My Lasagna Garden Experiment

Last fall I decided to do something with the strip of ground on the front side of my grass. Since building our home, we’ve landscaped slowly as money and time have allowed; the depleted orchard ground on which we built is very sandy and compacted and requires a lot of amending and time. A couple of years ago, I bought the book Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza, after reading about her methods on a couple of the Gardenweb Forums I frequent, and last fall began an experiment that I hoped would work as effortlessly as Lanza promises.

 Lasagna gardening has nothing to do with noodles.  It refers instead to the layering of materials to create a planting bed, a building up instead of digging down.  You start with a layer of wet newspaper or cardboard–even directly on top of living sod–and then layer on compost, grass clippings, hay, manure, peat moss, or whatever you have access to that is organic, plentiful, and conducive to composting, to about an 18-inch height.  You then plant your seeds, seedlings, bulbs, bareroot plants, plant divisions, what-have-you, right into the layers.  Lanza and other lasagna gardening enthusiasts promised me beautiful results with no digging, no tilling, no hassle.   With the compacted sand in front of our house, I was doubious, but I really wanted to believe it could be true.  This is what the front end of the grass looked like last summer:

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I wish I had thought to take pictures of the process, but I’ll describe it as best I can. In October, I got several tubs full of newspaper from the recycling center, soaked them section by section in another tub of water, and laid them (still in sections) right on the weedy dirt. I overlapped them a few inches as I went along, until the whole area I wanted to plant was covered. I then arranged 500 Lightning Sun tulip bulbs right on top of the wet newspaper, praying that I wasn’t about to lose what amounted to my landscaping budget for the year! After that, I started layering. I had bought several bales of peat moss, but since we have horses, manure and straw were my main components. I put down about 2 inches of peat moss, 3 inches of manure, 2 inches of peat moss, 3 inches of manure, 3 inches of straw, all my compost (only about 1 inch thick), and then more peatmoss, manure, and straw, with a sprinkling of purchased compost on the top.

It was ugly. If I had had more money, I would have purchased more compost to layer over the whole thing to make it look nice, but I was tapped out. Once the layers were in place, I soaked the beds to what Lanza calls “the consistency of a wet sponge.” After that, the only thing left to do was water it a few more times in the fall, and then wait to see what spring brought.

Over the winter months the layers settled a few inches, but were still pretty springy and spongy by early March, when all my other bulbs in traditional beds began to sprout. Still trepidatious but hopeful, I scattered thousands of forget-me-not seeds and California poppy seeds over the top of the bed. Still nothing. I worried that my lasagna bed was too deep, or that I planted too late or the manure was too hot, but by late March, I began to see the bright green points of tulip sprouts poke through the straw. First there were 20, then 50, and in two weeks, hundreds of spiky sprouts had found their way to the spring air and warming sun. At Easter, I had a few blooms, but late April brought this:

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It worked! But true to my form of trying to find the next thing to worry about, I wondered what I’d do once the tulips were spent, leaving their ugly wilted foliage (which you are not supposed to remove–it feeds the bulb for the next spring). My forget-me-nots and poppies seemed to be a bust, so I planted violas, which Madame Chaos promptly removed for her own purposes.  So then I sprinkled on the failsafe cosmos seeds I had saved from the year before, and soon all three varieties of seeds were popping up and blooming–I hadn’t been patient enough.

 So now here we are in late September.  The layers have composted and settled to only about 5 inches at the deepest, and the cosmos are still blooming:

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Before pronouncing the experiment a complete success, I will have to see if I get reblooms from my tulip bulbs next spring. The current depth of the bed isn’t deep enough for tulips, so once it frosts and I pull out the cosmos (which will take even more of the bedding layers out with their big roots), I will have to add layers again. Good thing horses don’t stop pooping.

