Homemade Dirt Lasagna, Feeding Worms

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” ~ Margaret Atwood

Flippin’ Gardening Gets Me Flippin’ Excited

This may be my favorite time of year. You can’t see my toenails and fingernails, but I can tell you they. Are. Dirty.

The spring garden season at DirtNKids always starts with a compost flipping exercise which always (and quickly) ends with a planted garden. It’s just hard to stop the momentum once the clean-up begins, and I find myself yearning for the immediate gratification of a walk-able garden space once again.

If you’re like me, you do this twice a year — once in spring, once in fall — to enjoy both the summer and winter fruits of your labor. Here, compost piles aspire to become the next season’s edible garden. Instead of bringing the compost to the garden, I like to put the garden right into the compost.

Case in point. Aside from the various squash or gourd plants who have popped up around my garden, here’s a nice-looking tomato ‘volunteer’ coming up in the keyhole garden’s compost cage. I have no idea how it will do, but I must say I’m curious which variety it is. It will grow right where it is.

Look who’s tucked in for the season! Hi, Mr. Mater.

There really is something to this, so like any good recipe, I’m sharing my recipe card with the world. Your worms will squeal with delight, and your body will thank you for all those tasty veggies harvested from nurtured yet un-perturbed soil.

Lasagna gardening is what I’m doing — a layering of materials like nature would do. Rather than make a run to the garden supply store for all my [expensive] supplies, I am the crazy lady collecting brown materials from curbs on the off season, to be temporarily stored for when the green explosion comes in the spring. I’m always amazed at what people throw to the curb these days (opening photo).

In anticipation, I’ve already pulled a few unwanted annual weeds from around the yard (seed heads removed) which will be the ‘green’ base for the new compost pile. Yes, I use the weeds; they’re the only prolific grower in the late winter, weeks before I can catch grass clippings with any regularity.

Stored bags behind pretty jasmine curtain
(So the neighbors don’t have to see)

Unlike my friends in the north USA who are apparently still the deep freeze, spring arrived on the Gulf Coast right on schedule, just a few weeks ago. So I gassed up the push mower, cleaned off the pruning shears, and geared up to start collecting green for the garden.

It’s bed-building time, and feeding my wriggly worms is what it’s all about.

To flip a compost pile from the previous season, you’ll need a pitch fork or shovel and (perhaps) a wheelbarrow. I prefer the pitch fork because it tends not to slice my wrigglers in half in the process. You can’t be afraid to get dirty or burn calories. Getting that bikini body ready for the beach is the ultimate goal, right girls?

I can always tell when a pile is ready. Just below the surface, I begin seeing lots of movement, worms galore feasting on their latest kitchen additions!

Ox Beetle Larva

4-inch Grubs, 7-inch Earthworms
Dozens per shovelful

Since the Black Gold is on the bottom where the pile sits, only the top part of the pile gets ‘flipped off’ into a different location, to cook just a little longer. The bottom is rich with nutrients and moist like a wrung-out sponge, thanks to all the beings that broke down the organic matter slowly. This site will become this season’s new bed into which tasty edibles will grow.

A 4-cubic-square screen enclosure contains the compost pile of my large yard. It’s the perfect size for the amount of waste produced, and it’s easy to remove and move later. Use anything else or nothing at all (a/k/a a pile) — wooden crates, chicken wire, T-posts, concrete chunks will all suffice. There is really no hard-and-fast way to do it — just use what you have. The important consideration is that the pile is exposed to air and weather.

Keyhole Garden (left), compost bin (center),
newly-built bed (right)

The Recipe for Garden Success:  Lasagna

This season, I used all new materials and built a compost from all recycled materials from scratch: leaves, newsprint, weeds, kitchen waste, and shrub trimmings. The base of which is sitting in the screen enclosure in the photo above. The previous season’s pile (directly behind the bin) gets flipped directly to its left to enrich another bed, also to be planted in directly. It’s a two-for-one exercise.

