How to Turn Your Lawn into an Edible Garden
Lawns are a common feature in many gardens. But does a lawn really allow you to make the most of the space you have available? If you really want to make the most of your garden, you really should use it to grow at least some of your own food. Many people imagine that creating a food producing garden takes a lot of time and hard work. But turning your lawn into an edible garden is easier than you might imagine.
Eating From Your Existing Lawn?
Before getting rid of your lawn altogether, you might want to consider the potential to forage for things to eat there. When you look around, you will discover that the natural environment around us can provide a surprising amount of sustenance – before we even begin to think about growing any crops.
Some lawns are barren mono-crops of grass, grass and more grass. Other lawns, however, may be somewhat more interesting and useful. Some gardeners work very hard to eliminate all other plant species from a lawn. But organic, sustainable gardeners will embrace a few weeds. Less ‘tidy’ but more eco-friendly lawns can include a wide range of edible plant species.
For example, you might find:
- broad leaved plantain
- clover flowers
- fat hen
- ground elder
All these common lawn ‘weeds’,and more, can be edible. They can be used in a wide range of ways to broaden a home grown diet and provide valuable nutrition. There are many reasons why you should allow ‘weeds’ to wild your lawn – gaining some edible produce is just one small added benefit.
Why Replace Your Lawn With an Edible Garden?
However, even if your lawn is wild and filled with wildlife-friendly and edible ‘weeds’, you can increase the yield of edible plants by sacrificing at least some of your lawn to make an food garden. This can be accomplished much more easily, cheaply and quickly than you might imagine.
Making New Garden Beds Where Your Lawn Used to Be
The soil in our gardens is a precious and fragile resource. Digging can disrupt the fragile ecosystem beneath the ground. Rather than digging new beds in the traditional way, therefore, it is best simply to create your new growing areas on top of the existing turf.
Deciding Where To Place New Garden Beds
The first stage in the process is to mark out your new garden beds. Decide where you would like to place them, and how large you would like them to be. When deciding where to place your new growing areas, you should be sure to think about:
- How much sunlight the areas receive, and how long they are in shade.
- Whether the areas are sheltered from wind or rather exposed.
- Where the beds are in relation to your home, compost heaps, water sources, and other things you will need while using them. (Thinking about the different elements in your garden, where they are located in relation to one another, and how you will move between them can help you plan a garden that works well for the gardener, as well as for plants and wildlife.)
Once you have decided where to place your new growing areas, mark out the areas with string, or with flour sprinkled to make the edges of the space. Then cover the whole area inside these lines with a layer of cardboard. This will limit the growth of grass and weeds through your new garden beds.
Edging New Garden Beds
The new growing areas to do not need to be edged with anything, and can simply spread out across your lawn. However, for a neater and tidier garden, it can be a good idea to create edging which will help keep the materials of your new garden beds in place.
You can use a wide range of natural or reclaimed materials for this purpose. For example, you could consider using:
- Logs, either on their side or buried upright in the ground for deeper raised beds.
- Stones or rocks from your garden, either dry stacked or mortared to make sturdier walls.
- Clay/mud from your garden, mounded to make small retaining edges, or mixed with straw or other fibrous material to make cob to build short walls.
- Reclaimed timber.
- Reclaimed bricks or blocks.
- Glass bottles, or other household rubbish.
Filling New Garden Beds
Once you have laid out the cardboard base and build the edging (if required) on top of the edges of the area, it is time to begin filling your new garden beds. Since we are aiming to disturb the precious soil ecosystem as little as possible, we will do so by building upwards, rather than by digging down. This beds created using this system are often called ‘lasagna beds’. They are build up in much the same way as this popular Italian dish.
Basically,what we are doing here is making compost. But rather than placing it in a separate compost heap, we are allowing the materials to compost in place. They will break down over time and meld with the soil system beneath, thereby creating a fertile and productive new growing area for edible crops.
On top of the cardboard layer, spread out layers of green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (oxygen rich) materials. Aim to create layers around 5-10cm deep, and build up the organic materials to an eventual depth of at least 30cm.
Bear in mind that the materials will break down and the beds will sink over time. But you will be able to keep feeding the soil from above with a series of sheet mulches or compost and/or organic matter between growing plants, and by chopping and dropping the plants growing there.
Once you have filled your new beds to the required depth, top your beds with a layer of compost around 5-10cm thick. Of course, it is best if you can use your own compost, created in your own garden. But if you need to buy some to get started, be sure to choose an eco-friendly, peat-free option.
Hügelkultur is a similar method for creating new growing areas. It takes the ideas above and enhances them to create high planting mounds that are especially good at retaining moisture and provide excellent levels of nutrition for plants.
In this method, after laying the cardboard, you can next place part-rotted wood – logs, branches and smaller twigs – in a pile at the centre of the space. After this, you will layer up other organic materials and top with compost as in the creation of ‘lasagna’ beds. The difference is that the woody cores of these growing areas support mounds that are usually at least 1m high.
One of the benefits of these mounds is that they can create a range of different growing conditions over a relatively small area. Sun-loving plants can be planted on the south side of a mound, with those that like drier conditions towards the top, while plants that like shade will do well on the northern side.
Planting Up Your New Beds
You can now water your new growing areas well and plant them up right away. However, if you have the time, it is best to wait a week or two to allow them to ‘bed in’ and for the materials to settle.
You can sow seeds into your new growing areas just as you would in a traditional bed, or make small holes to place transplants in on the new beds. Most vegetables, herbs and other herbaceous plants can find a place in one of these growing areas. You can choose to grow traditional annual vegetable crops, or more unusual perennial edibles for a lower maintenance edible garden.
Creating a Food Forest on an Old Lawn
The lowest maintenance edible gardens, however, are those which mimic the natural world. An edible forest garden will mimic a natural forest, but include edible plants, and other plants that are useful to us,as well as to each other.
You can create a food forest on the area of an old lawn largely as described above, in the description relating to the creation of lasagna beds, with one small difference. After laying the cardboard, you will have to mark out areas and cut out and dig a few holes in which to plant your trees,and larger shrubs. Once your trees are in place, you can proceed as above – just make sure that you leave a gap around the tree so the mulch layers you place do not touch the trunks. (As this may cause them to rot.) You can then proceed to place the herbaceous/ ground cover layers in the new growing areas created around your trees and shrubs.
The food forest will take a little more work to create in the first place, but once established, will take less effort to maintain.