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Transforming a Segment of Lawn into a Garden  RSS feed

 
Nolan Robert
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Hello all!

I have been tasked with turning a portion of my Aunt's Lawn into a garden. Just a quarter of it.

It used to be a very productive vegetable garden when my grandmother ran it, however she passed away and a neighbor, trying to reduce work for my ailing grandfather, turned it into lawn.

I tried originally to broadcast some seeds and cut the grass and leave the clippings over the seeds, but that hasn't worked.

I have been thinking that I was going to use the Lasagna/sheet mulching method, lay down some cardboard, pile on some compost and then a little mulch and plant directly into that.

I have also been thinking about "Bastard Trenching" (double digging) the designated area. I have heard this isn't good for the soil structure, however. (Even though I've also heard soil likes disturbance occasionally)

A third option I supposed would be to tear up the sod and just rough the uppermost layer of soil with a hoe, level it, and plant into that, using the grass i removed for mulching for the planting area.

What should I do?

Thank you!
 
John Elliott
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How about hugelkultur? What kind of biomass do you have to work with?

If you remove your sod, you can pile biomass into the area, and then flip the sod over to cover the biomass and have dirt to plant into. Kind of a hybrid between true hugelkultur and a lasagna garden.
 
Nolan Robert
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John:

So I would remove the sod, stir up the dirt underneath and mix in, say, grass clippings and compost, flip the sod upside down, and plant on the top?

As far as Biomass,I have grass clippings and I'm trying to acquire compost.

Doesn't Hugelkultur take a while to develop before you can start planting? I think it would be great for my yard, but my aunt wants something developed sooner than later.
 
Aaron Festa
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Location: Connecticut
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I just finished a 26 x 40 section on the side of my house. I dug up the top layer of grass and then used a broad fork to loosen the soil. Added some compost then topped with hay. I'll start planting soon. In total time I would guess-20 hrs of work. Back breaking work too. But it's done and over time hopefully the soil improves. If you dig up the grass you'll end up with a huge pile of fill. I used some for hugels but it ends up being a lot of sod. I'm lucky I can wheelbarrow and dump behind my house otherwise you'll need to get rid of it. Also when using the broad fork I ended up hitting stone every foot. Not fun pulling up huge rocks and it seems like your not making progress. Don't want to discourage your options just something to consider.
 
Dayna Williams
Posts: 79
Location: Zone 8, Western Oregon
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I just turned a smaller patch of my lawn into a lasagna garden, and it was my first time using toby hemenway's sheet mulch method. It worked beautifully with NO digging or sod removal. I just mowed the grass fairly short, applied a layer of cardboard, then chicken manure, grass clipping/wood chip mix, then topped with finished compost to plant in. The grass under the cardboard is probably dead already and feeding the soil.

Just offering another alternative. If the grass in the lawn is healthy and growing like crazy, it seems likely that the soil beneath is in fairly decent shape (at least that's what I gleaned from Paul's organic lawn care article - good soil=good lawn). I think terribly compacted soil that would need manual breaking-up probably would not be growing healthy grass, right? So you may be able to skip the back-breaking soil working steps unless you really think you have compacted soil down there.
 
John Elliott
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Nolan Robert wrote:
So I would remove the sod, stir up the dirt underneath and mix in, say, grass clippings and compost, flip the sod upside down, and plant on the top?


Exactly. Or if you have a hole to fill, you can use Aaron's alternative. Or if you don't have the time and energy to devote to it, you can do Dayna's alternative.

As far as Biomass,I have grass clippings and I'm trying to acquire compost.

Doesn't Hugelkultur take a while to develop before you can start planting? I think it would be great for my yard, but my aunt wants something developed sooner than later.


You can start planting a hugelkultur right away, it's the results that take a while to see. If you do a lasagna side by side with a hugel and plant them identically, they may look the same for the first couple of months. And then gradually, as the greater amount of biomass in the hugel starts to break down, you will notice that the plants on the hugel side seem to be doing better. And the following year, there will be no question, the hugel will be doing much, much better. At least that is what I have observed.
 
Peter Ellis
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Location: Central New Jersey
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Am I right that you are returning a formerly productive annual vegetable garden back to being such a garden?
Was the lawn that is there now done from seed, or was sod laid over the garden?

How long has it been lawn?

I think the answers have some influence on what you might want to do. If the lawn was grown from seed, and it is now a healthy lawn, that certainly says good things about the state of the soil. If the grass is sod laid over the garden, it says less about your soil and means you have a somewhat separate surface layer that may not be integrated with your soil yet. Which may mean it will be fairly easy to pull that sod and flip it.

There is another thread where someone described how they produced what are effectively raised beds by cutting strips of sod and flipping them on top of the adjacent sod. By doing this from two sides, flipping each side in to the middle, he created raised beds with slightly sunken walkways. He planted right into these beds.

I will see if I can find the thread and get a link. It might be helpful.

One thing that always puzzles me a bit. People want to avoid all the work of digging (even in soil where it really will be helpful), but are willing to carry and spread and haul and shovel large amounts of cardboard and compost and manure and... I see where the lasagna approach can be beneficial, I just cannot see that it is less work
 
Nolan Robert
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Thank you everyone for the answers!

I think I am going to opt for a sort of hybrid method, as John Elliot suggested.

Double dig shallowly, put in wood from a few downed orange tress in my yard, grass clippings, compost etc., then cover it up and apply compost/mulch.

