Sunday, 19 January 2014

lasagne

As a fully-paid-up member of the stubbledman-baggedwholemealvegetarianlowcaffeinorganic gardeners' club I struggle with weedkillers. But, in common with most people taking over long-neglected gardens we have a problem with perennial weeds.

Enter 'Lasagne Gardening'. Its principle is easy - deny light and plants die.

We've tried covering the ground with black plastic and although plants die, so does the soil. When the plastic is pulled back, the ground beneath is hard, dessicated and devoid of invertebrates.

'Lasagne Gardening', on the other hand, results in a rich weed-free loam that is heaving with worms and provides a wonderful growing medium. Although I haven't got a research paper reference to substantiate this, I feel that microbial activity in the soil must be healthy too, arising from the generous layers of manure and shreddings. We know how important microbial activity is to soil and plant health.

And all the inputs are waste materials, so it is no cost. Which is a bonus for someone who is also in the every-pound-a-prisoner gang.

The ingredients for our special recipe lasagne:

Cardboard or newspaper - please keep donating folks!! This saves vertically-challenged Jill tipping herself catastrophically into the deep cardboard dustbins at school.

Horse manure from local stables. Every few weeks 'Poo Pete' brings his ancient tractor and trailer up our drive, loaded with manure that the stable girls have collected. Really useful for us and a help for Pete and Lorraine who would otherwise slowly submerge in manure.

Wood chippings. Nathan and Duncan are local tree surgeons whose business produces tonnes of shredded branches each week. When they're in our area and their wagon is full, the kettle's on, the biscuits are out and they deliver another load of these useful chippings. 

Let's get cooking!!
  • A 1cm thick layer of cardboard or newspaper goes down first. If the rain has soaked it through first, very much the better.
  • Then 10-20cm of Pete's poo.
  • Another 1cm of wet cardboard or newspaper goes on next.
  • And finally at least 20cm of wood chippings.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating as we are told. This week we're planting a beech hedge that will screen the Woodland Garden from the drive. The sandy ground was thick with nettles and brambles when we started, but only months after layering the ground, it is creating spade deep planting holes in humus rich soil to receive the bare-rooted plants.

Creating such a worm rich environment does bring other challenges. I hadn't factored in the mujahadin moles who conduct guerilla warfare in my lasagne, puncturing the surface with their mole hills as they create an underground labyrinth for worm capture. Every time a mole hill appears, light gets to previously covered perennial weed roots, switching them back on. The mole hills bring weed seeds to the surface too that are eager to take full advantage of the opportunities I've created.

My crack team of gardening assistants love scratching the surface back to fill up on protein rich invertebrates that live so abundantly here. Their looks of indignation as I shoo them back toward the hen  house would shrivel a lesser man.

The cardboard, shreddings and manure decompose quickly and as speedily, the worms turn the whole lot over. The future in this area of the garden will be an annual top-up of shreddings to keep a thick mulch coat over the soil.

The next challenge for the lasagne will be to kill the bootlace thick underground rhizomes of couch grass where our herbacious perennials will go. The ground here is imported Brackenhurst clay that is so heavy and sodden that it would take a team of gardeners to turn and forensically remove all of the pernicious rhizomes.

Will Lasagne Gardening clear the deeply embedded rhizomes or will I just create a fertile tilth above the rhizomes within which they will flourish ?

Keep that cardboard and newspaper comin' folks!!

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