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Decompacting soil under grass

 
Charles Tarnard
Posts: 337
Location: PDX Zone 8b 1/6th acre
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So I have a fair chunk of grass in my front yard that I am looking to repurpose, but the grass is growing on very compacted soil. If I were to seed a bunch of tillers out there would they stand a chance, or would the grass just eat them and make me feel bad about myself?

I'd prefer not to have to remove the grass because that sounds hard and I don't have the space to deal with all that sod at the moment, but I'd also prefer to have something happening by late spring.

Thanks all.
 
John Elliott
pollinator
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Chicory and dandelions are good tillers that compete well with grass. If you want to try some different chicories, send me a PM with your address and I will send you some seed. I let a lot of it go to seed this year and I have plenty to give away.
 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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A couple of mechanical ways: digging a fork in as deep as you can and levering the soil up-
not actually digging it, just loosening and allowing oxygen in.
This is hard work and I suggest only doing it when the ground's been softened by recent rainfall. (But not if it's sodden)
How about a working bee? Mark the lawn into areas to be aerated, lure a bunch of workers with promises of food and drink...
Definitely not a 'small and slow solution', but you can also hire a small machine called a 'lawn aerator'.
You need one that actually punches out cores of soil, not just poke holes which make the compaction worse.
 
Charles Tarnard
Posts: 337
Location: PDX Zone 8b 1/6th acre
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John Elliott wrote:Chicory and dandelions are good tillers that compete well with grass. If you want to try some different chicories, send me a PM with your address and I will send you some seed. I let a lot of it go to seed this year and I have plenty to give away.


PM'd about the Chicory. Thank you. I'm trying to keep the airborne seed weeds down to keep the frowny faces off the neighbors. While I don't pull very many dandelions, I don't really want to encourage their spread, either. I'll probably combine chicory in a few places with digging up some grass and dropping artichokes and radishes and the like in others.

Leila Rich wrote:A couple of mechanical ways: digging a fork in as deep as you can and levering the soil up-
not actually digging it, just loosening and allowing oxygen in.
This is hard work and I suggest only doing it when the ground's been softened by recent rainfall. (But not if it's sodden)
How about a working bee? Mark the lawn into areas to be aerated, lure a bunch of workers with promises of food and drink...


Leila, thanks for the suggestion, but that sounds like it will suck just as bad as removing the grass . I'll probably try some combination of a few things in places and see what works and what doesn't. If all else fails, I'll resort to machinery to remove the sod and throw some quality soil / mulch in there with some taproot mixtures. Regarding the work party, if you can fenegel that pseudo-link in my sig to my blog, you can see why a work party is... awkward.

Getting this stuff set up is a lot of work, sheesh .

Thank you both.
 
Giselle Burningham
Posts: 92
Location: Australia, Now zone 10a, costal, sandy, windy and temperate.
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Why not do the easiest way... Put cardboard down,it will kill the grass... then put any compost you have on top, then top with straw or grass clippings then sprinkle a fertiliser on top ie chicken manure then water in. I did this on building rubble that needed a crowbar to get through. Two years later the ground is full of black soil and worms and great looking broad beans. You don't have to do this all in one go.. Do a yard square as a time.. It looks tidier. You can do it slowly and the neighbours keep smiling.... Ask for their grass clippings.. It will all add up. Giselle
 
Giselle Burningham
Posts: 92
Location: Australia, Now zone 10a, costal, sandy, windy and temperate.
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books chicken dog food preservation goat trees
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I did this in my front yard.. In a snobby street where flowers are the rule.... After doing the above: When you want to plant, create a small hole.. Do Not go through the cardboard, then fill the hole with a purchased potting mix - put in seed, re cover lightly with 1/2 inch of straw. I found I kept forgetting to water so I use a weeping hose on a timer 3 times a week in summer.. My results have got the neighbours doing the same thing, last year I had so many pumpkins half the neighbourhood got them as a thank you. I am sure at first they thought I was nuts. Lol. Giselle
 
Angelika Maier
Posts: 771
Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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Either you do the cardboard thing. But you must be prepared to gather together a lot of organic matter beforehand. or spend a lot of money buying stuff. That only does work to an extend. If your soil is too compacted then you must somehow loosen it and it is hard work , whereas the cardboard thing is leisurely and done in a weekend the whole front yard at once. In theory plants do loosen the soil but in practice this takes a long time, depending on your soil. I tried the huegelculture method on really compacted soil and it did not touch the soil underneath.
Or you get rid of the grass, and borrow a rototiller.
 
