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best way to replace a large amount of lawn (1+ acres) - till/disc? attempt to sheet mulch?  RSS feed

 
Janet Dowell
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Location: Kennewick, WA
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I have the 4-DVD set and have so enjoyed watching them, and have learned so much. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us!

We live in a semi-rural/suburban neighborhood where each house has a large lot (1-3 acres). Everyone has lawn/grass on their very large lot (including us, currently, although ours is dying through lack of fertilization and attention). We will be replacing our grass with a food forest and goat browse (we plan on adding Nigerian dwarf goats soon), and I"m really stuck on how to get rid of this much grass. When I ask other permaculturists, I hear a lot about not tilling/discing because of how horrible it is for the soil (and I know this). Yet I it's difficult to fathom trying to sheet mulch even 1/2 acre at a time, especially given that our small town does not have any central composting or wood mulching services, so I would have to contact individual businesses to try and get materials.

We also would like to get the food forest completely planted over the next two years (we have 1.3 acres), and don't necessarily want to take 5-6 years (or longer) of sheet mulching a strip at a time. My husband has a farmer friend with a disc/plow - his thought is to have the grass plowed under twice, about three weeks apart, and then to plant soil-building cover crops that we can chop=and=drop. I'm not so sure.

We do have access to help (an additional two bodies besides my husband and myself) . The soil is typical for grass lots - fairly compacted, no crumb structure, etc.

What do you advise for people who are looking to replace large amounts of grass?
 
Matt Baker
Posts: 45
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Tilling several times will kill most of the grass, depending on what types you have, but you will lose organic matter each time you till. I would only till as much ground as you can plant. What about hugelkultur beds? This is a form of tillage but happens only once; this method would bury all your grass under ground. It could be done with a machine in a days or with people in weeks. Importing large amount of organic matter might be worth it if you have cheap access to them. But this can also bring in unknown chemicals which are hard to get rid of. With patience organic matter can grown own on site.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
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Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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If I were planting a food forest on a grassy area I would try to do it as it is described in the PRI DVD "Establishing a Food Forest" where they install swales, then plant trees and lots of support plants. They also do it by running chickens over the grass to till it, then plant trees and seeds in the prepared area. They work along in patches over the course of years, not all at once.

 
Cris Bessette
gardener
Posts: 801
Location: North Georgia / Appalachian mountains , Zone 7A
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I'm currently "replacing" about 1/2 acre of lawn more or less through natural succession, otherwise known as "let the weeds grow".

For the last few years I have basically stopped mowing those areas and let "mother nature" pick from its own arsenal of colonizers.
In the winter I go through and cut out things I don't want- pine trees for the most part.
These areas have already reverted to wild flowers, tall grasses, and baby trees.

Lots of good organic material is building up. The only real contributions I have made to get the process going is to dig a few swales in drier areas.

I guess my approach of using nature to do most of the work for me might be a bit slower than purposely introducing species, or radical earth moving, but it is born of lack of money and time. Besides, isn't permaculture about mimicking nature to some extent?
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5722
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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We are doing something similar to Cris. We only mow wide paths through the area and let everything else grow up including some more persimmons, self heal, passion flower vine, goldenrod, asters and others we have not identified.. I have started mulching out (wire rings full of leaves) islands for more fruit tree guilds. It was so dry this summer that the mowed parts of the yard were practically bare dirt, but the areas I had left unmowed had a nice layer of fallen grasses . I also sow crimson clover which will reseed and ladino clover and a little buckwheat just to keep the ground covered. We are in our rainy season now so anything I plant pops right up. For us anything but bermuda grass is welcome.
 
Cris Bessette
gardener
Posts: 801
Location: North Georgia / Appalachian mountains , Zone 7A
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Judith: I am also having native persimmon trees come up, also blackberries, native blueberries, etc.
I am also getting a lot of plants I can't identify, but they seem to be filling roles of colonizer plants-
breaking up hard soil, adding nutrients, organic materials,etc.

I tried growing a vegetable garden in this particular area for a few years, but I knew there was something
wrong because of the severe lack of earthworms, and spots where even grass wouldn't grow.

