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Niche Analysis lawn design  RSS feed

 
Terry Frankeberger
Posts: 34
Location: West Tennessee
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The basic idea of this thread is to explore lawn functionality through a niche analysis design process.

The main goal is to develop a mature lawn ecosystem that is multi-functional from an early succession standard (postage stamp) lawn with a thin or non organic layer. As a sub-goal, I would like the lawn to remain able to be mowed and appear as a standard lawn (not a pasture).

The first step being a niche analysis of the given early succession standard lawn.

Then we could consider other elements such as biochar, organic additives (sawdust perhaps), Plants, etc... I would like to see a niche analysis for each of these elements so we can better understand the interconnections they would have within the system.

Then we each could each present a design from the given elements for others to benefit.

At the very least we will get practice at niche analysis. Anyone interested?

Before we begin I would like to get any comments or questions.
 
Terry Frankeberger
Posts: 34
Location: West Tennessee
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Okay. I've got to say, I am a little disappointed but I am certainly not surprised.

So, I am going to start anyway. If I miss something or have something wrong please let me know.

As I figure grasses (lawn) have only a handful of needs. Which are:

sun light
water
air
warmth
cutting
Mycorrhizal Fungi (edit addition)
lots of nitrogen
and a few other bio-available nutrients.

They produce basically three things which are oxygen, grass clippings, and a pleasant smell.

On the other hand Grass does have a few good functions:

shades the ground
protects the soil from erosion
prevents evaporation from wind
creates a habitat for insects and very small animals
attracts herbivore insects (trap?)
attracts predator insects (after cutting)
captures dew
Provides exposure of above ground nibblers
Air filter (edit addition)
Contrast definition for aesthetics (edit addition)

Characteristic are:

narrow vertical leaves
3 inches tall
shallow interwoven roots
lots of edge (surface area)
producer


In my next post I plan on doing the same niche analysis on the animals, insects, bacteria's, and etc. that I would expect to find within the above stated and unimproved postage stamp lawn system.

Thanks for reading, and keep watching.
-T Frankeberger
 
Frank Brentwood
Posts: 81
Location: Long Island, NY (Zone 7)
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Terry,

Being a complete newbie in permaculture terms, I'm not even certain what a "Niche Analysis" really is. I read your post because I (unfortunately) reside in a suburban hell where the appearance of your lawn is generally used as a yardstick to measure your worth as a human being and neighbor. Since I am organically inclined and looking to sell my current house in the next 5-6 years, I've been doing a lot of research/work on "The Lawn".

A couple of things:

1) Mowing height depends on specific turf cultivar. For example, Bermuda grasses are usually cut much shorter @ 1"-2". Fescues, Ryes, and Bluegrasses can easily go taller than 3" and generally should be cut as high as possible for the grass type in order to better shade the soil. If the grass isn't falling over under its' own weight and doesn't offend your sensibilities, it's all good.

2) Grass roots are also not necessarily "shallow". Dependent on the species/cultivar, they can go deep(-ish). Some of the native North American grasses like Big Blue Stem have roots that go to 9'-10'. Admittedly, you probably won't have an entire lawn of Big Blue Stem, but turf grass roots are often limited by the environment they are grown in (lousy soil, petro-chemical fertilizers, sub-optimal soil food web, etc.) and will often exceed the "accepted norm" if given better growing conditions.
 
Dave Burton
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In ecology, "niche" means the role that an organisms plays in its ecosystem. I think what was meant was we are analyzing everything there is about a lawn and trying to see how it can be made more productive. Some threads that I think have a similar concept to the lawn idea going on in this thread are the Mowable Meadows and Grow Neat Stuff in Your Lawn threads. To extend the dimensions of a lawn beyond the surface, root crops and stealth ponds may also be viable options. At 2:05:12 Paul Wheaton discusses what a stealth pond is in his Permaculture Keynote presentation:

 
Terry Frankeberger
Posts: 34
Location: West Tennessee
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Thank you Dave and Frank for your posts. I hope you don't mind but I'm going to continue on as I was.