Charles Tarnard
Posts: 337
Location: PDX Zone 8b 1/6th acre
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I've done the sheet mulching in parts of my yard and there will be more done when I arrange to get some mulch brought in, but the tricky part for me is our parking strip. I don't want to raise the soil there. It's hard enough to keep stuff that's there from spilling out into the sidewalk at the level it is now, and it will be more so if I throw enough organic material to properly sheet mulch over the top of it.

You guys have sparked some other ideas that I might be able to make work, and I may be able to shape some of my contours on some other projects with sod that I pull for this one.

In the end, it's probably going to come down to 'use more spine, lazy man' but I was hoping I could avoid that by trying to find something that could out-compete the grass.

Thank you again.
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1424
Location: Central New Jersey
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Charles, using a broadfork, or just a spading fork, to loosen the soil as described by Leila, is nowhere near as much work as removing the sod.

It is more work than tossing a cupful of daikon seeds around and hoping they succeed, but it also gets the job done, today, with certainty - rather than in a few weeks to months, if the daikon is successful.

Personally, I choose the direct mechanical approach. Doing this to a 4x30 or so bed, currently covered in what passes for lawn in my yard, was done in under an hour of pretty casual labor.
 
K Nelfson
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Using a shovel and fork on a small area isn't too hard. I'd encourage you to get your hands a bit dirty and fix this issue quickly. I think all ag/permiculture requires a good attitude toward manual labor. And you won't have to go to the gym on the day you dig.
 
Charles Tarnard
Posts: 337
Location: PDX Zone 8b 1/6th acre
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Make no mistake, I'm not afraid of manual labor. I spent all of last summer rearranging dirt in a variety of ways to create a new hugelbed and totally level my backyard, making it a place where my kids could play. I ate more and lost weight, too .

I am worried about the time it will take to get some of this stuff taken care of. Most of the work I did this summer was hauling dirt around and separating it from sod. It was good work, and necessary work, since the back yard was so overgrown and unsuitable for running on, but slow. I'd like to let nature start this job for me while I figure out ways to get water to places that are staying pretty dry. The description of forking sounded really time consuming with dubious benefit. In my soil I'm lucky if I can get a shovel 4 inches into the ground, and I imagine that difficulty will translate to a fork.

Having people reassure me that the fork isn't too bad a way to go, I'll probably give that a shot. I don't have any kind of fork now, so I'll have to acquire one to do that. For me it's all about figuring out where to put my resources and get the most done. I played the lazy card in previous posts, but there is more to it than that. I'll probably get after it with a fork in some of it, and maybe dig some sod out in other places. Maybe I can use that sod to reshape my landscape and get some water flowing to places that it currently doesn't. If I go with removing sod on the whole parking strip, I don't expect to get much else done, and there's lots to do.

I do appreciate the input. If it sounds like I don't want your advice unless it means I can get results with no work, that isn't my intention. Some of your posts have inspired some ideas that are hybrids of suggestions above that I may be able to make work. Of course no meaningful work will get done until my kids' soccer season is over :banghead: . Soon.

Thank you.
 
Charles Tarnard
Posts: 337
Location: PDX Zone 8b 1/6th acre
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Update:

So as it turns out, earthworms did a bunch of work for me while I was paying attention to other things (sweet!). My previously impenetrable soil has been a treat to dig in this winter/ spring, save for rocks and roots. Every shovel full is teeming with earthworms. I feel bad for all the damage I'm doing to them, but I expect the survivors will be even happier when I'm done.

Thanks everyone.
 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
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