Next season, this new pile will get flipped in the fall, onto where the leek and onion patch is currently, visible to the right, and will become a new winter garden bed. Only a little planning and forethought is required; looking ahead one season isn’t too much of a stretch.

It is layered from bottom to top with these ingredients:

  1. Cardboard boxes, soaked in water — neon sign that says, “COME AND EAT, WORMS!!”
  2. Twigs loosely laid
  3. Annual weeds with the seed heads removed (freshly pulled from yard…NO grass rhizomes!!)
  4. Leaves
  5. Shrub trimmings (from Waxleaf Ligustrum which was getting wooly)
  6. Newsprint, wadded up and wet
  7. Repeat layers (green, brown, green, brown) until supplies are used up.

Ligustrum Leaves Only (Branches Set Aside)

Wetting Newsprint

Bag of Leaves (Plastic Removed and Recycled)

One New Compost Pile

Gardening Organically is So Very Important

Building compost is much like building a campfire. Carbon (brown organics) is the kindling, nitrogen (green organics) is the flame, and water and sunshine are the fuel. Once the microbes get to work — and provided you have the right combination of ingredients — the pile is off and cooking and ready before you know it. A good slow burn is what you’re looking for.

Earthworms enrich the soil with their castings with every bite, further releasing plant nutrients back into the soil to be recycled again into another plant’s root system. If you’re fortunate enough to have the Ox Beetle in your area, you may even find very large grubs, and that’s okay. These larva eat decaying matter like leaves, twigs, and rotting wood that earthworms can’t easily manage. It’s the way of nature…so let it happen, and get out of the way.

Just like us, these beings don’t tolerate a lot of salt in their diets. When synthetic fertilizers are used in the garden or when you water regularly with treated water, these salts build up in your soil, chasing all your wonderful earthworms to better venues. In return, you’ve unwittingly undone everything you hoped to achieve by your method. As go your worms, so goes your soil. It’s tough to work in an environment that is inhospitable.

Be good to your worms, bacteria, and fungi. Only use products in your garden that are labeled organic, or (like me) don’t use any at all. Don’t be tricked by short-term gains or promises of pest-relief. Nature is the best defense against weeds and insects, so strike the balance by learning what works and why.

In only a few weeks, you will notice the materials significantly breaking down as your new compost pile shrinks noticeably a few inches in height. There is an entire underworld of beings doing the real work and heavy lifting — bacteria breaking down ‘green,’ fungi breaking down ‘brown,’ insects and earthworms gettin’ fat and doing the rest. Your pile will be completely broken down into beautiful rich humus, directly into which you can plant that season’s vegetables.

I promise you, it’s a whole lot easier than it looks. The hardest part was juggling a camera with my mucky hands. Really.

Cheers, all my Happy Garden People. Now, go whip up some lasagna and feed your worms!

Organic Dirt Lasagna a/k/a/ Compost

  • Servings: hundreds of worms!
  • Time: 1 hr
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • green material (nitrogen, the ‘fire’) — grass clippings, shrub trimmings, kitchen waste, and/or manure
  • brown material (carbon, the ‘kindle’) –newsprint, twigs, leaves, phone books
  • water (the ‘fuel’)
  • sunshine
  • absolutely NO meat, NO dairy, NO charcoal or wood ash

Helpful Tools: wheelbarrow, hose sprayer, compost bin/frame, someone to bring you a beer

