Organic Gardening
Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.


Seed to Farm to Table: How Local Seed Saving is Cultivating Sustainability

San Diego Seed Company Owner in Urban Farm Field

“Everybody gets lost the first time they come here,” laughs Brijette Peña, founder and owner of the San Diego Seed Company. A quick turn off the busy Martin Luther King Jr. Freeway, amidst apartment complexes and urban, you think you are in the wrong place for a thriving small farm. But head up a steep driveway and there sits Romstedt’s self-created farm oasis, producing over 160 varietals of seeds with over 98 percent sold locally in California. The ecologically diverse property overlooks metro San Diego.

“We’re the only certified organic urban seed farm in the United States, but I don’t want it to stay that way. We need as many people as possible doing this to achieve true resilience,” shares Peña as she walks through her quarter-acre operation. “There are a lot of conversations about local food, but not a lot about local seed. It’s the missing piece of the full circle of any sustainable community because we trial and breed varietals that specifically do well in our climate.”

 San Diego Seed Company Hands with Seeds

Local seed production also allows adaptation to regional growing seasons. In San Diego’s case, that would be a very short winter and low water environment. Peña also develops specialized seeds to perennialize certain crops like tomatoes and chard, a growing feat that would be impossible in most other parts of the country. “Our trialing in particular helps new market growers to succeed from the start as we’ve gone through the dirty work for you to find out what varietals grow best here.”

Interestingly, urban centers like San Diego create ideal spots for seed production operations because seed can be produced on small, condensed acreage and you don’t need to worry about cross-pollination contaminating your seed. As we see in so many regional food initiatives across the country like Farmshed in Wisconsin, operations located in metro settings also provide an easy means to invite folks for various classes and educational opportunities to experience the full “seed to plate” sustainability circle. 

San Diego Seed Company Seed Winnowing Machine 

“One tomato can give you thirty seeds, which is pretty incredible,” adds Peña. The heart of her seed saving process roots in old school traditional techniques, including a Clipper machine dating back to the late 1800s that she salvaged from a family friend’s barn in her home state of Kansas. The Clipper efficiently “winnows,” a process which separates the chaff from the seed. “Seeds vary in size, from super tiny herb seed to larger bean seed so we have various screens that let the good seed fall through and keep out sticks and rocks and things you don’t want.”

Fresh seed is more prolific, a reason why Peña aims to only produce what is needed in any given year and sell through inventory annually. “Seed is the most traveled commodity in the world and that really bothers me,” she admits.  Seed often comes from somewhere like Peru, then shipped to India to get processed and to New Jersey to get packed and then dispersed all over the world. That model not only produces poor quality seed, it is unsustainable and growers have no input in the process.”

 San Diego Seed Company Owner in Office

A hotbed for new food upstarts and innovative perspectives on sustainability, San Diego is home to a growing number of women like Peña collaboratively shaking up the food system. From baking entrepreneur Joanne Sherif to farmers market leader Catt White and food activist Trish Watlington, these women openly share their experiences to help others succeed. 

“I realize it goes against traditional business models to say I want to help others do exactly what I’m doing, but local seed saving defies competition,” sums up Peña “With super localized businesses like seed saving, we each have our own individual markets and can really champion each other to succeed.”

Lisa Kivirist, with her husband, John D. Ivanko, a photographer and drone pilot, have co-authored Rural RenaissanceHomemade for Sale, the award-winning  ECOpreneuring  and Farmstead Chefcookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son, Liam, and millions of ladybugs. Read all of Lisa’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Gardening to Treat the Mind, Body, and Soul

 

We will mostly all agree that gardening is a great way to get some exercise, stretch some muscles, and enjoy some fresh air healthy produce, but believe it or not, gardening can do much more for us than just that.

Gardening has been linked to improved mental health. It can be calming and relaxing, allowing the brain to rest and recuperate. Studies have been made that show an ability to calm dementia patients and those suffering from Alzheimer disease. Patients with these issues have shown a marked decrease in agitation and anxiety while gardening with a lingering effect for some time afterwards.

