I believe that when it comes to books presenting new ways of doing anything, the only testimony that counts is that which comes from firsthand experience. Well folks, I'm here to tell you after a year of gardening the lasagna way that my firsthand experience shows this book is one of the wisest investments any gardener can make. Let me tell you about my 2003 garden.
First, a short outline of lasagna gardening technique: soak b&w newspapers in water, then overlap sections in a single layer directly on top of premarked sod area. This smothers the weeds/grass underneath. Then put a 4 inch layer of moistened peat moss over that, followed by a moist layer of organic shredded green material, followed by another layer of peat moss, followed by a layer of moist compost or yard waste, repeat the peat moss/organic matter pattern until your bed is built up to at least 18 inches high. Finish with compost on top, then either let it break down for a few months for certain crops or plant seeds and transplants directly into the matrix by pushing aside layers and inserting. As the layers break down, the earthworms will be eating the sod and breaking up the newspapers, mixing the layers together for you. The final result is an organic, self-tilled soil that's rich and free of disease and weed seeds. It's so simple.
Note: the author did neglect to mention the importance of wetting down each layer as you build the beds. I only figured this out because I had made compost before and I knew you needed moist materials for it to work.
In late fall of 2002 I built a 5 foot by 25 foot border bed for perennial flowers the lasagna way after reading Patricia Lanza's book. It sounded almost too good to be true - no digging, no tilling, no weeding? What was the catch, I asked myself. When I was done I planted perennials taken from four inch pots, watered them in, and left them for the winter rains to take care of (we can do that in So. Cal, hee hee). They settled in nicely and grew steadily, but it was cool weather so the roots were doing most of the growth at that time. A few months later as top growth appeared I was encouraged to build more lasagna beds in my vegetable garden - two 5 by 5 raised beds to go with my other two traditionally tilled raised beds (those were a lot of work, double digging, sifting rocks, mixing compost, etc. I wish now that I had known about the lasagna method a few years ago!). After about two hour's work I was done layering my new vegetable beds and watered them down to compost a little. In late May, I transplanted sweet peppers and basil starts to one lasagna bed and planted cantaloupes and flowers in the other.
Those two lasagna beds outperformed the traditional beds in every way. That summer I harvested more sweet peppers than ever before. It was my first try growing cantaloupes, so I have no previous crops to compare, but they did well and I harvested quite a few delicious, sun-sweetened cantaloupes from that bed. Meanwhile the flowers seemed to love the soil in my perennial bed, and they grew to huge proportions, filling in the space nicely by season's end. As promised, there was little watering and even less weeding. As a bonus, I never fertilized because the soil was already so rich in composting organic matter. Best of all, no soil-borne diseases! This was an organic gardener's paradise.
Author Patricia Lanza uses plenty of real-life examples from her own gardens to illustrate the effectiveness of this technique. She explains in detail how lasagna gardening differs from traditional tilling and double digging, what the benefits are and which crops need to wait while the layers compost down and which can be put in right away. There is an alphabetical listing of ways to plant annuals and seeds in lasagna beds, a plethora of tips on maximizing your space and innovating ways to grow vertically if need be. There are also garden plans for flower borders and perennial beds grouped according to watering and sunshine needs.
Please don't be afraid to break with "tradition" - you could save not only your garden tool budget, but your back as well. And if the promise of all those fruits, veggies and flowers with less work and more pleasure isn't enough for you, then you must really love that rototiller!
-Andrea, aka Merribelle