[Herbal Rootslets]: No. 43 – Preparing Your Garden for Spring Planting

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All through the long winter, I dream of my garden. On the first day of spring, I dig my fingers deep into the soft earth. I can feel its energy, and my spirits soar.  – Helen Hayes

It’s never too soon to prepare your garden beds for planting! This can become a fun activity to actively involve your kids in learning about herbs.

There are many styles of gardening from conventional plowing/tilling of the space to more permaculture methods of building up the soil while suffocating weeds. Permaculture methods include raised beds, lasagna gardening and no-till methods.

Lasagna gardening is a method of layering materials such as compost, leaves, straw and cardboard, that will eventually decompose to make a wonderful nutrient rich soil that your plants will thrive in.

After clearing the debris, the garden is ready for cardboard, compost and straw, also known as the lasagna method of gardening.

After clearing the debris, the garden is ready for cardboard, compost and straw, also known as the lasagna method of gardening.

I prefer the lasagna method for several reasons:

-my garden beds are sometimes small, making it hard to get a tiller in to effectively till the space

-many of my plants are perennials, returning year after year, not making tilling a good choice

-not tilling the soil helps to build important microbes in the soil

-tilling helps to churn roots which can often spread some ‘weeds’

-raised beds created from the lasagna method builds beds off the ground with nutrient rich soil

-it’s a great way to recycle card board boxes and yard waste

-it’s one of the easiest and healthiest ways to suppress weeds while building a healthy soil base

-this style of heavy mulching helps to lock in moisture in the ground, even during droughts

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Lots of debris that needs clearing out! Time to get busy…

To prepare a lasagna garden, first you will want to clear out the big debris. Every year I have 3 main garden beds that need clearing out. I generally wait until spring to do this but with lasagna beds, it’s even better to start in the fall so the beds can settle over winter. Either way, it’s easiest to wait until after the first frost so that the weeds have died back, making them easier to cover.

Use a marker to mark off any perennial plants that you want to return. Lasagna bed gardening will suffocate anything trying to come back up, including those you want to return.

Break down card board boxes, removing any plastic on them including packing tape and packing list envelopes.

Lay the card board down where you want it. I often ‘season’ it first by laying it down in a general area and letting it get rained/snowed on. This helps the card board to start to break down.

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Laying down cardboard…

Once the cardboard is in place, add a layer of yard clippings, such as grass, or leaves, depending on the time of year.

After the yard waste, it’s time to add a layer of compost. This is about the time we clean out our stalls and add a layer of goat manure. You can also add aged horse or cow manure or use regular compost.

The final layer is a thick layer of straw. It’s best if it’s been aged a bit, we let our straw bales sit out in the elements for a year, helping to start the breakdown process. Ideally, you will have 6 – 8” of layering above the ground, or more if you are starting in the fall. The thicker you layer it, the less likely the grass and other weeds will be able to grow back through it.

Everything in full bloom

Everything in full bloom

As time goes on, these top layers will suffocate existing weeds and grass (the biggest weed in my garden) and bury their seeds deeply so that they cannot sprout. The top layers wills start to break down, creating a thick layer of mulch and compost that will nourish and strengthen the plants you plant. Worms will also start to crawl through the lasagna layers, helping to decompose the layers and build the soil..

If I am building this in the spring, I often lay down a few layers of seasoned cardboard, top it with thick sheets of straw and start planting. Later I will go through and add in compost and yard waste as it becomes available.

To plant in this style garden, move the straw away from the section you are planting and use a hori knife (my favorite garden tool) to punch an X into the cardboard. I peel back the X to form a square, dig directly through the grass and weeds to plant the new plant.

Happily planted plant, nestled into the straw.

Happily planted plant, nestled into the straw.

Once it is planted, gently fold back down the corners of the X and tuck straw around the plant to keep it snugly in place.

When watering, water directly into the X so the water can go under the card board.

Kids love to help build these gardens and appreciate not having to have the task of weeding added to their chore list! My son’s favorite part is creating the X’s and planting the plants.

Happily tucked into their straw beds.

Happily tucked into their straw beds.

How do you prepare your garden beds for planting? Do you mulch your plants to help choke out weeds and retain moisture?


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