by Joshua Burman Thayer
Joshua Burman Thayer's column, "Turn Your Lawn into a Food Forest," appears twice a month on The Alchemist's Kitchen.
The first step toward realizing your very own food forest is to properly remove the unwanted lawn. Many permaculturalists claim that one can simply lay cardboard and mulch on top of an existing lawn and that this will eventually smother it. However, in my experience installing over fifty gardens, it is best to be thorough when breaking with a stubborn lawn. Grass is expert at surviving even when its top seems dead. This proper removal will also serve the benefit of aerating and loosening the soil. However, if you are earmarking an area for future lawn removal, go ahead and sheet mulch ahead of time to start diminishing the growth of the lawn. You can also begin to slow its dominion by discontinuing watering. Either way, to transition out of a lawn lifestyle, it's going to take some elbow grease. The good news? If you do this correctly, it is a one time deal.
Start by removing the grass the old-fashioned way: pick and shovel. Dig down 8-10 inches to loosen a row of grass tops, first by picking and second by prying with the shovel. Then come back through and loosen the grass's hold of the dirt, so as to retain as much top soil as possible in the garden.
Move on to the next row until you have separated the grass material from the soil. The grass can then be fed to the chickens who will enjoy the treat. Do not add this grass to your compost, as these enterprising grasses would love to re-root in your bin. This process is extremely laborious and I recommend hosting a garden work party. All who help will learn hands-on experience and create good will with friends. As an incentive, rotate on consecutive Saturdays to other yards to help transform multiple gardens. This can be the new version of a barn raising.
Now go back through and quality check your work. Chances are you may well still have some hiding root chunks, as grass is expert at camouflage. Also, go back around the edges of the work zone, as roots can hide along the margins, wedged against a sidewalk's edge for example.
Once you feel good about the removal of all grass roots, rake and shape the area back to flat. In my next post, I will begin to discuss how you can now begin to move from this newly blank palate toward a functional food forest. Coming up: earthworks.