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Lawn to Veggie Garden

Before

Before -- June

‘Having a casual, wild, productive, diverse, beautiful vegetable garden is frankly a lot more fun than watering and mowing and pouring pesticides on our lawns.’ Fritz Haeg

Another collection of photos from last year, shots of a lawn-to-vegetable-garden conversion we did. Before this one, we hadn’t had good success installing veggie gardens for clients. We’ve incorporated them into larger designs and helped with ideas for the layout and so forth, and a lot of our clients have already had an area of veggies somewhere in their yards, but the couple of veggie gardens that we had personally installed and planted just ended up being neglected and later converted to ornamentals. Veggie gardens seem to require a certain amount of personal involvement and DIY spirit; you have to really want to go out and dig and weed and plant, and the sweat equity of the installation seems to be part of the motivation for following through and making it a success. Anyways, with this garden we did the layout and the lawn conversion around the beds, and left the installation and planting of the veggie beds to the client. It was a lot of fun to go back and see what got planted and to hear about the harvests.

After -- Late June

After -- Late June

The installation was actually pretty simple and easy. We dug out a little bit of the grass in the corner near the gate, but for the most part we left the lawn in place and just put the paths, boxes, and plantings on top of it, laying weedcloth in the places where we wanted gravel, cardboard where we wanted plants or veggie boxes. The clumps that we did dig out we buried at the bottom of the raised beds underneath cardboard. None of the grass has come back, without using any chemicals or hauling any of the grass to the dump.

Late June

The raised beds are prefabbed from a company in Oregon, just plopped down on top of the lawn and filled with soil. The client is a good carpenter and would have normally built the boxes himself, but the logistics of the project were much easier with them ready-made. It’s a pretty slick design (the boards are modular, the pins that hold the boards in place can also serve to anchor hoops or stakes, the wood is a rot-resistant hardwood) and installation took only a couple of hours, one of those things where it’s easy to copy the design but even easier to just buy it. A nice aspect of this site was that putting the veggie boxes on the diagonal made them orthogonal to north.

July

November

November

December

December -- Favas Newly Planted in the Front Bed

There’s an architect, Fritz Haeg (he has a blog while he is in Rome on a fellowship), who has made lawn-to-veggie-garden conversions a big focus of his career. He has a book, Edible Estates, Attack on the Front Lawn, and there’s an interview on the ASLA blog from shortly after I did this project. Clearly, he doesn’t work in deer country, or his attack would include 8-foot-high fences, but it’s great to see someone really promoting the idea of changing lawn to edibles as a political, cultural, and environmental act.

Lawn Begone

For a while now I’ve been meaning to post about converting lawns to low-water plants. We do it 2 or 3 times a year, and Anita and I have both taught workshops on the process. We convert the lawns with the use of sheet-mulch: a smothering layer of newspaper or cardboard covered by compost and mulch. It’s really easy and it works well, one of the few cases in life where the easiest way to do something is also the most effective.

Yesterday after the rain eased I did an irrigation checkup at a lawn we converted to plants two years ago. It was looking pretty good. There’s some bermuda grass in one area and some other weeds in a few places, but the lawn is long gone. Here are some photos of that project:

We first had the client stop watering the lawn for a month. EBMUD has a rebate program that gives $.50 for every square foot of lawn taken out and replaced with low-water plants and drip irrigation. If you’re going get a rebate, make sure you get them out for the pre-inspection before you stop watering; they only give rebates for removal of green lawns.

We covered the lawn with newspaper (cardboard also works) and a layer of compost or planting mix. We also cut away the sod at the edges next to the sidewalk and put those pieces of sod in a couple of piles covered with compost. Lawns tend to be flat and geometric, so we like to form a low mound or two for visual interest. The mound does not have be high — even 4 or 6 inches is enough — and it really helps banish the ghost of the flat lawn underneath.

We put out the plants and planted them through the soil and newspaper. The neighbors always think we’re crazy when we start covering everything with newspaper, but the arrival of the plants starts to restore their confidence.

Another way to do it is to put a layer of compost on the lawn, plant, put out the layer of newspaper, and then cover it with mulch. The newspaper is more likely to show if it’s on top of the compost, but you don’t have to deal with the newspaper while you are planting. We usually do the newspaper about 12 sheets thick and we try to make sure it overlaps by several inches. We soak the newspaper in a bucket of water before we lay it down so that it sticks together, like paper-mache for your yard. Compost or mulch needs to go on top of it as soon as possible to hold it down and keep it from blowing away. Thicker layers are better, but a lot of time we’re working close to a sidewalk where it’s not practical to make a thick layer.

These two photos are from soon after planting.

The next photo is from last year, when the planting was a year old.

Between the compost, the decaying lawn, and the remnant fertilizers from the lawn, the plants usually grow really quickly. The Luma apiculata (Chilean Myrtle) planted as a 1 gallon is already more than 8 feet tall after only 2 years.

StopWaste has a great step by step breakdown of the process and page with tips. Sheet-mulching is a little like cooking, everyone does it with their own slight variation, but StopWaste has a solid recipe.

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