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growing grass instead of mulching the whole place?

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Hey guys, i'm  gonna start growing vegetables and herbs in my (small) garden trying to follow permaculture principles. RIght now everything is covered with stones but they're gonna be taken out and we're gonna fill the space with earth mixed with small pieces of wood and all that. I've read that organic mulch is very good to get the seeds going and stimulating growth, but also smothering weeds. Some of the plants I want to grow are considered weeds and I remember visiting a permaculture-designed farm that didn't have mulch but they just let the grass grow freely and I thought that was pretty cool. I really dig the idea of letting the plants share a space  and I think that living grass can cover the same purpose as mulch (retaining moisture). By just letting the leaves and other remains of dead plants in the garden to let the living plants take advantage of the nutrients i don't see why killing weeds is necessary.. But if I'm mistaken I'd really appreciate someone pointing the right way, I'm a noobie and haven't really tried any of this yet

In case letting grass just grow freely is a good idea, should I plant it first than the other plants and wait till it has established to add the rest or do I plant the seeds at the same time? if so, when (season)? WOuld there be complications with roots or something inhibiting the growth of new seedlings?

I live in Holland, if that helps, I thinks it's considered to be zone 8b

Any ideas/opinions/help??


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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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It may not be relevant to your situation but grass is the one plant that I aggressively weed out of my garden beds. Here they grow by above and below ground runners, as well as seed. They can quickly cover the whole garden bed and make it nearly impossible to plant new plants. Consider that a big part of the reason they are so commonly used for lawns is that they grow vigorously enough to keep out other plants (i.e. weeds) and withstand regular trampling. Much more than half of all my gardening efforts are involved in just controlling the grass.

That's not to say you're on the wrong track. It sounds like what you seek is an effective living mulch and there are many of those. Clover is probably the most well known. There's a member on here (Bryant RedHawk) who has frequently laid out the process of using a combination of plants including living mulch to successfully do large scale farming.

There's also the option of using seasonal annuals as living mulch in rotation with other plants. I've had good luck with sweet potato vines keeping the grass back (though I'm still working on how to grow other plants with the sweet potatoes) And one of the reasons behind squash in the three sisters garden is that it serves as living mulch for the other plants. Popular in the organic gardening in my region is vetch as a nitrogen fixing winter cover crop and buckwheat as a fast growing builder of organic matter and pollinator attractant in warm weather.  

I'm experimenting for the first time this year with a densely planted row of swiss chard to try and block the grass. It hasn't sprouted yet, but I've planted a block of swiss chard at the end of my garden where the rows meet the lawn.
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Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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As Casie said grass can be very aggressive and might not be the best to include with your garden plants. That being said there are different types of grasses - some types spread and are aggressive but there are also short bunch grass that does not really spread and would be much easier to control. Potentially bunch grass could provide shade and habitat without being too aggressive. I have used clover in my gardens and one lesson I learned was that while it provides a lot of advantages some types of vegetables needed more space away from the clover until they got big enough to be above the clover. I used clover to shade the soil and put nitrogen back into the soil. One unexpected benefit that I found from the clover was that slugs would choose it over my leafy greens - I went out one evening and my vegetables had almost no slugs on them but the clover had tons of slugs. Luckily the clover could keep up with the slugs and it seemed to create a nice balance - I was also using straw mulch so there were a lot of good habitat for slugs.

One classic permaculture technique is to use polycultures of annual edibles and perennials to fill all the niches in an area so there is no space for weeds. Your idea with the grass is going down this path but you might want to look into planting your annuals with some perennials mixed in (bunch grass would work here) so you get a full cover but each plant has its niche to fill. I will plant leafy greens around my taller vegetables (tomatoes) so they get some shade to deal with hot days and they also help my tall vegetables by covering the soil and making it harder for weeds to become established. In addition, some plants like dandelions that are generally considered to be a weed are very much edible and can provide you with a lot of benefits. Looking at dandelions - the whole plant is edible and the tap root can help improve your soil.

So my advice is to look at bunch grass if you want to use grasses but also explore the idea of using polycultures and look at using a mix of edible annuals and perennials (or non-edible ones if they provide other benefits). If you design it correctly you should have very little issue with weeds. I would also add some regular mulch to cover any open ground until the plants grow to fill it.

Good luck!
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