Episode 206. Two Different No-Dig Garden Systems

This is the World Organic News for the week ending 9th of  March 2020.

Jon Moore reporting!

Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!

This week we’re delving into the worlds of lasagna and straw bales. 

Lasagna gardening is a variation on the No-Dig system described in the World Organic News No-Dig Gardening Book. It involves the standard steps of edging and laying down a barrier between the garden space and the soil/lawn below. So far so straightforward.

The variation begins with the growing media. The blog Homegrown Hillary has a post entitled: (and this will come as a surprise) Lasagna Gardening


Step three involves using any number of materials to add organic matter to create a beautiful soil structure in your garden bed. Organic matter comes in three forms, as my mentor would say: living, dead, and very dead. Living organic matter includes roots and microbes. Dead organic matter is anything that’s recently died, but still recognizable in its previous form. This can include things like manure, leaf litter, and kitchen scraps. Finally, ‘very dead’ materials are things like fully decomposed compost or manure, where the contents are unrecognizable when compared to their original form.

End Quote

The author, Hillary, then goes on to explain how these things are layered onto the barrier. She talks of her dream materials list she heard at a Permaculture class:


…a layer of seaweed (hey, it’s plentiful and free here in Maine!), followed by layers of rotted manure, fresh grass clippings, and leaf mould.

End Quote

We have access to seaweed here abouts and I’ll collect some during the year to experiment with. I’ll keep you posted as to its efficacy. There is a long tradition of using the stuff despite my concerns about importing salt into the system so we will see.

You get the picture. The layering effect is something which appeals to me. After all forest soil is built up by layering material on the ground. The nature of the forest determines the nature of the layers.That being said, Hillary suggests using what’s on hand. A variation on the “start where you are and use what you have” theory of living the good life.

This system has some merit. The layering appears to avoid the troubles of nitrogen drawdown as the really dead stuff is in its own layer and this seems to stop the process. I’m still not sure of the mechanics of this. If anyone out there does know, drop me a line at podcast@worldorganicnews.com . None of us has all the answers but together we can solve most problems. 

I’m not sure what the advantages accrued by the building this way are. I assume the material eventually rots down to a compost like substance while the plants are growing it, possibly releasing plant available nutrients in the process? Maybe. It would also save time, in that the material is being used to grow now rather than sitting in a compost pile and then used to grow later. I’m not sure.

What I am sure about is this: The lasagna system has all the other benefits of No-Dig gardening: Weeds killed stone dead, soil structures maintained, soil biology protected initially and enhanced over time and really good production.

Now to the straw bale idea.

This system involves placing a series of straw bales into the shape of the garden you want with the straw stems aligned in an up and down fashion. The baling twine is left on the bales. They are then watered and often “inoculated” with a seaweed or fish based emulsion to start the decomposition process. This occurs a few months, if possible, before the growing season. 

Once planting time arrives, the seeds/seedlings are pushed into the top of the semi decomposed straw bales and gardening proceeds as per normal.

There are a couple of things that spring to mind with this system:

  1. The source of the straw is critical.
    1. It must be free of weeds but not the proprietary “Weed Free” straw sold in some parts of the US. This monster is laced with herbicides and will destroy anything you try to grow in it.
  2. You are importing fertility from elsewhere. Be mindful of the original grower and their loss of fertility in the exchange.
  3. If you have relatively healthy soil, no surfeit of perennial weeds and the time to build them, a more traditional No-Dig set up would make more sense to me.
  4. If you’re on rubbish land, need to get organic matter into the place relatively quickly and have a plan to convert the straw bales into the base for more conventional beds, then I think this is a perfectly good way to start. 

By way of an experiment, I’m considering running a few small gardens using this system but with variations in the straw. I have access to wheaten straw, barley straw and pea straw. I suspect the pea straw to be the best performing, that my hypothesis anyway, because of the way it decomposes relative to the other types. More on that as we proceed.

The world of No-Dig gardening is a huge one. If you’d like to start your journey or just to read about my take on it drop over to WorldOrganicNews.com, pop your email and first name into form on the front page to get a copy of the World Organic News No-Dig Gardening eBook, for free. 

I’m also presenting a series of mini seminars on the topic live on the World Organic News Facebook page from the 18th of March for five days. This is a free event on that page. I’d love to see you there with any questions you may have on the topic. Link in the show notes, of course.

Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!

Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back next week.



World Organic News

email: media@worldorganicnews.com


One Square metre garden plans: HERE

Homegrown Hillary: Lasagna Gardening https://homegrownhillary.wordpress.com/2019/05/25/lasagna-gardening/

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