We hope you are all enjoying the garden and are finding the new Mill Valley Children's Garden Handbook helpful.
A Quick Reminder
Remember to check the task list in the tool shed (written in chalk on
the tool shed doors). There is always a list of garden activities to
keep your students busy in case you run out of things to do.
HARVESTING- When you see a PLEASE HARVEST sign on a bed, that signals that all classes may help themselves to a sampling
of the vegetables in that plot. Please be sure to save some for other
classes to enjoy. Similarly, when your class is ready to share your crop
with the rest of the classes, please place a PLEASE HARVEST sign in
your plot (signs are located in the greenhouse).
Now is the time to actively tend to our bends and plant our cold
crops. When clearing your bed of weeds and old summer crops, please take
care to not get any dirt from your plot on the newly wood chipped
pathways. If the paths remain dirt-free, they will not grow weeds. Once
the wood chips become full of dirt and seeds, the weeds will once again
take over the pathways. Please communicate with Leslie Myers (email@example.com)
our greenhouse coordinator for guidance in planting seeds and turning
beds. For educational benefits, the Mill Valley Children's Garden should
have only one plant crop per bed (with the exception of the few theme
plots that are grown each semester). With a child's perspective in mind,
this method proves to be less chaotic and the students learn how to
care for and recognize crop types by observing the plants in masses, as
seen on a farm.
Because we are aiming for one crop type per bed, we ask that you plant
with the intentions of feeding potentially 300 + little mouths (not just
your own class). Be generous, plant in abundance and share in abundance. We encourage you to plant your seeds BOTH in the greenhouse and in your beds, this will ensure success in your bed!Be
sure to label all plants that you grow in the greenhosue with your
classroom name and vegetable name. You may pick up your seeds at any
time in the tool shed area. Look for the hanging sign that says PICK UP
YOUR SEEDS HERE. Please see the PLANTING GUIDE in your handbook for more
CLEAN UP- Remind the studentsthat
everything that they touch while in the garden needs to be put away
before they leave class: gloves, tools, wheelbarrows, watering cans. Garden parents should do a look around the garden at the end of their class to make sure that their kids put everything away.
We recommend at least 30 minutes per group of students. Any less and
you will be rushed. Groups of 8 or less students is ideal. This may mean
that the class be divided into 3 groups, or more than 1 parent should
Kindergarten and 3rd graders - Meet Rebecca Mullaney your personal Garden Science Instructor.
is meets with the Kindergarteners and third graders a few times each
month in the garden (separate from your garden parent class time). Feel
free to contact her and ask for her advice or bounce around some
Visit the 4th Grade Annual Bee Project- Harvest the sunflower fort,
look over the time line and reach out to the resources (all located in
A quick post about the
gardening philosophy that I follow, sometimes called lazy/no work/no
till/lasagna gardening which is based upon sustainable principles found in
nature. Walk through a forest and notice the diversity of flora, fauna
and fungi happily co-existing with no human intervention (tilling, fertilizing,
irrigating, etc.). Nature creates fertile soil by slowly creating a
living mulch with fallen leaves, decomposing organic matter, animal/bird
droppings, etc. which feeds the soil from the top down. Nutrients slowly
seep into the soil and feed the plant canopy, while the natural blanket of
mulch retains soil moisture, regulates soil temperature and restricts weed seed
germination. The soil is rarely disturbed except in landslides, erosion
or fallen trees. When the soil is disturbed, nature rushes in to fill the
vacuum usually with fast growing "weeds."
In our gardens, we
can attempt to replicate this system by disturbing the soil as little as
possible (when soil is disrupted weed seeds come to the surface and soil health
is diminished). When crops are finished, they are removed as gently as
possible (cut the plants at soil level and allow the roots to compost in
place). When new crops are planted, mulch (hay, leaves, compost, etc.) is
applied as a top dressing around the new plants which will act as a weed
suppressant, a temperature regulator, water retainer, and, as it decomposes, a
fertilizer. Over time, this sustainable method builds better soil with
more nutrients while reducing the labor involved. Enjoy...
...less work can yield better results
By Greg Seaman Posted Jan
Gardeners traditionally dig, or turn over
the top layer of soil before planting to get rid of weeds, and make it easier
to use fertilizers and to plant crops. This also speeds up the decomposition of
crop residue, weeds and other organic matter. Tilling the soil is often the
most strenuous of a gardener's tasks.
A complex, symbiotic relationship exists between the soil surface and the
underlying micro-organisms, however, which contributes to a natural, healthy
soil structure. Digging into the bed can interfere with this process and
disturb the natural growing environment. It can also cause soil compaction and
erosion, and bring dormant weed seeds to the surface where they will sprout.
With 'no-till' gardening, once the bed is established the surface is never
disturbed. Amendments such as compost, manure, peat, lime and fertilizer are
'top dressed', i.e added to the top of the bed where they will be pulled into
the subsoil by watering and the activity of subsoil organisms. Weeding is
largely replaced by the use of mulch. By adding material in layers, the
underlying soil surface remains spongy, making it easy for the young roots of
newly planted seedlings to work through the soil. This is similar to the way
soil is formed in nature.
Benefits of no-till gardening
Promotes natural aeration and drainage.
Worms and other soil life are important to healthy soil structure, their tunnels
providing aeration and drainage, and their excretions bind together soil
crumbs. No-till systems are said to be freer of pests and disease, possibly due
to a more balanced soil population being allowed to build up in this
comparatively undisturbed environment, and by encouraging the buildup of
beneficial soil fungi.