Falling out of Summer

Since we had a summer solstice party, of course we had to mark the vernal equinox. Saturday evening we had a big ole bash with 55 teens aged 12-15. Though we were hoping for summery weather, we ended up with black clouds hovering, and had to do some quick changes to the agenda. Luckily, it hadn’t begun raining when everyone came, so we started out by playing Human Foosball in the backyard:

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We used three balls at once and lots of “fetchers” to retrieve stray balls as they were kicked everywhere. The rules were that players could only move laterally along the lines (as in table foosball), and each team managed several goals with minimal fudging.  During a wild round of Capture the Flag, it began to rain, so we moved into the garage to watch the Tim Conway/Don Knotts whodunit spoof, Private Eyes.  Originally, we were going to use J’s work projector to  project the movie on an outside wall and sit in the grass, but as a storm threatened, J worked up a PVC frame for a king-sized white sheet so that we could move the film into the garage.  We did a last-minute round of calls for kids to bring camp chairs, and set up with lots of soda and snacks and hot chocolate and popcorn for some great laughs.  If you haven’t seen Private Eyes, you are really missing out–it’s the Conway/Knotts team at its crazy best, and I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like it.  I promise you will laugh!  It turned out really well because as Inspector Winship and Doctor Tart investigated murders in the spooky Morley mansion, thunder clapped outside the garage.

It was still  wet after the movie, so we tried a round of indoor hide-and-seek.  The kids were too hyper to last long with that, so they chose to brave the slick grass for some in-the-dark Capture the Flag wearing their party favors, which were glow-bracelets:

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After that, they were ready to do some dancing. N had downloaded several fun songs, but the best response was to the Cha-Cha Slide:

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I loved how the kids were so un-selfconscious and really had fun with the dancing and with each other. Toward the end of the evening, two boys even agreed to a breakdancing dance-off:

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We had prizes and more dancing until parents came to fetch their kids at 11. Goodbye, Summer; welcome to Autumn!

Learning to Look

Our little community was rocked seven months ago by the deaths of five local teenagers, who drowned in a 20-foot-deep pond when their car left the icy road in the early morning hours near Black Canyon Dam.  When the dive team finally located the car in the murky, cold water, they found the seminary-bound teens with their scriptures open in their laps.  All were taken to the local hospital, but none revived.

The shockwave from this incident has been far-reaching and long-felt.  The five were from just two families in the rural community of Sweet, and with their deaths, each family had lost half of its children.  We mourned for and with the families, and for ourselves and a future without the promising talents of five vivacious, good kids who by every account were excellent examples to their peers and assets to every community and organization to which they belonged.  When I pass the bend in the road that their car missed that February morning, their names and faces rush at me — the impossibly smiling, beautifully warm images that have burned into my brain collide with the icy strangling dread that presses my parent heart.  Oh, God, don’t make me look.  Don’t let me feel.

 I didn’t attend the funerals.  I didn’t attend Stake Conference when one of the mothers spoke.  I tried to push the sorrow and fear away by clutching my own babies tight, memorizing anew how their voices sound, how their feet are shaped, the warm softness of their little necks.  The unthinkable can happen.   It does happen.  Oh, God, don’t make me look.

Tonight I looked.  I attended a dinner at which the mother of three of the teens spoke.  Once the matriarch of a thriving brood of eight, she lost her 2 1/2-year old daughter in a construction accident, and then her three eldest four years later.  “How do you get through it?” people ask.  “You do because you must,” she replies.  She spoke to us about our paramount role as parents, as teachers and caretakers of souls to whom we owe our best efforts.  She reminded us that disciplining and teaching our children begins with our own self-discipline; too often our inconsistency and laziness promotes the very behaviors that we punish our children for.  She expressed her gratitude for the growth and lessons she has gained because of her devastating losses, as she testified of a loving God who does not withhold the pains of mortality from us, but Who can teach us even through soul-wringing desolation that we are loved.  God trusts and allows us to seek and find our way by recalibrating ourselves in response to both the miraculous and the wrenching.

