The (R)Evolution of My Yard Part Two: The Great Grass Murder of Twenty Ten

23 Mar

As I’ve been saying, Double S and I have been working day and night (well, mostly day) to change our new yard from a typical residential, city yard to this…

I exaggerate! Kind of...

When we moved into our house this past September, our yard contained the following: lots of grass, three malpruned fruit trees, raspberries and blueberries (yes!), bamboo, ivy, and a mock river bed.  WTF indeed, on the last one, friends,  This is not to say we don’t love the yard.  We frickin’ love it!  And right now, we’re causing a revolution!  We’re gonna eat our yard!  Our yard is changing from stylized if slightly neglected landscaped yard with grass, to lean, mean food production machine.

The point is this, with some (read: a lot) work and some ingenuity, you can change your yard or outdoor space into food no matter what it’s current state.   If you start now, March, you can be eating your own home grown organic and superdeduper local veggies  come summer.  The yakketyyak about how expensive farmer’s markets and organics are can become moot.  If you start now and are willing to work, you can turn your yard into your own utopia.

The first stwp in the revolution of our yard has been the murder of our grass.  As I said, when we moved in just a scant six months ago, our yard was a highly landscaped, dare I say kind of sterile yard.  But with so much potential.  Our yard had such a pretty face!  It has the above mentioned dry rock river bed, lots of native bushes, trees, and yes, grass.  Mot of that grass was a goner as soon as Double S and I signed on the dotted(s).  We have long term goals.  We’re going to plant this year, but it will be the summer of 2011 that this puppy will really shine.  My buddy growandresist knows her shit, and she has been helping us come up with a plan for our garden oasis.  Planning started back in January.

Drawing up a garden map.

Growandresist has a special measuring tool for the job.

Right off the bat, we decided that we wanted about half of the grass gone. Murderers, we are!  We decided that our weapon of choice would be asphixiyation: we would smother the grass to death under layers of biodegradable materials.  This is sheet-mulching, friends.  Go here to read about what’s known as Interbay sheet mulching, developed in Seattle, obvs!  We started by collecting coffee grounds from our friendly neighborhood coffeeshop, Bird on a Wire.

Friendly folks! Great coffee! Me with my bucket every other day, picking up grounds!

You will see some coffeeshops, including Starbucks, offering free re-packaged grounds for their customers.  You can find this, at least here in Seattle, on a hit or miss basis in most local shops  This is an awesome thing.  But I decided to go talk to the friendly staff at Bird on a Wire, our neighborhood coffeeshop, and ask if I could drop off a bucket. Then I asked if they would put their grounds in said bucket, and I would pick up the bucket every other day or so.  That way, I could swing by and pick up the grounds on the way to or from work, or the way to get my weekend lattes, plus no extra packaging.  Get a bucket!

Me, figuratively, with my bucket.

Do NOT try to take my bucket!

Every two days or so, I swing by and pick up my filled bucket.

Make friends with your nabe's baristas!

We’re storing them in a strangely delicious smelling garbage can.  We’ve gotten two cans full so far!

A bucket full of nitrogen rich grounds!

They add up fast!

Coffee grounds are a great addition to sheet mulching.  Coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen, which makes it great mulch for fast growing vegetables.  I’ve read that grounds are especially beneficial for tomato plants, which we all know are the sexiest summer veggie to grow.  And the most delicious.  Grounds provide a good boost for heavy feeding, hungry tomato plants.  And coffee can help suppress late blight and, importantly for the Pacific Northwest, fend off slugs and snails.  Slugs and snails are rampant in these parts.  I used to think they were cool looking.  This was me in 2007.

Now I wanna flick them and/or drown them in (bad) beer. In your face, slugs!

Anyway, there are other materials to gather besides coffee grounds.  Newspaper (not the shiny ads), cardboard (Don’t you need something from ikea, anyway?), and burlap bags create good layers.  In Seattle, you used to be able to get used burlap bags from the Tully’s factory.  Now, you have to pay for them, but it’s well worth it.  Burlap bags do so much for your developing yard.  Are you there yard? It’s me, Briggsy.  My yard needs to develop and I don’t know how to make that happen!  You must!  You must!  You must sheet mulch your yard!  (Slant rhyme!)

