Bye Bye, Lawn!

Monday, March 17, 2008
I'd rather have tomatoes.

We de-lawned a large swath of our backyard this weekend, making way for three additional new garden beds. For anyone thinking of doing the same, I have four words of advice: Rent a sod cutter. It's a miracle of machine that makes the task so much easier than doing it by hand the old-fashioned way, with shovels and sweat, as we did with our garden bed #1.

Earlier this winter, we considered using the lasagna gardening method to prepare the soil for more planting space. We asked a guy at our favorite garden center for his advice about this, and he looked at us as if we had just dropped in from another solar system. I kind of expected that reaction. The first time I heard the term lasagna gardening, I thought it meant growing things to make lasagna. You know: tomatoes, garlic, basil...

I will pause here so you can finish laughing.

Ahem. So, it turns out lasagna gardening, or sheet composting, would have worked for us if we had started the process last fall. But now in the spring, the garden center guy advised us that there wouldn't be enough time for the grass and other layers of organic matter to decompose fully before planting. Critters in the soil would pull valuable oxygen and nutrients out during the decomposition process, making all that good stuff unavailable to any plants we would put in. Or something like that. In short, we came to the conclusion that removing the sod was probably our best option at this point. My pepper seedlings await.

Enter the sod cutter. We went in with our neighbors (who are also putting in a new garden) and rented one over the weekend. Beforehand, Michael and I watched a YouTube video to see how a sod cutter works. I thought to myself: If it really does work like that and all we have to do is roll up the lawn in its wake, then we've got it made.

After the machine's initial smoke-filled sputters, and an exchange of doubtful glances on our part, Michael pushed the stubborn contraption along through the yard. My sister-in-law and I followed in his path, swooping down like robins to a worm, delighted to discover that, yes, indeed, we could roll up the neatly severed strips of lawn. It worked!

Not only am I excited about our garden expansion project, but I am also thrilled that it will take us less time to mow the lawn this summer. I plan to spend the extra time eating tomato sandwiches. A fresh tomato-filled lasagna sounds tasty, too.


Blogger Meg said...

Oh, nice! I've been wondering when you guys were going to add some new beds to the new yard. Pretty cool that your neighbor will be gardening, too!

I don't know if you have plans for the pile of stripped off sod, but it will turn into nice compost for you if you're willing to wait it out.

8:00 PM  
Blogger Christa said...

Ah, yes. We will see that sod reincarnated in a few months as nice, crumbly compost.

8:07 PM  
Blogger Shady Gardener said...

Wow! That's impressive! Great way to add to your compost pile! ;-)

9:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome! Congratulations, it will be yummy! (That is, the lasagna made from the tomatoes, not the lawn - lol.)

10:10 PM  
Blogger Melanie Chopay said...

Wow, wish I had tried one of those sod cutters. I'm planning a lasagna bed right now. A few years ago I heard the author give a lecture and she made it sound like you could plant in it a day after making it. Now I don't really believe that but I'm hoping for a few short weeks at the most.

10:29 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

That's GREAT. Amazing when something actually works as promised, isn't it? Well, glad that made relatively quick work of it for you -- and all the best on your veggie beds. I just dug out the grass from AROUND my beds, that kept creeping into the garden last year. I have to keep the grass much farther away so it doesn't encroach as easily. I LOVE my new beds - hope you love yours, too!

10:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've heard that if you take those rolls of sod and place them upside down they'll not only compost quickly but also serve to prevent weeds and whatever from sprouting around new shrubs, etc. Not good for a new veggie bed, but possibly useful elsewhere in your garden. I can't wait to see what you get from your "grass-free zone!"

10:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with Melanie, it really was confusing, that bit about planting it immediately after laying it... You seem to have clarified it though, it has to all break down first, right?

I am THRILLED with your sod-removal story. Hey, do you think there's a machine that makes as short as short of work of concrete ;)

The photo totally cracks me up!

12:03 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Wow, that looks a lot easier than cutting out sod by hand, as I did last fall. If only I knew about the sod cutter--good to know now though, in case I have to do it again.

How exciting to have more space? You must be itching to plant!

1:27 AM  
Blogger Gardenista said...

That sounds like a successful project. Congratulations! Any new garden bed is an exciting thing. I'm hoping to get rid of some lawn this spring - and told my husband excitedly about your success there. He says we can't use a sod cutter on our rocky lawn. Hmmm. He'll be doing the grunt work then. (I also told him he should be re-doing the HTML on my blog to make it pretty like yours. That will never happen!)

1:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that given a choice between mowing the lawn or eating a tomato sandwich, tomato sandwich wins every time. Nice work with the sod cutter and congrats on the new beds.

Are you going to amend the new beds this year, since you can't lasagna them?

11:56 AM  
Blogger Tira said...

Good for you-I agree lots of backyard lawn is usually not really used and how great to have a pretty and useful potager there, instead.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Annie in Austin said...

It's hard to imagine you guys letting the lawn stay for long! The sodcutter looks pretty cool - I've seen articles where people pile the sod up as the base for berms. I'm not so sure a sodcutter would work on St Augustine, however - good thing the Divas of the Dirt help me with grass removal projects.

Nice way to get ready for spring, Christa~

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

7:31 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

That's so awesome! Congrats on having less lawn.

If you're in the swing of things, feel free to drop by and remove our 1200 square feet in the front yard as well...

