April 26, 2014

"The Lawn Has Got To Go"

When Dan made that statement earlier this month, it was music to my ears! He had just finished the first front yard mowing of the year. If you've read my blog for long, or my book, then you know that Dan and I think our biggest waste of time and energy is having to mow the lawn. Why have we bothered? Well, because we have neighbors across the street who like the manicured suburban look. It's not that we're trying to impress them, rather, it's a gesture of respect. If we were them we wouldn't want to look at a neglected, unkempt yard across the street.

I wouldn't go so far as to call it a "lawn." It measures approximately 46 ft. by
108 ft. I have several herb and flower beds there plus a number of fruit trees.

A traditional front yard is such a waste: a waste of land that could grow food, a waste of time to maintain it, not to mention the fossil fuel used to run equipment and make fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Add to that the cost to purchase and repair yard maintenance equipment, and it all that adds up to a huge waste of money, for those who care to think of it that way. And all for looks! I maintain that if everyone would devote at least part of their yard or apartment balcony to growing food, we could end world hunger.

Our original plans were for an extensive herb garden in the front yard. I haven't abandoned this idea, but have had a very difficult time getting various herbs established. Some were successes, but I've had many fails as well. Then there's the wiregrass which invades and strangles out everything. Most discouraging.

The area to the left of the driveway is bordered with a concrete wall. It was
where I planted my first year garden and later, strawberries, comfrey, and
buckwheat. Currently there are our almond & crabapple trees & daylilies.

We actually have several small areas which could be put to better use than mowing: the front yard, the side yard (both upper and lower), and the area in front of the garden where we planted fruit trees. All of these are small, ranging from a little over 1000 to about 5000 square feet. There are lots of annual things we could grow: corn, cowpeas, amaranth, buckwheat, wheat, oats, barley, sorghum, sunflowers for seed, hay grass; the list goes on. No, this will not be a strictly permaculture solution, but it will be a self-sufficiency solution. Or at least a step toward growing more of our own food and animal feed.

Our front yard area on the side has two levels, upper and lower, separated by a
concrete wall. In the upper I have an almond tree, crabapple tree, sand cherry
bushes, comfrey, and daylilies. The bottom is bordered by my rugosa roses, red
raspberry plants, a hazelnut bush and azaleas, which I transplanted years ago.

The two areas you see above will be planted in corn. Unfortunately, breaking ground with a garden tiller is hard work and rough on the tiller, but even if we had a farm tractor these areas are probably too small for that. Next to till will be in front of the house! I am so happy with this plan.

"The Lawn Has Got To Go" © April 2014 


Sandy Livesay said...


I have to agree with you, cutting grass is just a pain in the butt.
We all would be better off having gardens or fields for animals to roam and eat from instead of grass which needs cutting.
I've actually cut the grass about 8 times now since spring has rolled in.
Nice area you tilled up for corn. My corn will be placed in 5 gallon buckets and set around my garden beds.
Enjoy your weekend!

Sarah said...


What if you placed raised beds in the front yard? No tilling necessary. A bit of an expense at first but a great way of keeping things neat and tidy and keeping out invasive stuff. You might be able to amend the soil enough that herbs would flourish as well. We have a small front yard with 2 huge trees that actually do a grand job of blocking the sun in summer so I was out voted when I tried for a front yard garden. :(

Dawn said...

You could like at planting the yard up with perennial vegetables, this is something I have been reading up about, many of them are not what you would have thought of as vegetables but garden plants, Yacon is one and its leaves are great as animal fodder and the tubers are a good nutrious vegetable.
By the way your front yard is the size of my garden roughtly over here that is considered a big big garden :-)

Leigh said...

Sandy, it's too bad we can't change folks's minds about what constitutes a "beautiful" yard, LOL. People think gardening is a lot of work, but considering how much time and money it takes to maintain lawn, I think that's too much work!

Sarah, Dan's actually talked about raised beds in the front yard, but he loves the plow, i.e. his tiller. Raised beds to take time and a lot of money, it's true. I priced the idea for our vegetable garden and abandoned it once I tallied the cost.

The other issue is time, an issue which frustrates Dan because he has so little of it. I can do a garden in an afternoon with a tiller, but it would take numerous weekends to do all those raised beds.

One idea we've discussed is to gradually build raised beds and initially use them as compost bins for goat barn cleanings (of which I have a lot this time of year). You may see something like that in a blog post one of these days!