Many people relate gardening to a time in their lives when they were with their parents and even grandparents, when things made sense and were safe and familiar. Gardening is an activity that they relate to enjoyment. Patients who have been subjected to the impairments of dementia and dementia related illnesses, whose brains are impaired in some way or means tend to go back to basic instincts, childhood memories and find comfort there in those familiar and safe environments of the garden.

In a report made by CNN, “People in their 60’s and 70’s that were studied over the past 16 years showed a 36% and 49%, respectively, lower risk of developing dementia and dementia-related illnesses than their non-gardening counterparts.

Gardening has been shown to be a better stress reliever than reading. In a study conducted around 2014, one group of people were asked to participate in gardening activities for 30 minutes a day, while the other group was asked to read 30 minutes a day. The findings and conclusions were that the gardeners showed a marked improvement in overall mood than the readers, a much-decreased level of stress than the readers, and much lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their system than the non-gardening readers. (not sure if this would include reading about gardening or leafing through seed catalogs.)

Grandma said, “Every kid should eat a peck of dirt before they start school.” Now I am not sure if this prescription is accurate (2 gallons of soil) but the idea is gaining exposure to the beneficial microbes that the soils provides and can benefit the gut chemistry in all of us.

Beneficial Microbes are found on dirty fingers.

The beneficial microbe mentioned is Mycobacterium Vaccae (M.V..) M.V. is a bacterium that is found in healthy soil and is both inhaled and ingested while gardening. This bacterium is said to provide the same effects on the neurons of the brain as the prescription drug Prozac. M.V. stimulates serotonin production in the brain and causes a feel-good reaction in us. The garden can really be your “happy place!” Studies have shown that when interviewing gardeners and non-gardeners, that 80% of gardeners feel happy compared to only 67% of our non-gardening counterparts.

Not to sound like an old hippy, which technically I could be, the thought of all of this is not new to me. I remember a time when we talked of “Grounding,” in fact a movie was produced with that same title and dealt with this very topic in the early 70’s. Grounding or bonding with the earth has many benefits to our well-being and all that we really need to do is “Keep Our Fingers Dirty!” or touch the earth. Walking barefoot was said to transfer free electrons that are found in the earth structure (soils do have electrical charges) and these electrons then enter our bodies through out feet and then spread into our tissues. This action of grounding with the earth has been said to relieve pain, improve sleep health, reduce inflammation and provide an overall sense of well-being.

This may seem a bit out of here for some of you, but hey, what’s the harm, why not try at least going barefoot and recharge your systems.

Well, I challenge you to think about just how beneficial gardening can be beyond just healthy foods, nutrient rich produce, and try to engage in the mind boosting activities and the beneficial microbes that are found in our gardens.

Oh yeah, Keep Those Fingers Dirty!

Brian L. Fuder is a certified Square-Foot Gardening Instructor who builds gardens that are wheelchair-accessible and mobility-issue friendly. His business, Square Foot Gardening for the Red River Valley, is an approved vendor of products for the Square Foot Gardening Foundation. Follow Brian’s activities on Facebook and at Semper Fi Fund. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Gettin' Twiggy With It: Growing Red Twig Dogwood

 

Ah, the middle of spring. Like most gardeners, I’ve been daydreaming about this time of the year since last fall, planning new beds and considering new plants to try. So once the rain tapers off and the dirt dries out a bit, I know it’s go time in the garden. I’ve got soil to turn under, trees to mulch, and plants to buy.

