I've been in the process of renovating a late 19th century adobe house here in southern Sweden and converting the 1/2 acre property to a food forest. I've already built several large hugelculture beds, added the first 20 (many more to come) fruit/berry/nuts to those already mature plants and have been maintaining a decent garden for some desired annual veggies. Presently, after viewing Mark Shepard's (must see) video lecture, I'm contemplating making many seed balls of diverse species of beneficial plants to cast around the tree understories and all over the grass lawn, in essence to replace the lawn with a better self-maintaining ecosystem.
My question is.....
Due to the complete coverage of grass (no open bare soil), will my efforts be largely for naught or will these seeds be able to sprout from the seed balls, push out and into the thick grass mat and eventually overcome and outcompete the grass... or do I need to scratch up areas of bare soil first? I initially thought of doing a thin 'lasagne' style of newspaper/cardboard with straw and soil to help build up the humus and to suffocate the grass, but this seems too labor intensive for the entire yard while requiring me to be more specific with where I put the seed balls, as I believe I would have to punch holes through the cardboard layer to allow the desirable roots better access to deeper soil. Even walking around scratching through the thick grass mat to reveal bare spots of soil seems a bit too labor intensive, to promote 'natural processes'. Not lazy by any means, mind you, as I've many years of French bio-intensive (double-digging) gardening dirt under my fingernails with additional callouses for proof on my hands. Just getting older now, thinking more energy conservation (mine included) and yearn to be wiser!
Any actual experience/suggestions?
Just out of pure curiosity - how far south is ‘south’. I was born and raised near Malmö, myself.
I've not tried what you're describing, but I'm thinking that if you hope something will out-compete the grass you need to be sowing something very invasive. With all that could've self-seeded itself, what you're most likely to find in your greater area are (in my experience) dandelions, and plants like nettles or ground elder forcing their way in from the edges. Most things seem to need to be pretty well established, root-wise, before they can compete with grass. Based on what I've read about converting lawn into meadow, typical meadow plants may be able to be seeded into grass if the soil isn't too compact, but the grass growth will shade most things and thus stunt their early growth. So, you need to be sowing something that quickly grows taller than the grass, or which can survive being repeatedly cut down as you mow the lawn to ensure that your plants get sun.
Yeah, I also live in Skane (Bastad Kommun).
Ha Ha Ha... The dandelions are certainly a good option, however, I've already allowed the lawn to become naturalized with them and in doing so was able to bottle 34 bottles of Dandelion Wine last summer (second year in a row). Additionally, I've got nettles growing along a few of the fringes already, that we've been using for soup, compost and compost tea. Don't know if I care to have too much of that out in the open yet as it seems to be very invasive here, certainly works well against the grass though. Maybe I could allow it to become invasive, killing the grass for me, then follow up in a few years with a quick pulling of roots followed by the seed balls. That could be a possibility!
I had to do a search on 'ground-elder' to see what that was. This 'Aegopodium podagraria', would certainly outdo the grass as well, but I think it would outperform anything else as well and since their rhizomes are so difficult to remove once they're established, I think it would end up being a bigger problem than the grass. Presently, I have ground-elder growing natural in several slowly expanding locations that I'm trying to keep in check by harvesting.... for compost, prior to them blooming. They are O.K. for eating (early Spring), but we've got so many other salad type greens at that time of Spring that I rather prefer taste-wise, including the nettles. So don't really care to try promoting that one.
I think you're right that whatever goes down needs to be aggressive (more so than the grass) but apparently that may create its own problems. Don't know! I've got a number of packets of native wild meadow plants (seeds) that I scattered out last Spring onto bare ground and they did fine through the summer. I'll see how they managed to reseed themselves this Spring which will possibly give me an indication of how well they'll do here, on their own. I guess the next experiment could be scattering the seeds out into the grassy areas (via seed balls) to see if they can gain a foothold, and then based on last years seeded/reseeding results I might be able to ascertain the viability of that direction.
Thanks for the input, Emma! My family originally was from the Alsace-Lorraine area of France when they moved (1740's) to the U.S. and and now me in Sweden (2000). What area of France are you in? -----(Edited) Ooooops! I now see from your posting signature that you are in Brittany. A beautiful area of France that I have yet, but longingly wish to visit!
