I have too many lawns and would like to get rid of one of the smaller ones, eventually turning the area into raised beds. My question to you is what is the best way to eliminate the grass without rototilling? I don't care to disturb all of the beneficial things in the soil, which I believe rototilling may do.
If you can use chickens in small areas. Really small - like six chooks iin 3 feet by 10'. They'll massacre the lawn in such an enclosure in a week or two. And folk will thhink you are cruel for keeping them in such a small space.
After chooks .... that is both after the chooks have been there AND if you can't use chooks - in both instances USE CARDBOARD. - LOTS of it - as many layers as you can. wetted and covered with ANYTHING that rots down and looks ok. to me leaves are about the easiest and the more you walk on them the better as they crunch down to tiny bits that rot quickly - but of course a mix of stuff is best, including any excreta from whatever source. One caution, even half an inch of lawn clippings on their is too much. They make a waterproof layer, mixed with other stuff fine - but not piled on their own - they exclude air so take forever to break down. Great as mulch around established trees etc where you want to exclude stuff, but not in a mulch bed garden.
Consider starting stuff in newspaper pots. A pound or two of clay (if you don't have any buy some modelling clay - its cheap) that you make into a slurry and then dip 2 or 3 newspaper sheets torn to about 25cm (8inches) strips in before rolling around the bottom of a wine bottle up to the shoulders gives you a fine deepish pot that works fine. Roll clay side outwards or the bottle will rip the paper coming out.
If you are really into it add a heap of chicken or cow manure to your clay slurry - or even use 100% paste of manure on a couple of layers of newspaper. Frankly ANYTHING works. Even plain newspaper. They dry quickly and hold their shape well. fill them with the best soil you can find - frankly any rubbish works. If its truly rubbish you might want to buy some dried sheep / or chicken manure - I used old dried powdered (by their feet) pid manure. in any case add some OLD manure. Plant 2 or seeds of anything, Daikon radish is good, mongrel climbing beans also - I used snake beans - they seem to always fire - but a mix of stuff is best - aim for stuff that makes a lot of green stuff and don't expect ANY thing edible at first - your object is to make a garden easily. buy the cheapest cause you wont get any results anyway.
You must keep it all damp to attract the little bugs you need. Mind you the first 2 years you only get BAD bugs - after you have cried over aphid and other disasters, you'll start seeing ladybirds and other bug predators start to appear.
I made a garden in ROCK HARD rubbish ground doing just the cardboard thing. I used rice straw and whatever tiny bit of top soil and partly rotted rubbish a tractor with a blade that prepared our Thai building site pushed up into a heap. My layer was 18 inches thick - it was gone in a year. You just continually plant and cut down and bring in organic rubbish. The pots are fun, Dont worry about weeds and weed seeds - they will not be a problem as they can't germinate in the mulch and will just rot. PS: water your lawn first - the grass will rot and be food for first level microbes.
Keep collecting and dumping organic stuff on and around your pots. IDEA: Seeds germinate with just warmth and dampness - so start your seeds about 2 weeks before you plan to cut down your previous "crop" Yes in these pots - or just press them into the now rotting mulch and water a little every couple of days.
Could you just cut the sod up and move it? I have been watching a lot on those hugelkultur videos and what not, and if you had the room to put one of those in say in a keyhole fashion, you could use the sod as part of it. That way you would get a nice raised keyhole planting bed and put the grass to use immediately. I don't know the size of the yard you are wanting to convert, but that was just the first thing that came to my mind. Also, in case he peeks in to answer on this question as well, welcome Michael Judd.
I have planted several of my raised beds directly onto the grass. I use the lasagne method and it worked great for me! If I'm lazy I just put down the newspaper, cover it with my mixture of soil and compost, mulch with straw and start planting. Works every time and no weeds. Sometimes I get grass that pokes up around the edges but it's always easy to pull up, especially if it has just rained.
