Last month, we took the dive and started off our Gardening for Beginners series with part one to go in depth about all the different aspects of gardening. While we started out at the roots and talked about types of soil, we’ve decided that this month’s article is going to be dedicated to the background on everyone’s favorite herbs! If you’re not sure where to get started while you read through our tips and tricks, check out our Gardening in 2021 Guide for activities and tasks you can do each month to prepare for the warm season become the gardener you have always wanted to be!
Welcome to the part two of our Gardening for Beginners: Techniques!
The Lasagna method of gardening is similar to the wonderful dish in that it focuses on layers – hence the name! This process is based on the premise behind Sheet Composting, which is the process of composting through the building up of layers of organic matter. Rather than waiting for this compost pile to break down to then be mixed into a substrate, the Lasagna Gardening method utilizes these layers of compost and plants directly into them. This is typically done in a raised and enclosed garden bed to ensure the layers stay together.
Because this process can be very labor intensive in the beginning and can’t necessarily be used right away, this is not a method that can be planted into the following day – the layers need a few months to break down before you can sow seeds or transplant baby plants. The layers of the Lasagna garden start with a base of paper or cardboard to smother weeds and feed the worms below, then alternating layers of peat moss (or coco coir), compost, leaves, wood chips, manure, and yard waste are placed on top. This soon to be rich, humus-like soil is fantastic for most crops and can easily mix with a potting soil or other substrate of choice.
Also often called the Grow Bag method, this process is exactly what it sounds like – sowing your seeds and growing your crops in bags. While yes, you can just cut open a bag of any old potting soil from your local garden center or plant nursery, there are specially made bags made out of all kinds of fibers with the most popular being fabric or a fabric/plastic hybrid substance. These bags typically hold 20 to 40 pounds of soil and are simply set on a patio, deck, or right on topsoil in locations of high sun; because these are movable, many people choose to use these to keep certain plants alive all year round by bringing the bags inside in the cold season.
These are wonderful options for those that hate – and I mean hate – constantly pulling weeds throughout the season or don’t have the ability to dig in the ground where they live. Soil/Grow Bags need to be fertilized a little more often because it doesn’t have access to the same amount of nutrients as a traditional garden bed, but it’s as simple as mixing some slow-release mixture or compost/worm castings into the top few inches of soil every month/every other month. It is important to remember that with this process, you are limited to shallow-rooting crops, but many manufacturers are beginning to branch out into making bags specifically for different kinds of vegetables – including “Potato Bags” that feature flaps that disconnect from the rest of the bag for easy harvesting!
The popular, space-saving Barrel method of gardening is exactly what you’re thinking – growing plants inside a lidless plastic food-grade barrel. For this to work, slits are cut into the barrel and made into pockets to plant things (like shown in the photo), and a PVC pipe perforated with holes is placed in the middle of the then empty barrel; this is how the plants inside the barrel are watered – the holes throughout the pipe allow water to access even the plants on the very bottom. Once the barrel is ready, it is filled with potting soil and fertilizer/compost, then its ready for seeds!
While the initial cost and labor required for this technique is higher than many other processes, this method ends being an easy to maintain and can be one of the most space-saving options. The barrel can even be modified and made better if they are placed on raised platforms, or better yet - wheels! This method is great for those that don’t want to worry about weeding or burrowing rodents, but less so for people looking to grow deep rooting or vining crops. Things like leafy greens, peppers, small tomatoes, and green onions are all great options.
Pronounced "hoo-gul-culture,” this technique involves decomposing logs, a lot of hard work, and even more patience. Hugelkultur beds are best suited for those who have a lot of garden space available on their own land (i.e., a front or back yard) and are truly dedicated to their garden and focus on big-picture thinking; this is because it takes years for a Hugelkultur bed to develop all of its benefits. These beds are made by stacking rotting wood logs in a pyramid-like shape on top of the ground or in a shallow trench, depending upon your preference. Soil, compost, grass clippings, etc. can be used to fill in the spaces between the logs. Then, six to ten inches of a soil, compost, manure mixture is packed on top, completely covering the logs. After that, a netting can be placed overtop to help the soil - and later, plants - stay in place, but it isn't absolutely necessary.
The Hugelkultur method has been used in Germany and much of Eastern Europe for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, so there is a wealth of information out there for those wanting to learn. Not only can this technique help you by not forcing you to kneel or bend over as often, but it also uses wood that would have otherwise gone to waste, a great option for those wanting to become more sustainable! One of the only downsides is this process can take an extremely long time to break down the wood and release the nutrients into the soil, so nitrogen supplements must be consistently added, and the bed must be checked for holes to avoid having creatures burrow into it.
Straw Bale gardening is the process of growing your plants directly inside of a bale of straw rather than a garden bed or traditional container. Before any seeds are sown, the bale must be thoroughly soaked for several days, though you can choose to continue soaking your straw for an entire month to allow for easier root growth. During this time, nitrogen (and anything else you would like) can be added to help the straw decompose and release its nutrients. Once ready, you split the bale down the middle and fill it with soil and your choice of fertilizer (compost, manure, etc.), sow your seeds or transplant your growing babies, and you’re good to go!
The Straw Bale technique best supports shorter plants since the surrounding straw won’t easily hold up stakes or trellises unless they are outside of the bale; this can be crops like lettuce, radishes, squash, herbs, and most kinds of kale. While this method is very renter-friendly and even handicap accessible, straw bales can be expensive depending on your area, so plan this out ahead of time if you’d like to try it out. If you can afford it and want to grow more, you can tie multiple bales together to create a larger “bed” for more plants!
Pro Tip: Make sure your bale is made of straw NOT hay; because the latter is made of alfalfa and other grasses, there are still seeds attached that can get into your soil and choke the seeds or plants you intended the bale for.
This process is known around the world because a young woman from Kansas took an interest in gardening in the late 1800's/early 1900's. Born in 1884 and living all the way until 1980, Ruth Stout was a pioneer in her own right, releasing her first book, “Gardening Without Work,” in 1953 and continuing to publish almost a dozen more before her passing. The “No-Work” practice that she created swore by zero plowing, hoeing, weeding, tilling, or even cultivating, hence the straightforward name of “No-Work.” Ruth’s process relied heavily on creating deep, permanent layers of rotting straw mulch to build a barrier against weeds, reduce watering, and provide plants with plenty of the nutrients they need to thrive. Overtime, fresh straw is added as the plants grow and kept at a minimum depth of eight or more inches.
While the Ruth Stout Gardening method sure does sound too good to be true, it is worth noting that she grew up in rural Kansas where straw was abundant, something that not all of us can say is easy to source. If you are truly considering trying this process, take a moment to consider where you are growing to store all that mulch and how you are going to keep pests like rodents, slugs, and insects out of it.
Is there any gardening subject you have questions about or would like us to cover? Let us know in the comments or message us on our Contact Page. We post more articles every other week, so check back for more tips and tricks every month!