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Lasagna composting is like comfort food for your soil

  • Jane Scurich
  • Fall — is it finally arriving? Yum!

    Fall makes me think of warm comfort food like yummy lasagnas loaded with protein, calcium and nutritious veggies. How about cooking up some great soil for your garden using that same layering concept? Layering various colors and textures and allowing them a lengthy cooking time to meld together also works in the garden. The result will be luscious weed-free soil alive with micronutrients to encourage vigorous plant growth.

    Lasagna composting, also known as sheet composting or sheet mulching, is an easy way to improve your soil, attract beneficial bacteria and some of our best garden friends, earthworms, to your garden plot. It is also the easiest way to ditch your lawn and ready your garden space for natives and drought-tolerant plants.

    For homeowners with lawns, the best news is you do not need to dig up that lawn, just sheet compost.



    Heavy-weight cardboard — check with appliance and bicycle stores for large, thick cardboard. Alternatively, purchase rolls of corrugated cardboard or collect lots of newspaper

    Compost — homemade or purchased

    Mulch — homemade, collected, or purchased

    Assemble all of your ingredients in easy reach before you begin.

    Define the area you want to transform.

    Chop down large plants and weeds. There is no need to remove the vegetation — just cut it short and leave all the clippings to naturally compost. If you are eliminating a lawn, mow it short and leave the cuttings.

    Define your parameters. Consider outlining it with a garden hose, marking with a trowel or using strategic markers.

    Water the area well.

    Cover the entire area with the cardboard — don’t skimp. Generously overlap layers. The goal is to shut out all light to the vegetation.

    Water well again.

    Spread 4 to 6 inches of compost or manure. This is a great time to dump in your household collections of eggshells, banana peels and coffee grounds — all delicious lasagna compost ingredients.

    Add 2 to 4 inches of weed-free mulch — dry leaves, fine wood chips or straw, but not hay. You are going to need a lot of mulch, so consider purchasing in bulk from a local soil company.

    Water again, then hope that our El Nino predictions come true.

    Allow to “cook” for 4 to 6 months or longer.

    Allow to “cool” before planting directly into the compost.

    I first used this process several years ago and allowed the compost to “cook” through the fall and winter. The result was amazing, rich, loamy soil ready for spring planting. If you are anxious to install your new drought-resistant plants, carefully slice an X through all the layers and peel back the cardboard to make an opening for the root ball. Do not allow the mulch to pile up next to the stems of plants. Plants from 4-inch containers can be planted in the mulch/compost layer.

    Be sure to flag any sprinkler heads that may be buried in the layering process.

    And here’s the really good news: you can actually get paid for your composting efforts. Marin Municipal Water District has rebates available for folks who mulch. I recently received a $50 rebate for adding a thick layer of redwood mulch to my front garden. And, there’s a special rebate for homeowners removing their lawn.

    Kill the lawn, significantly decrease water needs, create fabulous garden soil, and get compensated? How great is that?

    For more details and helpful hints, go to marinwater.org/158/Sheet-Mulching-Guide andbayfriendlycoalition.org/LYL.shtml.

    For a rebate up to $50 from MMWD for organic mulch. go to marinwater.org/399/Limited-Time-Rebates.

    To apply for a rebate up to $2 per square foot from the State of California when you replace your thirsty turf with water-efficient landscaping, go to saveourwaterrebates.com.