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What type of grass are you working with? If it is Bermuda I would take a different course than other grasses. At least around here it seems like covering Bermuda with sheet mulch will only partially kill it, and the half alive parts around the edges will maintain contact with the grass that is not covered and eventually start shooting out stolons and mess with your plants. Best method I have found is cutting the sod and tearing out as many stems as I can find,if you kind of sift through the soil you can save a lot of the top soil and cut the amount of grass you will have sprouting in your bed.
That said why go through all the work when chickens WANT to do it for you?
I'm with those who suggest carboard and mulch. We've done this with great success at home. One or two thick layers of cardboard, then 6 inches of woodchips on top. I've planted transplants through into the soil within a couple of weeks of mulching and they ahve taken well. Any grass that tries to restablish wiill not be able to get a good root hold in the loose woodchip and cna be really easily hand pulled. Same goes for runners of that bermuda grass - rake through and you will be able to pull out great lengths of it. Make sure you beat the grass before planting your crops though, or they will get tangled up horribly.
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Comfrey seems to be the permie miracle plant. Has anyone tried replacing lawn with a bed of comfrey? I'm wondering if it was planted directly into the lawn would it overtake the area and eventually eliminate the lawn? Then, plant some fruit or citrus among the comfrey as a guild pairing? Thoughts?
Dealing with a mixed lawn with areas of fescue/bluegrass, bermuda and st augustine - I've tried a few different things and found that none of them was totally effective by itself but any 2 of them in combination worked great:
1. Digging out the sod to a depth of 2 1/2 inches is the most effective, but also the most work. And on bermuda, unless you get every scrap of the stolons, you can still end up with some regrowth.
2. Cardboard and mulch works extremely well on the fescue/bluegrass, pretty well on the st augustine, and moderately on the bermuda. What does grow through can be managed easily because it can't establish too well in the mulch as others have said. But you have to keep an eye on it for a couple years.
3. Cooking it with sheet plastic in the hot sun works to really kill off the roots. Wet down an area very thoroughly, cover it with a clear painters tarp or other continuous plastic (can't have any tears or seams), seal the edges with dirt or boards - make sure it's sealed to keep the heat in - and let the sun bake it for a few days. (Obviously, effectiveness depends on climate, season, and weather.) The moisture you added heats up and penetrates to the roots. Still not always 100% effective, but works pretty well.
I would combine either the digging or the cooking method with cardboard/mulch, and you should have little to no problems. Also keep in mind that grasses need sun, so creating a dense polyculture will help mitigate this long term.
Some of the other comments are interesting, too, but I can't comment because I have no experience with them.
This summer I ordered in a bunch of finished yard debris compost from a local recycler. About a foot or two of the load landed in a patch of my grass. The heat (I presume) from the compost killed my grass where it was exposed. I am going to try this for a big patch of grass in the next week. I have a section of yard where I'm going to put in around a foot deep of compost. When it gets close to planting time I'll thin the layer of compost and spread it around my yard. I'll report my results.
I've noticed a similar effect when we have shredded hedge clippings from our laurel. It heats up within 24 hours and in a spot where it sat for just a couple of days it killed off the grass beneath. Hard to get sufficient quantity of hot material to make this work on a large scale though.
Moderator, Treatment Free Beekeepers group on Facebook.
If you need the sod some where else then use a spade edge the section you want to get rig of and cut out squares to move where you want it. If you do not want to use it you can do the same and just turn it all over, doing it this way is not to hard just takes some time till you get the hang of how big to make the chunks.
Another option it to cut it as short as possible then turn the edges over or stack the turned over grass on the next row and fill in the center with heavy wood chips and dirt.
Bermuda grass is a PIA I fully turned over one area let it sit for a day in the sun then broke up the dirt added branches wood chips then dirt and more wood chips by the end of the summer some of the grass had made it from the bottom all the way to pop out of the top. If i would have waited a few more days and turned it over by hand 1-2 more times it would have prevented that.
Check out the journey on creating a forest garden and living in an urban homestead at My Ky Homestead it's a work in progress.
In all of the gardens I've started out here on the north Oregon coast there is this crazy pasture grass that has seeded everywhere....cheat grass, my gardener friend calls it. We seemed to have pretty good luck just covering the stuff with cardboard and mulching the bejesus out of it. Or laying down cardboard and a thick layer of wood chips or chop and drop the first season.