Thick layers of mulch allow water to pass through easily while shading the
soil. This reduces water lost to evaporation while maintaining a moist growing
environment beneficial for root growth.
Reduces or eliminates the need to weed.
Most garden soils contain weed seeds which lay dormant until the soil is
disturbed and the seeds become exposed to light. With no-till gardening, these
seeds will remain dormant indefinitely. Of course, some weeds will appear in
the beds, borne by wind or birds. These weeds are easy to remove by hand if you
pull them early in the morning or shortly after watering, while the soil is
Saves time and energy.
Whether you turn your garden beds by hand or use a gas-powered rototiller,
you'll save energy by using the no-till method. Although some effort is
required in gathering materials for mulching, and applying the mulch during the
growing season, no digging or turning of the soil is required.
No-till gardening helps soil retain carbon.
Healthy topsoil contains carbon-enriched humus and decaying organic matter
that provides nutrients to plants. Soils low in humus can't maintain the
carbon-dependent nutrients essential to healthy crop production, resulting in
the need to use more fertilizers. Tilling the soil speeds the breakdown or
organic matter, which releases nutrients too quickly. A steady, slow release of
nutrients is more beneficial to plant growth.
Builds earthworm population.
The moist conditions of the soil beneath mulch creates the ideal environment
for earthworms, whose activity aerates the soil and stimulates root growth.
Helps reduce soil erosion.
A lack of carbon in soil may promote erosion, as topsoil and fertilizers are
often washed or blown away from garden beds.
Methods used in no-till gardening
Prepare the bed before adopting the no-till method.
With new garden beds you need to establish a good, fertile soil structure
before you can expect good results with the no-till/mulch method. The soil
should be 'double-dug' at least the depth of two shovel blades, and large
rocks, roots and other obstructions removed. Be sure to remove any perennial
weed roots. Amendments such as peat, lime, vermiculite, compost or other
organic material can then be worked into the soil.
Use mulch liberally, in layers.
Mulch is an essential part of no-till gardening. A thick layer of mulch will
keep the soil from drying out and crusting over, which restricts nutrient and
water flow to the subsoil. It also reduces water loss due to evaporation. Mulch
will provide cover for soil insects and often dramatically increases the
earthworm population. However, mulches can also introduce weeds to your garden
bed. For example, try to use straw instead of hay because fewer weed seeds are
found in straw. Leaves, especially from deciduous species such as Maple, add
valuable nutrients to the soil but should not be layered too thickly. Thick
layers of leaves can form 'mats' which restrict water penetration and harbor
insects. You can intersperse layers of straw with leaves, for example, to
When planting seedlings, pull the mulch back and dig into the surface just
enough to set the plant.
The depth of mulch can be only a few inches when seedlings are first planted,
then added in layers as the plant grows. Pull mulch away from the stems of
tomatoes, peppers and long-stemmed plants. Beds left over winter can benefit from
mulch 12″ - 24″ in depth.
The following lists common materials used for mulches:
Clippings - Cut grass before it goes to seed. Fresh
'green' clippings will add nitrogen to the soil, which helps plants grow.
If you let the clippings turn brown, you will get the mulch effect without
adding nitrogen. (As plants begin to fruit, nitrogen should not be added.)
- Avoid using paper with colored inks; can blow away in the wind.
waste - Cut up any branches or woody material.
- Needs to be 'finished' compost so as not to attract pests. Compost is a
good early season mulch, but as the plant begins fruiting, you should
withhold sources of nitrogen.
- Good mulching material but beware - weed seeds may be introduced.
- Good source of carbon; excellent mulching material.
- Adds trace minerals, deters slugs. Should be applied liberally because
seaweed shrinks considerably when dry.
bark - Can be acidic. You may need to add lime at the same
Shavings - Avoid shavings from chain saws or tools that
leave oil residues.
- A valuable source of carbon, leaves make excellent mulch. Apply in thin
layers, or intersperse with other materials to prevent matting. Sprinkle
soil on top if needed to prevent leaves from blowing away in a strong
duff - Pine needles, twigs, woody bits are useful, but can
'Top dress' amendments.
Even a well-established garden bed will need regular amendments added during
the growing season, and in spring and fall. Compost, peat, lime, wood ashes and
other material are easily added to the bed without digging them in. Spread this
material around the plants where needed, and add mulch to cover.
Cut back on watering.
The use of mulch retains moisture, thereby reducing the need for frequent
watering. Reduced watering also helps minimize soil compaction and the
germination of unwanted weeds. Drip-irrigation techniques are very helpful in
this regard because water is delivered to root zones, without being wasted on
unplanted areas or pathways.
These can be planted during the off-season for a garden bed as a way of
discouraging weeds from becoming established, and to return essential nutrients
to the soil. Crops such as crimson clover, oats, rye and hairy vetch are
referred to as 'green manures' because of the fertility they add to the soil.
Rye should not be planted preceding small-seeded crops like onions or carrots.
To replant a bed which has been planted in a cover crop, lay dark plastic
sheeting over the bed and weight down the edges with rocks. Heat will build sufficiently
to kill the plants, then vegetable seed or transplants can be set out after
removing the plastic. Ideally, allow two weeks before planting to allow crop
residues to break down, releasing nitrogen for the new seedlings. This method
takes time, however, and can conflict with the spring planting schedule.
