I have run out of room for my tomatoes. Over the last three years, I have placed tomato and pepper plants all throughout my current garden beds, and now I need a new spot to rotate them into to avoid building up diseases in the soil. Thus, last weekend’s activities.
I “won” the labor for a lasagna garden bed from our local Sierra Club chapter’s Christmas fundraiser. Since I had to hightail it home for my son’s bedtime, my friend Vicki (of Rose Ranch grass-fed beef), fiercely competed for the lasagna garden in my name, even going so far as to kick in $15 over my top bid in order to win the apparently highly-coveted prize.

A lasagna garden is basically a sheet compost created in layers above the ground, without traditional rototilling or double-digging of the soil. This allows the soil structure to remain intact and reduces the amount of digging. Rick, the volunteer who contributed the prize to raise funds for the Sierra Club, called me to schedule a consultation, we found a location for the new bed, and he told me what materials to procure:

– cardboard (saved over the last two years)
– peat moss, (about15 cu. feet)
– composted horse manure, (1.5 cu. yards)
– compost, (1 cu. yard)
– various amendments like bone meal, greensand, blood meal,
– leaves, and
– straw (from Rick).
On Saturday, my husband and I unloaded the composted horse manure, which luckily smelled just like regular compost. We paid a friend to haul 1.5 cubic yards (a yard is a cube 3 feet x 3 feet x 3 feet or 27 cubic feet) from some stables in Edmond. We had enough for three/four layers of the lasagna garden and enough to cover all my 200 sq. feet of current garden with about 6 inches of the loamy gold.
The deliverer of our horse manure compost, Ron Ferrell, reports that he has used this on his garden with great results, especially helping with the water retention of the soil. I have heard that horse manure often has weed seeds, but hopefully the composting process took care of that – and if not, we’ll have newspaper/straw mulch on top.

On Sunday, Rick arrived and proceeded to demonstrate his Puritan work ethic! We found, fairly quickly, that the area I had chosen for its’ sunny location actually had a path of bricks buried under the weeds. Those proved quite handy as cardboard placeholders and as temporary edging for the garden.

Normally, I might not trust cardboard to kill off the demon bermuda grass, which seems to actually consume cardboard boxes. But this area of my yard seems to be mostly non-Bermuda grass weeds. The cardboard layer in our 7 x 17 bed was followed by a layer of peat moss, composted horse manure, peat moss, leaves, horse manure, bone meal and greensand, peat moss and horse manure. From what I’ve read, peat moss is not the most environmentally friendly amendment to use. But Rick insisted on it as a key ingredient in the lasagna and didn’t have any alternatives to suggest. Anybody know of some?

Unfortunately, the local fellow we had contracted with to deliver our non-animal compost got a wee bit confused on the timing and never showed up. He did, however, call later and promise to complete the delivery within the next two days. Too late, too late! I guess I’ll have to finish the job myself by topping off the compost, newspaper and straw. Ah well, I’m still pleased to have been able to find a source of local compost and composted manure that did not involve multiple trips to big-box store Z and disposal of 85 plastic bags.

I feel lucky to be in a position to create this kind of lovely soil in our urban location. If we had to start from scratch for some urgent reason…. it would be a lot more difficult. Our compost pile has never yielded a huge amount (from what I’ve heard, it usually boils down to about 10% of the volume you put into it), and there are no large sources of manure within walking distance (aside from people). There’s always green manuring / cover crops, but those take a few seasons to really amend the soil.

Now, I’m planning for a great tomato season. By April 15th (traditional tomato planting date in OKC), all these layers will have been composted down to a luscious rich soil. This year, I am really trying to get “heat and drought tolerant” tomato varieties to foil the problems with drought and heat that we had last year. So along with that precaution, and lots and lots of mulch, I hope to be able to get a good crop this year. Of course this year the weather will turn out to be damp and soggy instead ;).

Even with all this new extra room, I think I only have space for 10-11 tomatoes. Because I can’t resist their catalog, and their new on-line feature offering reviews of their seeds, I obtained my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds: Royal Hillbilly, Carbon, Black Cherry, Orange Banana, and Henderson’s Pink Ponderosa. I am contemplating making a second order just to get Arkansas Traveler, Sioux, Amish Paste, Riesentraube and Bloody Butcher.

I also read several reviews of the “Delicious” tomato reporting that this heirloom seems to repel the blight which infested quite a bit of the country last year (the blight reportedly started / spread through big-box store tomato plants). If for some perverse reason my seeds don’t start, I’ll be headed to the Tomato Man’s Daughter, who grows specialty tomatoes.

Tomato lovers – big plans this year? Heard of any more heirloom blight-resistant tomatoes?