Sarah Rich

HOW TO: Eat your lawn

by , 12/12/05

eeintro

Who knew lawns would go from epitomizing the American dream to embodying all manner of evil? Blaming both human and natural failings, many homeowners have embraced the idea of lawn-eradication. Last week, it was the lawn-pavers; this week, it’s the lawn-eaters.

Edible Estates is the brainchild of Fritz Haeg, who has made it his mission to replace the water-guzzling, pesticide-drenched grasslands of American front yards with functional, fruitful plots filled with all things edible.



“The lawn devours resources while it pollutes. It is maniacally groomed with mowers and trimmers powered by the 2 stroke motors responsible for much of our greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrocarbons from mowers react with nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight to produce ozone. To eradicate invading plants it is drugged with pesticides which are then washed into our water supply with sprinklers and hoses dumping our increasingly rare fresh drinking resource down the gutter. Of the 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 17 are detected in groundwater and 23 have the ability to leach into groundwater sources.
The lawn divides and isolates us. It is the buffer of anti-social no-mans-land that we wrap ourselves with, reinforcing the suburban alienation of our sprawling communities. The mono-culture of one plant species covering our neighborhoods from coast to coast celebrates puritanical homogeneity and mindless conformity.”

The first Edible Estates lawn revival took place in Salina, Kansas, where a family offered up their conventional front yard for transformation (it’s like reality TV for lawn makeovers!), and vowed to maintain the garden as a living, thriving edible installation. The process not only furnishes a family with a hearty supply of nourishing food, it also provides an education in seasonal cycles, organic gardening, and regional biodiversity.

Over the next three years, Haeg will install edible landscapes in nine front lawns across the country. For his next trick, he will eat up a Los Angeles lawn, the location of which has yet to be determined. Do you live in LA?

“We are currently seeking the skilled, eager and adventurous occupants of one conventional American house on a typical street of endless sprawling lawns. These L.A. citizens should be brave enough to break this toxic uniformity, by having their entire front lawn removed and replaced by an edible landscape. As role models they will then proudly devote themselves to the indefinite cultivation of fruits, vegetables, grains and herbs for all neighbors and car traffic to see.”

Even if you can’t volunteer your lawn, Edible Estates makes it easy to learn a thing or two about planting a delicious lawn. A free “how-to” is posted on their site. We’ve reprinted it here ? it’s pretty basic at this point, but they promise to update it as projects progress, so be sure to visit the Edible Estates site in the future if you really intend to get your hands in the compost and make your garden grow.



basic instructions to make your own edible landscape

what you will need:
- a rented sod-cutter (about $80/day)
- a rented roto-tiller (about $50/day)
- a truck load of compost, calculated to cover the size of your estate
- shovels, hand trowels and rakes
- friends and neighbors to help
- irrigation system, such as soaker hoses
- stakes and string
- fencing material to deter animals
- selected vegetables, herbs and fruits as seeds, starts, or trees for your region

some questions to think about when planning your edible estate:
- where is south? where are the shady and sunny areas
- where should tall trees or lower groundcover go? are there views to frame or obscure
- what do you want to eat from your estate? what can’t you get from the grocery store
- alot of fruits and vegetables grow on vines, do you have something for them to grow on
- how do you want to move through the edible estate? where should paths go
- what kind of mulch to use? straw, bark, compost, leaves will retain moisture, block weeds and decompose into the soil?- is there an area in your estate for people? a place to relax and enjoy the plants and food growing

basic instructions to create your own edible estate:
1. use sod-cutter to remove existing grass, roll it up, give it away, or find a new use for it

2. use roto-tiller to loosen compacted soil

3. spread around about 2-5 inches of compost

4. till the soil again to mix in the new compost

5. mark out a plan for your edible estate with stakes and string

6. plant your seedlings, starts, trees and seeds according to the planting calendar

7. water them in thoroughly with a garden hose

8. install an 18″ – 24″ fence to deter small local animals, like rabbits if you have problems

LINKS:

www.edibleestates.org

a GREAT article about the lawn phenomenon from Canadian Centre for Architecture:

cca.qc.ca

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11 Comments

  1. grets June 16, 2008 at 12:33 am

    This is such a great idea! We are currently renters, living in a duplex on a small city lot. We have a small patch of vegetables in our front “lawn” (tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, bell peppers and strawberries) I am really looking forward to taking it to the next level when we finally settle into a permanet residense. How great would it be to be totally self-sufficient when it comes to produce!!! No salmonella on my tomatoes! :)