Another method is to hand pull the cover crop where you want to place the
seedlings, and cover the remaining cover crop with a thick layer of mulch.
Another method is the cut the cover crop to a stubble, then gently work the
stubble into the soil with a hoe. This process compromises the 'no till'
method, but can still be sufficient to allow early planting.
Winter cover with hay.
A simpler alternative to planting cover crops is to place a thick layer of
straw and leaves over the garden beds for the winter months. This layer needs
to be deep, as much as 2′ deep, to keep weeds for sprouting. In the spring, the
pile will be lower. When ready to plant, the mulch can be simply pulled back to
dig the hole with a hand spade for the plants. Some gardeners report this
method encourages voles and other pests who nest in the straw and burrow into
the soil. It is best to experiment with this method on a small part of your
garden to ensure its effectiveness in your growing region.
Avoid compacting the soil.
Avoid stepping on the bed, as this compacts the soil. If the bed is wider
than 4′, a board or stepping stones can be set in place on the bed. If a board
is used, flip it over occasionally to allow the underside to dry out and to
expose any slugs or snails.
It should be noted that "no-till" does not mean "no-work". As the mulch
breaks down and settles into the soil, new mulch needs to be added. This should
be done in a timely way, because if the soil surface is exposed to direct
watering, and heavy rain, it compacts. You may need to break up (till) the soil
before planting the next crop, and this defeats the purpose of the no-till
In conclusion, no-till gardening requires some experimenting to find the right
techniques for your growing region. Ideally, one or two 'extra' beds in the
garden can be used for testing cover crops and spring planting methods. Over
time, the remaining garden beds can be transitioned to no-till. If you have a
good supply of mulching materials and reapply them as necessary throughout the
growing season, you can enjoy the benefits of a productive garden with less
work in the spring, less weeding and less water used throughout the summer.
One-Straw Revolution, by Masanobu Fukuoka
The Secret Garden, by David Bodanis
Gardening without work: for the aging, the busy, and the indolent, by Ruth
Stout, Lyon Press (1998)
Weedless Gardening, by Lee Reich, published by Workman Publishing (2001)
By Patricia Lanza
If someone told me years ago that he or she had found a way to do an end run
around the sweat equity of traditional gardening, a way around digging,
weeding, and rototilling, a way to produce more regardless of time constraints,
physical limitations, or power-tool ineptness... well, I would have checked
that person for a head injury. Yet such a system is actually possible, though I
never would have believed it if I hadn't stumbled upon the basics myself.
Lasagna gardening was borne of my own frustrations. After my husband retired
from the U.S. Navy, we began our next period of work as innkeepers. When the
demands on my time became so great that I could no longer do all that was
required to keep both the business and the garden going, the garden suffered.
I'd plant in the spring, then see the garden go unattended. I needed a way to
do it all.
Just when I was about to give up, it happened: a bountiful harvest with no
work. I'd planted, late again because of a late spring. And again, when the
seasonal demands of the business began claiming all of my time, my plantings
were forgotten. In midsummer, I made a much belated foray into the garden. I
had to hack through a jungle of weeds to find the vegetable plants--but what a
payoff! I discovered basketfuls of ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers,
and egg plant. True, there were also basketfuls of rotted, overgrown, and
unusable vegetables (the product of neglect), but the abundance was truly
To gain some measure of control that year, I simply stomped the weeds flat
in between rows and put down cardboard boxes to walk on. The harvest continued,
with carrots, onions, garlic, and potatoes persisting among the weeds. Stout
stems of collard greens pushed the plants up to tower above the mess, despite
the native morning glory that tried to hold back growth. Lower-growing Swiss
chard also persevered, though I had to cut out the shriveled leaves and pull a
few weeds to get to the good growth.
Flower seeds, planted in a border around the garden in the spring, came up
and bloomed. As I poked about that messy old garden, I found patches of basil,
parsley, sage, and thyme that had done battle with weeds and grass and won. I
was suddenly very excited about the possibilities.
And the timing couldn't have been better. The inn had caught on, making my
time in the garden more limited. And, as much as I hated to admit it, I was
getting older and losing some strength. I was by then living and working alone,
so there was no one to run the tiller. I bought a smaller model but couldn't
cope with cleaning the carburetor and mixing gas and oil.
Inspired by my no-work harvest, late that fall I began my first attempt to
make and maintain a garden without digging or tilling. Using no power tools and
little more than what was at hand, I layered for the first time. A neighbor's
son had promised to bring me a load of horse manure in a spreader in exchange
for pizza and sodas for himself and his friends. This seemed like a fair
exchange to me. I removed all the cardboard from the paths and gave him access
to back the spreader right up to the garden. He spread about four to six inches
of fresh manure on the entire plot. I waded in and covered it with a layer of
In the spring I had more weeds (smart weed, pig weed, dumb weed) than ever
before, but they were easy to stomp down. I covered the garden paths with
cardboard, then set about hand-pulling weeds from the garden spaces, easily
keeping them clear just long enough to plant. Once the plants were in, I
mulched with compost and peat moss. As the plants grew, I mulched with grass
clippings and more peat moss. My garden spaces were smaller with wider paths,
and I planted closer. I expected that as the plants grew they would crowd out
the weeds. To plant seeds, I created a weed-free planting space with a mixture
of peat moss, sand, and sifted compost laid on top of the rather untidy garden
The business--a country inn and restaurant--was year-round, but from July 4th
to Labor Day I danced as fast as I could to keep up with the heavy seasonal
trade. By midsummer, I found myself once again ignoring the garden. Yet, once
again, the garden produced more than I expected, though it was still weedy and
There was something missing. I knew I could control the weed growth with
plastic or landscape material, but it wasn't what I wanted. I needed a ground
cover that would suppress weeds, deteriorate, be easy to come by, and cost
nothing. As I lugged tied bundles to the curb for recycling, I found my answer:
ALL THE NEWS THAT'S FIT TO LAYER
That fall, I covered the entire garden: the paths with new cardboard and
bark chips and the garden spaces with two or three sheets of wet newspaper and
peat moss, layered with grass clippings and chipped leaves. It was looking
good. In fact, it was beautiful-neat and beautiful!
