Spring is inching ever so close, and soon the sweet hum of lawnmowers will fill the air. A while back I read a study on the epa.gov website that stated 40.5 billion American acres are devoted to residential lawns. According to this study residential lawn care is a 2.2 billion dollar industry. That got me thinking, where did this love affair come from to have the perfect green outdoor carpet? What good is a lawn really? What if every family devoted even a small portion of their lawn to growing food?
We decided that we wanted to cut out some of our own useless lawn, and grow something worth growing. Our side yard gets morning, and afternoon sun, and then is shaded by the house in the late afternoon when the sun is really hot. We felt it would be the perfect place to expand our organic food growing venture.
Since these new garden beds were going to be right in the middle of our yard we wanted them to be uniform, and attractive. We chose 10x20 foot beds since we wanted to still be able to weed, water, and plant without walking all over the produce that will be growing in them. The space between the beds is 4 feet, which is the perfect distance for our riding lawn mower. The edges can be maintained easily with a weed wacker.
The number one concern was the grass growing up through the beds. It was a possibility to lay cardboard down over the grass, and build up the compost from there, but we wanted straight borders, and did not want to wait a long time for the cardboard to break down. Using string and stakes we traced out the borders for each bed, and spray painted lines to follow when edging each one out. Using an edger, and some good old fashion hard work we etched out all the borders.
From there we rented a sod cutter, and removed all the sod from each bed. It only takes 1 inch of grass root to grow grass, so we lined the bottom of each bed with drop cloth paper. This is a plain brown paper that comes on a roll, and can be found for a few dollars in most hardware stores. Each 10x20 foot bed required 1 roll. Newspaper will do the same job, but it takes more time to lay out, and we found the roll easier to manage. As we laid out the drop cloth paper we soaked it with the hose to help it start to break down.
Each bed was then filled with horse manure compost. There are a few things to consider when choosing manure compost. The first is that most domestic horses are given wormacide. This can kill off the worms in compost, even though it is approved for organic farming. The second is that horses that are pasture fed eat a lot of weeds, and all of those weed seeds pass through the horse, and into their manure. When using cow or horse manure make sure that it has been hot composted, and turned regularly so that the outside is also exposed to the heat inside the compost pile. The heat will break down the wormacide, and tests have found that 99% of any trace of wormacide is gone within 28 days of being hot composted. The heat from a hot compost pile will also kill off the weed and grass seeds that may be present. The horse compost we chose had been hot composted, and turned over the course of 9 months.
We practice the no till gardening method so each fall we will layer the garden with new drop cloth paper, and top with fresh compost. The soil will get better with each passing year of layering rabbit, horse, and aged chicken compost. It is possible to grow good organic food on smaller lots as well. Lawns are pretty, but the ability to grow healthy food is priceless.
Melissa Souza lives on a 1-acre, organically managed homestead property in rural Washington State where she raises backyard chickens and meat rabbits and grows fruits, berries, and all the produce her family needs. She loves to inspire other families to save money, be together, and take steps toward self-reliance no matter where they live. Connect with her on Facebook.
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