Once I got out of the way and let nature take over, these areas are looking healthier than they ever have.
Even hard baked, bare clay is growing 7 foot tall woody weeds that I can chop and drop this winter.



 
greg patrick
Posts: 168
Location: SoCal, USDA Zone 10b
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My lot is much smaller but here's what we did. We got the trees in and mulched around them first. They need the most time to get going so we didn't spend time worrying about the lawn at first. Over time the trees leaves covered up the grass and it just went away. As we got time to cultivate the other bits and pieces, we just covered those sections with cardboard or newspaper, piled on some chips and wood and manure and soil and planted them. A few years later we simply had no more lawn in the back yard and I never spent a single moment making 'lawn eradication' a goal. And it was 'devil bermuda grass' too. Completely gone now. I'm currently doing the same thing in my front yard. I've planted trees on mulched raised rows. I'm putting raised beds between the 3m rows. The area between trees is currently grass, but a month from now they'll be raised hugelbeds. The only time we dig the earth is to swale or plant trees.

Also think about erosion. Grass is great for keeping your soil put until you get something better over it. How about planting an annual N-fixing cover crop green mulch? Since it's taller the cover crop will out compete the grass, then you can just mow it and leave it. Done.
 
Dennis Mitchell
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Ok What 4 dvd set?
 
Jason Jamora
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Hey guys, I'm trying to do the same thing with my lawn too. I was just wondering what you guys do about the green plastic netting that is below the grass layer? Do you leave it in while you amend and sheet mulch over it?
 
Cris Bessette
gardener
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Location: North Georgia / Appalachian mountains , Zone 7A
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Jason Jamora wrote:Hey guys, I'm trying to do the same thing with my lawn too. I was just wondering what you guys do about the green plastic netting that is below the grass layer? Do you leave it in while you amend and sheet mulch over it?



wow, learn something new everyday. Never heard of this netting stuff, I guess its one of those "instant landscaping" techniques.

I personally would not want any plastic under my plants, but it might be pretty hard to get that stuff out.
Seems like to me it would bind roots of larger bushes, trees and cut off circulation .
 
greg patrick
Posts: 168
Location: SoCal, USDA Zone 10b
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Jason Jamora wrote: I was just wondering what you guys do about the green plastic netting that is below the grass layer? Do you leave it in while you amend and sheet mulch over it?


The netting comes in sod and holds the rolls together. We have a little sod at our ranch and I trip over the netting daily. I hate the stuff. Since I'm not about to dig out an entire lawn just to get at it, so I trim it off as pieces get exposed.
 
Jason Jamora
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Cris Bessette wrote:
Jason Jamora wrote:Hey guys, I'm trying to do the same thing with my lawn too. I was just wondering what you guys do about the green plastic netting that is below the grass layer? Do you leave it in while you amend and sheet mulch over it?



wow, learn something new everyday. Never heard of this netting stuff, I guess its one of those "instant landscaping" techniques.

I personally would not want any plastic under my plants, but it might be pretty hard to get that stuff out.
Seems like to me it would bind roots of larger bushes, trees and cut off circulation .


Hey Cris, great points. I think I'm going to just bite the bullet and remove all the netting by hand. I found some articles online about the sod mesh choking some root crops like carrots and potatoes. Plus, the idea of plastic in my soil doesn't sit very well with me.
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5722
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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Jason Jamora wrote:Hey guys, I'm trying to do the same thing with my lawn too. I was just wondering what you guys do about the green plastic netting that is below the grass layer? Do you leave it in while you amend and sheet mulch over it?


No green plastic netting in this yard...I should say we only mowed it, never seeded or put down sod, so it was really never lawn grasses just green things that we are now letting grow. Removing the plastic sounds like a tedious job but worth it to get the stuff out of your soil.
 
Matt Baker
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A few years later we simply had no more lawn in the back yard and I never spent a single moment making 'lawn eradication' a goal


I like this strategy. Sounds similar to something I read in gaia's garden called the "net and pan" method. The site was first planted with trees into deptessions or 'pans'. Then the trees were mulched; the grass between the trees was mowed and the clippings were scattered around the trees. Swales were dug in a 'net' pattern connecting all the trees. In that scenario the grass was ignored and basically went away as the mulch circles around the trees grew bigger.