There are "purists" out there that insist every last bit of that grass must be pulled before the cardboard is laid down and mulch applied to be successful. That adds up to a ton of extra work which I'd rather not do unless I have to.
I'm not seeing much difference between the two methods in the end result....after a season the seeds from the grass growing all over other parts of the land seeds onto it all anyway and we end up pulling grass out every season.
We could cut the grassy hillside outside the 1/3 acre garden.... before the seed matures BUT we've been collecting pink fawn lily seeds and selling them and they don't mature until the grass has matured and seeded.
"Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?" --The Matrix
Anyone have any experience with perennial Rye grass? <shakinghead> My dad planted it in the pasture as a ground cover, and BOY, did it!!! Once it's established it has HUGE root systems, and chokes out most everything else. It also reseeds freely, and invades things like my asparagus patch. grrrrrr Since i am old and crippled up, digging it out is wayyyyyyyy much work for this old bod. Will the cardboard, mulch thing work for something so tenacious?
I am another one of those living in the middle of an old cow pasture and trying to turn it into something more productive. The quackgrass / cheat grass, thistles, & morning glory are killing me! I hate black plastic, but I left a big roll of it in a spot in the orchard for over a year and the quackgrass & morning glory STILL survived! I have tried dense plantings of groundcovers, only to have the grass creep in & choke them out. I have tried layers of cardboard covered with wood chips, and the grass still grows. I have dumped junk mail in a pile & covered them up with whatever mulch I had around, and I have to say, phone books were pretty effective - but the rest, not so much. I have come around to thinking I don't like the plastic, the cardboard, newspaper, or junk mail because of glues, colors, staples, strips of tape & cellophane that I either don't get completely removed or that are in the thing itself. I have gone back to deeper applications of natural mulches (depth might be the key??). I bought a scythe and have been cutting what grasses (hay) I can & also apply wood chips. It's never enough, so I am focusing on building circles around the trees and shrubs, around which I concentrate the plantings. I hope to do a better job of "edging" around these crop circles, thinking maybe that will help stop root growth from the outside. Eventually it will all improve! I keep thinking if I improve the fungal communities in the soil, maybe the grass will just "leave." But the seeds blow in from every pasture surrounding us, so unlikely! And here in the Pacific Northwest, winter is not cold enough to set them back - the weeds never sleep!
To Michael Judd: I sure would love to win a copy of your book! Thank you so much for joining in on the forum! I will be watching for ideas & suggestions on how to battle the lawn creep and the best way to convert lawn to edibles!
Agropyron repens ( Elymus pyron) , AKA cheat grass, couch/cooch grass, twitch grass, quack grass, quick grass, etc - my old nemesis! All of you who are struggling with this species have my deepest sympathy. Nothing I know of that is not a horrible toxin kills it but long term deep shade/light exclusion over a very large area ( the 8 feet or of edge will be invaded by rhizomes).
I am pasting in here my comments on this plant from March, 2013 under the thread " Couch/cooch on site where wanting to plant a food forest - any guidance appreciated"
We call it twitch grass or quackgrass around here, but it's the same thing-- very difficult to get rid of.
At my son's end of the farm, the soil is a sandy loam. He is able to get rid of Agropyron repens in a small area such as a veggie bed with a relatively modest effort of pulling and heavy mulching.
At my end of the farm, the soil is a heavy clay loam with a bad hardpan down 1 or 2 feet- the result of generations of abusive traditional farming practices,most notably plowing. Twitch grass brings out my inner Klingon and I consider it a "worthy opponent". Apparently, A repens just loves heavy clay with a hardpan, so much so, many authors call an invasion of it an indicator of this soil type.
My battles with this species are many, but the only truly effective methods for removal that I have found all include light exclusion.
1. Heavy cardboard (or plywood, 1 inch thick layers of newspaper, etc) - 4 to 6 layers deeply overlapped. A repens can send runners out for 3 or 4 feet looking for light - they can easily sneak between gaps in cardboard placement. This cover has to stay in place for at least 1 year with no gaps appearing. I have found minimal coverage of the cardboard with mulch- just enough to keep it in place- is best because then it doesn't decompose as quickly as is more likely to last long enough.
