Posted in Great Outdoors

Lawns, witch-burning, and blood-letting may have run their course

I have a love-hate relationship with lawns.  My toes like to curl deep in a green sponge of the stuff, but there’s a snake lurking in the grass.


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Lawns became popular in northern Europe during the Middle Ages.  So did witch-burning and blood-letting.  The kind of lawn most people envy today require several supplements, typically in the form of chemicals.

The suffix -cide is added to words to indicate “killing,” or “to kill”, while the suffix -izer is added to indicate “render,” or “to render.”  The words fungicide, herbicide, pesticide and fertilizer suggest we are killing everything off but the grass, and then trying to render it fertile.

It may be time for a change, eh?

Most of us see the yard as an extension of our house.  We ogle pictures of carpet-like green expanses, and click on pictures of outdoor seating areas free of pollen, seeds, bird poop and rain.

The truth is, our yard is part of nature.  The reason we need all those chemicals is because we are forcing it to be something it was never meant to be.  The out of doors, left to its own devices is biodiverse.  The formal lawn is a monoculture.  Mono.  As in one plant.  Grass.  There are very few examples of monoculture in nature.  Most are purely manmade, such as in agriculture.  But your lawn isn’t even being grown for food.  You might as well pour concrete on the whole thing and paint it green.

The weeds in my yard are a symbol of life.  They are nature trying to regain balance.  The weeds import biodiversity.

UntitledIn the early morning I pad out to the yard in my pajamas, frequently barefoot.  I’m foraging for my grand-rabbit’s breakfast.

I acquired the domestic rabbit when my daughter rescued it from her uncle’s farm.  Little more than a baby, someone had apparently set it “free” when they decided they no longer wanted it.  She is a full-grown rabbit now, and quite at home living in my kitchen.  However, lest anyone (my daughter) forget this is not a pet I chose, but one that was bestowed upon me, I will forever refer to her as my grand-rabbit.  Her given name is Mandi, but I call her Rabbit and occasionally just Bun.  But I digress . . .

On my way in, I will often stop by the salad garden to pick the greens for my own lunch .  Better yet, I might make a breakfast salad with green onions, crumbled bacon, homemade croutons, and a poached egg on top.  Drizzled with a maple vinaigrette, it is the best way to jump-start a five-star day!

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On one particular morning this last week, I was adding dandelion blossoms to Bun’s breakfast.  She gobbles them up like candy.  I left two of them intact, as they each hosted about three tiny bees, bobbing their abdomen atop the yellow flowers.  It reminded me that I share this yard — gladly, too.

Bun dines on the leaves and flowers of dandelion, clover, plantain, and creeping charlie.  Yes, I have creeping charlie.  Sounding more like a security issue than a weed, creeping charlie is the scourge of the lawn.  It can choke out small plants, and as its name implies, creeps sure-footedly across expanses of ground.

My research revealed that it was once touted as a hearty ground cover.  Medicinally, it’s been used to cure everything from sciatica to asthma.  After is was brought to America, it was found to be very high in Vitamin C, and is now naturalized in almost every region.  Please note that not any of these are reasons to purposely plant the stuff, but if you just can’t shake that nasty case of scurvy, you may want to steep a cup of tea.

UntitledWell . . . you know I had to try it.  Several writings described creeping charlie tea as severely bitter.  I found it fairly pleasant, and not as bitter as some of the herbal teas in my cupboard.  *Maybe I just didn’t do it right.  I put it in a cup before adding boiling water, as one blog explained.  At any rate, I didn’t add the honey and lemon they all insisted I would need.

My point being that like people, most plants are not all bad.  Even the mint, chives and oregano I planted need to be carefully watched so as to to take over the garden.  And grass is not a bad thing, as long as we plant it responsibly where it can grow without added chemicals —  or water!  I can’t believe anyone is still using water on their grass.