So, today as I meditated on this topic, I realized that I had already broken lawns down into smaller elements that function together as a lawn (grasses and creatures mainly).

Today, I am going to cover the creatures that inhabit the lawn. (ie. Microbial's, insects, worms, fungi's, etc.) Yes I know fungi's are not creatures but they do have similar functions.


Needs:

oxygen
organic matter
water
habitat
substrates (dirt)


Produces:

Carbon dioxide
manure and or bio-available nutrients
organic matter


Functions:

Builds habitats
aerates soil
stores water
attracts predators
enriches soil
consumes/decomposes organic matter


Characteristics:

smaller than the grass.
mobile (not fungus)


Well, that's all I have for now. May have to make edits later though.

Next post will summarize what I think a lawn is. Including some ideas/ theories of could improve its functions.

Again, thanks for reading and keep watching.
T Frankeberger

 
Frank Brentwood
Posts: 81
Location: Long Island, NY (Zone 7)
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Thank you, Dave, for the explanation and the link to another of Paul's videos. Now I'm 2:39+ further behind in my permaculture viewing/reading/studying/researching

Like my dad says, "I'll sleep when I'm dead."
 
Terry Frankeberger
Posts: 34
Location: West Tennessee
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How we define a lawn is going to have diverse effects on how we as individuals go about interacting with it. We can define lawns as nuisances, or aesthetic badges of self value, or land with better uses, or we could take time to observe how it interacts with nature and integrate it with our garden designs.

At this point I would like to take time to summarize the elements of a lawn some of which I have not mentioned yet, included. Lawns are usually comprised of the following: Grasses, micro-organisms, dirt substrates, nutrients, organic matter, and nurse plants (aka. weeds, clover, etc.).

As I think about the individual functions given for the elements in the above posts, I can see one overarching function that stands out and four other minor functions that are of interest to my self.
A lawn has the main function of building a healthy topsoil. With that in mind there are things we can do to enhance and improve this lawn function. For instance consider adding habitats for desired insectivores such as bird houses, bat houses, water features, rock croppings, etc. The manure of these animals will add to the organic litter layer over the topsoil. We could also add a small layer of compost biannually; I think composted leaves would probably work miracles. This organic layer should also help trap and hold water within the topsoil reducing the need for irrigation. I'll cover this more in future analysis.
The other four functions are walking space (paths), light exposure to gardens, aesthetics, and critter exposure.
NOTE: Some critters, usually the undesired ones, do not like this exposure so the lawn provides the gardens with a fortress effect from them. Where as some other critters like the exposure so they can see near by predators and get to safety. To be covered more later.

Not sure what the next post will be about.

Thanks again for reading and keep watching.
T-Frankeberger
 
Michael Cox
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Hi Terry,

A lawn has the main function of building a healthy topsoil


I think I would disagree with this. The main function of a lawn (as opposed to meadow or pasture land) is human entertainment space. Keeping that definition as broad as possible - we use our lawn to play football with my toddler, bbqs and parties, work space for projects that need space, eating outdoors in the fresh air. Building topsoil here is irrelevant - we are never going to dig up this space and use it for something else.

For us the lawn primarily has to support its recreational use - for example I will definitely weed out thistles because they make enjoying the lawn less pleasant, but I'm happy to leave clover, dandelions other "weeds" etc...
 
Terry Frankeberger
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Location: West Tennessee
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Thank you, Michael

A lawn is indeed an excellent space for human entertainment.
I think that building top soil on the other hand is always relevant. Especially, when you are considering how to integrate or stack functions. I don't think that it is necessary in every case to dig up the lawn to make use of topsoil. Just beneath the topsoil of the lawn will be a vast storehouse of nutrients. We can use other nearby plants to recover this surplus of nutrients.
I also believe that understanding how we individually will utilize a lawn also helps us determine how much is appropriate for ourselves.
I still consider soil building as the main function because this function is always happening.

-T Frankeberger
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