It is best to do fairly large areas at a time - remember the very long runners that will be sent out. I have covered smaller areas of around 10 square feet for over a year only to uncover them to disclose a teeming, seething mass of very healthy A repens roots (and nothing else), which were found to be connected to happily photosynthesizing leaves 4 feet away on the edge of the mulched patch.
2. Plant tees that will cast deep shade. Slow, but effective in the long run.
3. Solid poured concrete, such as a patio - not gravel or concrete patio squares. I have seen A repens appear in the middle (over 10 feet from any edge) of a professionally built gravel parking lot in town.
Things that have not worked for me
1.Tillage - this is like trying to get rid of comfrey by tillage, the opposite happens, you propagate more of them and they laugh at you.
2.Pulling/digging up all the roots one can find, then keeping all resprouting leaves to less than 4 inches tall by pulling them out when they appear. I read this one in a book, which claimed that at less than 4 in tall, they weren't contributing to the plants' reserves, thus one could eventually weaken the plants and they would die. NOT.
3. Pouring boiling vinegar over them. Obviously I had my desperate moments.
4. Planting buckwheat thickly to smother them out. A repens is allelopathic. Even with a light cultivation to form a seed bed, hardly any buckwheat sprouted ( and I had sowed the seed so thickly the ground was barely visible and I kept it well watered) and what did sprout never grew more than 4 in tall and stayed a sickly pale colour.
I am going to continue to experiment with smother crops this spring. I have a patch of twitch grass covered up with cardboard since last fall which I will uncover in late spring and plant thickly with buckwheat. Hopefully this will give the buckwheat a bit of a headstart. The theory is that buckwheat grows so thickly that it excludes light. I will sow rye into the late maturing buckwheat and allow the rye to stay in place for a couple of years. This should also help the hardpan issue. I have had old timers warn me though that getting rid of the rye may be a problem in itself.
I think that a goat enclosure around a patch of A repens should work as well, since goats will eat everything down to bare dirt if not rotated frequently. I would like to try other livestock experiments as well ( sheep, pigs, chickens), but am not living full time on my land yet, so these will have to wait.
Interesting to note that A repens roots are nutritional and medicinal. They are a famous famine food of times past, so maybe in the event of hard times, I will be glad I couldn't get rid of them. I have tried eating them raw and they have a mild, slightly sweet flavour - not bad,really. I have read that they can be roasted and ground for a coffee substitute, like chicory or dandelion. I plan to try this out someday.
Medicinally, a tea made from them is used to treat kidney infections and kidney stones- they have a mild diuretic action. They are also used for prostate and liver problems.
So..... maybe I should turn the problem into a solution and just consume the little darlings?
Update as of Jan 2014 -
I have struggled for 5 years to establish a food forest in a hay field infested with A repens. My progress has been steady but slow, much slower than the 2 other food forests I have established years ago. The heavy clay soil and hard pan are big contributing factors, I am sure.
My advice to urban farms/gardeners is don't waste your time mulching small sections of soil, such as spot mulching around trees - this grass can send runners out up to 10 feet! Remember,these runners can easily come from your neighbour's yard. Bamboo containment-style rhizome barriers along your property line or around the perimeter of spot mulched areas might work. A repens acts a lot like a miniature running bamboo.
My experience is that even very thick overlapping cardboard mulch up to 4 packed solid inches thick breaks down eventually and the grass is back. Notice that I have tried deeper and deeper mulch and have observed rhizomes travelling for longer and longer distances underground.
I am concentrating more and more on growing quick, dense shade - any plant ,as long as it can shade the grass. My hope is to grow shade instead of constantly heavily re-mulching. Of course,I still use mulch for good soil health, etc.
I have densely planted a couple of 40 x 50 feet sections with hybrid poplars,Norway spruce and black locust (more for nitrogen fixing/soil building than shade) and even cedar ( Thuja occidentalis ) along with shrubs and forbes that I have observed compete fairly well with A repens in my heavy clay soil --- comfrey, rhubarb, red and black currants, dandelion, ragweed, tough species roses, Kasmir tree mallow, day lily, alfalfa, red clover, chokecherry, hazels, yarrow, and apples ( fairly large when planted out, must be over 3.5 feet tall or taller than the grass).
