How do you get rid of all your Autumn garden rubbish; the coffee grinds from all the local cafes; the cardboard from the boxes you moved house in and several months supply of chicken bedding and poo and end up with good soil?Cook up a lasagna bed of course!
I ‘ve never really believed in digging. Although I actually enjoy it and find it satisfying to look at a newly turned bed, to me it has never seemed to be a very logical or natural activity. In my London days, I had an allotment in South London and it was very interesting observing the different gardening styles og the allotment members, who came from all corners of the world. Although digging was generally considered to be a virtuous activity and a tidy allotment something to be admired, the people who grew the best vegetables didn’t dig at all. One of my allotment neighbours, an elderly Jamaican lady, piled up her soil with anything organic she could find, much of it chopped up with a machete by her Italian husband and never put a fork to the soil. She had made a wonderful dark soil, and talked about her plants as though they were babies needing sustenance. She would take her seedlings and gently part the rich, moisture holding organic mulch which she had built up over the years and gently arrange their roots. You could see that they would be away in no time and they were. She planted things very close together, so the weeds didn’t have any room and all her vegetables were huge. And yet she was always getting into terrible trouble for her untidy plot! I was impressed and tried to emulate her methods with varying degrees of success. I am now determined to give it another go.
Our house came already terraced at the back and this is where I am making my vegetable garden.The soil isn’t bad. It is a mix of both the white and the red clay that we get here on the Barrocal, an area of the Algarve unique for its limestone and clay soils. It’s reasonable on nutrients and good when it rains, but bakes hard in the sun. But having spent a year growing vegetables on it, I am not really satisfied. I want to be organic and the nutrients aren’t enough. My neighbours plant straight into the soil at the appropriate times of year, often using artificial fertilisers. Favas, the broad beans that are often dried and used throughout the year grow well if it rains, as do peas. I am not sure if a lasagna bed will work here. Will it rot down? Will it hold enough water? I haven’t seen anyone local even making compost, although I have heard it discussed as something that used to be done. The farmers do plough their weeds back into the soil, but I often see green waste next to the bins. We will see. It’s an experiment.
So, I began with the cardboard boxes I had saved from the packing. Then I loaded on all the fifteen foot high wild daisy stalks I mentioned earlier, then a load of chicken poo mixed with wood shavings, then lots of olive leaves, followed by a load of horse manure kindly donated free by a friend. Then I was tired and sat and watched the chickens trying to undo all my layers!
More of the chickens later!
A local cafe, kindly offered to donate the coffee grinds it collects in the week and the newspapers left by their clients. So that went on as well. It looked a bit untidy for a while!
I have nearly finished it now. Just a bit more chicken poo and shavings I think. I can’t decide whether to put black plastic on top or not. It is rotting well underneath after a week of heavy rainfall recently, but the top stalks are still very much in evidence. We will have to see what the winter brings, but I hope to plant my courgettes and tomatoes in it next year! Hopefully it will help me to make an edible lasagna! I will let you know how I get on.