In the spring, I pulled the weedless layers of dark, rich soil aside, right
down to the newspaper, and planted.
I took time to add compost, peat moss, and grass clippings as mulch to the
plants. It was some year--a great harvest, few weeds, and no work to speak of.
That's when I began to think about a garden built on top of the sod, requiring
none of the traditional preparation: no lifting the sod, no digging or tilling,
just neat layers of organic ingredients left to decompose over the winter.
Once I found the spot--a level, grassy parking lot near a water source--I drew
a sketch of a garden of herbs and flowers in a formal Williamsburg design. It
was all about measuring: two-foot garden spaces and three-foot paths, all
leading to a circle at the center with space for a sundial and thyme garden.
While waiting for my daughter, Melissa, and surveyor son-in-law, Bill, to stake
out the lines, I stockpiled the ingredients: newspapers, flattened cardboard
boxes, wood chips, compost, grass clippings, leaves, rotted barn litter, old
hay, horse manure, sand (left over from a building project), and bags of soil
amendments bought on sale at the garden center.
When Bill was through with the survey and gutter nails were tied with bright
survey tape at corners, I connected them with string.
Next, I laid cardboard on the paths and covered the cardboard with bark
chips. I then covered the garden spaces with thick layers of wet newspaper,
overlapping the ends, and covered the paper with one to two inches of peat
moss. Then I laid a three- to four-inch layer of dried grass clippings over the
peat moss and added another one or two inches of peat moss. I continued to
alternate layers of waste material and peat moss. Midway through, it struck me
that the peat moss was akin to the cheese layer in a real lasagna.
By the time I was finished with all the material I had collected, the garden
spaces were 24 or more inches high, and it was well into November. I worked at
the last of it until late in the day and quit only when I felt snow covering my
head and shoulders. Just before walking away, I sprinkled a dusting of wood
ashes on top of the layers. It was like the parmesan cheese you add to the top
of a real lasagna just before you put it in the oven.
This was all done on top of the sod--without lifting, digging , or tilling.
IS IT SOUP YET?
My winters at the inn were long and cold. Snow covered the top of the
mountain from November until late April. When I took the first spring walk in
the gardens, I carried a trowel to check on the frost depth. I poked about in
the earth in gardens from the front of the inn to the back by the barn, leaving
the layered garden till last. Eventually I found myself standing in front of
the new garden. What had been two feet of layered soil amendments was now just
about six or eight inches high. I pushed the trowel down through rich, black
soil to the paper layer and found most of the sheets gone and another five to
six inches of loose earth below. I could plant anything in this much loose
material. The lasagna layering had worked beautifully!
When the weather finally warmed, I pulled the soil apart in the new garden
and planted herbs and flowers. I continued mulching each time I cut the grass.
That's it! No other work---no weeding, no watering, nothing! I couldn't believe
how the plants thrived and how easy it was. I didn't need to worry about garden
chores during my busy season anymore.
The guests at the inn admired the new garden, and I shared the process. The
old vegetable garden, previously kept hidden, was now a showplace. Folks who
admired my gardens could see they were weed-free. I told everyone about the
lasagna method, but I could see that few really got it. They either didn't believe
me or had no grasp of what it all meant. But I knew. It meant I could be a
really good gardener and still be able to keep up with the demands of being an
innkeeper. It meant I could put the rototiller up for sale. Best of all, I
stopped worrying about getting older and not being able to keep it all going by
myself. I could have it all!
For those who are in doubt, I suggest you take a walk in the forest and
renew your relationship with Mother Nature. She is the original lasagna
gardener, though not as neat as me. In nature, debris drops to the forest
floor, and without any help from man, creates layers of dark, rich humus. Tree
and wildflower seeds fall into the debris-turned-humus, sprout, and grow.
Unless you live in the forest, you probably want a neater, more organized
garden. But to have any kind of garden--neat or otherwise--you first need good
soil. Traditionalists would agree on the good soil premise and either crank up
the tiller or get out the cultivator. My neat layers promote good soil without tillers
or cultivators. You take the first step by simply covering the earth, creating
a moist dark place where earthworms will come. Once you see worm activity, you
know you're on the right track to having good soil. All additional layers of
organic material encourage and feed the earthworm population. Worms are
But wait: what about the Ruth Stout advocates who say, "So what? It's
all been done before." Well, perhaps I am Ruth Stout reincarnated, only
neater, and with some fundamental differences. I don't just use spoiled hay on
top of a garden that has been plowed every year for 30 or 40 years. I layer
right on top of sod, flattened weeds, or between rocks. I don't throw all the
refuse back on top of the hay. I tuck unsightly waste under the paper, both for
worm food and to keep it out of sight. Also, I don't have to worry a whole lot
about snakes or rodents. I don't like to share too much of my space with
either, and they do love that loose hay. Last, I never take my clothes off in
the garden, no matter how much I would like to.