Dawn, if you click the link in the above sentence, "Our original plans were for an extensive herb garden in the front yard," you'll see my plan for that very thing. In the meantime we can use the space for the field crops I mentioned. :)

Ed said...

Back at our other place, I had a raised bed garden and one of those tiny rototillers that you can carry with one hand. I would simply lift it into the raised bed and till them up in spring. It certainly didn't do as good a job as a big tiller but it was the best compromise between hand tilling and just having a traditional unraised garden invaded by grass.

Farmer Barb said...

SHEEP!!!! No, just kidding. I, too, keep a grassy area for my membership in the Neighborhood Conformist's Society. That, however, is where the similarity ends. My buddies at all the local tree cutters bring me wood chips every week. I have effectively been building soil every place that looks scrappy with wood chips. It suppresses the weeds and at least looks tidy. After a year or two, type of tree depending, those chips start looking pretty nice! As for ideas for conformity, neat rows of shrubs are always pleasing. Can you grow huckleberries? They are evergreen. A guy from Johnny's Select Seeds in Maine didn't have a tiller. He devised a grid system where every year he only dug a hole in a column on his grid, amended the soil and then kept moving on to another column until he would have his whole area softened, rock picked and amended.

Grass is only wasteful if you do not have the types of animals who eat it! No grazers, no grass! My neighbors actually ADORE my animals and seek them out when they have company. Who would have thought?

Mama Pea said...

We're in the same boat in that we've been going round and round for a few years now figuring out how to cut (no pun intended) our grass mowing area. (And we have to mow probably a fraction of the times you do each year!) One "good thing" about our lawn mowing is that we bag all the cuttings and use it for garden mulch extensively. Each year we do take some lawn space and make it into food producing ground, but there is still too much! I'll be watching to see what you and Dan figure out for your areas.

Unknown said...

Leigh, im killimg mine right now Ive had thick lush Kikuyu grass out the back for 18 years but no longer. Cant say i plan on putting in a crop but a bit of extra space for beds wouldnt go astray.

Renee Nefe said...

I'm in total agreement that we spend too much time gardening our grass. But we have an HOA and are required to stay members of the Neighborhood Conformist's Society. If we stray they fine us. :p
Funny our water district would love for us to rip up the grass as they don't like having to supply the water required to keep it green and our HOA talked about replacing the expensive Kentucky Blue Grass (that doesn't grow well here) with Buffalo grass to the tune of $20K in our common areas. I was against that plan as it is cheaper and better to just plant the seed and allow it to take over instead of ripping out all the grass and replacing it with sod. So one day I want to move away from all of this.

Nina said...

I agree that lots of lawn is a waste. I'm slowly putting in veggies in my front gardens as well as raised beds and berry bushes. However, under the heavily treed areas, there is still lawn as nothing much other than grass will grow there, and barely at that. We do have a recreational area of of our property, where the fire pit is and where the kids play when they come home. Grass is nice there, when the chooks and skunks don't dig it up too much.

Cassandra said...

Congrats on the reduction in grass. For all that I like the feel of grass on my toes, I've always thought lawns were a waste of time and space. The big thing I like about ours is that I can use the grass clippings as mulch. Still, I'd happily do away with it in favor of edibles! What zone are you in? I'd love some almond trees but not sure they'd grow here (zone 7).

thewovenspoke said...

I agree with you, lawns are a waste of water and space. I made a couple of small raised gardens. I have a neighbor who won't give up her lawn(the only one in the neighborhood) she actually waters so much she has dropped the water level in her well! We try to conserve water here in the desert.

Quinn said...

I've never had a lawn and never wanted one, but I do understand that a lawn means something important to a lot of people and it's not always about impressing the neighbors. But sometimes, it is! ;)
I tend to go in the other direction on gardens...it's very difficult for me to take down trees to allow light to reach the ground. I think I could tell you, right now, by species, size and location, the details of every tree I've cut down in the past three decades. Each one has been a difficult decision.

John on a bike said...

How about pigs to dig up that lawn? They would do it happily, and it would give the neighborhood something to watch. I intentionally had 2 pigs dig up a portion of our pasture this winter, and they worked in lots of organic material (old hay & leaves) into the soil as they went. And I get to sell them for more than I paid. Quite a bargain!

