Who ever imagined that 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, and the Food Not Lawns movement is growing on a daily basis. Lawns were originally cultivated by wealthy European nobles to show off all the land that they didn't need for growing food, but in an era of droughts, climate change, and imminent food shortages, such wastefulness isn't a trophy for the elite; it's pretty much reprehensible.
Several organizations now exist that help people transform their lawns into edible food forests, and one of those is Edible Estates. This company 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. His philosophy on lawns vs. edible gardens is as follows:
“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-man’s-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.”
For those of you who may be interested in growing food instead of grass, there are countless books and websites available to help you on your way. As a couple of examples, the Food Not Lawns book is a great start, and Paradise Lot is an ideal reference guide for those living in urban settings.
Below are just a few basic instructions on how you can transform your yard into an edible garden paradise.
What you may need:
A rented sod-cutter
A rented roto-tiller
Newspaper or other ground-cover as the base for raised beds
A truckload of compost, calculated to cover the size of the space you’re working with
Shovels, hand trowels and rakes
Friends and neighbors to help
Stakes and string
Fencing material to deter animals
Selected vegetables, herbs, and fruits as seeds, seedlings, or trees; aim for those that are best suited to your region/growing zone
A composting system
*Note: Keep in mind that you can also build raised garden beds on top of poor soil rather than digging into it. Raised beds are also easier to access as there’s less bending and kneeling needed, so they’re ideal for the elderly and those with limited mobility.
Some questions to think about when planning your edible estate:
Where is south located? Where are the shady and sunny areas?
How healthy is the earth? Does the soil test tell us that amendments are needed, or whether there are traces of lawn chemicals?
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 local grocery store or farmer’s market?
It is good to go vertical for higher yields and/or in small spaces. Do we have something on which fruits and vegetables on vines can grow?
How do you want to move through the edible estate? Where should paths go?
What kind of mulch to use? Straw, bark, compost, and leaves will retain moisture, block weeds and decompose into the soil.
Is there an area in your estate for children, pets, and adults to play and relax?
Basic instructions to create your own edible estate:
Do a soil test to see what sorts of amendments might be needed or if there are traces of lawn chemicals.
Make a plan for your “edible estate”, and mark it out with stakes, string, and tape.
Use a sod-cutter to remove existing grass, roll it up, give it away, or find a new use for it. If you do not have Bermuda grass or another type of rhizomatic lawn, you may turn over the existing turf to keep the topsoil and nitrogen-rich grass in your yard. You also can cover any lawn with a series of raised beds or mounded plantings.
On existing exposed soil, mix in a generous amount of compost, earthworm castings, manure, mushroom soil, and any combination of soil amendments that you may need or have access to.
During the first few seasons, experiment with plants, trying any edibles that are appropriate for your growing zone and establishing seeds, starts, trees, and vines according to your local planting calendar. You will gradually become aware of what does well on your land and what you like to eat. A diverse garden is a healthy garden.
Till the soil again to mix in the new compost
Mark out a plan for your edible estate with stakes and string
Plant your seedlings, starts, trees, and seeds according to the planting calendar
Water them thoroughly with a garden hose
Install an 18″ – 24″ fence to deter small local animals like rabbits or squirrels if you have problems with them
Set up compost bins and a rainwater catchment system.
It’s also important to consider how much time and energy you’d like to put into your garden. Do your research on perennial vegetables and fruits in addition to favorite annuals (like tomatoes and peppers), and encourage the whole family to get involved in selecting the edible plants they’d like to grow. Tending a garden is great for your health, and if others in your community start veggie gardens as well, you have a perfect opportunity to socialize so you can swap seeds, trade produce, and even share tips and tricks that worked best for you.
Lead image via Housely