Start a New Garden Bed with a Compost Sandwich

comments (7) September 11th, 2009

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ChrisMcLaughlin Chris McLaughlin, contributor
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See? You can have your lawn and plant it, too!
Photo by suburban dollar under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0Click To Enlarge

See? You can have your lawn and plant it, too!


Photo by suburban dollar under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

It's never too early to think about the next major planting season as far as I'm concerned. But that could be because at my age, six months isn't even close to the vicinity of long-term. So, while I'm planting my fall garden, I'm also thinking ahead to next spring. I'm always trying to squeeze in another vegetable or herb bed around here.

So, now that I have you thinking about adding yet another bed to your place, let's talk sandwiches, shall we? I'm referring to compost sandwiches, sheet composting, or lasagna gardening. Whatever name you want to call it - if you make it this fall, you'll have a fantabulous new bed in come spring. Some of you may be toying with the idea of making the ultimate sacrifice and giving up part of the lawn for a garden bed. I whole-heartedly approve.

When you start a garden bed off with a compost sandwich, it'll have excellent water holding capabilities, thus making terrific use of any rainfall. This bed will have few, if any weed problems. If weeds do appear every so often, they slide easily out of the crumbly soil. Best of all it'll be pliable, nutritional, and ready for spring seeding.

To Make a Compost Sandwich You'll Need:

  • Cardboard
  • Newspaper
  • An assortment of carbon materials (browns) such as leaves, straw, weed-less grass hay, newspaper, shedded bark, 100% cotton clothing, etc.
  • An assortment of nitrogen materials (greens) such as grass clippings, vegetable peelings, seed-less weeds, perennial plant clippings, coffee, tea bags, etc
  • Topsoil
  • Manure from herbivores (chicken, rabbit, horse, etc - no dog or cat poop)
  • Water

Start with covering the entire garden area with cardboard. It can be corrugated or whatever you have. Next, take some newspaper and lay it over the cardboard. You'll want to make this layer about 2" thick. Don't get a ruler out - it doesn't need to be exactly 2", just make a solid layer. I want to mention here that you'll want to have a hose nearby to water in between the layers to get everything moving along down the path of decomposition.

The next layer will be some greens. Whatever greens your heart desires, but if you choose grass clippings, keep the layer thinner than the other materials as the grass seems to compact and not let air inside. Next, you'll spread a manure layer, and then a thin layer of topsoil. At this point, you'll go back to your carbons like maybe this time you'll use straw instead of newspaper. You can also go back to newspaper.

I can't stress enough that composting of any kind is an art - not rocket science. While there's certainly a basic chemistry to it, you don't need to measure and get precise. Make your sandwich the best you can and use varying materials while creating. The last layer you'll make will be topsoil.  

Be sure to water between the layers while you're building the sandwich. You're not trying to flood it, but the sandwich needs to be wet. Water the last layer of topsoil. Now, other than watering the sandwich if you have dry weather - leave it alone. Don't do a darned thing to it all winter. You're going to be so thrilled with the soil in your new bed next spring.

I want to mention a couple of things. The first is that if you were to build this sandwich in the spring, be sure to add topsoil into the layers and maybe some peat moss for good measure. You could plant it with veggies right then and grow a garden while everything is breaking down.

The plants would do great - but next year's crop would do even better. The second thing is that while the organic matter is breaking down, it will tend to rob some of the nitrogen from the soil that was there to begin with. So, you can add extra greens to combat this, bone meal, or my favorite ingredient - good old animal poop.

After you try it, show it off to other members in the
gardener's gallery.
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posted in: lasagna gardening, new garden bed, compost sandwich

Comments (7)

Hstrix writes: Hi, I"m wondering about the amounts for each item if the raised bed is 8' long and 4' feet wide 2' feet high. We are making 2 raised beds with these dimensions.
I'm just trying to determine if I need to have some soil delivered to my house if I choose to do this method.
Posted: 3:44 pm on May 2nd
potatoesandtomatoes writes: what are earwigs?, forgive me i'm new.
Posted: 5:58 pm on September 28th
peppermater writes: could I add pine needles to the mixture?
Posted: 3:00 pm on March 21st
ChrisMcLaughlin writes: nancynursez637: I think you may be talking about the lasagna-type gardening where you plant produce directly into the bed that you just sandwich-composted - immmediately. In other words, the organic materials haven't yet broken down.

Once the materials in a compost sandwich have broken all the way down to compost (humus), this type of bed would be no different than any other.
Posted: 7:51 pm on December 16th
nancynursez637 writes: Great pictures and information. THe one think I find about lasagna gardening is that it will attract earwigs. This is especially true with fruit crops suchs as tomatoes, strawberries, and non fruit crops like celery. I do try to avoid planting these items where old lasagna beds were started.

Posted: 3:48 pm on November 7th
ChrisMcLaughlin writes: jodied: If your soil is really horrendous, just make sure you add some soil into the sandwich and even if your soil doesn't become truly loamy by spring, you can still plant it and have terrific veggies. Another thing you can do to speed things up is to cover the sandwich with black plastic to get things really heating up inside.

Don't give up on that spot. Do the sandwich again and you'll be amazed how wonderfully this works out. Besides, if you're even close to as old as I am time goes by so fast you won't even notice if it took a year.
Posted: 12:34 pm on September 20th
jodied writes: You have me a bit skeptical that the soil will be broken down enough by spring, but because I was never real happy with the soil composition and texture previously, I am convinced to at least try. I was planning on moving my raised beds to a new, sunnier location anyway, so this will give me the opportunity to start off in a good place. I look forward to reporting the results in spring!

Thanks for the advice and instructions!!
Posted: 3:33 pm on September 16th
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