I can only assume its a cool weather grass, as it remains green even while freezing and our summer temps are seldom more than mid 80's (F.). Right now with three inches of fresh snow laying on top and 28 degrees F. with a wind chill factoring down to 25 degrees, it remains green underneath... possibly growing at the nanoscale, as the crocuses are already shooting up as well. My only other life experience comparison of grass types was from the drier hinterlands of Eastern Oregon, where the grass dried during the summer from heat and water deprivation and basically stayed dormant until Spring unless one applied copious amounts of scarce water onto it. Most did... and do. "The yard's gotta look nice, you know!"
Clover sounds like a good possibility, though! Don't know why I hadn't considered that, as I've known it is a good cover crop and orchard ground cover. Senility creeping in I guess.
What I don't know about clover though, is it aggressive enough to grow out of the stripped tilled areas and into the untilled grassy areas, eventually (hopefully) taking over?
Emma, your input also aided my learning of the English name equivalent to 'Aegopodium podagraria'. I knew the Swedish name (which unfortunately is spelled with some of the Swedish vowels that this forum doesn't acknowledge) for this plant, but when I Wikepedia-ed the name 'ground-elder', it described the superficial similarity of its leaves and flowers to those of the elder (Sambucus), of which I have four wonderful bushes/trees, yielding lots of syrup, cordials, jam and Autumn fodder for my avian residents. I'd never connected the similarity of these two plants before, but it is certainly clear now where the name 'ground elder' is derived. A note to any and all... as Wikipedia denotes, these plants are unrelated, except in the leaf/flower appearance.
I guess, my other option is to build that chicken tractor and buy some hens, for a labor force. Don't know if I'm ready to take care of chickens yet, but it may force my hand!
If you can add some forst soil to the holes when planting tree or put some around the established trees it would be helpful
I do pretty well on the preparation and planting of the fruit/nut trees as I've been doing that well for 30+ years with excellent results. As you mentioned, in your preparation, I generally include (at my present location) a few plants of either comfrey, yarrow, chicory or mullein within the prepared soil area of the tree when planting or prior to, depending on how prepared I am at the time. These four dynamic accumulators are found all over and seem to be native here so are easy to come by. I'll also be planting more Siberian Pea Shrub and black locust around the property to complement my large alders and large leaf-linden (great for medicine, food & sculpture wood), to assist in supplying additional Nitrogen, as well.
Tom's input of planting clover would work great in the aspect of adding Nitrogen, as you said, while supplying ground cover and choking out the remaining grass in the larger areas of the lawn, which is the area of my primary concern.
I started 3 years ago with a hay field, mostly grasses growing there.
A good one meter around each plant was prepared, taking out the grass roots, heavily mulching and planting beneficils around.
As for the places wich were not planted i let it grew and tossed beneficials.
Best decision ever.
Next year it looked totaly different.
Before it was a grassy field, now it's a mixture of grasses and other beneficials, lots too eat, lots for mulch etc.
Cardboard has contamination issues, and layering newspaper is much more labor-intensive. I've heard of tropical food foresters using palm and other large leaves, but for temperate climates, only burdock has stood out to me as a viable option--if you've got enough of it.
oh yes there is exception, think of putting your mower very low, this scalps the grass causing the roots to die back to make new top growth. Do this a few times only and the grass will be stressed and your seed balls will do much more good.
Just my opinion, I live in a different climate to you,
My wife is pushing the chicken tractor idea more than anything.... mostly to have our own eggs, methinks. ... and I guess I do like that idea as well, however, If I opt for the hens, I guess that would still require enough time for them to do the scratching-weeding-grubbing-fertilizing before I could plant anyway. That would take the better part of the summer.
I was hoping for something that would be a little quicker... but maybe I need to step back into a slower pace, unless I want to apply labor and energy to the solution. NOT!
Tal, in your second picture it appears that you've got red clover growing as well. Was that part of the beneficial seeds you tossed outside the meter radius you prepped or inside? That appears to be the way that I was imagining it would be if tossing the seed balls actually worked among the grass.
Marvin Warren wrote:Does anyone have any good alternatives to cardboard/newspaper for sheet mulching?
Weighted down old sheets, carpeting, blankets will kill what's there, then can be removed and planting and mulching will be more successful.
I've also used fast-growing annual groundcovers with good effect, sweet potatoes and winter squash/gourds. They need to be weeded a couple times over the first month but then will overtake most things.