I also hate the green netting. Maybe if you keep building soil over the years it will become buried under rich soil. I suppose you could scrape up all the sod and bury it in hugelkultur beds.

 
Richard Nurac
Posts: 52
Location: north Georgia
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I am in a pitched battle with Bermuda grass. The site is 50 miles north of Atlanta and receives full day sun exposure which Bermuda grass loves so it is a powerful adversary. In one area which is about 60ft by 10ft I have pinned 0.6mm heavy duty black plastic sheeting and will examine the results in a few weeks time - not overly optimistic. But I bit the bullet and for a 100ft by 8ft area, where I want to establish my strawberry plantings as quickly as possible so they can benefit from the good growing weather, I manually forked and pulled out the Bermuda grass strands. Has taken forever but now completed. I am using black edging on the perimeter and will keep a vigilant eye for any intruders or hidden pieces resurfacing. I tried rototilling the ground (despite hardpan concerns) and the grass just snared the tines. My previous strategy was to let my plantings outcompete the Bermuda grass but the berries (black- and rasp- and blue-) are shallow rooted and it was beyond them. Even my fruit trees are prone to sneak attacks.
 
Taylor Maxson
Posts: 9
Location: Asheville, NC
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Janet,

We have a similar sized property here in Western North Carolina, with almost 3/4 of an acre of lawn in full sun. Our soil is similarly nutrient and organics poor, and heavy clay to boot. Others' suggestions about letting natural succession take place is good advice, provided you have the time and patience to spare.

I wanted to start getting rid of our grass sooner, so I tried clear plastic, starting in 1000 sq ft sections, which I used to solarize the grass in the spring and summer. I found that in our relatively hot summers, I could easily weaken the grass enough in about a month and then lightly till the soil with a walk-behind tiller. I also mixed in lime and soft rock phosphate, which are often badly needed in our mountain region. I over-seeded directly into the rotting grass and roots with winter rye and vetch/clover, then mulched the sections with straw and/or leaves, and got great germination. I wanted a less fossil-fuel intensive plan (lots of plastic and a small machine in this case), but sometimes a small initial investment of fossil fuels is worth the long-term returns in soil building and animal forage we'll get from these cover-cropped areas. Solarizing does knock back soil microbes, but mulch, aggregating organic matter, chicken poop, biochar (which I'll let our chicken scratch in when we start rotating them into the cover crops) and ultimately time will help the soil life rebound.

It may well be worth your while to use the initial investment from the tractor/tiller offer you've got to get a cover crop established. Or you could do smaller areas like I have. Or you could just start spreading cover crop seed in the winter, and letting it begin to out compete the grass over time. I'll say this much: the rye/vetch combo I laid down has almost totally outcompeted the extant lawn grass that was here.

Which ever way you go, good luck.

Taylor

 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5722
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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I also used clear plastic, two layers for three months, over my bermuda patch that took advantage when my back was turned and because I accidently watered it this summer. The solarization at least killed back the green part...I am sure the roots will lurk until spring...but I am hoping the ladino clover, crimson clover and rye grass that are up now in the space will win in the end. No till.
 
Taylor Maxson
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Location: Asheville, NC
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Another point: tilling mindlessly for no reason other than to bomb the soil with fertilizer and compress your soil with a tractor is one (bad) thing. But I believe in some cases, the cost/benefit weighs in on the side of tilling. My soil was already relatively lifeless and inert from years of leaching and erosion. The humus content in some places is 1/2 of 1%. Not exactly a thriving cornucopia of soil life. So tilling a bit in the interest of establishing a top-down, cut and drop cover cropping and mulching system, and then animal rotations, seems well worth breaking up the top layer of soil initially (in our case, only about 3-6" depth of tilling). We'll never do it again, and everything will now build upwards, and we've got what we want growing there. As a permaculturist I wouldn't say "never do it." Just "pay mind to why and when you do it."

 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5722
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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We are not dogmatic about other folks tilling...we tend to stay away from power tools in general because we are not very good at maintaining them and we love and generally prefer hand tools both for growing food and our craft work. We have a push mower and a chainsaw now...before we used goats and cross cut and buck saws. Our no till position has nothing to do with permaculture principles...it is because we are very hands on and really, really slow to prepare more planting areas and at sixty two not too likely to speed up. I have to say though I love my broadfork. It just lifts the soil a little, aerates nicely, doesnt mix the layers, I even use it around some plantings. Doesnt work until you get the rocks out though and not helpful with hugel.
 
Aaron McCarty
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So what is the deal with black plastic anyways? Clear plastic will allow the radiation through correct? I understand black plastic will get hotter. So is it just a choice between higher temperatures or more radiation?

Taylor, glad to hear that your solarized plot worked out after seeing that little bit of green grass coming back after you removed the plastic.

I'm dealing with the crab grass problem myself. It's even growing in a cypress mulch pile that was left over this summer. Cardboard sheet mulching was no obstacle for the grass, it just grew up through the cardboard. I think it's because of the amount of rain we got here this year in upstate SC. It accelerated the rate of decomposition of the cardboard allowing the grass to survive. So frustrating.

My garden beds were compacted clay soil with crab grass growing when I started. I tilled in horse poo with a weed eater "cultivator" attachment and planted my annuals in that. Worked great, all of my annuals grew well, but by the end of the season the beds were just covered in grass. I'm too lazy to weed, and anyways trying to fight crab grass by pulling is more hopeless than kicking water uphill. I think I've concluded, after reading this thread (amongst other threads on this forum) that I'm just going to concentrate on fruit trees and perennials and stop trying to grow annuals in beds. This next season I think I'll just plant annuals in a few hugel beds, and maybe some containers. I'm very interested in using my chickens to build soil via the rotational paddock method. I have a coop (10X10 chain link dog kennel) and a circular run (2X4's placed in the earth via phd and tamping with the green garden fencing zip tied to the 2X4's). Think I'm gonna move the coop in the spring and plant annuals in it's place on top of a couple of hugel beds.

I think the important growth here for me is getting out of the planting annuals in beds mentality. This is where permaculture has moved me forward. Planting annuals in beds is great...better than nothing, but it's not going to feed you when the trucks stop restocking the box store shelves.

I think that's what I like so much about the idea of just planting food producing trees and letting them kill the grass. Hugel doesn't care about grass either (although I can picture crab grass invading a hugel bed). That's the intelligence I love about permaculture. Work smarter not harder. It's all about energy conservation isn't it? Yet somehow permaculture helped me lose 50 pounds.
 
Paul Cereghino
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Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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Black plastic, the plastic gets hot--clear plastic, the soil under the plastic gets hot. I use a woven weed fabric I scavenged from a construction site... can use it over and over and over again. I have found that in my climate it takes 1-2 years to kill strong rhizomatous plants.

I am a big fan of tillage as a VERY useful tool. I believe that soil and the organisms that live in it are more resilient that we give credit, and that a good seed bed is very useful starting point but only if you have lots of seed. I have concluded that seed production, along with a nursery (or a good day job so you can buy it all in!) is one of the important yr1-3 activities if you are working at a suburban scale.

I expect all the variation has to do with three variables, 1) what you've got and 2) where you are going, and 3) how fast. Getting set up for animal tillage is A LOT more work than borrowing a tractor, unless you were already going that way. Next food forest I do, I am going to control ground vegetation, and then sow in my groundcover as a mix of clover, lupine, and self-sowing species. That is because I have rhizomatous grasses that will dominate my understory, and so I loose diversity in ground vegetation.

I have found chicken tractoring alone to produce an unsatisfactory seed bed unless you add mulch. I would like to learn more about pigs, because they are temporary as long as you are willing to slaughter, and likely leave a better seed bed.

I'd agree that you want to at least roughly plan out your topography and water management before tillage, earthwork, or extensive planting.
 
Aaron McCarty
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I found out on another thread that I started here that what I have is Bermuda grass, not crab grass. Crab grass doesn't hold a flame to Bermuda. It's a different battle entirely.
 
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