Before you buy the first plant, or lay down the first sheet of wet
newspaper, take a look around your property. Check to see where you get the
best light; that's where you'll put your garden. Decide on the shape and
contents of your garden. The size of your plot will determine how much material
you need to make your first lasagna. Your material list will change depending
on where you live. Some folks have more leaves than others, some have seaweed,
others ground cornstalks or apple pulp. Some of the lucky ones have access to
There's no hard and fast rules about what to use for your layers, just so
long as it's organic and doesn't contain any protein (fat, meat, or bone).
Before I go any further, let me just say that the basics of making garden
lasagnas are simple:
You need less loose material to plant in than you might think. In the spring
of '98, I layered an area where a dog pen had stood for years. The property
belongs to a 79-year-old man who was upset about his inability to garden as he
once had. Until recently, a 100-year-old white pine tree had occupied the
center of the fenced-in area. But its roots had begun to do real damage to my
friend's house and surrounding properties, and so the tree had to be taken
Once the tree was removed, the area was bright and sunny, but,
unfortunately, the ground contained 100 years worth of layered pine needles.
First, we covered the area with lime, then laid whole sections of wet
newspaper on top of the pine needles and covered the paper with peat moss. We
bought a small truckload of barn litter mixed with our local clay soil and
covered the peat with two inches of this mix and then two more inches of peat
moss. Additions of one to two inches of grass clippings, two inches of peat
moss, one to two inches of compost, and more peat gave us a total of about six
to eight inches to plant in.
We pulled the layers apart and planted 31 tomato plants, four squash, six
cucumber, four basil, two rosemary, four parsley, and twelve cosmos. It was a
jungle, but with staking, pruning, and tying, the garden produced so much fruit
that the entire neighborhood helped eat the harvest, and the cosmos were so
beautiful they took our breath away.
Once the harvest was finished, I pulled the stems and disturbed the layers
for the first time. Pieces of the paper layer came up with the roots. So, too,
did the biggest earthworms you can imagine. The soil was still probably a bit
acidic, but it will get better in time.
To prepare the new garden for another year of planting, we spread the
contents of a large composter onto the space, and the garden took on several
inches in height. The last mowing of grass provided enough clippings to add
another few inches. When the fall came, we mowed the leaves for a top dressing
of four inches of chipped leaves. I love an edged garden and so the last thing
I did was cut a sharp, clean border around the sides, throwing the edging
material up onto the garden, with grass side down, for another layer of more
good dirt. It looked beautiful!
Close planting and mulching greatly reduced the amount of weeds in the dog
pen garden, as they do in all my gardens. It also meant less watering, since
the paper and mulch kept the soil around the root zone cool. Even though we
pushed it a bit by planting 31 tomato plants, the staking, tying, and pruning,
in addition to close planting, created a healthy growing environment, with few
garden pests. It was another test, and the results have left my friend
confident that, as he enters his 80th year, he will be able to continue
gardening with the lasagna method.
Indeed, lasagna gardening is so simple that the hardest part may be getting
started. I suggest beginning with that walk around your property to determine
what you can do with what you have. If you get lots of shade, plant a shade
garden or cut some tree limbs. Track the light for a couple of days during the
spring and summer. You probably have more light than you think--not sun, but
light. Lots of rocks? Try rock gardening. You might learn to love the wonderful
world of small plants that thrive in rocky terrain. Too little space? Look
again. If there's a foot of space, you can plant in it.
There's no such thing as work-free gardening, but the lasagna method is
close. Once you train yourself to think layering, and learn to stockpile your
ingredients, you will work less each year.
Following are some of my favorite vegetables, along with tips on how I grow
them the lasagna way:
Many gardeners shy away from this tasty crop, mainly because it's difficult
to grow through traditional means. Not so with lasagna gardening. I still
remember the first year I planned my asparagus patch. Turned out to be one of
my best vegetable trials yet. For fun, I grew a tray of plants from seed,
started indoors in February. In early spring, I added the small seedlings to
the assembly of roots--one, two, and three years old--that I had accumulated to
Using a mattock blade, I scraped a shallow opening in a newly made lasagna
bed, an inch or two deep. I combined the roots and seedlings in the opening and
covered them with a sifting of soil and peat moss. Once the roots were planted,
I covered the top of the row with a mixture of manure and peat moss.
As the roots sprouted and grew, I added sifted compost and grass clippings.
In the fall, I added more manure and a thick layer of chipped leaves for winter
During the first spring, I watched the asparagus emerge and grow. I invited
inn guests into the garden to help me cut and eat the first tender stalks. Then
I mulched, mulched, then mulched some more.
The second spring, I cut so much asparagus we had some to freeze. It was all
so easy: plant, mulch, harvest, and enjoy.
Site and soil. A heavy feeder, asparagus needs well-drained
soil and at least six hours of sun. The fall before planting, build a lasagna
garden on the site you've chosen for your asparagus, using a base of newspaper
topped with 18 to 24 inches of layered organic material. By spring, the lasagna
bed will have composted to ideal soil conditions for asparagus.
