Turning Your Lawn Into a Vegetable Garden

The is the second in a series encouraging people to consider growing food in what at first seem like unlikely places. If you've done the survey of your property to identify areas that get more than 6 hours of direct sunlight, you probably discovered you've already got stuff growing in those places and most of that stuff is probably grass.

A lush green expansive lawn looms large in the American homeowner's imagination. There are two details in the wiki article on lawns that jumped out to me. The first detail is that the "English" lawns were originally a status symbol of wealth;

It was not until the Tudor and Elizabethan times that the garden andthe lawn became a place to be loved and admired. Created as walkways and for play areas, the lawns were not as we envisage them today. They were made up of meadow plants, such as camomile, a particular favourite. In the early 1600s the Jacobean epoch of gardening began. It was during this period that the closely-cut "English" lawn was born. By the end of this period, the English lawn was the envy of even the French; it was also seen as a symbol of status by the gentry.

Things have changed a bit but I think social prejudices remain. Well kept lawns are thought to indicate some form of social conformity and status. Take a look at homeowners association rules for evidence of this. I bring this up because these are the same social forces that inhibit us from growing vegetables where we currently have grass growing. If you're getting stuck on the social pressures, I encourage you to think of it as a way to stick it to those snobby English gentry.

The other data point that jumped out to me is that NASA estimates that lawns in the United States cover "about 128,000 square kilometers (nearly 32 million acres), making it the nation's largest irrigated crop by area." I like some lawns but this seems a little over the top. Why not mix in some additional crops that you can eat.

There are two ways to replace some grass with vegetable garden plots - you can follow the example of the Gregson's pictured above and build raised beds directly over the lawn with landscape cloth underneath. You can see that they are filling them with soil. At the end of this growing season they will use a pitch fork to loosen the soil and poke lots of holes in the fabric, making openings for future veggie roots. Don't do that the first year or your grass will grow up through the fabric. They recommend putting plastic on the inside, top and bottom surfaces to help the wood last longer. DON'T use any kind of treated wood. You'll likely get a good dose of arsenic and other nasty chemical with any veggies you grow in a treated wood raised bed.

The other strategy is to use a sod cutter, remove the grass, amend the soil and plant your seeds and veggie starts. We followed this strategy last year. Just remember that the sod is incredibly heavy and you'll need a place to pile it up. Leave it for a growing season and then use it as compost the next year.