Roxanne, aka Ecocentrix
I'm now thinking, more and more, that the chicken tractor seems to be the best, easiest (least labor-intensive) and most effective method of eliminating the thick grass in preparation for broad casting seeds and seed balls. I guess if I begin in the early Spring (if I can locate some chickens), I could have a good portion of the yard scratched up/fertilized and planted through the summer while digging in the trees during Autumn. As soon as the grass is visible (under snow now) maybe I can start taunting and yelling at it to begin stressing it...
Marvin Warren wrote:Does anyone have any good alternatives to cardboard/newspaper for sheet mulching?
Red clover was tossed everywhere. I love it! It grows well inbetween grass, you just need to leave place alone for one year after seeding so the clover roots itself well. White clover is also good for tossing into grass, lucerne is not so good. Other really good ones for tossing into grass are plants from Apiaceae family, especial wild parsnip and Heracleum sphondylium in my case. Deep tap root, amazing how many insects they atract (yes, it's true! ).
R Laurance wrote:Tal, in your second picture it appears that you've got red clover growing as well. Was that part of the beneficial seeds you tossed outside the meter radius you prepped or inside? That appears to be the way that I was imagining it would be if tossing the seed balls actually worked among the grass.
My crimson clover is reseeding well and the others Ladino, flat dutch and another white and red seem to be taking hold well in most places.
Scalping the lawn would offer an easy solution that I would quickly respond to, however from cutting the lawn in the past, my recollection is that the mower cuts at a minimum 1 cm height pretty much a fair scalp... but the grass is rooted thick enough that coupled with our damp mild climate (Gulf Stream influence) and long hours of daylight, it grows quite rapidly. We never ever have to irrigate or water lawns/gardens/crops here throughout the entire growing season because it seems to be ideal with both temps & moisture for growing. Even though I've scalped areas (at this 1 cm height) in the past, it quickly grows back within about 5 days. I really dread having to mow every couple days to keep it relatively 'scalped' and don't know if that would even stress the grass that much overall. Guess it is worth a shot, though! It's something I can try doing as soon as growing commences. Thanks.
Possibly trying to keep it relatively scalped while broadcasting and sprouting clover on it would allow the clover to at least get a foothold and from the looks of Tal's input and photos it could then take care of itself. That could indeed be favorable!
As the midwest USA, this area of Sweden is sometimes referred to as the 'breadbasket of Sweden'. Luckily a good portion of the 'traditional' (petroleum-based) farmers have been turning more to organic methods over the last decade. Also the mega-acreage farms (as in USA) seem to be basically non-existent as there remains largely an abundance of small farmers throughout the country, that continue to employ the traditional 'good' crop rotations methods... albeit with mostly cereals and a petroleum base... fertilizers, pesticides, etc.
Not sure if that would work for you or not. The chicken tractor seems viable as well but will still take a good deal of time. Good luck.
Leaves may seem like a great idea, and given dumptruck loads and another year on the calendar, would probably consider it. However, I don't live in a city where everybody rakes and neatly piles their leaves in the street where the appropriate agency is left to deal with it... which is great to personally pick up and utilize, as I did decades prior. Nor do I have extra money to shell out to purchase 'natural' products and pay for transportation (more petroleum?) to me. Out here in the country, where the wind typically blows (most of the time) at a minimum of 4 meter/sec (9 mph), there is generally very little on the ground to gather up. It ends up skirting the entire landscape lining hedgerows. Digging leaves from the tangle of brush and trees is not an easy chore, requiring more time and energy than probably just doing a sheetmulch with straw, which I did in a few places last year. A down right, real time consuming activity! What little leaves I do gather up, I continue to use to replenish organic matter on the veggie garden and in the cold frames... also I save some as additional vermicompost fodder during the deepest colder part of the winter (now) and anything left over come Springtime is relegated to summer mulching or added as brown in early compost building. Also wrong time of the year to be dealing with leaves when the temperature is 17 degrees F. above the two inches of crusted snow.
Utilizing other methods would allow this whole operation to be finished by the time leaves begin falling next Autumn, which would require additional time to smother the grass during the following Autumn/Winter/Spring before I could effectively start broadcasting seed balls. Whereas, if scalping the grass works well enough, I could have the property planted by next Autumn. Love that thought!
as for finding cardboard, probably the local recycle area has a lot that they would let you take
you can also use things like old carpeting which might be available in huge quantities from your local carpet installer? I'm not fond of using the carpet myself I'd rather have the cardboard as it does disappear where the carpet will last a lot longer and if it is bright orange or something looks really bad
Personally, changing over like that isnt really my style. My favorite is to pretty much sheet mulch each new area and simply put the grass upside down on top. I think if i had more land, i might feel different but i just like to touch each piece of land...add something to it...decide what belongs there. Funny after I turn each area, I change my mind about what to plant there. It seems like i am always in the middle of everything and the mess simply moves from here to there. I have piles of leaves on my porch now...the squirrels tore up the leaf bags i carefully rescued from the curbs...i hate to see organic matter moving away from here...its just a pleasing mess to me. No such thing as perfection just progress.
I think you have a grip on your own land over there, mark says he would do an entire property all at once if he could do it again. I can see that point of view but ultimately we look to heal both the land and the spirit, do whatever pleases you most. I push the scalping method only to inform you that this is possible and might be a simple method to open up root space for the seed balls. I cant wait to see your progress. Take before pictures
I turned the soil (shovel by shovel) in one plot (30' x 80') during late Autumn a few years ago and the following late Spring was able to break it up and take out most of the remaining live Quackgrass (Elymus repens) roots, a particularly noxious weed that is abundant in areas all over the property. Don't care to do the shovel by shovel spade trick over the rest of the property, hence the desire to go the scalping possibly 'chicken tractor' route, this time. I actually laugh at those that say Jerusalem Artichokes take over their gardens. I've never had that happen, because we eat them enough to keep them in check and have also found they dig up quite easily, as I've moved their growing location twice here already with no problems. However this quackgrass stuff is a nightmare! It almost seems as if one little cell of root remaining in the soil can grow a whole new rhizome that pops up after a couple of years, all the while I've maintained a persistent vigilance eliminating all traces. So now, after two growing seasons, that little plot I feel is (knock-on-wood) 'rhizome free'.
In another area (about 20' x 20'), I had cut the Quackgrass close to the ground and then mulched with a layer of cardboard and newspapers covered with about 18" of packed straw. That was left for two years also and then all of a sudden the whole area had quackgrass shooting out of it. Pulling the straw back and digging revealed that the heavily matted rhizomes had died back about 80-90% and the worm/microbial activity had loosened the soil so that pulling the remaining roots was quite easy. A small percentage of the roots had broke through the cardboard/paper barrier and then ran in all directions with their ropey rhizomes. I could literally start at one end of a rhizome and pull a piece 7' -8' long with 10 or 15 new plants growing vertically up off of it. It was a little easier than pulling from the soil, however the rhizomes were camouflaged, being the same color and diameter as the straw. I would have to find a fresh green-leafed end to trace back to the rhizome to begin pulling. It took a few weeks of watching for any new green growth before I felt secure in knowing that area was cleaned out. A lot of meticulous work on that small plot but at least it's clean and a healthy, lush part of the garden now.
I have a mover that collects the grass. (i don't like to collect the cutting normally, but since i started tending the garden with mulch, i went back to collecting the cuttings sometimes)
I dump the cuttings where i don't want the grass to grow in a thick layer. (Like under the raspberry) Sometimes i compact it by walking on it a bit.
If the grass is really persistent, you can put a thicker coating on it and water it a bit, this will make the cutting to compost or rot, depending on water and air amount. This also creates heat for some time which i think is perhaps cooking the plants under it.
I mulch my raspberry in a thin layer 2-3 times a year. Some weeds come through, but they are easy to pull out since the top layer of soil is essentially light compost, from the decomposing mulch. I noticed that perennials don't mind the thin mulch at all, they just come through anyway.
So if i wanted to eliminate grass i would put grass putting piles on the lawn, like 30 cm high, a meter diameter. Let it compost a month and see if the grass gives up, then put some dirt on top of it and plant the stuff i want.
Someone mentioned nettle. I would avoid it. Nettle have roots that act like rhizomes. They break when pulled, and small parts that remain can sprout. At least that is my experience. I don't like it, since it really likes around my compost pile and around the raspberry. Making harvest a _real_ pain. But now that i know that they are edible, its going to be a different story.
laura sharpe wrote:lovely brown paper can be cheap enough, never thought of it b4, likely make excellent mulch too. put under your wood chips if yu dont have enough .
what kind of store do yu find it cheapest in?
I found 3' x 1000' rolls at the local AmSan (janitorial supply) for $76. That was a bit more than I needed so I went with Amazon's 4' x 200' roll for $21. I got free shipping with Amazon Prime (thanks office job!) but it might not be as good of a deal if you have to pay shipping since it's a long heavy item.