The latest recommendation is that if possible, try to find a three to four foot stretch at the edge of your property that you can let go.  Let the branches fall and become home for worms.  Let the leaves drop and mulch the earth.  Let the weeds grow and the seeds germinate.  Let the pollinators buzz and the butterflies sip.  Let the squirrels dig.  Let the spiders spin.

Between the strip and your lawn, plant a transition of native plants and a deep mulch bed.  The benefit is less watering, less mowing, and your own little nature preserve right at home.

Peace . . .

*There are all kinds of reasons I wouldn’t suggest you try this on my suggestion.  You would want to make sure you were indeed using the right herb.  You would want to wait after a first sip to make sure there is no reaction.  You want to know there are no toxins on anything you consume.  And you might want to make sure you have someone who can dial for emergency if necessary.  Please do your own research.  I am NO expert on the subject!
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Posted in Great Outdoors

Grassroots Movement

Last year at this time, I might have added “I can’t grow grass” to my list of can’ts.  You might have read a post I published way back when I started this blog, In Lawns as in Life, about my trials of lawn ownership.  Over this past summer, I read The Organic Lawn Care Manual by Paul Tukey and learned a lot.

Cover of "The Organic Lawn Care Manual: A...

The previous owner of my home used a lawn service, which is basically junk food for your grass.  It keeps it green and looking good, but underneath, it is sick and weak.  Once I took it off of that service, it didn’t have anything to fall back on.

Even worse, I threw some more chemicals on it without knowing what I was doing.  I burnt it out.  The soil eroded and the weeds found some awesome hard, lifeless gravel in which to germinate.  No matter how much I watered, it was a losing battle.

The brown eventually disappeared, but what was left was very weedy.  Early last spring, Bubba and I tossed some seed on it, as a start — I had only begun to read the book, and knew I was done throwing chemicals on my lawn.  The seed germinated and did thicken what grass was left.  I kept reading.

In September , I chose a patch — the worst patch — in the middle of a thriving crop of Creeping Charlie.  I took my metal garden rake to break through what soil was there.  As the vines of Charlie caught in the tines, I pulled up as much as I could.  I know there are still plenty of nodes that have broken off and are waiting to propagate next spring, but the hope is that I am making an environment that is less comfortable for them.

Next, I opened up four bags of good organic
compost I had purchased from my garden supply store.  Using my rake, I spread them out evenly to the depth of about an inch to and inch and a half.  I then spread a nice mixture of seed over the top.  By a mixture, I mean that your grass seed has to have a mixture of spreading and clumping type grasses.  It makes for a diverse community, which all work together to make a healthy lawn.  Of course Paul Tukey states it much better in his book.  If I could communicate it as well as he did, I would have written my own book!  So read his book if you really want to know what I’m talking about.

I used my garden rake to incorporate them lightly into the compost and watered religiously — and I’m not a religious person, so that is saying a lot!  In a week to ten days, my little grass babies were popping their heads up toward the sun.  It was perfect grass weather this fall — wet and cool.  Never one to think what I’m doing at the time is of any importance, I am sorry to say that I didn’t take any photos of the process.

Now I am here to say that I CAN grow grass.  Already I wish that spring was here so that I could check in on my little patch to see how it weathered the winter.

DSCN1843The idea is to stop feeding the grass, and to start feeding the soil.  There is still raking to be done, and next spring my little patch will receive another dose of compost.

It is important to note that Creeping Charlie has many culinary and medicinal uses.  In my midwest suburban neighborhood it can also be used to piss off your neighbors, which I am not inclined to do.  And so I will continue to battle the

I really don’t want a whole yard of grass which requires so much of our good water to be poured out on the lawn.  But it is good to know that I can grow grass, and do it without chemicals, in a few places where I would really like it.

Peace . . .