  2. matt May 16, 2007 at 10:02 am

    The spirit of this is right on the money. As some of you have said though, probably not for everyone. Personally, the work pictured isn’t that attractive to me (chicken wire is not my thing). That said there are many ways to make a lawn more green while keeping it attractive. There are quiet, efficient electric lawnmowers. There are alternative fertilizers. There are strategies for planting that involve no mow grasses and sedges. There are designers who can help find a gentle form of expression without sacrificing aesthetic. There are native perrenials… and on and on and on.
    For me, somehow some of the descriptive language in this piece creates a picture, maybe from my youth, of a “mean guy with a crew cut down the street who wouldn’t let any of the neighborhood kids walk on the lawn, fertilized hourly and was very proud of the mower patterns that showed in his lawn and thought the green folks were dirty hippies” etc. That’s just not how my neighborhood is.

  3. Inhabitat » EDIBL... May 16, 2007 at 12:42 am

    [...] Salinas, Kansas to the pages of the New York Times, Edible Estates, has had a big year. The combination of increased awareness around resource consumption, rising [...]

  4. Inhabitat » Blog ... July 31, 2006 at 6:28 am

    [...] The wheel is of simple construction–just plywood, mesh, fishing line, and sod–but it’s loaded with meaning. On one hand, it’s a playful protest to the lack of public green space in Halifax. On the other hand, using sod for their material offers a deeper critique on urban greenery. Sure, the grass feels good on the feet (you wouldn’t want to landscape this thing with cacti), but only in North America would a lawn with the personality of a military haircut be considered a traveling “garden.” Does rolling out a grass carpet really make a place more “natural?” [...]

  5. Ames Tiedeman June 26, 2006 at 2:16 am

    Do any of you use a Robotic lawn mower?

  6. Max January 14, 2006 at 9:33 am

    Between a lawn as front yard and an edible wilderness are many grades. If you need the lawn for kids to play for example, why not create a border around it, with dwarfing fruit trees and schrubs, soil covered with herbs. If your kids love to play in the front yard I bet they will be even happier if they can pick an apple or a handfull of berries whenever they want.
    Or pick a few spots in the lawn where you create little islands with one small fruit tree and a few schrubs underneath it. There are many ways to keep the frontyard light, open and ‘tidy’ and yet bring at least some nature into it.

  7. Nitin December 31, 2005 at 7:08 am

    Edible Landscaping in VA is a great source for low care fruitful landscapeing

  8. Bob December 30, 2005 at 5:16 pm

    Well, few cities would have laws against this, I can honestly only think of two, both of which are so snooty that the people in them wouldn’t do this anyway, but no, and I mean NO homeowners gestapo, er… association would allow it, heaven forbid, a free thinking person who wants to do what they want with their yard!

    I’ve had to (formerly as a landscape designer, the kind with a pencil and paper, not a shovel) deal with dozens of homeowners associations before, some are so strict that they tell you what you can/can’t do with even your BACKyard, one was just shy of a cult, stating what color you can paint the inside of your house and how you can arrange your furniture.

    But I agree with you Scott on point 1 and VERY much so on point 2, no one wants an ugly front yard, lawn or not, but no one wants to WORK on them either, you wouldn’t believe the number of homes I’ve installed low/no maintenance lawn at, mow once a month, water lightly every week, sure they die back every winter, but no one has to mow them.

    Retaining walls, especially interlocking blocks, black weed mesh, and peagravel walkways, go for a terraced look, looks modern and clean and allows you to plant in “layers”
    I’ve done it a lot with flower gardens, this isn’t much of a change.

  9. Scott Messinger December 19, 2005 at 6:17 pm

    Interesting idea, but obviously not presented in a way to convert many suburbians. It’s not attractive and it’s maintenance intensive.

    If you really want this idea to take off, I suggest the following:

    1. make use of attractive landscaping materials. Use landscaping timbers or retaining walls to create an orderly appearance. Avoid the use of chicken wire. Make the yard look like a regular yard with lots of plants, rather than an overgrown lot. Remember, this is a FRONT yard. Appearances are not everything, but they do matter to most people.

    2. Emphasize gardening techniques that require little maintenance. Few people will give up their lawn for something that requires more work, even if it helps the environment and gives them fresh vegatables.

    3. Provide ideas about how to work within city and home owner’s association laws.

  10. man with kids December 19, 2005 at 4:23 pm

    I love this idea, but where do my kids run and play?

  11. metro dweller December 18, 2005 at 9:48 pm

    What about laws against such? In metro Kansas City, an earlier version of “alternative front yard”, not mowing, rank weeds, native plants, returning woodland, finally was deemed an “Urban
    Wilderness Area”, through 12 years court battles with city.

    It’s not edible, but beautiful, clean and natural.

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