Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald



Janice Cowan promotes a "lasagna garden" as a system that produces fewer weeds and better water retention while saving energy, time and money.

But it doesn't produce lasagna.

The name is related to the layering process - akin to the layering of noodles, sauce and cheeses that produce lasagna.

The gardening style is also known as "sheet composting" based on the sheets of material layered to produce a fertile garden plot.

Cowan explained the process during a Saturday session at the Extension office for about 10 Master Gardener students and 10 community members who attended the weekend class.

Her source for the presentation was the book "Lasagna Gardening" by Patricia Lanza. The author touts the system as one that requires "no digging, no tilling, no weeding, no kidding!"

The first step to establishing a lasagna garden is to select a site that will accommodate the types of plants the gardener wants to grow.

"Know where the sun and the shade are and match the plants to the site," Cowan said.

The layering process begins with six to 10 sheets of newspaper soaked in water and placed at the bottom of the entire plot. (Corrugated cardboard also may be used for the first layer, Cowan said.)

Then, alternate layers of carbon sources, such as peat moss with layers of nitrogen sources such as steer manure, compost and grass clippings.

"You're providing food for the microorganisms in the soil," Cowan said.

She advised against using oil, bones and dairy products in the layering process, however.

The layers are repeated until a soil base of about 2 feet or more has been established. The lasagna garden may be layered in a framed garden bed or simply atop ground that otherwise would have been tilled to plant a garden, Cowan said.

The final step is to cover the bed with plastic to "cook" the lasagna garden, helping the layers to break down.

The cooking stage is not required and, in fact, those attending Saturday's session planted their own mini lasagna gardens after Cowan's presentation. They moved outside to the sunshine to plant pots of peas, lettuce, onions and other garden goods in layers of material that will combine to produce fertile soil.

The workshop also included presentations by Master Gardeners Ann Mehaffy, Art Kreger and Melinda Sherrieb.

Mehaffy shared her love of spring crops such as lettuce, spinach and chard, which she planted in her garden just a week earlier, on April 14.

She will plant a new crop of lettuce in short rows every two to three weeks through June 1, she said. She also plants successive crops of spinach throughout the spring.

By Memorial Day weekend, she will turn her gardening efforts to planting tomatoes, squash and beans, which require warmer soil temperatures to thrive. She also provided advice on edible herbs.

Kreger spoke about onions and peppers and the wide variety of each that he grows on his Baker City property, including leeks, scallions, chives and Elephant garlic. He grows green peppers to stuff with hamburger and freeze for eating throughout the year. And he dries and crushes some of the cayenne peppers he grows to spice up his chili and other recipes.

Sherrieb advised the students about the benefits and the potential problems of using chickens to help control weeds and insects in their gardens.

While chickens are allowed anywhere in the city, those keeping them are required to obtain a livestock permit from the Baker City Police Department, Sherrieb said.

The benefits include insect management, egg production and a constant supply of organic fertilizer. Sherrieb noted, however, that before acquiring too many chickens, one should be aware that a single bird produces 45 pounds of manure per year.

She advised the gardeners to also consider the noise, the smell and the possible drawback of their chickens eating the very garden plants they had hoped the birds would help protect from insects.

Sherrieb referred her students to the book "Chickens In Your Backyard - A Beginner's Guide" for more information and to help them decide whether they want to raise chickens as part of their gardening strategy. As for herself, she said she has decided to remain chickenless.

For more information about lasagna gardening, raising chickens or for other gardening tips and information, visit the Baker County Extension Office at 2600 East St.; call 541-523-6418; or visit