Leigh said...

Barb, LOL. Sheep have traditionally been used as lawn mowers! Of course to do that, we'd have to fence the front yard. It's the old one thing leads to another.

I am gradually planting bushes and trees as money allows. I planted hedges of sand cherries, rugosa roses, and red raspberries, although the raspberries don't seen to do well. Varieties of Vaccinium species do grow around here, although I think they call them blueberries. I already harvest plenty of blueberries, so I honestly hadn't considered huckleberries. Our blueberries are deciduous, however, so evergreen is definitely good.

Mama Pea, yes, I use our bagged cuttings as well, mostly for litter in the chicken coop (I worry about weed seeds too much to use it as mulch.)

Lynda, funny how our perspectives change, isn't it? You'll definitely enjoy those extra garden beds!

Renee, I feel for you with that HOA. Seems like folks who get in a position of authority automatically lose all common sense and intelligence!

Nina, heavy shade is a problem, isn't it. I reckon that's where forest gardening comes in. We have a couple of recreational areas picked out too, but all in the back yard and out of sight from neighbors and passers by. :)

Cassandra, yes, you can plant an almond tree! I also live in zone 7 and plants an "All-in-one" almond variety. Gorgeous pink flowers in the spring and yes, almonds!

Thewovenspoke, that's the bad thing about lawns. About 7 years ago we were under a severe drought and had water restrictions in place. Folks still insisted on watering their lawns! That annoyed me to no end, LOL

Quinn, I hear you on that one. We have a lot of trees too, and it's hard to take them down. I always plant two or three replacements for each one downed!

Most of our cleared land is toward the front, by the road, so that's really where we need to do our planting.

Leigh said...

John on a bike, hello! We were commenting about the same time so I missed you in my previous answer to folks. Firstly welcome and thank you for commenting!

I definitely plan to use pigs in the future for tilling. The front yard, probably not: 1) because it isn't fenced. :) 2) because there are some things I don't want rooted up such as my perennial herb beds, comfrey, and fruit trees. Like you, it will be pasture areas. I like that they worked in organic matter for you. Dan worries about whether we'd have enough to feed them. I don't see that you have a blog(?). Would love to know more details about what you fed them.

Mom at home said...

I live in a small city. One lot close to my daughter's home is very large. I guess they hate mowing too so they plant native wild flowers by seed every year in the open side yard. It is so colorful and in the fall they mow it down. I love driving by that place and seeing black eyed susans and other Missouri native wild flowers all mixed together.

Velva said...

I agree. A lot of a front lawn with nothing but fertilized grass can be put to better use. Rock on!


Cozy Thyme Cottage said...

I agree about having less lawns and maybe if food prices continue to go up more people will consider this. I love reading blogs of people that do this. We only do our back yard because of age (74) and energy but wish we could do more!! Go for it!! Nancy

Cozy Thyme Cottage said...

I meant to ask about your cherry bushes? Do they produce cherries that you can use and how do you use them? Will they grow in zone 5? I have a dwarf sweet cherry tree but always looking for more fruit options. Thanks. Nancy

Kev Alviti said...

Great plan! The front of our place is about the warmest part as it get the sun all day. Once I've finished doing building works I'll plant some peach trees to make the most of the warmth other wise that space is wasted and like you said you end up keeping it just to please the neighbours.
As for your day lilies did you know they're edible? I haven't tried it yet but I might this year as we've got loads of them as well.

Chris said...

I agree that a garden is far better than a lawn. The latter also takes up a lot cost to run and maintain mowing equipment. Having said that, lawn is also perfect ground cover until that long awaited garden can be put in.

On our slopes its particularly grueling to mow, but grass does hold the soil in place too - so its worth keeping. We have plans to put in gardens to replace the lawn, but its a very slow process.

I love your rugosa roses. I have one plant and its as tough as old boots! They make effective green hedging/fencing when you have more than one plant, like me.

To make an easier go of tilling, you could try planting a tuber/root crop first. Potato, sweet potato, jerusalem artichokes. Anything that will grow quickly and out compete the grass basically. Instead of preparing the area by tilling, you merely dig into holes a half-metre or metre apart, then mulch. Once the tubers break up the soil for you, then you harvest.

To keep it looking nice for the neighbours, I would chip the leftover stalks and lay them on the soil again. After a winter fallow period, the soil should be better for planting in. The tubers growing did all the work.