Really though thanks for the info about the sod cutter - I've heard they're hard to use, but your post makes me feel a ton better!

8:46 PM  
Blogger Julia Erickson said...

If you get to try lasagna gardening in the future, it really works. That's how I put in my beds. Thanks for the suggestion on the sod cutter.

10:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's excellent news! Nothing so pleasing as a bit of delawning! I'll be doing some later in the year and I can't wait.

8:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now that you've gotten rid of the grass, you can certainly go ahead and do lasagna gardening if you want. As soon as you get the layers put on you can plant immediately.

I used lasagna gardening last year for the first time and LOVED it!!!

Good luck, and geez I wish I had gotten one of those sod cutters. We have bermuda grass and getting rid of the grass has been killer!!!

Jackie Lee

12:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yikes. I can attest first hand to the challenges and exhaustion and aches and pains of NOT using a sod-cutter...and so can my son. We promised each other we'd rent one this year (alas, the snow usually isn't gone for good until early and sometimes mid-April), even though we're adding only a couple more new beds. Too bad we didn't think of it last year, when we added ten!! Ouch. It hurts just to think about it!

12:36 PM  
Blogger Teresa@Much-A-Do said...

Good thing I didn't know a lasagna garden wouldn't grow stuff right after building it - otherwise I wouldn't have grown all those gorgeous tomatoes last a lasagna bed created about 2 weeks before transplanting! Not that letting one decompose first is a bad thing, but I learned first hand that it you really can plant right after building a bed and get good results. And that sod cutter - awesome!

9:36 PM  
Blogger kate said...

I had no idea that such a contraption existed. That is so much better than trying to dig it out ... I'm glad to see your garden is almost underway. That is exciting!

7:47 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm all for garden rather than grass, except in our paddock and pasture. Love the photo, too.

11:02 PM  
Blogger Matron said...

I look forward to reading about your progress! virgin soil underneath lawn is usually very fertile!

5:19 AM  
Blogger Carol Michel said...

That sod cutter is like a miracle machine. I've also just chopped up the grass with several passes of a roto-tiller, after cutting the lawn very short, and then raked out the loose grass clumps. That is also a lot of work.

The other nice thing about a sod cutter is that if you had another area where you wanted to plant grass, you could easily use those sod strips to cover it.

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

6:57 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

I had no idea you could rent such a thing! I've got lawn I want to get rid of eventually. The last bed I put in was done the old fashioned way and I had no idea when I started what a hard job that would be!

11:38 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

Congrats on less lawn. Super-cool sod-cutter! May your tomatoes grow tall and juicy. Woohoo!

6:51 PM  
Blogger Catherine said...

I agree! ~About the grass~my hubby has a small fit everytime I decide to take out grass and add a new bed!
Have a good weekend!
Look forward to seeing the new bed when it's done!

8:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow, I must be really behind the times: I have not heard the term lasagna composting before. I'm familiar with sheet composting but now I know a second name for it. I hope you grow plenty of juicy, savoury tomatoes!

I haven't visited in ages and love the new look VERY MUCH.


11:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We rented a sod cutter to expand our gardens last year, and I agree, it was much easier. The other nice thing about it is that you end up with nice rolls of sod that can be given to someone else or donated. Less waste!

9:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was taught how to use one many years ago. Its the easiest way to get the sod out Less lawn to cut? Always a good thing.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

I alway felt like the machine would be too much for me. I think I will try it next time I have to remove part of a lawn.

11:51 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

This is amazing. I wish I had rented one of these when I pulled up our back yard to set the garden. Makes me want a new project just for that!

8:01 AM  
Blogger Kristi said...

That's awesome more space for vegetables and less lawn is always a good thing.

8:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, congrats on getting rid of more lawn! We've done a real good job of getting rid of our front lawn....we have a little ways to go on the side and back yard though.

I agree with Anthony given the choice of mowing or eating something homegorwn and yummy...I'd rather have the fresh food!

You can't more local than your own yard!

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's been a while since you've posted. Congratulations on getting rid of the lawn, but I hope you're okay. (Yeah, some of us are worry warts...)

6:18 PM  
Blogger Christa said...

Hi, Marion,
It's so kind of you to ask about me. I'm fine. I've just been taking a little break. I'll be back up and running with a new post soon.

6:55 PM  
Blogger J-Dog said...

yay! I am reading the Lasagna book right now and I too had the same thoughts/questions about the built it today and plant it tomorrow question so I'm glad to hear that some of you have actually done this and it works. It think I may go for it and build my Lasagna right away.

2:15 PM  
Blogger LisaNW said...

This is the coolest thing and I am so happy to have seen it before I started work on removing parts of my lawn for new beds. I assume that this machine doesn't descriminate between grass and weeds and removes all green things, right?

2:18 PM  
Blogger Ali H said...

I've built sheet composted/'lasagne' raised beds and planted into them that very same afternoon, to great success (those zucchini plants were about to take over the neighbourhood and then, possibly, the earth). It only really works with pre-grown seedlings, and your top compost layer has to be thick enough to contain the root ball when you plant, but the active growing/composting thing certainly did it's thing. Two months later when I had to move home (due to real estate issues beyond my control), I hauled the raised-bed filling with me, and after two months of having plants grow in it it was a dark, thick, beautiful compost. Currently growing a very lush crop of cool season/winter leaf veggies.

2:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


7:12 AM  

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