable, so get as much as you possibly can and layer it thickly.

The alternating layers will be either ‘brown’ like leaves and straw or ‘green’ layers such as garden clippings, uncooked veggie scraps including eggshells and coffee grounds, manure and seaweed. Make your ‘brown’ layers about twice as thick as the ‘green’ layers.

Manure and seaweed, now more leaves...

Manure and seaweed, now more leaves…

After the leaves, I joyously added a layer of llama manure, which I had shoveled into buckets as if collecting a treasure. Llama and sheep manure can be used ‘fresh’, although I tend to put these on the bottom layers only, due to the yuck factor. Well-aged cow, horse and chicken manure are also rich in nutrients and all the micro-organisms useful for breaking down the layers into good soil.

Then more leaves.

Giddy with pleasure, I headed to one of several beaches in my neighbourhood, and gathered a few buckets of seaweed. (I don’t rinse the seaweed; the rains wash away any residual salt.) Is there a better way to spend an hour or two in the autumn than at the seaside, with a root knife hacking up pieces of kelp?


Kelp meal is also available at the nursery, for those of us not up to the beach trek.

On top of the seaweed, I layered some straw (not hay!); I buy a bale of this every spring for around $11. and find it invaluable as a weed suppressant, slug deterrent and moisture retainer around my summer veggies.

Ready to cook

Ready to cook

Keep layering, repeating until the pile is about 2 feet tall, which will break down to about half that, and be ready for planting by spring. I always include some garden soil in the mix, and finish with a final layer of leaves, like the frosting on a cake. The layers you choose can be fairly flexible, it’s not a hard and fast rule that you must use the same things as I did.

While fall is the best time to build a lasagna bed, as the winter rains and frost help to break down the layers, I have also done it in the spring and just parted the layers to accommodate seedlings. Garden soil and finished compost are important if starting in the spring.

Lasagna gardening is less work because you never need to dig again, weeds are almost non-existent, and plants will almost grow themselves.

While I have enjoyed the lasagna method for vegetable beds, there is no reason to limit it to just veggies. For more flowers and healthier plants in all areas of your garden, get layering!

Clay soil

Working With Clay Soil

Having clay soil may seem like a great misfortune, but if it is managed and handled properly it can produce an abundance of plant growth. Clay soils can be very fertile as they have the ability to hold onto nutrients. Clay soils are moisture retentive – to a fault in the winter, but a good thing in our dry summers.

Around here we have what is called “expanding clay”, meaning that it shrinks when dry and expands when wet. Try to avoid walking on it and definitely don’t dig it over when it is wet. Digging clay when it is wet produces rock hard lumps that take way too much energy to break down. To determine the right time to dig, roll a small amount of soil in your hand to form a ball. If it breaks into pieces easily then it is dry enough. If it sticks together you should wait awhile.

The more organic matter you can dig in the better. Sand is often used to help improve drainage, but be careful not to use fine sand – the end result could be as hard as concrete. Coarse builder’s sand is best. It is called “1/4 minus” and is slightly gravelly. By digging in layers of organic matter like compost or leaf mulch plus coarse sand on a regular basis the soil will definitely improve over time. If it all sounds like too much work, the easier option may be to build your beds on top of the soil. Raised beds, berms, and containers are all good options.

Help prevent soil from drying out in the summer by applying a layer of mulch every year or so. Consistent watering also helps; a well-designed drip irrigation system is both efficient and economical.</p>

Lasagna Gardening

By Sue

lg1This method of making beds requires no digging or tilling. Also known as sheet-composting, it means building up layers of organic material that will break down over time, resulting in rich, loose soil. You can build a lasagna garden right on top of the lawn, weeds and all. Start by spreading a layer of newspaper (several sheets thick) or corrugated cardboard over the selected area. From there build up layers of organic material; pretty much anything that you would put into the compost can be used. **If it’s for vegetables, it’s better to build a frame for a raised bed first and then add the layers.

Fall is the optimum time to start a lasagna garden. By spring it will have settled and the layers will have broken down. Alternate layers of ‘browns’ and ‘greens’, just like you would when building a good compost pile. Brown layers should be twice a thick as green layers. Add some soil between the layers so you have some real dirt. If you can, build up about two feet of material which will shrink down surprisingly quickly, usually in just a few weeks.

To build a lasagna bed in the spring, layer as many ‘browns’ and ‘greens’ as you can get your hands on and intersperse them with topsoil. The bed will settle over the season. Finish off with three or four inches of mulch and plant. The worms and microbes will mix it all together!

Good materials for a lasagna garden include:

Greens: Grass clippings, fruit & vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, weeds (no seeds), manure, compost, seaweed, spent blooms and trimmings from the garden.

Browns: leaves, shredded newspaper, peat moss and straw.

lasagna-gardening-by-patricia-lanzaTo maintain the garden, add mulch in the form of straw, grass clippings, bark mulch or chopped leaves. Once ‘Built’ care for your lasagna garden as you would any other. Weed and water when necessary and stand back and wait for everything to grow!

For more information and how-to details, have a look at ‘Lasagna Gardening’ by Patricia Lanza.