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Grow Food, Not Grass – Converting Lawns To Gardens

The Grass-Free Revolution

Did you know that lawns cover up to 50 million acres of land in the United States? That’s a staggering amount of precious space dedicated to nothing but grass. Call me crazy, but I’d much rather see that land being used to grow delicious, nutritious foods – don’t you?

Over the past two decades, a grassroots movement called Food Not Lawns has been on a mission to transform yards into vibrant, productive gardens. What started as a small group of gardeners in Eugene, Oregon has blossomed into a nationwide community of folks committed to growing food, not just grass.

You see, maintaining a lush, green lawn requires a ton of resources – think trillions of gallons of water, millions of pounds of pesticides, and countless gallons of gas for all that mowing. And for what? A lifeless, sterile expanse that provides little to no value for local ecosystems and wildlife.

Wouldn’t it be so much more rewarding to fill that space with vegetable beds, fruit trees, pollinator-friendly flowers, and other productive, edible plants? That’s the dream of Food Not Lawns, and it’s a dream I wholeheartedly share.

Sod Busting 101

Now, I know what you might be thinking – “But I love my lawn! It’s a great place for my kids to play, and my dog loves running around on it.” I hear you, and I’m not suggesting you need to rip it all out overnight. However, I do encourage you to consider gradually transitioning some (or even all) of that grassy real estate into a flourishing food garden.

The first step is deciding how you want to approach this transformation. Do you want to completely remove the existing lawn, or can you build on top of it? The answer depends on the type of grass you have and how stubborn it is.

If you’re dealing with a classic lawn made up of fescue or other well-behaved grasses, you may be able to simply cover it up with cardboard, landscape fabric, or a thick layer of mulch. This will effectively smother the grass and allow you to start planting directly on top.

However, if your lawn is overrun with invasive, creeping grasses like crabgrass or Bermuda grass, you’ll likely need to take more drastic measures. In our case, we had to manually remove every last bit of that weedy mess before we could start building our edible oasis.

The Grass-Busting Toolbox

Depending on the size of your lawn and your personal fitness level, there are a few different ways you can go about removing that grass:

  1. Manual Sod Cutting: Grab a sharp shovel and start slicing and lifting that sod! This method works great for smaller spaces or areas with lots of curves and obstacles. It’s also the most budget-friendly option. Just be prepared for some serious elbow grease.

  2. Mechanical Sod Cutting: For larger expanses, you might want to consider renting a gas-powered sod cutter. These nifty machines can slice the grass into tidy rolls, making the removal process a whole lot easier. Just watch out for any buried irrigation lines or sprinkler heads.

  3. Tilling it In: Rather than hauling away all that grass, you could also try tilling it directly into the soil. This helps incorporate the organic matter back into the ground, which can be beneficial for building healthy, fertile soil. Just keep in mind that tilling can also bring weed seeds to the surface, so you’ll need to be diligent about monitoring and managing any new growth.

  4. Hiring Help: If the thought of removing all that grass makes your back ache, don’t hesitate to call in the professionals. Many local landscaping companies offer sod removal services that can have your lawn cleared in a snap. Just be prepared to shell out a bit more cash for the convenience.

Personally, my husband and I opted for the good old-fashioned shovel method when transforming our property. It was a slow and steady process, but we found it to be incredibly rewarding. There’s just something satisfying about watching that grassy expanse transform into a verdant, productive garden.

Smothering and Covering

Of course, not everyone has the time, energy, or desire to manually dig up their entire lawn. If that sounds like you, don’t worry – there are other ways to get the job done.

One effective technique is the “smothering” method. This involves covering the existing grass with a thick layer of organic material, like cardboard, newspaper, or even a deep mulch of leaves or wood chips. As that material decomposes over time, it will effectively smother and kill the grass beneath it.

The key is to make sure you apply a deep enough layer – we’re talking at least 6 inches, if not more. And be sure to keep that material consistently moist, as dry conditions can actually inhibit the decomposition process.

Another option is to simply plant directly on top of the grass, using raised garden beds or other above-ground structures. The grass will eventually die off as it’s deprived of sunlight and air circulation. Just make sure to line the bottom of your beds with a sturdy barrier, like landscape fabric or hardware cloth, to prevent any sneaky grass or weed roots from creeping back up.

No matter which method you choose, be patient and persistent. Removing a lawn, even a small one, can take time and dedication. But trust me, the rewards of transitioning that space into a bountiful, biodiverse garden are more than worth it.

Greening the Bare Spots

Okay, so you’ve successfully removed or smothered your lawn – now what? It’s time to start planning your dream garden oasis!

First things first, you’ll want to consider what type of ground cover you’d like to use in the bare spots. This could be anything from simple mulch to lush, living ground covers like creeping thyme or clover.

If you’re dealing with a particularly weedy or stubborn area, I’d recommend starting with a layer of landscape fabric or cardboard. This will create a solid barrier to block any wayward grass or weed seeds from popping back up. Then you can top it off with a thick layer of mulch, gravel, or other decorative ground cover.

For less problematic areas, you can skip the fabric and go straight for an organic mulch. I’m a big fan of using a mix of materials, like shredded bark, wood chips, and compost. Not only does this create a visually interesting look, but it also provides a nutrient-rich foundation for your plants to thrive.

And don’t forget about the option of living ground covers! Plants like clover, thyme, and even some edible herbs can make for a lush, low-maintenance alternative to traditional grass. Just be sure to choose varieties that are well-suited to your climate and growing conditions.

Planting Your Edible Oasis

Alright, now for the fun part – deciding what to plant! When it comes to converting a lawn into a productive garden, the possibilities are truly endless.

Of course, you’ll want to start with the basics – vegetables, herbs, and fruits that align with your family’s culinary preferences and dietary needs. Things like tomatoes, leafy greens, carrots, and berries are always a safe bet.

But don’t stop there! Consider incorporating edible landscaping elements as well, like fruiting shrubs, nut trees, and even perennial vegetables like asparagus or artichokes. These not only provide delicious harvests, but they also add visual interest and valuable habitat for pollinators and other beneficial critters.

And let’s not forget about the flowers! Interplanting your veggie beds and borders with vibrant, pollinator-friendly blooms is a surefire way to attract a diverse array of beneficial insects to your garden. Plus, they’re just plain beautiful to look at.

Cultivating Community

As you’re dreaming up your new food-producing landscape, I encourage you to think beyond just your own backyard. After all, the “Grow Food, Not Grass” movement is about more than just individual gardens – it’s about building strong, resilient communities.

That’s where the principles of Food Not Lawns really shine. By organizing local seed swaps, tool-sharing co-ops, and community garden workdays, this grassroots network is helping folks across the country transform not just their yards, but their entire neighborhoods.

Imagine if every household on your street replaced their grass with edible plants and pollinator-friendly flowers. The impact on local food security, biodiversity, and community cohesion would be profound. It’s a vision that the Food Not Lawns movement has been championing for over two decades, and it’s one that I’m proud to be a part of.

So as you embark on your own lawn-to-garden transformation, I encourage you to reach out to your neighbors, connect with local gardening groups, and explore ways to collaborate. Who knows, you might just stumble upon your new best friends – all while growing a whole lot of delicious food in the process.

Ready to get started? Then let’s dive in and Grow Food, Not Grass!

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