PARKERSBURG - For aspiring gardeners who want a simple way to prepare a vegetable garden for spring planting, now is the time to get started.
Autumn is the ideal season to build an organic garden bed using the lasagna gardening method.
Come spring, the garden will be full of healthy soil, and there will be no need to dig up heavy pieces of sod.
Lasagna gardening involves layering organic materials, which break down over the winter to create nutrient-rich soil in time for spring planting.
Lasagna gardening involves layering organic materials above sheets of newspaper, which are placed on top of existing grass, said Linda Watkins, a member of the Wood County Master Gardeners Association.
"It's an easy way to start a garden. No one likes digging up chunks of grass in the spring; that takes a lot of work," said Watkins, who has been a Master Gardener for more than 10 years.
To begin, choose the location of the garden bedsomewhere that gets plenty of sunshine.
Next, begin the layering process with a few layers of newspaper or thin sheets of cardboard.
"The layers of newspaper will kill the grass or any weeds underneath it, and over the winter, it will gradually decompose with the rest of the organic matter on top," said Watkins. "Grass is a good source of nitrogen, which will help break everything down."
Organic materials are then layered on top of the paper, much like making a lasagna, said Watkins.
Anything safe for a compost pile can be used in the layering process, including chopped up leaves, grass clippings, peat moss, straw, coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable scraps and pine needles.
The result should be layers of organic materials reaching up to two feet in height.
Over the weeks, it will shrink back down as the materials decompose.
"Leave it all over the winter, and in the spring, just plant your garden. You should have soil that is rich in nutrients," she said. "I think it's a great way to encourage people to grow their own vegetables, which taste better and cost almost nothing."
Watkins said the major benefit of homegrown vegetables is superior taste.
"Most of the fruits and vegetables we buy have traveled 1,500 miles to get to here, which means they have to be picked before they are completely ripe. Then they are put in cold storage and driven miles and miles before they arrive at the supermarket," she said.
"Most of the time, store-bought vegetables just aren't as tasty and fresh."
Growing vegetables at home is also inexpensive and convenient.
"It's very handy to be able to walk into your backyard in the summertime and pick your dinner," she said.
"And with everything so expensive these days, it just makes sense. You can get fresh, healthy food for the cost of seeds."
Home gardening allows people to control the amount of fertilizer, chemicals and pesticides in vegetables, Watkins added.
"There's always a sense of pride that comes with growing your own food," she said.
For more information on gardening, contact the WVU Extension Service at 304-424-1960.