The key to a successful workshop is copious amounts of preparation. Or so I hoped.
Claudia Bolli of Wildgreen Garden Consulting was on her way to my place to teach a workshop and I was hoping that as the host of the event I was ready. Ten students were coming on this crisp fall morning to learn about sheet mulching and I had been collecting material for the hands-on portion of the workshop for two months.
Sheet mulching, sometimes referred to as lasagna gardening, is the process of creating a garden space through the layering of compostable materials in a very specific manner. Basically you lay down a cardboard barrier then nitrogen rich greens and carbon rich browns alternating until you have a tall pile of material that slowly decompose into a workable garden plot.
Sheet mulching saves the back-breaking labour of digging out sod and the budget-breaking expense of hauling in soil. A garden can be created right over the grass using clean, chemical-free biodegradable materials found on your own property and/or scrounged from neighbours and friends.
And scrounge I did. I collected grass clippings from my own lawn, but was given additional lawn waste from family members. My critical stipulation was that the clippings couldn’t have any traces of herbicide, as I didn’t want to poison my brand new garden for years to come.
I advertised on the internet and found a woman who offered me bags and bags of her garden waste. With this material I was careful to remove any weed seed heads and avoid anything that might infest my garden. I took nearly twenty bags of material from her yard and with a shredder I reduced it to the equivalent of two.
Leaves were the easiest to find – a drive down my back alley netted a dozen large bags.
I also brought home a dozen bags of washed up partially decomposed reeds from a beach in Manitoba which were rich in carbon and micronutrients.
I had wood shavings from a neighbour’s attic, a pail of chicken manure, a bag of bone meal, two bales of partially rotted straw and a bin of finished compost from my own compost pile to use as an inoculant.
I had shovels, a pitchfork, rakes and a hose ready to be put to work.
Claudia arrived shortly before the seminar was to begin and through the magic of modern technology we managed to project her PowerPoint presentation on my flat screen TV.
She presented a two hour interactive talk which covered everything from permaculture to soil-building. There was so much material to cover, but the participants were anxious to get to the hands-on portion of the course. After a brief break we found ourselves out in my front yard and it was time to find out if I had done enough preparation or if my efforts were to fall short.
Earlier in the week I had dug a swale along the highest point in my front yard. To the north of the swale was where the new bed would be created and the idea was to run water from my roof into the swale allowing it to ultimately reach the plants in the new garden. This eight-inch deep trench would later be filled with bits of old brick and covered with wood chips to create an attractive border for the bed.
After the students had looked over the area to be transformed, we began loosening up the sod with a fork, poking deep holes every six to eight inches. I had watered the area the day before, so the soil was relatively easy to penetrate. We spread an even layer of chicken manure followed by a dusting of bone meal, both high in nitrogen.
We laid down a single layer of dense cardboard, filling any cracks or holes with several layers of newspaper and overlapping the cardboard by a minimum of six inches to prevent future grass growth.
After watering down the cardboard we added a two inch layer of grass clippings and fresh garden waste, also high in nitrogen. We followed this with a layer of leaves, then alternated layers of greens and browns until we topped off the twelve-inch lasagna with the nutrient-rich reeds I’d hauled back from Manitoba.
With everyone helping out the project took just over an hour, and I had enough material left over to make an admirable compost pile under my spruce tree. A few finishing touches to the border and we were done. Many hands make light work.
By building up instead of digging down, sheet mulching is a great way to develop a new bed without all the sweat and tears. This won’t be my last lasagna project. Mmmm….lasagna.