As winter winds down and the days grow longer, I am back out in the garden beds getting ready for the growing season. This year I am experimenting with compost. Specifically in place composting, popularly called “Lasagna Gardening”. In the past I have maintained separate compost bins at Mezzacello. This is convenient, but has a serious drawback: I don’t turn them. So it takes extra long for the materials to break down. I produce copious amounts of biomass here at Mezzacello, but I am not leveraging it as effectively as I should be.
Over the fall and winter I was watching the chickens in the garden beds. They are master turners. I watched them for hours running around with their little dinosaur bodies scratching and pecking. I noticed that in the course of a day, they turned over the entire 720 square feet of my gardens. They are prolific scratchers. I have all that compost and manure just sitting in bins. They could be turning that into the garden beds for me. So I started doing some research (my favorite past time at Mezzacello) and I rediscovered in place mulching and composting. It’s really simple. Set down a layer of paper or cardboard to block any weeds. Then on top of this spread manure and compost, then a layer of peat moss, then a layer of chopped straw, a layer of shredded leaves, then finally a top layer of dirt or soil. I’ll let this sit in the sun and rain and cook for a month. Over a season it will break down and I will plant transplants directly into this mesh.
When the season is complete, I’ll add more compost and leaves and let the chickens scratch over the fall and winter. This will require me to do some raking, to keep the beds nice and clean, but it’s easier than hauling compost from the bins in the alley and behind the greenhouse. I am keeping detailed records of the water capacity and nutritional aspects of the in place composting, similar to the way I tested the “hugelkultur” gardens from last season. I’m interested to see how efficient this system will be. I am also planning a week-long summer camp with some kids to build a simple lasagna garden and track the emergence of life in the form of bacteria, worms, and insects. That ought to be fun.