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TBT: Destroy your lawn.

When I first bought my house in 2007, I couldn't wait to tear up the land and start a vegetable garden. I'd never created or maintained a garden before, but that didn't stop me. My grandpa gave me an organic gardening book and some tools handed down from Great-Grandpa, an immigrant who had relied upon sustenance farming to keep his family alive. Although I made a lot of mistakes and encountered unexpected challenges (as always happens when growing a garden), I kept it going for a few years and was able to make some of my daughter's baby food from veggies I grew from seed.

During those years, I grew tomatoes, potatoes, corn, green beans, carrots, herbs, pumpkins, watermelons, sunflowers, squash, and strawberries. I spent hours in the sunshine and fresh air, digging in the soil. It was a lovely way to spend time and energy, and I'm glad I accomplished what I did on a less-than-ideal piece of land and learned the lessons that I did.

When my daughter entered the toddler years, the wholesome but hard work of maintaining a backyard vegetable garden became too much for me, so I gave it a rest. By that time, I had established three fruit-bearing apple trees in the front yard, and we had a big patch of black raspberry bushes out back, along with a couple of mulberry trees and one huge, abundantly producing black walnut tree.

I still like the idea of harvesting my own homegrown food, but I've stepped back from making it a priority while food is abundant and affordable at the local grocery stores. If I don't have the time or energy to invest in homegrown produce (which isn't inherently better or necessary to keep my family alive and healthy), I let my wild animal neighbors feast on the bounty instead. Come the apocalypse, I say, my husband will get out the crossbow and supply us with well-fed critters to roast over a fire.

In the meantime, I've turned my attention toward an even more progressive suburban-lawn-eradication goal, which I believe has greater karmic value and takes less time and effort than urban food gardening: rewilding. Building an ark. Creating micro-sanctuaries for natural life to sustain itself with minimal human interference. I've created a native plant area in the front of my house and encouraged milkweed to take over areas of my lawn. I've intentionally set aside "wild areas" to sustain butterflies, moths, fireflies, bees, reptiles, amphibians, and birds. Instead of competing with the local wildlife for food, I've invited it to take over the land more and more.

Maybe someday I'll go back to growing vegetables, probably using different methods to try for better results while preserving the wild places for the use of native pollinators. If you are interested in trying to grow your own food and need a little inspiration, below is what I wrote when I was young and dumb and full of energy and optimistic enough to dive right in there and get it done, regardless of whether or not everything went according to plan. I'd do it all again and probably will sometime.


DESTROY YOUR LAWN


April is the best time for it!

Rip out that sod and attack the earth!

I started in March, but it was sort of cold and wet. Take advantage of warm April days to dig your garden beds. I have two 5 x 20 foot beds that took about 2-3 hours each.
I used no gas-powered or electric tools--just a turf rippy claw thing, a shovel, and a pitchfork. You get a better workout digging by hand. It's more pleasant work without the noise and fumes of gas-powered machines like rototillers, and your soil structure will turn out better.

My soil is heavy clay. This means I can't expect superb results the first time around, but each year that you garden organically, the soil improves along with your yield.

This year, I re-dug an old bed from last year and started a new one. It's obvious how much better the soil in my year-old bed is, compared to the clay soil of my brand new bed. It feels like I could make pottery out of that stuff... and incidentally, I've found a ton of broken pots, lighters, pieces of liquor bottles, rusted knives, and other odds and ends a foot or two down. It seems my backyard was quite the party spot ten or twenty years ago.

So--the first thing I do to start a new garden bed is rip the grass off the area with my claw tool. Then I throw the sod in the compost pile.

Then it's time to spread compost over the surface of the bed. You can buy topsoil at the store. But I use compost from my pile and from my worm bin in the garage. It's marvelous, fragrant black stuff. And it's made out of my garbage! It's such a special feeling... like discovering that you can poop out Faberge eggs or something. Anyway...

Next, I start at one end of the bed and dig a five-foot-long trench (one shovel-head deep or about one foot deep) across its width. The soil from the trench goes in the compost pile.


Then I take a pitchfork and poke it into the bottom of the trench, wiggling it around to loosen up the earth down there.


Now comes the next trench--I dig another foot-deep strip and dump the shovelfuls of soil from the second trench into the first trench. Because my soil is sticky and heavy, I give it a few whacks and pokes to break it up into a nice crumbly, puffy heap.


Then I take the pitchfork again and stab the bottom of the second trench all down its length. I stand on it and jump around a little to really get it in there.

I keep digging trenches and filling them into the last ones all the way down to the far end of the garden bed. Then I'm left with an unfilled trench, but I take the pitchfork and rake the soil smooth so that extra earth falls into the end trench. It's important to make the surface of the bed relatively even and smooth. It should be slightly rounded up, though, higher than the surrounding land.


You can do this work over many days. In fact, it's hard enough work that I usually spend only 45 minutes at a time digging the beds. Meanwhile, sunshine and rain will work on the dug-up soil for you, improving its texture and quality.

When the beds are dug and shaped, they're ready to plant!


Oh, happy planting!!

Comments

  1. I would love to start my own garden this year. Your post has given me inspiration, Thanks!

    ReplyDelete

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