I've found when we don't have a lot of money or time to commit to a project ourselves, we can generally find a plant that will do the job for us over a season or two. While it seems like a long time, it can takes us that long just to physically and financially get to doing it ourselves.

But you're doing well, and I think your front yard looks beautiful (and the house). :)

Bill said...

I so agree with you and I so much want to break out of the lawnmowing trap. I've thought of using portable net fencing and grazing sheep on our lawn. I've also decided that as of this year about 1/2 of what I've been tending as part of our lawn I'm going to just leave alone and treat it like it's part of the woods. We stole it from nature, so now I'm letting nature take it back.

Michelle said...

Sigh; my husband is one of those who LOVES lawns, and I am one of those who thinks they are a total WASTE!

Woolly Bits said...

I'd much rather have a neighbour's front garden covered in wild flowers (aka weeds:) than having to listen to his mowing every saturday afternoon! though I have to admit that my garden wouldn't be every lawnlovers secret dream anyway (we don't have a lawn....unless you count the areas covered in thick ground elder:). our soil in front of the house is very poor, so food growing is out of the question. but plants such as berberis darwinii grow very well - at least they give flowers to the bees and later food for the birds! and I am sure mediterranean herbs would like the well-drained, gravelly soil as well....
there's always something better to grow than lawn!

DebbieB said...

Hi, Leigh! I love this idea, I hate having to tend a lawn. We've more than doubled our veg garden this year in the backyard, and added 3 fruit trees and a blueberry bush. I've informed my husband that I plan to completely take over the backyard with growing food, and he's starting to like the idea. We have a lawn service (friend of the family, good price) that cuts our front and (dwindling) back lawn. The neighbors are a complaining bunch and there's a neighborhood covenant requiring manicured front lawns (and forbidding chickens, much to my sorrow). But the back yard is mine to transform!

PS, I owe you a book review! I'm procrastinating because I'm a terrible writer and I want to do it right! Perfectionism is such a curse - if I can't do it perfectly, I tend to put off doing it at all. But I'm slowly crafting the right words, I haven't forgotten!

Mark said...

Bravo, Leigh! My sentiments exactly! Why spend time and money for the privilege of doing a job you dislike, for a return that does not exist, with the purpose of upholding a principle with which you disagree? It's poor stewardship. I'm with you and am doing all I can to minimize my lawn mowing duties, too: We've expanded the gardens, and this year we're added a chicken yard, and putting some kind of (hopefully) productive ground cover our hard to mow banks.

Andrea said...

So glad I found your blog, I love it. The hubby and I are in the process of trying to figure out how to transform our front yard. We are starting with one or two dwarf cherry bushes and then work raised beds around them. May have to happen in phases. :)

Unknown said...

Hi Leigh,

I stumbled on your blog recently. My wife and I have enjoyed many of your posts. Thank you for sharing. I also recall a post where you were growing corn and working large areas with a rototiller. So I wanted to share something that I recently discovered. Inexpensive garden tractors. Not enough room for me to elaborate here, but I'll provide the link where I found the information: http://www.endtimesreport.com/garden_tractor_gardening.html There are three of these articles and I have found all of them very useful. Now, I have access to farm equipment but found that the small areas I needed to work on my homestead for growing vegis and grains to feet chickens are too small for even the smallest farm tractors I have. I've been using the information from these articles. Hope they are helpful to you.


Su Ba said...

The only use I have for lawns nowadays is for grass clippings. I'm a big user of them for mulch. I don't maintain a lawn myself but I do happily have neighbors that do. And they are happy to have me mow them. In my past life (before establishing a homestead farm) I always had a lawn. Never really thought about it because it simply was the thing that everyone did. When I first started my homestead I of course made a lawn around the house. Silly me. Nobody saw it except hubby and I. I eventually converted it to food gardens.

Leigh, I can see that your lawn is quite visible to your neighbors. I'm supposing that whatever your solution will be, it's going to have to be eye appealing. And good luck with the rocks. I'm doing derocking right now and it ain't fun. Whatever you decide to do, rock removal or raised beds, it's going to be time consuming. Hey, wanna come over and practice on my rocks? If you work on it for about four weeks ,that should give you enough experience to tackle your own. ;)

...Su Ba, www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com

Leigh said...

Mom at home, I love the wild flower idea! Some states are doing that along highway. Looks great and there is so little maintenance.

