When we first moved in to our house last year, our backyard boasted little but a weed-filled, patchy lawn in the front and back and a somewhat sad-looking Manitoba Maple tree growing straight into our neighbour’s overhead power lines. We were anxious to start growing some of our own food and started off with two 4 x 4-foot square gardens. We were able to get a nice little harvest over the summer that kept us in supply of fresh salad greens in the early summer, chards and kales well into the fall and a couple of tiny beets and carrots. While not bad for our first foray into gardening (neither of us really had any experience whatsoever – leading all of our radishes to go to seed and our hopes for garlic planted way too late) we spent the fall and winter planning to do away with most of the sorry-looking lawn on the property, both in the front and in the back.
The case against lawn has been discussed in numerous books and blogs, so I won’t got into a whole treatise here, but for us, the lawn represented a whole lot of energy and resources that simply wasn’t giving us anything in return. We don’t want to waste clean, treated, chlorinated city water on the ground and neither of us really enjoys mowing down what does manage to grow in between the dandelions with our squeaky push mower. According to Heather Flores in Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden and Your Neighborhood into a Community, Chelsea Green, 2006 , “the lawns in the United States consume around 270 billion gallons of water per week—enough to water eighty-one million acres of organic vegetables all summer long. An average size lawn of around a third of an acre could, while maintaining a small area for recreation, produce enough vegetables to feed a family of six”. Now, given that we have approximately 6% of an acre to our names in the inner city and “small area for recreation” is largely reserved for afternoon pints around a small table, we still think that we can provide a fair bit of our food for the two of us using the space we have. Still, you can see Heather’s point.
In preparation for gardening season this year, we’ve found a used rototiller in the classifieds, scavenged some deadfall logs to create a lovely raised bed, added a second composter to the backyard and vermicomposting in the basement, and hooked up a couple of rain barrels to the eavestroughs to help with our water supply. We have started with a load of organic compost from a local company to help enrich the soil as we build up the gardens and will hopefully transition over the next few years to enriching with our own compost. In terms of plants, we found one of the two heritage vegetable seed producers in Alberta (the beautiful Harmonic Herbs) to supply us with our seed. Our 3 square metres (32 square feet) of garden space has now expanded to approximately 32 square metres (350 square feet) in the back alone! Good bye scruffy lawn!
In the front, we’ve overhauled on side of the front completely and seeded with grains, herbs, flowers and a few perennials donated from generous co-workers and neighbours. We’re focusing on ground cover and flowers that the bees are supposed to be attracted to as well as some flowers that can be used in teas and cooking. We’ve gathered used bricks from construction projects in the neighbourhood and other generous coworkers to build an herb spiral that will contain chives, chamomile, nasturtiums and marigolds along with other odds and ends that we can use.
Here’s a walk around our space that we call home and the green space that we’ve managed to reclaim so far from the clutches of the lawn. We still have a small patch in our backyard for the previously mentioned afternoon recreation, but our hopes are that the space we’ve now given back to nourishing plants will provide us with much of our summer food and hopefully some storage into winter!