Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Back to the Future

Last year, I took a deep breath and ripped up my grassy sidewalk strip. Cover crop and a toad over-wintered there. Squash, beans, peppers, squirrels, and sunflowers summered there. And connections with neighbors, passersby, friends of friends, blossomed there.

Then I ditched the grass on half of the remaining lawn - devoting the patch to a butterfly garden, with a few peas, tomatoes and cucumbers tucked in for good measure. I was rewarded with more varieties of butterflies than I'd ever seen, bees galore, and even some lustful ladybugs. I was also rewarded with some admiring looks from joggers, thankful finches de-seeding my cosmos, and two little boys who can identify every type of flower out there.

This fall, the rest of my front lawn will go. According to Diane MacEachern of The Big Green Purse, "[w]ith some forty million acres of America carpeted in grass, turf is our largest irrigated crop . . . A staggering 60 percent of water consumed on the West Coast and 30 percent on the East Coast goes to watering lawns." (248). That doesn't even take into account the impact from gas powered mowing and blowing machines or pesticides and fertilizers used to maintain lawns. I've forsworn those but still put a half hearted effort into semi-watering and maintaining the last strip of monoculture left in my front yard.

But no more. I'm going back to the future. Back to the Victory Garden.

And the future is more delicious and bountiful than we imagined.

In a time of dwindling oil supplies and changing climates, of disappearing biodiversity and vanishing bees, it stands out like a beacon of hope, the bailout to industrial agriculture's harrowing debt and the cure for this month's salmonella outbreak.

Here are photos of an edible garden I've been admiring.

No one said that a front yard veggie patch needs to look like a farm. It doesn't need to look like a typical suburban yard either. It can be different. It can be amazing. And it can speak louder to friends, neighbors and one's community than rallies, petitions or showings of The Inconvenient Truth. It can inspire and educate. It can connect and regenerate.
This month's APLS carnival topic is educating others. I can think of no better way to educate others than to do it in your front yard. Grab a shovel and start spreading the word.



ruchi aka arduous said...

Oh my gosh! That picture!! I'm dying!!

I can't believe you're getting rid of your whole front lawn. Very impressive. Do you still have some lawn left in the backyard for the kids? What would you do if you sold the house? Would you have to put a new lawn in?

Burbanmom said...

Good questions, ruchi. Michelle, did you use any of the square foot gardening methods? How do you keep it from just looking like, well... an untended garden? Let's face it, at some point they all start to look that way. And what do you do when it starts to die? Do you plant "pretties" by the sidewalk and "uglies" in the back?

So many questions.... would love to hear how you laid it out and what you would do differently, now that you've been through a full season.

Inquiring minds want to know...

And yeah, since I gave up blogging, now I'll be hogging comment space on blogs by asking tons of questions. It's fun!

Abbie said...

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post.

They should feature gardens like yours in "Better Homes and Gardens." I saw a huge amount of birds and bees around my sunflowers this year. Now, our bird friends enjoy perching on our new maple trees.

I'm planning to add to a wildlife friendly garden to my yard this year. I'll be planting daffodil bulbs to naturalize soon, and I also plan to add a bunch of summer perennials in the spring. We decided to plant in the area of the woods where we buried the poor baby deer that died in our yard. Our wildlife garden will be in remembrance of the baby deer.

As for our food, the vegetable garden is enough for us right now. But we do plan to add a small orchard with apple, peach, pear, plum, and maybe a cherry tree over the coming years. Hopefully we'll start with apples in the spring.

Yay Victory gardens!

Abbie said...

Oh, and one more point to add to address Ruchi's question about the kids playing. My parents house is lined with an apple orchard on one side, a vegetable garden, corn field, and peach orchard on the other side, lawn, and woods on the last side. Their lawn is pretty large, being that the farm is 60 acres and there's plenty of room for all the crops, but we had so much fun playing in the orchards and gardens, much more than on the boring grass. So don't worry about the kids not having fun!

amanda said...

i so want to take our whole sodded front yard, with full-sun and turn it into an edible garden...but alas we are mere renters for now and are planning a move within the next year to FLA. I guess I have to stay satisfied with my container gardening for now. Congrats on your progress!

Diane MacEachern said...

This is really inspiring! If you haven't read Barbara Kingsolver's book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, check it out of the library. You're kindred spirits!

By the way, my shade trees have completely overtaken my vegetable garden, but what a great excuse to grow anemones and hardy begonias!

Joyce said...

I love the garden you photographed! Here's my problem (other than probably too much shade)-I don't want a big mud patch all winter right by the front door, and I think that's what we would have. At least with grass, when there is no snow cover, we can walk on it without getting too muddy. Since you are talking about putting in a winter crop of veggies, you must be able to keep things growing pretty much year round where you live. Even late season things like fall broccoli and salad greens are done here by November, and then you would have nothing until maybe late March, when you could plant peas and salad greens again. But, hey, if you can do this in your climate, go for it!