  1. Determine the size of the pile and gather your ingredients. For a 4-cubic-foot pile, you would need three large bags of leaves, the entire Sunday newspaper, and three bags of fresh grass clippings (or other green). It is roughly a 5:1 ratio of carbon to nitrogen.
  2. Location, location, location. You’ll want something that is easy to get to all the way around and that gets plenty of sunshine. Make it a short walk from your kitchen, if you can.
  3. Place the containing walls of your compost pile into place, if you have some.
  4. Start with a layer of wet cardboard which will both smother any grass and invite your labor (worms) to show up.
  5. Put a layer of twigs and any weeds that you pulled as the bottom layer.
  6. Begin layering: green, brown, and water…repeat. You will do this lasagna style until all of your materials have been used up.
  7. Treat your earthworms with scraps and rinse water from your kitchen occasionally while ‘cooking.’ With a pitchfork, push aside a hole, dump the scraps into it, tamp down lightly and cover with leaves or other compost. This will discourage raccoon and other pests from eating any of your worm’s lasagna.
  8. Cook in sunlight, 3 to 6 months. ‘Flip it’ when you are ready to plant for the season. The top part of the pile begins the next pile, and the bottom of the pile becomes your next garden space.

Happy Gardening!

Shannon @ DirtNKids Blog
http://www.dirtnkids.wordpress.com

See Mish Mash Monday for a great video How-to on
Building Compost. I don’t make dirty videos!

Giveaway Winners: Your Dirt! The Movie DVD’s have all been mailed.
Please let me know if you didn’t get them.

25 thoughts on “Homemade Dirt Lasagna, Feeding Worms

  1. You keep creating a whole wriggly new world, Shannon. We have a compost pile, but it is not organized like yours. I have not seen worms in it, so I wonder if it is not the correct mixture. We mainly use it for kitchen scraps and some yard clippings. It is in a plastic container with a lid. Because of black bears in the neighborhood, we are not supposed to have any open compost piles. Any suggestions? Thanks, Tanja

    Like

    1. You CAN build a compost pile without edibles. Just use other green waste instead (grass and shrub clippings, spent coffee grounds, spent brewery grains, manure) in addition to liberal cardboard, newsprint, and leaves. Worms aren’t picky, but unless the bin comes into contact with the ground, the muscle crew can’t gain entry.

      I have never had an animal (here it’s raccoon and opossum) rummage in my open bin. I put kitchen waste almost exclusively into the center basket of the keyhole and top it with leaves. It alone feeds and waters the entire 6-ft diameter bed!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for the suggestions, Shannon. The plastic container actually sits directly on the ground, but it has been in one location for a long time, and might be too compacted. I think it might be best if we started over, and paid more attention to the ingredients.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my, the grub looks like a Disney movie by itself, so pretty! And i hope wordpress archives exist when I retire and find love in gardening, your blog is such a comfortable conduit for nurturing healthy habits. Really, I can’t say it enough.

    Like

    1. I hope you do. If you live in apartment, container gardening — look up the ‘wicking’ kind — can be successful with little effort! We are foraging and agrarian in nature. Don’t fight it. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I wish I had a big(ger) backyard to do this. As it is, dog doesn’t have anywhere to run. Will keep this in mind when I move to a place with more yard. You make it look easy AND fun, Shannon!

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    1. That’s the beauty of lasagna gardening! No big backyard necessary. The purpose is to use whatever’s available and to bloom where [you’re] planted. 😀

      Cheers, Julie. I’m so glad that you are getting to scratch your garden itch once again.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Really interesting post, and great ideas! This year I’m trying something similar; planting where last year’s compost bins sat. Never did that before, but I can’t imagine any negatives.

    Great blog!

    Like

    1. I am a slow-learner, but the worms finally won out! Keep them healthy and the rest is a piece of cake. Er, uh lasagna.

      Welcome to DirtNKids Blog, Dan! Thanks for taking the time to comment. Kick your shoes off and come in anytime. 😀

      Like

    1. Straw bale gardening! That is very much like my lasagna gardening. When I build a new bed, I layer (just like I would a compost pile) except I place plants directly into it. Give them the foundation, they know what to do. Don’t forget to bury the kitchen waste slightly or you’ll invite more than worms for buffet. Thanks for coming by, my Gardening Buddy to the North! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Well thank you, Jet. I take the health of my soil quite seriously! A successful backyard garden starts with a compost pile at its center. Now, I will do as you suggest and go play in the garden. 😀

      Like

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