• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education skip experiences global resources cider press projects digital market permies.com private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Anne Miller
  • Nicole Alderman
  • r ranson
  • Pearl Sutton
  • Mike Haasl
  • paul wheaton
  • Joylynn Hardesty
  • Dave Burton
  • Joseph Lofthouse
master gardeners:
  • jordan barton
  • Greg Martin
  • Carla Burke
  • Ash Jackson
  • Kate Downham

How Do I Convert an Existing Lawn into a Soil Building, Nitrogen Fixing, Mow-able, Meadow?

  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I want to convert an existing lawn (sloped, south facing (In the northern hemisphere)), into a soil building and nitrogen fixing mixture of plants that I can:  a.) mow with a scythe and collect and pile up in a heavy mulch around my annual vegetables and b.) convert to garden or food forest over time, but that can build soil fertility in the meantime.  I think certain plants being mowed (or grazed) on some sort of cycle will cause root drop to build soil.  How do I go about converting this grass lawn with the least amount amount work, or at least efficiently.  And what do I need to plant?  I.e. what types of plants / seeds.  I'd like some kind of clover - I see the pink stuff and the white stuff around.  What seeds do I use and how do I get them to start in the existing lawn / grass?  I'm in middle Tennessee.  Some of the soil is clay, but there seems to be a good amount of topsoil in places the water doesn't run over.  I've only done a very little bit of digging so far.  I also have convenient access to really cheap fully composted leaves (rich black seedless soil) through the city, if that can be used efficiently to facilitate the process.  I'm imaging letting my grass / field / meadow thing grow to knee high or so and then mowing it in sections.  Maybe keeping the fence by the neighbor mowed and paths where I walk, e.g. to the garden mowed short so I don't get invested with chiggers and ticks.  (This'll probably be a chigger nightmare to mow, which I'll try to deal with with proper clothing (pants, boots, etc.))
Posts: 12
Location: Central North Carolina
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hey Sylvester, what kind of acreage are you planning to convert to meadow?

I've converted smaller sized lawns (0.25-1.0 acres) into more productive land and I have found success with a relatively simple and cheap method. I use leaf compost purchased from the city (sounds like you have a similar scenario) applied about 10-12 inches thick. Lumpy is fine. This should smother 98% of your current lawn. No mowing necessary but does take a large quantity of mulch. I then leave it for a full year to cook down The following season apply leaf compost again at about 3-6 inches. Into this second application I broadcast annual/perennial wildflower and grass seeds. Then, after that point I typically spot mulch or plant specific shrubs/trees. But that is because I aim for dancing with natural succession on the way to a food forest. Saves some struggle. If you're going for a permanent meadow then just broadcast more/different seeds into the patches.

Least amount of capital investment. Least amount of labor. Long time line.

Adjusting the time parameter has dramatic effects on the other two. The same pattern we see in most corners of our lives. :)
Posts: 69
Location: Zone 4B, Maine, USA
forest garden books chicken homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Too funny, this is exactly what I'm attempting to do this year :)

Seeing as how I haven't yet DONE it I can't offer advice per se. But I can at least tell you what I'm going to do. Sylvester's method has two advantages over my plan: more fertility and no tarp required. But I REALLY want to start growing this year, so here's what I'm going to do:

- Take a big tarp and occult part of the land (plot 1).
- When plot 1 is fully occulted move the tarp (plot 2) and sow seed on plot 1.
- Repeat for as many plots as you want.

I am planning on making clay seed balls for the sowing, which is also a big project you may not want to tackle.

Looking at what weeds like to grow around you can be a great way to begin to decide. I'm trying to do six different plots this year and 2-3 more next year. Each plot will be seeded with a different combination of ground workers, soil builders, and nitrogen fixers. That's why I was in a hurry to start growing this season. If 80% of my experiments are a flop I can start next year with a much better idea of what works here.

I'm doing mixtures of tillage radish, stuff to increase organic matter content (sudangrass, oats, cereal rye), and stuff to fix nitrogen (about six different clovers (annual, biennial, perennial), and cow peas) and buckwheat as a P and K accumulator.

Awesome to hear you're mowing with a scythe! Me too and exactly for the same reason (green manure mulches on the veggie garden to replace fertilizer). The trick is some of these kinds of things have to be kept 3-6 inches tall or you kill the plant. So I'm devising ideas about how to mow to that height with a scythe.

Luckily my builder messed up my snath fitting and the blade is several inches too high off the ground with a regular stance. I was going to fix my snath this winter, but now I'm thinking of leaving it as is and seeing if I can make it work. Basically the stem for the lower grip needs to be shortened in order to raise the blade off the ground. My snath is separate pieces of wood glued together, so it can't be adjusted in any way. But these guys have snaths that use fasteners:

Of course I want a snath that lets me mow comfortably resting the blade on the ground. But if I need to leave 6 inches of height after mowing... do I actually need TWO snaths? Or can these adjustable snaths be made to convert quickly from one job to the other?  

I don't know. Still mulling this one over. Just food for thought :) Have fun!
Posts: 42
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I am trying to take a sloping half acre of expansive clay and turn it into something...better.  main first goal is to get some bigger roots in the ground, and get some mulch down for summer.

November I broadcast 50lbs of cover crop mix...mustard, beans, peans, vetch, right into the dead grass and weeds, no prep.  So far so good.  Itll get seeded with buckwheat and then cut cover crop down on top of it, probably in May.  The buckwheat will get seeded with subterranean clover and cut the buckwheat over it.  The clover will stay put in the alleyways between the swales for weed suppresion, and nitrogen, and as a cover.
Garden Mastery Academy - Module 1: Dare to Dream
will be released to subscribers in: soon!
    Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic