Saturday, April 13, 2013

The great dissapearing lawn

It's always scary to move from the idea stage to the action stage.

This week, we took the first step in turning our sloping, grassy front lawn into a garden of fruits and nectar. But before we get to the beautiful vision in our heads, we have to put in the work to get there.

The hill in front of the house looks gracious and inviting, but in reality it has been anything but. The slope is too steep for comfortable mowing - there is always the lingering fear of falling down the side.

It's also too steep to play most games on. Rolling downhill or sledding seem fun except you would end up in a thicket of English Laurel, with a poorly lighted street on the other side. Less fun, that. Especially because we live across the street from a park with a nice flat grassy area plus a good sledding hill. We didn't need a less useful version of either.

So we are going to convert it into a garden.

We have wanted to do this for years, but dreaded the labor. Luckily, the neighboring community of White Center is home to one of the best equipment rental stores around. For $75, we rented a sod cutter for the day.

sod cutter and some rolled sod
This baby sliced through the grass much more easily than we imagined. It was harder than mowing the lawn, but much easier than rototilling. It didn't take over in quite the same way.

We did learn that if you cut sod, you should remove the cut strips immediately, either by lifting them or rolling them up. Otherwise you won't be able to see where you cut, and will either miss spots or slice up your nice strips into little tatters.

Four hours of cutting yielded 3500 square feet of bare soil. Or rather, soil with cut sod on it. We lifted the sod strips and piled them into long walls which followed the line of the hill.

This was hard work, and really dirty. But it was also fun - like making a fort. Using sod strips as building material was a new experience for us - but was once a common building method. The folks who did it to make homes, without the benefit of a sod cutter, were truly stout hearted.

It took David and me about 12 man hours to roll and stack the sod. It takes weight as well as strength to wrestle the sod rolls. Noah was not able to budge them, but he helped by working the broadfork to loosen the soil.

Here is the slope with two rows of sod walls, positioned about seven feet apart down the hill. The walls ended up about eight or nine inches tall. We expect they will settle with age and time but remain as boundaries to the edges of each garden bed.

In all, we made three long terraces. They should act as water catchments, slowing the percolation of rain into the soil and storing winter moisture for our dry summers. All Meggie knows is she doesn't usually get to this part of the yard so she's excited.

Next we covered the hill with burlap bags.

Seattle is a coffee town. Many of the warehouses for the bigger companies will give you huge numbers of their bags. You just have to ask around and see who has them.

The hill used two full bales of bags - about 1600 of them. Each bag is about 4' x 2', or eight square feet, so we had 12800 feet of surface area.

That means we covered the whole area between two and three bags deep. We hope the bags will block out light and prevent any residual grass from growing back out. More crucially, they should hold the soil in place between now and our next steps - adding mulch and planting the garden.


Laying out the bags was unbelievably fast. David arrived with the bags at 11:30. Then we built a campfire and roasted hot dogs and veggie dogs. Then we started laying out the bags.

Two or three hours later, the rain started and Noah went inside. By four, David and I were done. The rain weighted the burlap so it conformed with the  contours of the hill.

From our new staircase, you now see a rounded beige hill off to your right.

It looks like some one's paper mache project. Or like a pair of khaki pants cast off by a giant.

As the rain softens the fabric I am starting to see the higher ridges where the walls of grass and soil rise up.

Right now we are all tired. The school break is over so I go back to work and Noah goes to school.

The hill will wait. Soon our buddy Heath will call to ask where we want him to drop some wood chips.

We will be ready!

 To be continued...

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