I hope to establish deep shade, kill the quack grass over a period of several years, then eventually cut down and/or coppice most of the shade plants and plant whatever species I want. Wishful thinking? I will report back.
Another approach I am trying on what I hope will be my future garden site is the classic organic farming method of tilling up the grass, then fall seed winter rye, which is plowed down the following June and the plot re-seeded into a thick stand of buckwheat, then as the buckwheat is dying down in that fall, over seeding winter rye again, which is plowed in the following spring - a 1.5 year process. I am not a big fan of tillage/plowing, but I am running out of ideas. There is good scientific research on this method.
I have surrounded this future garden with the above mentioned dense planting of tough shade trees as a 30 foot wide windbreak on the north and east sides, the house is on the west side and the south is still open in sun trap fashion. I may plant multiple rows of comfrey and/or rhubarb along the south side - too short to shade the garden or impede frost air drainage but hopefully a rhizome barrier.
Got a couple of recipes. When it comes to lawn/yards everybody has a different idea of aesthetics. I'll share one I used at a high end restaurant and one up on our homestead.
The restaurant had a back area of their courtyard shaded heavy by a big maple and English walnut with scrubby grass - not a good look for one of the Top Chef's contestants who called me up anxious about getting it designed and pumping asap for his new found stardom. Couldn't dig the sod up for all the roots and didn't have the lapse time for a good deluxe sheet mulch, fortunately a conservation with Will Allen popped into my head where he told me he just dumps a soil/compost mix 8" deep straight onto grass and gets growing. So, to be sure I chucked cardboard over the whole area, mixed up a soil/compost mixture and gathered a pile of chunky wood chips and laid down 8" deep beds on contour with the chips between for paths and planted with woodland edibles for the Chef to grab unique flavors from. To top it I dropped in a small rain garden at the head to sink the parking lot runoff and add to the water table under the beds.
Up at the homestead where I have the rest of my life and less budget than a Top Chef I dig my swales/raised beds in a series to create a raised bed garden. Even if the area is not getting hit with a lot of water it is a good way to create raised beds - and it will harvest rain water and create micro-climate regardless of slope. So, determine if there is an incoming area of water and start your first bed perpendicular to it (on contour) but if it's a small area without an obvious input of water fashion it to whatever looks good - I'm partial to curves myself. Plan on your beds being 3' wide and your paths 2' wide. Start with a path and dig it 2' wide by about 6" deep - flop the sod face down where the bed will sit and keep piling the dug out soil on. Mix in compost to the top third that is loose soil, cover generously with newspaper, cascading down the sides of the berm, and cover with straw, alfalfa, hay, etc. and let sit a season. Fill the dug out path with chunky wood chips. If there is water volume coming in put in an overflow path by dropping the soil 1/3 the height of the bed and laying in stones - this doubles as a path through the garden and for overflow water to feed the next swale.
Use a sharp spade to cut a 40" wide rectangle in the sod. Use the spade again to cut teeth about 10" x 8" down each side, leaving a hinge of sod. Use a grub hoe to pull the 10" sod tooth back over the grass in the middle. Finally scrape some of the loose soil from the newly formed trenches to fill in any gaps where the sod pieces meet. No grass removal necessary and you are ready to plant.
It takes a few to get a feel for it, but then you can bang them out pretty fast. I've had far better results than tilling or solarizing.
I haven't read this entire thread, so forgive me if I repeat someone. I have raised beds, using 12x2 fir boards as the side pieces. We cut into the grass but left it in place, we covered it with about 10 inches of imported topsoil/organic compost/decomposed manure. I have had no issues with grass making it through the 10 inches of soil. This year I'm expanding my front border of edible landscaping and pealed away the grass to make the bed larger. Its tedious. If the lawn is pretty, you might put a "free sod, come cut your own" posting on your local freecycle.
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