02 July 2009

Lasagna gardening and lasagna cooking

Yesterday on Mother Earth News I read an article by Patricia Lanza about the "lasagna" method of preparing a vegetable garden. We are going to adopt some of Lanza's practices. She lays down layers of newspaper, peat moss, grass clippings, and "chipped" leaves on her garden plots in the fall and composting happens sur place over the winter. She says she can plant her garden in the spring without needing to till the soil first.

A gratin using Swiss chard ribs — côtes de blettes in French

There are two things in Lanza's scheme that we don't have at our disposal, however: newspapers and peat moss. We don't buy newspapers any more. And I'm not sure where I would find peat moss here, or how expensive it would be. Leaves and grass clippings we have, in abundance. We were already planning to put leaves over our garden plots this fall as a way to keep weeds down over the winter and early spring. But I'll till them into the soil in spring, as long as I can still handle the rotary cultivator.

Lanza's article is interesting and worth a read if you garden at all. (Thanks, Nadège.)

Layer tomato sauce, chard ribs, and grated cheese in a
baking dish.
The chard ribs look like celery stalks.

It's still hot here and there are still big thunderstorms with heavy rain, hail, and strong winds along the Atlantic Coast of France, 100 miles west of here. We are expecting the rain to move through Saint-Aignan tonight and tomorrow. The garden needs rain right now. Maybe I'll be able to get out and do some more weeding over the weekend. Temperatures are supposed to moderate.

Spoon some ricotta cheese over the top layer.

This week we made a gratin of Swiss chard ribs with tomato sauce and grated cheese. It's really good. What you do is cut the wide flat central ribs out of a batch of big chard leaves and (optionally) de-string them the way you would remove the strings from stalks of celery. Cut the ribs into 2-inch pieces and cook them in boiling water for 10 minutes, until they are tender.

Instead of Italian ricotta, I used this "Brussels Cheese" that
Martine brought us from Belgium last month. Delicious.

Save the green parts of the chard leaves and cook them as you would fresh spinach. You can add them to the gratin if you want to by cooking them, chopping them, and mixing them into the tomato sauce. Or you can freeze them, cooked, for later use.

Put more tomato sauce on top...

Layer the chard ribs loosely in a baking dish, adding some tomato sauce and grated cheese as you go. Bread crumbs are a good addition in small quantities. On top put a layer of grated cheese and bake the dish in a hot oven until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese on top is golden brown.

... and then cover it all with grated cheeses —
Swiss cheese and parmesan are good.

You end up with something that resembles a lasagna but contains chard ribs instead of pasta. And that makes me think that cooked pasta would be a good addition to this gratin.


  1. Using peat moss is deeply, deeply environmentally unfriendly, but I bet you can buy it in France. All but the very cheapest potting mixes here contain it. I suggest leaving it out of the lasagne entirely or using spent organic/biologique mushroom compost and/or fine pine bark chippings and/or coir fibre. Personally, I would opt for using layers of newspaper, homemade compost and stable or chicken shed sweepings ie manure mixed in with bedding (which can be shredded cardboard, sawdust or straw).

  2. I guess I need to find a source of chicken shed sweepings. Or stable sweepings. Thanks for the comment and the details. Now I feel guilty for buying potting soil. When you say potting mixtures "here", are you implying that the situation is better in other countries?

  3. You could always pick up some of the free papers they have in the stands in front of agences immobiliers, boulangeries, etc (like "top annonces" or "paruvendu").

  4. Hi Sam, I'd have to actually go out to get those newspapers! We do get one in the mail every week (it's Paru Vendu) but that's probably not enough.

  5. In the UK there is quite a choice of potting mix without peat. It's considered a positive selling point, as it is widely accepted that using peat is no longer appropriate. It is also widely accepted that using peat substitutes like coir or pine chippings is a compromise of sustainability over fitness for purpose ie seedlings especially thrive in peat and are a bit more work in the modern substitutes.

    Both peat and the modern substitutes are acidic, so I wouldn't be getting too enthusiastic about adding any of them, since I think vege prefers neutral to alkaline soil.

    The fumier de cheval you can buy in plastic bags in the supermarket will be stable sweepings. We can buy in bulk from our local racecourse, and most equestrian establishments are only too happy to get rid of it. If you are lucky it is free, but if not, should be a very low price.

    Label Rouge chicken farms may sell fumier de poule – I don't know because I haven't asked our local one. I quite like the pelletised chicken poo, but not sure if you can get it in France.

    You've got a zoo near you. Do they sell zoo poo? Many zoos do (same as stables - only too happy to get rid of it, and a bit of a fun fundraiser).

  6. This all gets a little intense for me. If gardening is so much trouble, I think I'll probably have to give it up. Or just do my version of it. Have you ever watched The Good Life TV series? Tom and Barbara went a lot farther than we ever planned to go in the direction of self-sufficiency.

    Meanwhile, as I said in my post, I don't have a lot of interest in peat moss or newspapers. As for coir, it must have a pretty heavy carbon footprint -- there aren't many coconut palms growing along the coasts of the British Isles -- or of France, for that matter.

    Anyway, the peat bogs of GB and Ireland seem to be mostly depleted, from what I've read. GB is a small island that is dangerously overpopulated, so it's understandable. Most peat moss comes from Canada now, it seems. Again, that's an unacceptable carbon footprint when you live in Europe.

    Haven't inquired about zoo poo, but we don't really have any way to transport it. I think grass clippings, kitchen peelings, and autumn leaves will have to be our soil improvement materials. With this kind of weather, the soil doesn't seem so poor any more. Everything is growing furiously. Just keep the mildew away, Ol' Sol.

    Now we are just hoping for some water to fall from the heavens. I think your soil in Preuilly is very different from our terre à vigne. But we are making do (or is that doo?).


    Very informative, though :)


  8. The problem we found with this kind of approach is that the newspaper or cardboard dries out quickly, the topping is light, and the whole thing shifts around or blows away. We chased a lot of newspaper during that brief phase of our lives, but maybe your results would not be as comedic.

    The Good Life is one of our all-time faves. Remember Tom's green suit?

  9. Hi Carolyn, yes I do remember Tom's green suit. And I don't have to remember back very far because we have the whole Good Life series on DVDs. We watch it every winter. Tom, Barbara, Margo, and Jerry are our friends. Is that sad or what?


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