Tragedy and triumph have both had a place in my life.  But it is in the mundanity of everyday living that the lessons of extraordinary events reveal themselves:  How well have I learned to give and receive love?   How does my parenting reveal the Divine Parents to my children?  What in my relationship with my husband speaks of forgiveness, loyalty, joy?  Am I more willing to look?

Teen #2

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We now have two teens in the house–Kiwi celebrates turning 13 today! We had a time cramming all the candles onto her strawberry shortcake, as you can see.

Kiwi is one of those kids everyone wants: she’s smart, talented, quick-witted, helpful, kind/generous/thoughtful, and generally compliant (well, and exquisitely beautiful, if I do say so myself). The thirteen years she’s been with us have been lucky indeed–her humor and helpfulness has been the glue in our family on many occasions, and we count ourselves blessed that we get to hang with her every day. Happy Birthday, to you, KiwiLee, PicklePie, Rockadoodle Girl, Kibbles n’ Bits. You deserve it.

Be-ribbon Me

I’ve had some requests for photos of the quilts that I took to the fair. They did get blue ribbons, after all. I’d feel a little prouder if the entries hadn’t been so few this year. So this is the flag quilt I made this summer from scraps. I have it hanging outside my house (and it is straighter than it looks here):

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I have some closeups of the quilting on my flickr site if you want to see those; I quilted stars-and-loops in the blue field and in the border, and wavy lines in the stripes.

This is my son’s airplane quilt that I worked on for about a year. I got the free pattern at this kewl site and paper-pieced the blocks. I sent a few of the blocks to my friend Jan who did a great job embroidering the stars on the planes:

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I took a long time figuring out how I wanted to quilt the top. I ended up doing a few fun things — G wanted me to make them shooting at each other, so here are a couple of those:

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I also quilted some planes doing loop-de-loops:

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BFF Charlie suggested having one plane flying a banner. It turned out to be my favorite:

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Someone New is Behind the Wheel . . . .

Our Little Missy is a Big Missy now, with driver’s ed behind her and a learner’s permit in her pocket.  Who’s going to teach her the stick shift????

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Deadheading: A Psalm

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Forgive me, ye gods of gardening, I did not believe.

It was desperation rather than faith that caused me to deadhead the spent blooms, a desperation born of visual weariness of dry twiggy seed heads. Frustration rather than hope was the catalyst for the pruning, and yet ye blessed mine unbelief. In the desert breath of July I smote stalks with my shears, cursing the barrenness of foliage which, once blooming full flush in the swelling springtime, mocked me with stiffnecked willfullness to bear seed rather than flowers. Oh lords of liatris, regents of roses, sylphs of salvia, thine abundance humbles me. From stubby hewn branches new growth emerged, proving now herewith the rewards of my labors in the vineyard. Truly I shall spread the doctrine of deadheading across the land, and testify of its rejuvenating powers. Let these images be a testament of thy glory forever and ever. Amen.

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Would You Like Stripes With That?

So my friend who has her own surgical-cap business has given me several bags of her (very cute) fabric scraps.   And now that one-third of my children are gone every school day, I’m tackling a new project.  It involves taking these piles in the library

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these piles on the sewing room floor

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more piles on the guest bed

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and more piles in sacks

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and taming them into this

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in order to make something like this:

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And that, my friends, is my very own brand of masochism.

How To: “Ride the Potty Train”

The indefatiguable Madame Chaos presents the fifth installment of her informative series.

I call this “riding the potty train,”  or, as you techies might prefer, downloading a recompiled version of my breakfast into the deleted files folder.  I’ll keep this user-friendly with minimal instructions NOT translated from Korean.

1. Employ the user interface:

(it’s not the most ergonomic of designs, but I’ve found it serviceable)

2. Check for backup files:

3. Transfer complete!

4. Depress the “delete” key:

Any questions? I’m getting good at this now.

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