This pretty much looks like the cover from back in my day.

Burlap is a great addition to your developing yard because it maintains dark moist conditions that are needed for decomposition.  The bags protect the worms in your soil from hungry birds.  The bags create needed fungi and other microorganisms, and protect those fun guys!  Burlap protects the soil from driving rain and minor freezing, both happening in the last few months and onward.  Finally, burlap provides cover, it’s nicer looking than cardboard, and it’s still permeable enough to allow in water and oxygen.   For burlap in Seattle, go to UpCycle Northwest. You can buy them at a local hardware store, too. I hope they’re available in other parts of the country!  They’re pretty nice looking too, I must say.

Ready to sheet mulch!

Cut 'em up and place 'em. If you're anal about it like me, spend way too long making it fit perfectly!

Okay, so besides coffee grounds and burlap, there are other things you can gather, depending on what’s available in your area.  You could get spent grains from local breweries, finished manure, seaweed, eggshells, sawdust, straw, even dryer lint!  I love the idea of adding dryer lint to your yard!  I’d assume this would work best of you use more natural, biodegradable detergents and dryer sheets.  We used newspapers, coffee chaff, some shells from some local beaches, and some yard waste and grass clippings from our yard.  Newspapers and cardboard are good if you can’t get burlap.  Yard waste and grass clipping and any other organic materials are always helpful.  Rake your yard, cut your grass, and gather every last bit of organic material you can. Coffee chaff is the waste product that remains after coffee beans are roasted.  It pretty much looks like sawdust, and if you’re in Seattle, it’s free!  Again, go to UpCycle Northwest.  It’s so good for tomatoes, but don’t use too much.  It can block water absorption into your soil.  Bad chaff!

Good for you if you didn't rake back in the fall!

By-products of Seattle coffee culture!

Ladies and gents...coffee chaff!

Newspaper, shells, burlap. Get your friends to gather their old papers for you, or steal 'em from the free paper machines right before the new issue comes out.

Once you’ve gathered all your materials, start murdering your grass. We debated renting a rototiller, but we decided to just start digging it up.

Here are our BEFORE shots:

View of right half of yard. We are going to destroy the grass up to the tree at the fork in the path, which is now gone.

View of left half of yard. We are going to sheet mulch this entire patch. Aforementioned dry river bed is to the left of what you can see.

Full view of yard. Bush blocking view of deck is gone. Big tree is gone. It will be replaced with a trellis with grape vines, which will separate the food producing half of the yard from the hang out on the grass and have a drink part of the yard. Thanks to growandresist for the plans!

This is the famous dry river bed. It's kinda cool. Behind that rickety wood fence is our garage. The area behind the fence is the future home of our chicken coop!

We couldn’t decide whether to remove the grass or leave it to degrade.  I was persuaded by the argument that the grass level of the soil has a lot of the worms and nutrients, so we left the grass in.  It’s backbreaking work.  Lucky for me, Double S is energetic because ol’ Briggsy has a bad wrist! Dig up the grass, and add your materials in layers.

A pitchfork, a shovel, and elbow grease! Dig about 6 inches down with a shovel or pitchfork, or use a rototiller. Remove the grass if you want, or leave it. You're going to cover it.

Layer coffee chaff and newspaper, or whatever you have.

Use about three sheets of paper. Water after you put the paper down--not too heavily, but get the paper wet.

Disembodied hand! Add coffee grounds to boost nitrogen levels in your soil. We knew we needed some. You can also send some of your soil out for a soil sample to see what your soil needs.

Take a break from time to time!  Drink a beer!

Are we done yet? I can has beer? Not yet!

Add organic materials on top of your paper--here we added leaves and grass clippings.

Here it is: coffee grounds, chaff, leaves, grass, newspaper. You want it so you can no longer see the grass. Ready for burlap!

Cut and place your burlap. Hold down the bags with rocks to protect against the wind and cats, squirrels, etc. Now water the top of the burlap, unless you live in Seattle in February. Then it's bound to rain...