Planting and harvest. The time is right when the soil is
thawed and crumbles in your hand. Plant in rows two feet apart in two shallow
trenches, with a rise in between. This lets the crowns sit on top of the rise,
with the roots in the trenches. Plants should be 18 inches apart and covered
with two to three inches of soil and compost mixture.
As the plants grow during the summer, continue covering with the compost
enriched mixture until crowns are four inches deep.
In the fall, cover the entire bed with a blanket of eight to ten inches of
chopped leaves or other organic mulch. Each spring, feed the bed compost
enriched with manure. In colder regions, pull the mulch back on half the bed to
get an extra early harvest, saving half the bed for later harvesting. Once the
harvest is over, the remaining shoots expand into ferny top growth. When the
ferns turn bronze, cut them back.
I usually wind up planting many more beans than I actually need. But with so
many varieties--all so much types to grow--who can resist!
Once the last chance of frost is past, plant your favorite bean seeds.
Divide your seeds into thirds and plant every two weeks for a longer harvest.
Once I have a lasagna bed in place, I plant bush bean seeds along the edges.
They only need a few inches, since the plants will lean out over the sides of
the garden, leaving room for taller crops.
I plant pole bean seeds around the base of teepees made from six-foot bamboo
poles. Plant seeds around the base of each pole, and when they start to climb,
give them a boost up the trailing twine you have tied from the top.
Site and soil. Beans grow best in well-drained soil that's
high in organic matter. A new or established lasagna bed in full sun works best
for all types.
Planting and harvest. Fix supports in place before planting
pole bean seeds. For both types, pole and bush, just push the seeds into loose
soil about two inches apart. Cover the seeds and press the soil around them for
Keep the soil evenly moist until seeds emerge, then cover the soil with a
good mulch to keep the soil cool, the leaves clean, and the garden weed-free.
To avoid rust, don't work beans when foliage is wet. Once beans start to
appear, keep crop picked to encourage new bloom. Rotate crops every year to
avoid pests and disease.
Bush cucumbers can be grown in small spaces and containers. Climbing
cucumbers need strong support, so plant close to a fence or trellis. I like the
climbers and try to see what kind of new supports I can come up with each year
to make the garden more interesting. I loved the string cradles we tied to a
stockade fence one year. The vines grew up strings hanging down into the row,
then up the string cradles and onto the fence.
Site and soil. Cucumbers need good drainage and rich soil.
Lasagna gardens are just the thing, when enriched with fresh manure. However,
wait three years before planting in the same place to avoid pests and disease.
Planting and harvest. Wait until the last frost is past,
then plant prestarted seeds covered with floating row cover in colder regions,
and seeds sown directly in the garden in milder climates. Keep mulched and
don't till, as cucumbers are shallow rooted. Maintaining at least six inches of
mulch at all times keeps the roots cool and moist, but they still need an inch
of water each week. Pick the fruit when it's small and most flavorful. Once the
harvest starts, don't miss a day, or you'll have candidates for the compost
pile instead of the salad bowl.
If you've never tried growing garlic, you've missed something special. I
make a rich lasagna bed, let it cook for four to six weeks under black plastic,
set strings up to keep my rows straight, and push in single cloves just enough
to see they are covered. When the foliage is full and seed heads form, I cut
and use them just as I would cloves. When the foliage turns yellow or brown,
it's time to lift the garlic.
Loosen the earth and gently shake off any dirt. Let the cloves cure by
hanging them in a dry place. The individual cloves will each make a head, so
you will have plenty to use, as well as to save for next year's seed.
Site and soil. Good drainage, full sun, and plenty of
manure-rich compost are best. A well-built lasagna bed has the perfect growing
conditions to start, then all you have to do is add grass clippings or chipped
leaves for mulch to keep the soil evenly moist and weeds at a minimum.
Planting and harvest. Gardeners in the Northeast and zone 5
and colder climates will get best results from hard-neck garlic planted in the
fall and harvested the next summer. Milder climates can grow soft-neck; plant
in the spring and harvest that same fall.
If you haven't room for an entire bed just for garlic, plant some in groups
of three to five cloves in flower or vegetable beds. Folks who have bug
problems swear by the positive effect garlic has on its companions.
Anyone can grow lettuce. The problem is most folks grow too much at one
time. Use a little restraint and make successive plantings. Mix lettuce seed
with sand so you will not have to do so much thinning. I broadcast a mixture of
cut-and-come-again lettuce once a month for the duration of growing time for my
Site and soil. Lettuce likes it cool and so is ideally
suited for spring and fall plantings. I use other taller plants to shade my
lettuce in summer. It's best to prepare a site for lettuce in the fall, adding
a high nitrogen amendment (such as fresh grass clippings) to the top two inches
Planting and harvest. Lettuce is a fun crop to grow in
containers, as borders, and in tiny spaces that would only go to waste
otherwise. There's really no safe place to hide when I start looking for places
to plant. I've planted Ruby Red and Oakleaf lettuce in my herb and edible
flower containers and flower boxes. I interplant herbs and lettuce in the
border gardens that surround my antique roses. The Mesclun mixes are wonderful
in big terra cotta saucers that stand alone in part shade.
When guests come for dinner, I give them a colander and a pair of scissors
and point them toward the garden. They come back with an interesting collection
of edibles and never forget the experience. Lots of good gardeners start out by
getting their feet dirty in someone else's garden.