Velva, I'd have to say our lawn is mostly non-fertilized weeds, LOL

Nancy, the cherries, the ones I'm referring to are sand cherries ( Prunus besseyi). They have a very wide growing range so should do well in your area. They are a wild bush cherry, but don't produce very meaty nor sweet fruit. I use mine in a mixed fruit jelly which is very tasty!

Kev, great idea about peach trees. We have two in our front yard and would like to plant more.

Yes, I did know about the daylilies. About the only thing I've done with them is color for salads. After my violet jelly success, I think I need to see if they'll make orange if steeped in hot water. Daylily jelly sounds pretty good, doesn't it:

Chris, great ideas. We did learn how potatoes loosen the soil in the garden. We have a pretty big front yard so it's a lot of ground to cover!

Bill, that's a really good idea. I'm always trying to think of ways to shrink our "lawn." The portable fence idea is a good one too.

Michelle, that's though, but at least you have your own fiber producing lawn mowers!

Bettina, I couldn't agree more! It takes one of our next door neighbors over 3 hours to mow his place on a riding lawn mower. And the neighbor on the other side of him uses his leaf blower in autumn
for 5 straight hours of leaf blowing! I used to worry about our rooster making noise, but not anymore, LOL

Debbie, it's a shame about those neighborhood covenants. I know they don't want neglected yards, but it would be nice if some of them started to recognize sustainable landscaping.

Thank you for doing a book review! I'm very grateful for that.

Mark, that's quotable! Like you and Chris, we have some steep areas we need to consider. They are right by the road so we need something that won't get out of control. I agree it has to be productive!

Andrea, hello and welcome! I was delighted to find your blog as well. I think working in phases is really the best idea. And sometimes it takes years to figure out if a thing will work or not! At least for me. :)

Matt, hello and welcome to you too! Thank you for the link, and I have to say that that is exactly what we've been looking for! They are few and far between around here (working ones at reasonable prices that is), but Dan is going to go look at one next Tuesday. Hopefully I'll have a blog post with good news after that. :)

I saw your G+ page but didn't find a blog. Sounds like you have lots of interesting things you could share on one.

Su Ba, I have to agree that those lawn clippings do come in handy. Right now I'm collecting them as litter for the new chicken coop.

Yes, our front yard has high visibility, unfortunately. Would love to change that or at least hide the house, LOL. I have to say that we actually have very few rocks. We almost wish we had some for stone walls (fences) but except for an occasional piece of quartz, rocks are pretty scarce.

Unknown said...

Hi Liegh,

Glad you found the garden tractor website interesting. My wife and I do have a blog (just started so no post as of yet) First post will be this week sometime. http://thebeginninghomesteader.wordpress.com/

As to the tractor, I wish you the best of luck. Look for one that runs and doesn't smoke. Preference would be to find one that already has all the attachments with it. I found mine through craigs list for $600

Leigh said...

Matt, thank you for the link to your new blog. I'll look forward to reading your posts. I find blogging a great way to document what we're doing, especially for ourselves!

Hopefully this will be the tractor for us. It will be a relief to have the proper equipment for the job.

Anonymous said...

Leigh, I think that is a great plan! We are going to do more as we get more established here. One area I think we will have to do raised beds, or at least build UP is the patch right in front of the house. We can't dig down because of the septic tank. But I can make beds and plant edible plants, and make it a beautiful place over time :)


Leigh said...

Stephanie, you probably already know to do this, but just make sure you can get to the septic tank in case you need to. :)

Felecia Cofield said...

Hi Leigh! What an interesting post! I also enjoyed reading all of the comments! It's amazing to see how many people are really interested in growing a garden and raising animals! We learn so much from each other, even though every homestead is different. I didn't know we could grow almond trees here in the South! That's awesome! Where did you order yours? I want to order some at the right time. Thanks for sharing this awesome post! Blessings from Bama!

africanaussie said...

I just have a small yard, but have slowly been getting rid of the lawn. This weekend I finished extending the veggie patch, and just have beds and paths there. It looks so clean - just like a potager!

The Stay @ Home-Gardener said...

Have you seen the Back to Eden video on Vimeo where the guy in WA uses a method of heavy mulching to keep from watering and weeds etc for his orchard and garden?

I'm seeing a Front Yard Garden in the works here. :)