Lasagna Gardening: No Dig Gardening The Easy Way


No Dig Container Gardening


After leaving the hustle and bustle of the city behind to enjoy the country lifestyle, I soon found myself contemplating having a garden. I began to explore my gardening options and decided that a no dig garden method was definitively the way to go for me.

I learned that raised beds, lasagna gardening, and straw bale gardening were no dig gardening plans that could work for me. Although I might not get to grow those tall stalks of corn like Mr. Farmer Up the Road, I decided that I could still grow quite a variety of tasty fresh veggies with a no dig garden plan.

A huge factor in the decision to go with a no dig garden design was the local soil, red clay soil. It is low in major nutrients such as calcium and potassium and difficult to dig and cultivate. Lime and other fertilizers have to be added for growing vegetables. A second factor was the fact that I didn’t own a tiller or tractor and didn’t really care to. Raised beds together with lasagna gardening, sometimes called sheet composting and straw bale gardening are two ways to grow vegetables, flowers, and herbs with no back-breaking digging.

Benefits of Raised Bed Gardens


The first good solution to gardening where the soil is rocky or of poor quality is a raised bed garden plot. A raised bed is a sort of bottomless box making it different from a container garden. The most common materials used are plywood boards that are hinged together. However, there are other options. Avoid the cost of lumber and hardware with whatever you have on hand. Bricks, concrete blocks, old logs, large rocks or boulders and railroad ties are some suggestions. There are raised bed gardening kits available for ordering if building your own is just not possible for you.

There are many benefits of using raised beds for gardening:
  • weed control is much easier
  • garden plot can be placed in best location for sunlight
  • soil will be warmer
  • better drainage
  • less bending and stooping for planting and weeding
  • pathway weeds are avoided
  • cold air sinks down around the base of the box making tender plants less susceptible to freeze
  • easier to cover plants for late frost
  • kids and pets are less likely to run through the garden

Ingredients for Lasagna Gardening


Whatever you decide to use for your raised bed there needs to be room for about 2 feet of soil or growing medium. Lasagna gardening, also known as sheet composting, is a less expensive way to provide a rich, nutritious environment for vegetable garden planting. Lasagna gardening involves layering carbon-rich (brown) and nitrogen-rich (green) materials. Just as there are different recipes for making a dish of lasagna, so can the ingredients for a lasagna garden vary. When combining greens and browns for your lasagna garden use what you have on hand.

Composting Materials

old leaves
grass clippings
pine straw
dead plants or flowers
shredded paper
fruit and vegetable left-overs
egg shells
wood chips
coffee grounds
dryer lint
pruning clippings
animal hair
animal manure,vegetarian animals

Putting Your Lasagna Garden Together


Just as long and slow baked dishes are tastier, your lasagna garden will do best if the “ingredients for cooking” are started in the fall before the following planting season. The lasagna ingredients can be used to form a garden bed without boards or a border, but I like to think of the raised box as a “pan” to hold the lasagna garden.

After you have a raised bed border (built in a good sunny location for “baking”) it will be time for the layering. Start by lining the bottom with a “crust” of newspaper or cardboard, wetting it well. There is no need for digging. Remember: this is a no dig garden. The newspaper or cardboard will serve to suffocate any grass or weeds that might grow in the garden. The dark damp environment will encourage earthworms to enter the garden. They will eat their way through the decomposing paper to become “little tillers” in the no dig lasagna garden.

Begin layering the green and brown ingredients for the lasagna garden. Make the brown layers a little thicker than the green. Top off the lasagna garden with a sprinkling of wood ashes from a fire or fireplace. The wood ashes will help condition the soil and act as an organic pesticide. Finally, a layer of mulch, like pine park or pine straw will seal everything inside the “dish” and lock in moisture.

Planting the Lasagna Garden


To save money, and enjoy the garden experience, even more, it’s great to start seeds in seed starters 3-4 weeks before planting time. Peas, lettuce, green beans, beets, squash, peppers, carrots, radishes and more will grow well. Tomato seeds are so tiny it is best to buy the seedlings. Plant root veggies, like carrots and radishes directly into the garden after the danger of frost has passed. Scattering in a few marigolds between the veggies adds color and beauty, and wild animals will tend to avoid the garden. They don’t like the smell.

Quick Method for Lasagna Gardening

Suppose spring planting time is near and you’ve just learned of the method (as I did). Just as there is a quick cook method for some dishes, there is one for a lasagna garden. Composting is an important process for introducing a variety of microbes to form a rich, loamy soil. Collect green ingredients and begin a compost pile. If you add all of your green kitchen waste it will build up quickly. Toss in last winter’s dead leaves, pine straw or other brown ingredients. In one month you will have good composting matter built up.

Layer the composted material with a few thin layers of a good black top soil that you buy. I also added some of the local red soil. I figured that it must have at least some nutritional value. After all, it is iron that gives it the red color. To make the lasagna garden even more nutritious, add in a couple layers of animal manure (from grain-eating animals only). If you live near a farm this will be free, or a pet store will happily give you all the rabbit poop you want.

These quick cook methods will help jump-start a lasagna garden. Another option is to start in the early spring for early summer planting.

No Dig Straw or Hay Bale Gardening


The second no dig gardening plan I learned about is straw or hay bale gardening, another variation of container gardening. Bales of hay or straw become the growing medium as the straw or hay begins to decompose. What is the difference between the straw and hay? Straw is a carbon or brown. It will be necessary to add a nitrogen fertilizer to grow anything. Hay naturally contains nitrogen making it an organic way to garden. Hay will probably have seeds in it that sprout and a bit of weeding will need to be done. I am opting for the hay.

As with raised beds, no digging is required and poor soil worries are eliminated. The method shares the same advantages as raised beds except more diligent watering is required.

Straw or hay bale gardening supposedly works anywhere with enough sun, even an abandoned parking lot. The size of garden planned will determine the number of bales needed. Use one bale or many bales to create rows or a pattern. Straw bales can be purchased at garden supply stores. Hay bales may be purchased at animal feed stores. Both are inexpensive and can be purchased for under $5.00 each.

All of the same vegetables, flowers, and herbs that can be grown in raised beds will work in a straw or hay bale garden. Use a stake or trellis to support climbing vines. Tall plants like corn and okra can’t be grown with this no dig garden design. Yes, you will have to get your corn from Mr. Farmer Up the Road.

How to Start a Straw or Hay Bale Garden


When determining where to place the straw or hay bales look for an area with full sun. Because the bales must be kept wet at all times they will be heavy to move. They will need to be watered twice a day. The size of your garden will determine whether to use a watering can or a hose. Plan your location accordingly.

After deciding on a location water the bales and add any necessary fertilizer. They will begin to cook and get hot. In 2 or 3 weeks, or when the bales feel slightly cooler than body temperature it is time to plant. Check the temperature by placing a hand inside the bale.

To grow directly from seeds, put in a couple of inches starting mix for the seeds. For seedlings, dig into the bale with a spade, add a little potting medium and plant the seedling.

I am a bit skeptical with using straw or hay bales as a no dig gardening plan. I did want to try it though! I decided to start with one bale of hay for a kitchen herb garden.

Quick Start Method for Straw or Hay Bale Gardening

As with lasagna gardening, there is also a quick cook method for straw or hay bale gardening. Use a 10-day regime of adding a high nitrogen fertilizer. On day 4 after watering add 1/2 cup of the fertilizer to the watering. After day 5 cut back to about 1/4 cup of fertilizer for 3 days. Then continue watering without the fertilizer.


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