Over the past few months, I’ve been receiving all kinds of plant and flower catalogs, and their prices leave me gobsmacked: $25 for a gallon pot of some-such plant is a bit out of my budget. Or, the alternative is to spend less, but basically buy a two-foot dormant stick with a few spindly bare roots for a couple of bucks. Will it grow? Sometimes. On a few occasions, I have purchased the cheapo rooted sticks of plants that are known to be a workhorse in the garden, those that are notorious for growing quickly and easily. Shrubs like forsythia, privet, and hybrid willows or poplars are generally easy to work with, and you will probably have a good outcome if you plant them properly and have patience.

For finicky, slow-growing plants, like evergreens, you may want to shell out a few extra dollars and get a more established potted plant. I’d love to recommend buying 10-inch pine or spruce seedlings for a dollar or two a piece, but for me, I’d rather buy something like that a little larger so I can live to see it mature into a nice focal point in my landscape. Plus, my husband tends to be a little reckless on the mower, and most of the time, these seedlings end up with an unwanted haircut. Might as well shred a couple bucks and toss them in the yard.

And then there are the times when I’m driving around the county, and I see something growing in someone’s ditch or culvert, and a mental light bulb goes off. I was coming home yesterday afternoon, and I just happened to look over in my neighbor’s culvert and saw a small colony of red twig dogwood that I had never noticed before. I think I must have had cartoon heart eyes because I couldn’t stop thinking about its red branches, and how I wanted to get a hold of a start for my garden.

So, I messaged my neighbor, Ryan (a fantastic custom Funko artist), and asked him to see if his mom would mind if I jumped down into the culvert to dig up a couple red twig dogwoods to plant over at my place. Thankfully, she said I could.

It’s always a blessing when I can obtain free plants like this because I checked online and my catalogs, and found that I could buy a gallon pot for $24.99, and two-foot starts were priced 4/$4.99. So, if jumping down in my neighbor’s culvert, and possibly fighting off any creepy crawlers living down there saves me a few dollars, I’m gonna do it!

A native of North America, red twig dogwood is an easy-to-grow shrub that thrives in a sunny spot with moist soil. It can reach eight feet in height and width, making it a statement piece, especially in a smaller garden. What’s special about this shrub is the bright red branches, adding the most beautiful contrast to its green foliage in the summer months and pops of color in the dull gray days of winter. In spring, red twig dogwoods are covered in white flowers, followed by white berries, which are usually enjoyed by many birds.

Now, my old-timer friends are probably laughing as they read this, thinking that red twig dogwoods are an invasive weedy shrub. It grows with wild abandon here in Morrow County, dotting ditches along country roads. Some may not understand why I’d want a shrub like this in my yard. They may not understand why I want to encourage native plants to grow in my garden, with an attempt to undo the biodiversity loss that past generations have caused. To me, there’s a slight difference between growing a red twig dogwood and, say, other nuisance plants (cough, cough ...  multiflora rose … cough, cough). Every plant has its purpose, and I want that pop of color in the winter that this dogwood provides.

If you want to add red twig dogwoods to your backyard, they can be propagated by hardwood cuttings. Or, because this shrub is known to produce rooted suckers, much like a lilac, you can dig and divide them up and relocate to your desired spot. If you want to control suckers, however, plant your dogwood with base mowing in mind. It’s the easiest way to keep a shrub like this tidy.

Pruning is ideal, especially the old wood, which tends to lose its bright red color. You can choose to do selective pruning, removing old growth only, or try coppicing every couple of years. To coppice is the fancy-pantsy term that means to cut the entire shrub to about a two-foot height, and is an aggressive way to prune, but red twig dogwoods are hardy and are likely to handle it. In fact, county guys, like my buddy, Mr. Howell, are doing these dogwoods kind of a favor by mowing ditches in which these plants thrive. They mow off the old wood, thus promoting the young, bright red branches to grow, which is probably the only reason I noticed my neighbors’ dogwood colony in the first place.

As far as disease, red twig dogwood is relatively healthy when planted in the proper location. It may suffer from leaf blight, canker (in hot zones, 7 or higher), and a few pests, like bagworms or scale.