Lisa Sharp said...

How awesome! I'm jealous. Right now we are living with my in-laws but when I have my own home I plan to do a ton of gardening! I want a butterfly garden so much.

eco 'burban mom said...

The picture is HI-larious! I wish I could off load my front yard for gardening, but it's currently being trampled for use as a basketball court by four boys plus all their friends. Not to mention, I refuse to water it anyway, so I am trading exercise for four unruly boys for cucumbers I guess.

Question - how do you tear up the yard? Do you bring in a tiller or hire someone or just dig it up by hand yourself? I have some side yard I was trying to repurpose, but the digging was killing me!

eco 'burban mom said...

Oh, and I just read Joyce's comment! Totally right, here in Michigan anything that was garden, becomes muddy, mud, mud in the winter. ACK! My boys would track it in and out all winter long. I dread even letting the doggies out to pee in the late winter. They require a 4-paw wipedown from muddy spots in the yard!

Bugs and Brooms said...

Great post GB and I love the picture and the video! We are renting right now but were able to talk our landlord into a small portion of the field next to our house for a garden! And the surrounding fields were filled with wildflowers and butteflies, bees, and birds! That is until he MOWED it down! It was so beautiful and seeing those flowers plowed over broke my heart!

What a statement it would be if our political leaders actually paid for their own households? Shouldn't it be that way? Maybe they would be more interested in growing their own food again!! We should all go Back to the Future!

Bugs and Brooms said...

Another note - with all of the questions on this and with your wonderful writing style, you should consider writing a book on the subject! With all of these inquiring minds it would definitely be a best seller!

Melinda said...

Wahoo! Good for you! That's great! My mother is thinking about where to put squash and a few other food crops in the front yard next year. It started with scarlet runner beans, making an inviting and beautiful entrance to the front porch... slowly but surely!

Joyce, you should be able to have perennial herbs year-round, and many greens, brussels sprouts, broccoli, etc should survive cold weather.

We live in Seattle, where mud happens year-round. People get around that by making sure there are good paths in their gardens. If you plant your vegetables and herbs in raised beds, that makes it even easier... Plus, of course, there is a rule of taking off shoes on the porch! ; )

Green Bean said...

Ruchi: Still lawn in the back - if you can call it that. I've actually have a few people tell me that an attractive edible garden in the front yard might be a selling point! How times change. Last year, I thought we'd have to put new lawn in. Who knows.

Burbs: There are certainly times when it is not looking so hot - like right now as the last of the sunflowers have been tumbled to the ground and the squash vines are dead and the cosmos and borage go to seed. I figure it's just part of the cycle of life and beauitful in it's own right. People can just live with it. No complaints yet - just interest. Even so, next year, I plan to do the butterfly garden on the sidewalk strip as it's a bit more sightly and will put a fence around some of the other garden so the dead sunflowers and such are not so in your face. And yes you are welcome to comment here all you like. I look forward to the day I log in to find a completely unrelated comment in Burb-esque language about line drying clothes or something.

Abbie: Why thank you! I read Gaia's Garden last year. One of the points was to increase the biodiversity in your yard. Make no mistake, lawn is pure monoculture. Nothing lives in or on it. Just by planting more stuff, we've got all kinds of wildlife - well as much as you can expect in the crowded Bay Area. I'm still hoping for a lizard. Your wildlife garden for that fawn sounds wonderful. And, you are right. It is SO much more interesting for the kids.

Amanda: Next year then! Enjoy the container garden for now but save up all your ideas and go full fledged when you can. It is so fun.

Diane: Yes, AVM is one of my favorite books EVER. And I love that your shade tree has overtaken the veggie garden. Trees are wonderful - habitat, cooling, carbon. I plan to plant one on the outskirts of our newest patch.

Joyce: Isn't it purty! The pictures don't even do it justice. I bike by it from time to time just to ogle her set up. As to the mud, that garden and another I meant to photograph but never had a chance to have paths made of brick and gravel respectively. However, don't forget that I live in Northern Califorina. We're getting close to that time of year when people will read my posts and say "what!?! She bought all that at her farmers' market in January?" or "she harvested lettuce in December?". Different climates! We're lucky in that it is very temperate and we can grow stuff year round. Not so lucky in that we have no water. No rain since Feb. or March.

Lisa: You and Amanda can bottle up your excitement and pour it out when you get your own gardens. I was really really pleased with my butterfly garden this year.

Eco Burbie: I had someone dig up the sidewalk strip and we dug up the other half of our lawn (it's very hard work - just dig down until you get to the grass roots and scrap along with back of a pick ax). We just used shovels. Apparently, tilling is bad, bad, bad. On the sidewalk strip, I did some sheet mulching which resulted in AMAZING soil. This time, my husband is super busy and I plan to hire a friend of a friend who does edible gardens. I want something really durable and attractive and, hopefully, primarily made of reclaimed materials. Nothing like asking for it all.