Peter: I agree. No offense meant to the lasagna gardening folks, but I've had to dig a lot of holes so far in my life, and at my age (young) it isn't too hard on me or "back breaking".

Now, ask me again when I'm in my fifties and see how much my answer changes!

Dayna: I might try that on a smaller section, but I have removed some sod before and the soil underneath was very hard. Moist, but hard. I'm not sure if that makes a difference or not regarding soil health. We live in Southern California, so Lawns aren't exactly thriving here unless they have extreme maintenance. In fact clover does better here as a ground cover than lawn grass.

Too bad. I think clover has more benefits than lawn grass.

I'm o.k. with hard work if it helps improve the soil quality and, in the end, makes the job easier for everyone.
 
Dayna Williams
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Location: Zone 8, Western Oregon
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Peter: Do note that Aaron called the digging method "back-breaking" first, not me. I mainly just wanted to get rid of some cardboard and chicken poo and avoid chopping any earthworms in half...

Sounds like you have a good plan worked out, Nolan. I'd be interested to hear too about your plans for keeping the rest of the lawn at bay. That's my main problem: keeping lawn chunks-turned-garden from turning back into lawn. The subject for another thread, I suppose.
 
Nolan Robert
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John Elliott wrote:
Nolan Robert wrote:
So I would remove the sod, stir up the dirt underneath and mix in, say, grass clippings and compost, flip the sod upside down, and plant on the top?


Exactly. Or if you have a hole to fill, you can use Aaron's alternative. Or if you don't have the time and energy to devote to it, you can do Dayna's alternative.

As far as Biomass,I have grass clippings and I'm trying to acquire compost.

Doesn't Hugelkultur take a while to develop before you can start planting? I think it would be great for my yard, but my aunt wants something developed sooner than later.


You can start planting a hugelkultur right away, it's the results that take a while to see. If you do a lasagna side by side with a hugel and plant them identically, they may look the same for the first couple of months. And then gradually, as the greater amount of biomass in the hugel starts to break down, you will notice that the plants on the hugel side seem to be doing better. And the following year, there will be no question, the hugel will be doing much, much better. At least that is what I have observed.


If I use mulch, as opposed to wood, to put into the hole, will that have the same effect as using wood?
 
Peter Ellis
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Location: Central New Jersey
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Dayna Williams wrote:Peter: Do note that Aaron called the digging method "back-breaking" first, not me. I mainly just wanted to get rid of some cardboard and chicken poo and avoid chopping any earthworms in half...

Sounds like you have a good plan worked out, Nolan. I'd be interested to hear too about your plans for keeping the rest of the lawn at bay. That's my main problem: keeping lawn chunks-turned-garden from turning back into lawn. The subject for another thread, I suppose.


Chuckle. I was not naming names, and it is certainly not from this thread that I have noticed a pattern. There was one particular video that really hyped the benefits of their no dig gardening technique - and then went on to haul literally tons of material onto the site, shovel it from one place to another, etc.

And Nolan, I am 58. I really do not see one start up approach as being "easier" than another. As long as you are moving material by hand, it is going to involve hard physical work getting a garden started. It is more in the future that the permaculture approaches start yielding their labor savings. When you do not till again, when you have planted perennial crops and do not have to plant again. In the establishment phase, there will be hard work. Down the road, if you have done it right, most of your work will be observation to watch for developing problems and nip them before they become serious, and Harvesting!
 
John Elliott
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Nolan Robert wrote:
If I use mulch, as opposed to wood, to put into the hole, will that have the same effect as using wood?


I find that wood chips (mulch sized pieces) break down quicker and don't last as long as one piece of the same volume. In climates like ours where the temperature is right for decomposition year round (i.e., little to no winter), small pieces can disappear completely in a year. To get something that will take more than 5 years to decompose, you are talking about tree trunks with a substantial diameter.

Since you mention Southern California, I think it would be in your best interests to bury the largest pieces of wood you can find. Talk to some landscapers that take out trees and see if they can bring you some fireplace log sized pieces. If you go the other route and do the lasagna garden by sheet composting with mulch, be prepared to shovel on another 2" sheet every three months or so.
 
Charles Tarnard
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Location: PDX Zone 8b 1/6th acre
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I'm currently in the middle of this thing. I'm having to fight individual blades of grass, but I haven't had to struggle with mass invasion yet.

To all those saying digging up the sod is about the same amount of work as moving compost, I say HOGWASH! I'll take loading loose materials into a wheelbarrow, and dumping the wheelbarrow over digging out sod, roots and the gigantic boulders at my place any day of the week.

To each their own, though.

EDIT::: I suppose my method of choice would depend on timetable, tools available, soil content and size of area that needs a change. For my lot, and my timetable, a wheelbarrow full of dirt is much better than a shovel and a lot of patience.
 
Nolan Robert
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O.K. so I have double dug the plot and than added copious amounts of mulch, ala ruth stout.

Very hard on the lower back, as the ground was moist but very hard-packed, and the grass sod was supported with blue, plastic wire that had to be hand removed.

But, the soil is now better.

(On another note, I buried some wood and mulch in my back yard and have now covered the spot with mulch. I'm really starting to like keeping the ground covered with a decent layer of mulch all the time, it keeps my sandy soil moist and more soil-like. and planting is SUPER easy. Just pull back mulch, scatter seeds, cover with dirt and cover with mulch.

Now, the plants growing successfully is another story
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/email
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