Category Archives: Composting

No Till Gardening (a.k.a. Lasagna Gardening…

…Sheet Mulching, Permaculture, Composting in Place, French Intensive or Biodynamic Gardening) Whew! So many names, such a simple idea!

For our October meeting, Dot Perkins, Educational Program Coordinator for Agriculture Resources at the UNH Cooperative Extension, came to talk to us about “No Till Gardening”.  This past season, she used her own back yard as a laboratory to experiment with all the different methods of creating garden beds without using a rototiller. She started with a gravel driveway and a cement pad and ended up with a “Garden of Eden” by the end of the season. It was quite amazing! She generously shared her preferred method with our group. The difference between her method and others is that she mixes up all of the layers before ending with a top layer of newspaper and mulch.

To get us started, here is a good definition for  Sheet Mulching from Wikipedia…
In permaculture, sheet mulching is an agricultural no-dig gardening technique that attempts to mimic natural processes occurring in forests. When deployed properly and in combination with other permacultural principles, it can generate healthy, productive and low maintenance ecosystems.

The key words here are LOW MAINTENANCE! By building garden beds using this method, your garden will have fertile soil, fewer weeds and require less watering. What is not to love? Here are the basic steps for getting started…

The beginning: Gravel and dirt.

Late Summer,  Fall or Very Early Spring:
1. If you are starting on top of grass, put down a layer of cardboard or thick layer of newspapers.

2. Then layer on top about 10 inches of compostable materials all mixed together. The materials will compost down on top of your garden beds. Use approximately  3-4 inches of green (manure, animal bedding, grass clippings, chopped green plant/vegetable material) to 6 inches of brown (chopped up leaves are best). You can add in some green sand and bone meal according to the directions on the box.  Mix it all together on top of your bed.

3. If you have finished compost on hand. Layer on top. If not, continue to #4.

4.  Put on another layer of wet newspaper. (You wet the newspaper first so it won’t blow away.)

5. Finish with a layer of  mulch. Chopped up leaves are best, but you can also use grass clippings or straw (not hay!).

6. Water well. If it is fall, you are DONE! Go relax with a beverage of your choice!

7. If it is early spring, you will have to “cook” the beds so that they compost down quickly and will be ready to plant in the late spring. Cover the beds with black plastic for at least six weeks, so plan accordingly. NOW you can go and relax for awhile! After six weeks, remove the plastic. Your beds should be well composted and ready to plant.

 

Beds are finished. Push aside grass clipping to plant seeds or seedlings.

Planting Time:
1. When it is time to plant, top dress your beds with a layer of grass clippings. The grass clippings will provide an additional source of nitrogen, keep in moisture and prevent weeds.

2. Push grass clippings aside and plant directly into the compost.

 

Raised beds don't need wooden sides. The young plants are doing beautifully in their new beds.

Maintaining your garden:
When your beds are done for the season, remove any diseased plant material and dispose. Do not compost.

For healthy plants, leave the roots in the ground to decompose and chop up the tops to add back on top of your soil as green material. You can again put on another layer of plant materials using about 2 parts green to 3 parts brown all mixed together. Top again with newspaper and mulch. Then, in the spring, add on another layer of grass clippings and plant. By doing this every year, you will continue to grow the fertility of your soil.

 

Garden of Eden!

Final notes of interest…

Dot used baby chickens and turkeys that she raises for meat in her garden for pest control. She would let them roam around the garden until they were about 6 weeks old at which time, they started becoming destructive to the plants and she would remove them to the coop. By letting the baby chicks free range in the garden, they ate all of the insect pests. Dot also was very diligent about picking off plant diseases and disposing of the material as soon as she would see a problem. She was very careful to keep her garden tools clean and sanitized so that she didn’t spread plant diseases throughout the garden. She used antibacterial baby wipes to keep things clean.

While not all of us have access to baby chicks for insect control, we all could be more careful keeping our tools clean and keeping an good eye on our plants to nip diseases in the bud before they get out of control. That is just part of being a good organic gardener.

Additional resources...

D Acres Method

www.nodiggarden.org

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Vermiculture…composting with worms!

Make your own worm bin!

“Black Gold” is fine, black granular compost, rich in nutrients that is created from worm castings. Plants absolutely love worm compost and the good news is that it is easy for anyone to do at home. Don’t spend good money at the garden store buying a tiny, little bag of worm castings. Instead, make your own!

Joan O'Conner

At our September meeting, Joan O’Conner (aka: The Worm Lady) came to show us how to compost our garbage with worms. Joan is the owner of Joan’s Famous Composting Worms and she has been composting her garbage with worms since 1992. Joan gave us a very helpful and entertaining introduction into the wonderful world of worms.

She wanted to emphasize that it is easy to do. All you need to get started is a container, a tray to catch the moisture, wood blocks or bricks to elevate the container, bedding material, red worms, and food scraps.

The Container: You can buy bins but it’s cheaper and just as effective to create your own bin. A google search on worm bins will guide you to countless sites with worm bin designs. Basically, use a large plastic container. Storage containers work great. Drill holes in the bottom for drainage. Cover the holes with some screening material  taped down with duck tape on the inside. Then, drill some holes in the top of the bin and along the top edge of the sides. You want plenty of air circulation. Again…cover the holes with screening. Put the container up on blocks or bricks and put the drip tray under the holes in the bottom.

Bedding: Shredded newspaper and peat moss are Joan’s favorite bedding materials. Wet the newspaper and peat moss and then wring out the moisture until it has the dampness of a wet sponge. Lay down a layer of newspaper, then a layer of peat moss, then the worms, more peat moss, a loose layer chopped up food and end with shredded newspaper. Kind of like making lasagna!

Other bedding materials you can also use shredded cardboard, shredded leaves, dried grass clippings, loam or black topsoil. Vary the bedding materials to give the worms more nutrients.

Feeding: Feed your worms any non-meat/non-dairy organic waste such as vegetables, fruits, eggshells, coffee grounds, paper coffee filters, and shredded garden waste. Worms especially like melons. The only fruit to limit is citrus fruits because citrus makes the bin too acidic. Note: Do not feed your worms meat scraps, bones, fish, greasy or oily foods, fat, tobacco, or pet or human manure.

Watering: The bedding must be kept damp to keep the worms alive. In the beginning, you will have to add water, but after some time, the fruits and vegetables will provide a good amount of moisture. Make sure the bedding you add is moist.

Location: The ideal location is a warm, dry space around 60-70 degrees. If you have your worm bins outside, bring your worms inside in the winter. A cool basement is fine, they will just be less active.

Harvesting: Joan recommends that you empty your entire bin onto a plastic sheet in strong sunlight. Form the compost into 3 or 4 piles. Every hour or so, go back to the pile and skim off the top layers. The worms will continue burrowing down to avoid the sunlight. Eventually, you will have harvested most of the compost and will be left with a pile of worms. Return the worms to fresh bedding in the bins and save the “Black Gold” compost to fertilize your plants.

Using your Worm Compost: You can use your compost immediately or use it later. The compost can be mixed into soil around your plants both inside and out. For top dressing plants indoors, make sure that there are no worms or eggs (lemon shaped/light brown tiny eggs) in castings. You can also make compost tea to feed your plants. Simply add 2 tablespoons into on quart of water and allow it to steep for a day. Water your plants with this tea.

Here are some links that can help get you started!

Joan’s Famous Composting Worms: Check out her links section for useful books to read!

City Farmer: Step-by-step guide, comics and useful brochure.

YouTube: Tons of videos on how to set up a worm composting.