Bugs: That is super nice of you! I'd love to find the time to write a book. I feel like this area moves so quickly that I couldn't keep up but maybe some day. Thank you for saying that. :) As to your flowers, I'm really sorry they were mowed down. I thought of ripping mine out earlier to make way for the cover crop but figured I'd give them some more time. I'm glad I did. Everything is going to seed and the finches are having a field day. And YES! no matter who is elected, what a statement it would make to have a "first garden" and maybe even put Jimmy Carter's solar panels back on.

Melinda: Ah, the master. :) Good advice on mud, overwintering (how does Swiss chard do in colder areas? Mine overwintered here and is still going from a year ago!) Can't wait to hear what your mom does. And please take photos. I've scoured the internet and am always disappointed at how few photos of attractive front yard edible gardens you find.

CindyW said...

Love the picture on the top!

A friend forwarded the health and eating habits of the candidates. I thought it was interesting:


I know, it's not relevant to your post. Can't help myself after seeing the carrots in their mouths...

Abbie said...

I disagree about the monoculture... I'm not "pro-lawn" or anything, but my lawn is diverse. Lots of clover, dandelions, weeds, etc. And lots of different types of insects.

A lawn that's treated with too much pesticide/herbicide is monoculture, but not all of them are.

Green Bean said...

Cindy: I know! How hilarous is that picture. Unfortunately, the link's broken. I can't find the article your referencing. Sounds interesting though . . .

Abbie: Touche! I will say, then, that my lawns - for which I use no herbicides or pesticides - are not monocultures. They are full of clover, bermuda grass, dandelions and various other "weeds" (for lack of knowing what those other things actually are). The bees love the clover but beyond that, I still don't see much life or activity on my lawns. Just about all the other lawns on my street though must be treated with herbicides and such because they have that decidely monoculture feel. We'll likely never give up lawns entirely, though, and I think that if people want lawns, they need to lower their standards a bit and accept the more diverse, easier to maintain lawn that you suggest.

Mama said...

Great ideas, I can't wait to see how it turns out! We only really have a side yard, and hope to expand our garden by at least 3 times this year. Can't wait to get rid of more grass! We have a creek that runs through the back of our house, and this year decided to let whatever grow instead of weed wacking. I have the most beautiful, delicate flowers that grow up there, that the hummingbirds love! That was a treat:)

Abbie said...

I'm not trying to argue with you! Just making the point that your lawn doesn't have to be a monoculture if you don't want it to be, haha!

Joyce said...

Right, I have a lot of "biodiversity" in my lawn too.
Melinda, I'm sorry to say that brussel sprouts, etc. will not survive our winters. Perennial herbs will make it by going dormant. If you dig down under the snow, sometimes you can find some green, but not enough to really solve the mud problem. We have a sidewalk (that everyone ignores!), but pets, paperboys, and grown children who have not given up their evil lawn-trampling ways would just churn up the dirt-snow-rain mix. It would be a mess. Then the spring rains would wash it all away down the sewer grate.

Green Bean said...

Mama: How wonderful! A creek running through your yard and wildflowers? The kids must love it!

Abbie: Whatever! You are a total lawn lover and you know it! ;-) I'm sorry. Actually, I did write a bit as if you were arguing with me, though I know you were not. What I meant to say is that you make a good point and I'd like to see more people adopt your definition of lawn.

Going Crunchy said...

Oh my gosh, that was fantastic!!! Thanks for posting that. Can we spread it along after a bit? Shan

Green Bean said...

Shannon, please do!

Abbie said...

I'm not a lawn lover, you are! (I'm sorry, I reverted back to childhood for a moment...)

We were discussing lawn fertilization and pesticide use at my environmental law class the other night. It was funny how I have my students growing grass in the greenhouse to focus on environmentally friendly lawn care, I was discussing it with you here, and then we were talking about it in my class. Apparently CT's waterways are greatly affected by home pesticide and fertilizer use. And companies such as "True Green Chem Lawn" make statements regarding how their pesticides are "practically not toxic." Um, doesn't that mean they ARE toxic???

As for biodiversity, my lawn is probably so diverse because we have hay fields on two sides and woods on two sides. So there's plenty of wildlife spilling over into our yard. Last night I counted 9 wild turkeys in the backyard as I looked out the window when cooking supper. We also have two deer that make regular appearances.

Andrew said...

Just an FYI for those that inspire to follow along:
instead of digging the grass by hand (very hard, lengthy labor), you can rent a Sod-cutter at your local hardware store. It is a nifty machine that goes about 2" under the lawn and chops it off in strips. Then you just roll it up and put it to the curb.
That method also has the advantage that you now will have space to add a good layer of dirt to grow what you wish. Lawn actually does drain the dirt underneath of nutrients and compacts it - which makes growing anything over that pretty hard.
Good luck with your garden.


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