Posted in Great Outdoors, Weekly Photo Challenge

Weekly Photo Challenge: Change

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Nothing is permanent but change.
~~Heraclitus

Weekly Photo Challenge: Change / The Daily Post

Some of my other favorite interpretations:

inspirationnet
Season for Same Old Change / Fly for Icarus
The Patient Gardener’s Weblog
Chris’ Sideline Pics
What a Difference a Tide Makes / mybeautifulthings
High Street Photo x 100
bob’s wife (Very tender)
Francine In Retirement
A Meditative Journey with Saldage
amoralegria
What Is It?!?
Last Call / Beyond the Brush
Jude’s Photography

Posted in Great Outdoors

In Lawns as in Life

Maybe I ought to take a minute to explain my situation.  I realize that my declaration of seeking peace, balance, wholeness, etc., sounds like I eat local, attend a power-yoga class, and wear sustainable clothing.  I am sorry if I have misled anyone.  I live in a meager home supported by a meager salary.  I like to grow vegetables because they are so good for me and taste better than anything I have EVER bought anywhere, but also to supplement my grocery bill.  My garden this year is disappointing.  Last spring I lacked the funds to buy new seed and replenish spent soil.  So I’m not heading out to Whole Foods in my hybrid each week.  Please understand, this quest is all about doing what I can with what I have.  I am simply your average Joe . . . er . . . Jean.

Just over four years ago I moved into my current residence.  I bought it as a small, four-bedroom rambler, which is now a two-bedroom rambler due to the addition of an office/craft room and a dining room.  There is a nice fenced-in back for Barney and Sabbath.  In the front is a yard with a pretty brick planter.  For the first time ever, I am the proud owner of my very own lawn!

There was a lawn at my marriage home, but aside from my occasional watering and mowing, it belonged to my husband.  It was also the envy of the neighborhood.  So, I thought, how hard can it be?  I know all the terms:  fertilizer, de-thatch, water, aerate, over-seed, pre-emergent weed killer.  Oh yeah.  I’ve got this covered. That first summer, I had nice green grass.  I followed the lawn-care calendar.  The following spring, the bottom third of the lawn was yellow and crispy.  I watered.  I watered some more.  But it was dead!

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Watering the Weeds

Since then, I’ve worked out that I had probably over-fertilized the first fall.  The dead grass left the ground unprotected.  The slight slope began to erode and now has lumpy divots.  Where grass failed to take root, weeds had no problem whatsoever.  The best advice I can get from friends and family is to hire a lawn service.  My checkbook says no.

Let me just say this.  I really don’t even agree with having a lawn at all.  Pouring clean water on grass when a large part of our global population has none to drink or bath in is terribly irresponsible.  Sprinkling chemicals that wash into waterways is criminal.  Polluting the air with the petrol-run mower and disturbing the silence of a Sunday afternoon ought to be considered the height of social rejection.

Yet here I am lamenting over my front yard for the sole purpose of fitting in.  What is wrong with this picture?  I have succumbed to the pressure of society in suburbia.  I rate my curb appeal against other plots, and find myself at the bottom of the competition.  I do not run the risk of having Bob up the street stopping by to ask, “You trying to make us look bad with that lawn?”  (I have heard envious neighbor dudes say that to one another.)

Here is my crossroad — I’m not just talking grass here anymore — for lawns and for life.

  • I can continue to water, keep things green and see what comes up, hoping for more grass than weeds.
  • I can dig the whole thing under and start new.
  • I can just spread some new dirt of the top, level it out, then sprinkle grass seed on top and water it well.
  • Or maybe I could rethink the whole thing and begin to plant native plants and ground cover that need less water, minimize the need for fertilizer, and require less mowing.

Why is it the option that excites me is the one that ignites such self-doubt?  Of course, I’m speaking about the last option.  There is so much to learn and a whole new way to think about my front yard.  It’s the area that is right out there for the whole world to see. I run the risk of Neighbor Bob walking down asking, “Sooo . . what have you got going on over here?”  Reading between the lines I would know he was thinking, “There goes the neighborhood.  Damn hippies.”

Seeking peace, balance, wholeness and all things precious in lawns as in life.  Wishing I didn’t worry so much about what everyone else thinks. Doing what I can with what I have.  Working on my own corner of the world because it’s already as much as I can handle. Trying to do the right thing.