So, if you’re looking for a shrub that adds a unique pop of color to your landscape, give red twig dogwood a consideration. And if you’re out and about in Morrow County and see a middle-aged lady knee-deep in a culvert, possibly wrestling a raccoon and digging up plants, it’s probably me.

Corinne Gompf is a writer and hobby farmer in Morrow County, Ohio. She is a graduate from the University of Toledo, with a BA in English, creative writing concentration. Along with her husband, Matt, and two children, Fletcher and Emery, Corinne raises poultry, Boer goats, rabbits, and chemical-free produce. Connect with Corinne on her Heritage Harvest Farm Facebook page.


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Raised Beds for Resiliency

 

Among all the resilient growing practices at House in the Woods Farm, it is the raised beds that really saved the day in 2018, the rainiest season on Maryland record. Our county of Frederick had flash flooding in May due to as much as six inches of rain falling within three hours. And it continued to rain steadily all year. It rained more days than not, even during the summer when we are used to dry weather.

With seven inch raised beds, the rain collected in rivers between the elevated crops instead of drowning the plants. Raised beds help with drainage and keep crops up on rows like islands above the rivers of water that settle in on the rainiest days. The rivers of rain have time to seep into the paths between beds. Even temporary flooding can devastate a crop or drown a set of new seedlings. The raised plants are held up high on islands of dry ground while the rivers have time to drain, illustrated by this photo of our sweet potato plants. 

Another resilient technique that helps with drainage is the quality of the soil. Our soil is rich and loamy, so it drains well. Our farm sits on an ideal soil region, but we have also made it better by adding nutrients and plant materials back into the soil. Over the past two decades of growing, we have built up the organic matter in the soil, enriching the soil and improving the drainage.

The crops may be protected by our raised beds and rich soil, but I have to admit our spirits got a little soggy. Planting seedlings on raised beds while you trudge through mucky paths just takes more out of you. Harvesting in the rain and changing your clothes four times in one day is tiring. Soggy conditions. Mostly, the rains of 2018 dampened our spirits. I am looking forward to this season for a renewal of energy on the farm. Every year is a new year, and the spring crops are starting strong.

Despite 2018’s record rains, I am grateful for our relatively bountiful harvests last year. We matched our sweet potato and tomato harvests from years past. We grow tomatoes under the protection of hoophouses, so their skins do not split in rainy weather. Surely those hoops saved our tomatoes. We grow a wide variety of crops for our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) members. Growing diverse crops helps the farm in extreme conditions, when some crops thrive better than others. Some of the spring cabbages suffered from the rainy conditions. Our spring and fall harvests were less diverse than usual, but we had a decent variety for CSA customers, full of peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes and more. As farmers reported losses and more losses, flooded fields and rotted crops, I am grateful to our resilient growing practices, such as raised beds and hoophouses and building rich soil. These are the techniques that helped us thrive in a year of extreme rain conditions.

How do we make raised beds at House in the Woods Farm? Using our farm innovation called the Mulchinator, which adapts a plastic mulch layer to lay and reroll reusable black cloth. For information about House in the Woods Farm’s Mulchinator, see this blog and this video.

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life on the farm's Facebook Page. For more about House in the Woods Farm, go to the House in the Woods website, and read all of Ilene's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Landscaping with Juniper: Maintain and Prune This Hearty Conifer

 Juniper Before Pruning

Juniper is a beautiful plant that you can find virtually anywhere once you know what to look for.  I knew nothing about Juniper just a few years ago, but once I realized that several juniper bushes located on our property required frequent maintenance in order to control them, I became familiar with them very quickly.

Going back, our property was home to a former nursery and showcased a variety of bushes, trees and plants. Unfortunately, when we purchased it, the interior of the house needed so much renovation — two years passed before we even touched anything on the outside.  When we finally did, we found that we had several different types of juniper right in our backyard, and I have a love/hate relationship with every one of them.

