Monday, July 25, 2011

Turning our Front Lawn into a Vegetable Garden (Pt 2): De-Grassing

Grass is an obnoxiously sociable plant!  Wherever you want it to grow exclusively, it has a habit of inviting unwanted weeds and mushrooms to join the party.   Grass creeps out of its confines into nearby flower-beds to hobnob with your roses, and rudely interrupts the orderly bricks of sidewalks.   Whether you want it to thrive or disappear, it does not cooperate.
To create our front-yard veggie garden, we had to remove a very large area of grass.  

Now, there are different methods people can use to convert lawn into garden.  One popular way is to leave the grass in place, build raised beds right on top of it, and line the bottoms of the beds with cardboard or newspaper before adding soil.  The idea behind this method is that the newspaper and cardboard will rot away, but not before suffocating the grass below, turning it into lovely compost.  There are two reasons this seemingly sensible method was not our first choice (except for one small bed).  Firstly, our short summers and cold winters would probably not allow the cardboard to rot as fast as we'd like.  But more importantly, our lawn was bumpy and sloped toward the house!  Before we laid down a garden we had to fix that drainage problem.

1. Lift the sod.   Starting in April of this year, using a good ole' spade and a lot of muscle, we sliced and turned over the sod of about 2/3 of our front yard.  The sod was still soft and damp from melted snow, but had not yet begun to grow green, so it was easier than if we'd waited until mid-summer.  If one does this job later in the year, it's a good idea to cut the grass as short as possible (and carry off the clippings), and then dig the sod right after a long rain.  Clay soil like ours is nearly impossible to pierce when dry, although unfortunately it is heavier when wet.  We'd let the turned sod dry out for a day or two before moving them off the ground.  I was thrilled to see plenty of earthworms in the soil.  Later, they can crawl up into the veggie boxes and work their magic!

2.  Dispose of the sod.  We faced a real conundrum when deciding how to do this.  When we phoned our city office, we were told that we would be charged per kilo to dispose of it at the dump.  Sod is beastly heavy, and we couldn't afford it!  I also knew that sod can be turned into good compost, though it does take a long time in our climate.  So, behind some bushes in a less visible corner of our property, we slowly piled up those chunks of sod.  I nestled the sod chunks together tightly, grass-side down, as if I was building a sod house like the pioneers used to!  I expect the 4x5x3 foot pile to take several years to break down.

3.  Slope the ground for gradual drainage.   Next, we scraped the ground in some places and built it up in other places, until it sloped gently away from the house.  My husband did most of this heavy work, and he used a level and line to check the slope as he went.  When we encountered tree roots, we cut them out of our way.   

4.  Work around trees or shrubs.  An ornamental crab apple tree was slated to stay in the center of our front yard, so we left the grass alone in a square area around its trunk, so as to avoid damaging it.  We built a raised bed around the tree's grassy base, laid cardboard over the grass, and put soil on top. But we carefully molded the soil away from the tree's trunk, keeping a 'dimple' in the middle of that square bed.  This was the only raised bed we made this way (with grass left underneath) as we intended that only for perennial plants and flowers.
Now that the ground was ready, the fun of building the garden beds could begin!  Read about building the raised beds in Part 3.

Anyone have any other ideas for disposing of unwanted sod or grass?  


  1. I'm anxiously waiting for Post 3 :o) , I find the whole issue enjoyable, and a intelligent decision.

  2. have you tried posting it for free on a local community board or craigslist? good luck!

  3. Oh dear, Ruth, I don't suppose it would be very generous of me to offer free chunks of sod, when they are so full of dandelions! I don't think anyone would want it.
    But if it was a nice healthy grass, that's a great suggestion for someone else doing this kind of project.

  4. Well shoot, I had the same idea as Ruth. I'm sure it will do just fine composting away back there!
    We have put our veggies up front also to keep them away from the chickens in the backyard. Best decision I've ever made (garden wise). They start up so many conversations with passers by!


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