No need to dig trenches or to hill up. Build a lasagna bed to eliminate
grass and weeds, don't use any lime or nitrogen rich materials (such as grass
clippings), lay down one or two sheets of wet newspaper, lay seed potatoes on
top of the paper, and cover with spoiled hay or compost. You can use pretty
much anything you have that is dried. Chipped leaves are great for covering the
tubers. I use hay that is well-cured and lying next to my potato bed, so I
don't have to carry it too far.
Site and soil. Potatoes need full sun, good drainage, and
can tolerate acid soil. Preparing a lasagna bed and adding bone meal or rock
sulfate produces a good harvest and large tubers. Avoid planting potatoes where
you have grown them or their relatives (including eggplant, peppers, and
tomatoes) for the past three years.
Planting and harvest. Be ready to plant in early to mid
spring and have enough material to cover the bed with ten inches of mulch. Be
prepared to add several inches of cover to the bed as plants grow. The
important thing here is to keep the tubers covered so they will not see the
light of day. By the end of the growing period, the plants will be propped up
with hay or other soil amendments.
Slip your hand under the mulch to harvest a few small potatoes when the
beans are ready to pick. Let the rest continue growing until the foliage has
yellowed. Don't try to dig! Lift the mulch and pick the clean tubers up off the
Be on the watch for potato bugs. Try to catch them when they are small.
Sweep across the foliage with a broom. They will fall into the mulch and, when
small, not be able to find their way back up to the leaves.
The toughest part of growing tomatoes is choosing the kinds you will grow.
You'll likely want to plant several different varieties each year: there's
early, mid season, and late ones; tiny pear shaped, cherry, patio, plum,
slicing, and cooking varieties; plus, tomatoes for juice and for stuffing, not
to mention new types and heritage.
Site and soil. Tomatoes need full sun, an inch of water per
week, and protection from the wind. Ideal conditions are a lasagna bed that has
been around for at least a year and has not grown any of the relatives:
potatoes, eggplant, or other tomatoes.
I prepare my site by installing water jugs buried up to their shoulders
between where every two plants will be. A pin hole in the sides facing the
plans should let enough seep out to keep up consistent watering. I place a tall
stick in each jug, its top colored with red paint or nail polish. This helps me
find the sticks, which helps me find the openings to the jugs when all the
foliage hides them from view. I fill the jugs with a funnel and the water hose.
You can add liquid plant food to the water if you like.
Planting and harvest. Wait until after the last frost, then
plant the seedlings. Create a well of soil around the stem to help catch any
rain. If you have prepared the lasagna bed in advance, all you will have to do
is scrape the soil aside and lay the plant down up to the last four leaves.
Press the soil around the plant to make direct contact and push out any air
Once the jugs and plants are in place, make a collar of one or two sheets of
wet newspaper, place it around the stem, and cover the paper with mulch.
Depending on the type of tomatoes you have chosen, you will need to stake, tie,
prune, and pinch. Keep the water jugs full and check plants regularly for bugs
or disease. Don't get impatient; tomatoes need lots of long hot sunny days and
warm nights. Again, depending on the cultivar you have chosen to grow, you can
look forward to your first harvest in 55 to 100 days after you set the plants
And, oh, what a delicious harvest! I love tomatoes warm from the
garden-standing over the row, biting into one, the juice running off my chin,
dripping from my elbow, the acid tingling my tongue. It just doesn't get any
better than that.
Patricia Lanza is author of Lasagna Gardening, A New Layering
System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Kidding!
Why Are You Working So Hard? Blow Up Your Rototiller
California poppies (Eschscholzia
californica) are exquisite, self-sowing annuals found from Mexico to Oregon.
The delicate canyon sunflower
(Venegasia carpesioides) thrives in the cooler environment of shaded coastal
Sometimes called mountain lilac, the
Ceanothus species as a signature plant in the mountains and seaside cliffs of
much of California.
California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) are exquisite, self-sowing
annuals found from Mexico to Oregon.
Photo: Billy Goodnick
commanding, metallic voice crackles over the bullhorn. "Step back from the
rototiller, get down on your knees, clasp you hands behind your head."
the terra-terrorist haltingly complies, a team of darkly clad commandos inches
forward on their bellies. Suddenly, with blinding speed, the well-rehearsed
ensemble kills the engine of the growling, grinding metal monster and swiftly
ushers the gardener into a waiting unmarked van. Their destination, the CGGRC
(Cool Green Gardening Re-education Center).
California poppies (Eschscholzia
californica) are exquisite,
self-sowing annuals found from Mexico to Oregon.
like this fire across my synapses more often than I'd care to admit. That's because
I have a strong emotional response when I see people ignoring one of the most
basic tenets of sustainable landscaping: Work with, not against, what nature
includes your soil.
most recent "trigger" was an article in a local newspaper instructing reader
about creating "your perfect paradise garden." The writer used the usual "10
tips" approach, including "How to help your soil." Readers were told to dump
bags and bags of store-bought soil amendment into their beds to create a rich medium
for their plants. "That way," the writer enticed, "you can grow anything your
if it means you have to put the plant on life support," I thought.
my philosophy. How about designing with nature rather than working against it?
Lesson From Nature
here in Santa Barbara, California, I look out at the Santa Ynez Mountains every
day. Acres and acres of native chaparral vegetation burst with shades of blue
Ceanothus flowers and entice with the rusty trunks of Manzanita.