Juniper Characteristics

Closeup Juniper Branch New Growth

Juniper is a coniferous plant belonging to the cypress family. It is a very common plant used in landscaping as garden hedges, hill coverings, and property barriers, to name just a few. Some juniper are low-laying creeper versions, while others are standalone bushes. The color of needles and berries can vary among type but are usually a beautiful green/blue color.

For many plants, years of no pruning may not be an issue, chop them back when you get to it and it will grow back, similar to a haircut. However, Juniper can be much more unforgiving.

Juniper is beautiful in appearance and has a wonderful, refreshing scent, so I would love to keep the bushes around if possible. Juniper also has many wonderful uses that make it a beneficial plant to have in your backyard. It makes beautiful cuttings for holiday arrangements.

Juniper berries can also have a variety of uses from cooking, to healing salves, to essential oils. While junipers can be very enjoyable, the amount of maintenance required is something you definitely want to consider before planting them.

Juniper Maintenance

For one, juniper bushes are extremely dense plants that grow relatively quickly. This means that a Juniper will typically have a dead center. Sunlight cannot reach the center of the plant causing the branches in the middle of the plant to brown and die. Unfortunately, as the plant grows, so does the dead center. This dead center makes frequent pruning necessary in order to keep the dead center small and manageable.

Once the dead center grows, you will only be able to prune the plant back as far as the live branches begin. Pruning the bush into the dead center will cause the bush to have large dead spots which will never grow back. Frequent pruning is the only way to combat this.

In addition to being beautiful and having a variety of uses, it is also a very hearty plant that will grow with little care, which is one of the reasons it is so commonly used in landscaping. We have a creeping juniper plant as a hill cover in our backyard. It is hearty and is wonderful for preventing soil wash out.

Due to its heartiness however, it is very hard to weed and is also an inviting place for black snakes to hang out. It is for this reason that we have plans to replace it with a different option this summer.

Dead Spot In Juniper Tree

We have a huge juniper bush which has been neglected for years. It measures approximately 10 feet wide and 7 feet tall. The dead zone is pretty much larger than the new growth at this point. Unfortunately, no amount of pruning can return the bush to a manageable size. At this point, the only hope is to rip it out of the ground.

Bushy Juniper Tree Conifer

Aside from a few of these overgrown bushes, we also have some in areas which require frequent pruning that we do several times a year. We have some lining a small pond on the property, as well as lining the road in front of our home. Although these plants are much bigger than I would like, I have learned to prune them properly so that they maintain their current shape and volume.

Early spring is the best time for us to focus on pruning the juniper bushes that line our driveway. We will also prune them back in early fall. These require frequent pruning in order to ensure that the juniper branches do not block out view of the road when pulling out of our driveway.

Before and after pruning:

Juniper Tree Before Pruning

Juniper Tree After Pruning

11 Tips for Juniper Maintenance

1. When buying juniper, make sure that you are purchasing the correct kind for your needs, the difference in type could determine how it will grow and pruning will be dependent on the growth pattern.

2. Prune lightly and frequently, at least twice per year spring (before new growth occurs) and fall, or when needed to maintain shape of plant.

3. Wear gloves when pruning, new growth is very soft and delicate, but old, mature growth is woody and prickly.

4. Avoid pruning in mid-summer when it is the hottest.

5. Do not use shears, use bypass pruners and make cuts at 45 degree angles

6. Clean pruner blades between prunings and after pruning a different tree/bush to prevent spreading disease.

7. Cut branches enough on each branch to shorten it but do not cut into dead zones.

8. Start from top to bottom, tapering down to maintain shape. The longer limbs should be at the bottom.

9. For bushes or creeping Juniper, make sure to frequently trim back branches sticking out from the top of the bush.

10. You can use the dead zone to your advantage by frequently trimming and cutting and unwanted branches back to the dead zone to prevent them from growing again.

11. Make sure to frequently check for pests that can be destructive to juniper bushes. One of the major ones that we have experiences are call bagworms. These can be extremely destructive and tend to favor evergreen trees and bushes.

