Goodbye Lawns- Hello Edible Forest Gardens

Hello Edible Forest Gardens

Lawns are a huge part of the current American landscape making up a total of 40 acres of the country.  This means that  lawns are the largest irrigated crop in the country. People spend their weekends making sure their lawns are perfectly green, neat and short; do people actually enjoy tending to their lawns? What do people get from lawns?

Our part of the country is naturally forested and if one stopped mowing their lawn, it would eventually turn into a forest. Edible forest gardening is simply designing gardens that mimic the structure and function a forest ecosystems while producing food and other products. Edible forest gardens have three layers of vegetation, Trees, shrubs and herbs and  Just like forests, if designed well edible forest gardens require no fertilizer, no irrigation, no herbicides, no pesticides, and much less labor than vegetable gardens. North American Indians practiced advanced forms of edible forest gardening and permaculture by managing ecosystems with fire, regenerative harvesting and coppicing. What if we planted 40 million acres of  fruit trees, berries and perennial vegetables instead of lawns!

Don’t worry we can turn lawns into low maintenance, resilient and productive ecosystems that supply us with food, fuel, fodder, fiber, farmaceuticals, fertilizers and fun. Lawns are actually a great place to start because they make things easy, you don’t have to worry about taking out existing plants and working around things.

This fall I was busy getting rid of a bunch of lawns (almost 5,000 square feet) by sheet mulching and I will outline the process that I used. There are many other techniques that can be used, this technique is adapted to the materials that are available for free.

To get rid of your lawn easily you will need:

Cardboard- I like going to appliance stores and getting massive boxes, the dudes even help load up the car.

Mulch- woodchips are my favorite, become friends with tree services, they might even call you and ask you if you need more. You can use leaves, hay, compost or whatever else you can find.

All you have to do is lay down the cardboard and cover it with mulch! This simply smothers the grass and builds soil. If you have the materials available and you want to get fancy and really make your soil nice you can aerate the ground with a pitchfork, spread compost/leaves and then lay the cardboard and mulch.

Although sheet mulching works very well on a small scale I worry about establishing large scale food forests and farms. It would be too labor intensive and require tons of material to sheet mulch acres. Grass is probably better for farms so animals can graze. At Native Earth we will be starting with small polyculture patches and we will expand them every year. Does anyone have any ideas or experience with large scale plantings? Also what would happen if wood chips became scarce, I have heard the demand for wood chips is very high in portland because of gardening.

For more info on the gardens I am working on check out these links:

Westwood Volunteer Ambulance Corp Garden

Native Earth Teaching Farm

Thanks to everyone who participated in sheet mulching lawns this fall. It is never to late to get rid of your lawn.

“Plant food trees everywhere always for the rest of your life”- Mark Shepard

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  1. Wilfred Barrett

    May 23, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Here is a little NASA map of what part of America’s surface is covered by lawns:

    • Sustainable Sachi

      August 17, 2012 at 10:56 pm

      Thanks for the map Wilfred! Eye-opening.

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