We did it! We sheet mulched half of our yard. Well, this is a picture of half of that half, but you catch my drift!

You can also add organic compost to your sheet mulch.  We decided to try that for some of the yard.  We called a local landscaping company, E-Green Landscaping, and ordered a truck load of sandy loam and compost.  We added this under half of our burlap.

Look at this beautiful sandy loam...before we cover it with burlap for the spring!

We’ll see how it goes.  Remember, we were starting from scratch, and we want to have a productive plot, so we decided to try everything we could in order to insure beautiful, fertile humus.  BTW, make your own hummus.  It’ so much better than that store bought crap.  My delicious recipe to come!

So that is sheet mulching.  We didn’t get rid of all of our grass.  Ya gotta have a place in the grass to lay and to let various black cats chase their prey (read: gnats!).

I tried to get a butterfly to pose on his nose, but that would have been cuteness overload.

Here are our AFTER shots, or what a sheet mulched yard will look like for most of the winter and spring, on a beautiful first day of spring.

Right view of yard. Tree gone, bush gone. New rain barrels in the background ready to be installed. Stay tuned for more on that!

Left view of yard, fully sheet mulched.

So we will have a nice place to sit in the grass and BBQ, but with enough space to hopefully grow most of our own produce for the summer.  How awesome would that be?

Next step outside: Build raised beds.  But stay tuned for part three of the revolution of my yard, where I’ll show you how we started seeds indoors.

Happy spring!

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9 Responses to “The (R)Evolution of My Yard Part Two: The Great Grass Murder of Twenty Ten”

  1. Carbzilla March 23, 2010 at 8:52 AM #

    Nice work! We could have saved money on our Lawns to Lettuce class if we’d seen this first. I dig that coffee chaff. We will now be separating our coffee grounds from regular compost!

    • ohbriggsy March 23, 2010 at 10:21 AM #

      Thanks! Yeah, saving coffee grounds or better yet hitting up a local coffee shop is the way to go! Great blog, BTW. How was the early plant sale at Tilth? We’re holding out hope that we’ll be able to grow our own starts. But I’m sure I’ll go to the sale in May, because well, it’s awesome! Also, I see you’re going to have or perhaps already have bees. I REALLY want to have bees! Keep us posted on how they work out for you!

  2. citizenjane March 23, 2010 at 10:36 PM #

    Awesome, Briggs. Seriously.

    But if you are collecting the burlap sacks, what will the ladies of Legal Aid wear to court?

    I am concerned.

    • ohbriggsy March 24, 2010 at 8:21 AM #

      thanks! and i’m lol-ing about the LAS joke! is the fashion still as bad as ever? we dont go to court at my job here, but if we did i’m sure it’d be the same–but with more north face.

  3. sonja March 24, 2010 at 8:23 AM #

    Every yard should be so lucky to have these elements: trellis with grape vines separating the food producing half of the yard from the hang out on the grass and have a drink part of the yard!

    • ohbriggsy March 24, 2010 at 8:32 AM #

      i know! i hope our grape vine spreads in a beautiful and artsy way!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The (R)Evolution of My Yard Part Three: Transplants and Seed Starting « oh, briggsy… - April 8, 2010

    […] local food, my yard, organics, pickles, recipes, Seattle by ohbriggsy Right now, as I’ve blogged, our yard is marinating.  Coffee grounds, newspaper, coffee chaff, compost, sandy loam, water, and […]

  2. The (R)Evolution of My Yard Part Four: Making Raised Beds « oh, briggsy… - June 22, 2010

    […] you just have to place them.  We had our soil marinating for the last few months, as I’ve blogged.  And we had it covered with burlap.  So we removed the burlap, dug trenches for the sides of the […]

  3. Cook the Books February! Spicy (Homegrown!) Potato Samosas! « oh, briggsy… - February 1, 2013

    […] to me. Plus, I wanted to use potatoes. Why? Well, it’s kind if a funny story.  As you may have read here in the past, Double S and I moved into the old homestead in 2009, and immediately turned […]

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