Juniper Tree Cloesup New Growth

Image above shows Juniper branch’s new growth extending from older, woody section. Frequently prune the new growth back to the start of the woody section.

Juniper is a lovely plant with many benefits and uses. If you are able to maintain a frequent pruning schedule, these plants would make a wonderful addition to your landscape and backyard.

Stephanie Leaf is transforming her family’s Maryland home into their homestead dream property. She and her husband own a masonry business and do the majority of the renovation projects themselves, with plans to expand their garden, cultivate herbs, build a chicken coop and involve their children in every aspect of self-sufficiency. Connect with Stephanie at Wingin’ it on the Homestead and on Facebook and Pinterest.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Low- to No-Cost Pest Deterrents That Really Work for Bees, Bats, and More

Ladybug Beetle On Stem

Photo by blickpixel on Pixabay

A day planned for outdoor activities like gardening or a backyard BBQ can quickly be ruined by unwanted pests. Bees, wasps and mosquito stings are painful and potentially dangerous for humans. Aphids, deer, rabbits, squirrels, gophers and bats infiltrating our outdoor space threaten to destroy all the hard work that’s been done in the garden.

Keep your garden and backyard safe from destructive pests and harmful chemicals with these organic methods of pest control. These DIY garden pest deterrent and trap ideas are easy to create and will rid your yard and garden of unwanted stinging, digging, chewing and flying pests.

DIY Bee and Wasp Trap

Make an effective bee and wasp trap from a recycled 2-liter soda bottle. Set this trap up in an outdoor area where you’ll be spending time to trap flying, stinging insects.

Cut off the top third of the soda bottle and invert it into the bottom portion of the bottle (lid removed). Tape the edges together so there are no gaps between the plastic.

Pour half a cup of soda in the bottom of the bottle and place it 20 feet away from where you are working or playing. Bees and wasps will be attracted to the sweet soda and go down into the bottle for a drink and will be unable to find their way back out.

When having a backyard BBQ, set up several of these traps around the perimeter to keep guests sting-free.

Stinging Pest Deterrent

Repel gnats, sweat bees, wasps and other stinging pests with a fabric softener sheet. Pin a new fabric softener sheet to your hat, shirt or jacket to repel all types of stinging and/or annoying flying pests.

The fabric softener sheet can be used in the dryer after being used to repel garden pests. Fabric softener sheets made with natural ingredients work well as a pest deterrent.

Natural Mosquito Deterrent

A fabric softener sheet does not repel mosquitoes, but this simple trick will: Place an oscillating fan near your chair, picnic area or garden and turn it on high. Mosquitoes are very weak fliers and the breeze created by the oscillating fan will keep them away from you.

The rotation of the oscillating fan will prevent mosquito attacks from all angles around you.

DIY Pepper Spray

Deer, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, turtles and other small woodland critters enjoy nibbling on tender garden plants and developing produce.

Aphids attack the new growth on garden plants and flowers and suck the sap out of the plants until it dies. Several other tiny pests enjoy feasting on tender, new stems and leaves too. All of them can be stopped without harming the plant with this DIY pepper spray. Safe for the environment and pets also.

Place 2 cups of hot peppers (fresh or dried) and 2 cups of water in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour pepper water mixture into pot, bring to a boil on the stove, then simmer on low heat 5 minute.

Allow pepper mixture to cool, then strain through a piece of cheese cloth to remove seeds. Pour into a spray bottle and add a few drops of liquid dish detergent, shake well. Spray hot pepper mixture on the lower leaves and stems of garden plants once a week to deter the large pests from eating your garden plants.

Saturate the underside of leaves and new stems to kill existing aphids and repel any other types of sap-sucking insects from attacking the plant. This organic, DIY hot pepper spray is safe for use on all vegetable and flowering plants.