I'll never tire of the golden
sandstone formations and rugged chaparral that hug the Santa Barbara coast.
golden California poppies dot the hillside in spring. Canyon sunflower brightens
the dappled shade along the arroyos.
does this with no help from me or anyone else, thank you very much. No one
turns on the sprinklers, spreads fertilizer or amends the soil. No weekly
gardener, no "projects" that consume your three-day weekends.
my philosophy about adding all that organic material to your soil: Go with the
flow. Why pay good money to add stuff to the soil, then rototill until the
natural, living community of unseen flora and fauna is churned into oblivion?
The delicate canyon sunflower
(Venegasia carpesioides) thrives
in the cooler environment of shaded coastal arroyos.
gardeners are unaware of the billions of living organisms that inhabit a handful
of soil. An interconnected web of life. An ecology we cannot see.
of trying to change your soil, select plants native to your area. If these
don't give you the aesthetic palette you seek, draw from areas in the world similar
to yours. It stands to reason that there's somewhere in Europe or Asia or South
America with a climate and soil conditions just like yours. It also stands to
reason that plants from those regions will thrive in the same conditions as the
ones you already have.
Sometimes called mountain lilac, the
Ceanothus species as a
signature plant in the mountains and seaside cliffs of much
my coastal southern California climate, I design gardens using plants from
Chile, southwest Australia, South Africa, Italy, France, Spain, Libya, and my
home state. They're all adapted to my Mediterranean climate--dry summers, wet
winters and moderate temperatures. Most need little or no fertilizer, can get
by with minimal summer irrigation, and if I provide enough diversity, no pests.
work with what nature gives me and let the fittest survive. My clients are
of all, this approach helps me avoid a run in with those commandos holed up in
my frontal lobe.
The garden is made up of a rose garden entrance leading to
the Kindergarten raised beds (5). Through the arbor there are 22 more
raised beds on the left side of the path and a reading circle and bench,
pumpkin patch and butterfly garden on the right side. Along the
playground fence, there are citrus trees, blueberries, grapes and other berries.
Along the field fence, there are apple trees, mulberry tree, persimmon tree and
a kiwi teepee. At the end of the pathway, there is a berry patch,
followed by an artichoke bed. An apple and pear orchard is beyond with a
vegetable bed along the playground fence bordering the orchard. There is
a greenhouse on the other side of the orchard and worm bins and two compost
heaps past the orchard.
There are lots of volunteer opportunities in the garden, none
of which require gardening experience or expertise. The first Saturday of
every month (unless a holiday weekend) there is a garden workday, open to all
who want to come out and volunteer between 9 am - noon. The tasks changes
with the season but may include, weeding, planting, pruning and general
maintenance. This month's workday will be September 12.
Friends of the Garden (FOG) meets once a month, generally
the first Tuesday of every month (this month it will be September 8).
There is a meeting at 8 am for teachers and parents that can make it before
class and a second meeting following at 8:35 am for parents that can't make the
earlier time. The FOG meetings are open to anyone and are a general forum
to discuss things that are happening in the garden; problems that have arisen;
future projects; etc.
Each classroom will (hopefully) have a parent who will
volunteer as the garden parent. That parent will coordinate with the
teacher to take the students to the garden weekly to spend time in the garden
on various tasks. Weekly emails with suggested tasks and news about the
garden will be sent every Sunday to help garden parents plan their visit to the
Each classroom will also hopefully have a parent who will
volunteer to cook with students. That parent will harvest produce and
check out the portable cooking station, which includes a rolling cart, a
portable induction cooktop, cookware and a knife, scissors and cutting boards.
This year we are implementing a new plan in the
garden. Once the summer crops have finished, each grade level will be
assigned a garden bed. It will be up to the teachers and garden parents
for that grade level to communicate and collaborate on how they want to use
their shared garden plot. They may decide to divide the bed into
quadrants to be used separately by each class or they may choose to plant the
bed together and share all duties. The goal is to encourage cooperation
and communication and also to ensure that all beds are being maintained.
This will not apply to the Kindergarten beds.
The remaining 17 beds will be planted with individual crops
for use and tending by everyone. This will make it easier for people to
learn to identify the crops we use as they will be clearly labeled and there
will be no other plants in that bed and this will make available useful crops
for classroom cooking or the farmer's market.
Class Garden Parent
Class Cooking Parent
Fall Harvest Festival Committee (lots of volunteers needed -
Festival will be October 25)
Farmer's Market Volunteers (harvesting or selling)
If you are interested in volunteering or have any questions,
please contact me.
Located in Mill Valley, California, at Edna Maguire Public Elementary School, the Mill Valley Children's Garden is a 1/3 acre outdoor classroom laboratory. The garden is a hands-on treasure for both curriculum-based teaching and exploratory creative experimentation - it is a "textbook come to life." Through the Children's Garden, children learn botany, ecology, math, science, language arts, creative arts, stewardship of the land, community service, and much more.
The Children's Garden is a grassroots, volunteer effort by the parents, faculty and community of Mill Valley. The garden operates through private funds and donations and is supported by the Edna Maguire PTA - a 501 3 (c).
Are you a parent of an Edna Maguire student interested in volunteering to help with the Mill Valley Children's Garden? Click here for more information, or contact Saor Stetler. Green thumbs are not required - all that is needed is a desire to have fun with the children in the garden while observing the cycles of nature.