Bat Deterrent

If you have bats nesting under house or barn eaves or any other location where you do not want them, use this simple DIY bat deterrent to get rid of them.

Crush two cloves of fresh garlic and place in the toe of a knee-hi hose. Tie the open end of the knee-hi and tack it up near the entrance of the bat's nesting place. Bats despise the scent of garlic and will relocate to a less smelly environment.

Gopher Deterrent

Gophers can create underground tunnels that will ruin a yard or garden overnight. Get rid of gophers and protect your landscape with moth balls.

Locate openings of the gopher holes (there will be at least two) and drop a few moth balls in the holes. Walk along the gopher runs and poke holes in the soil every four feet and drop moth balls down into the tunnels. Gophers hate the scent of moth balls and will abandoned their den and move off your property.

Elena Smith is a gardener, blogger, designer and DIY enthusiast in New Mexico who channels a love of simple and green living into her work. When she is not blogging, you can find her attending to the flowers and plants in the garden. Connect with Elena at ElenaSmith.net and on Twitter.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Lasagna Layering. Does it Really Work?

 

Does lasagna layering really work?

Weeds are a big issue for me and I’m always on a mission to find ways to reduce and kill them without the use of chemicals.  Weeds can take over a garden bed in a week and the zeal and growth potential will make your head spin. 

One method that has been featured in journals and on social media is lasagna layering.  Lasagna layering has been a hot topic over the years.  The concept is a little more involved than weed control, but that’s one of the benefits of the method.

So lasagna layering is the process of making layers on top of the garden soil to add compost, retain moisture, provide good soil amendments, increase worm habitat, regulate temperature, and control weeds.  So this mysterious layering technique had caught my attention.  But does it work?

The first summer I tried cardboard and grass clippings from my yard.  This was a bad beginning because the green grass clippings attracted ants and weren’t composted so they went through a heat cycle.  Also, there was a moisture buildup between the cardboard and grass that was s fantastic mold habitat.  But......no weeds!  That’s right, the weeds never came through the barriers and so I decided to check out other resources in my environment.

The second summer I visited my local tourism office and asked them for all of the expired newsprint publications.  Jackpot!  I had a nice supply of non-glossy or plastic coated newspaper in tidy bundles.  The garden was prepped by cleaning the top of the soil layer and sprinkling a little rabbit compost.  Layers of newsprint (10 sheets thick) and pine straw (4 inches) were added.  Then plants were planted among the layers.  Needless to say, the process worked out and again I had very few, if any, weeds.  Nice!

So I’m sold.  I’ll forever keep my eyes on the lookout for newsprint to add to my soil and pine straw to keep the newsprint from blowing away.  Actually, the pine straw is aesthetically pleasing to my eyes so that’s kind of a bonus.

Now about the other claims that have been suggested by lasagna layering, does it retain moisture and help with temperature control?  I’m still not confident that this is true.  Living in central Louisiana, it’s hot and I have to water frequently and consistently.  However, even if this helps in a minimal way, it’s still worth the effort.

And does lasagna layering add amendments to the soil and provide a nice habitat for earthworms?  Yes, I can say with conviction that I’ve noticed an increase in worm life and so I take this as a sign that they have a comfy habitat with good nutrition.  The newspaper layers do compost within 6-9 months.  The pine straw lasted a lot longer.  In fact, it didn’t compost very well and I consider that a positive.  Less collection of pine straw in the woods.  And I feel better knowing that the acid from the pine straw isn’t “in” my soil since I didn’t fold it into the bed.

Now that I’ve attacked my weed problem head on I’m happy to report that I also have had better yields and less problems with “volunteers”.  You know, all of the seeds that drop to earth and take over the next season?  Become a weed warrior too, use the lasagna layering method in your garden today.

Esther Coco Boe lives in Louisiana, where she works to enhance pollinator habitats, plants herbs in her home garden, grows heirloom tomatoes, and exposes children to gardening. Connect with Esther on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

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