I can already hear the moans, groans, and naysayers about lawn grass in a permaculture landscape. I used to be that way myself. The mantra has always been, ‘get rid of all the grass, it’s non-productive, you can’t eat it, it has no value to wildlife, and it’s labor & resource intensive to keep’.
Some of this is true. It can be labor intensive if you have too much of it. It also has no food value, to humans at least. But, it’s not non-productive to humans or wildlife. To me, it makes sense to have a little lawn grass around.
Wildlife & Lawns
Robins love my lawn after a rainfall. Sometimes I see dozens of them skittering around, pulling worms up. I feel for the worms, but I’m happy the robins are finding my lawn to be a good source for food. My lawn has a lot of white clover and dandelions in it. Both of these are prime food sources for bees. I also have a big dog, and it’s nice to have an open area she can run around in and do her business. Got sheep? But what’s the benefit for a permaculture garden?
The Permaculture Benefit
Natural, organic fertilizer and rich organic matter, that’s the benefit. Green grass clippings release nitrogen and other nutrients slowly as they break down. Applying these thinly on the surface of the bare soil in a garden area will fertilize and add a little organic matter to the soil. Adding them to a compost pile along with some brown matter such as dried leaves will provide a rich, natural source of nutrients for your soil several months down the road as it decomposes into usable compost. I also like to mix mine with mulched brown leaves in the fall to apply fresh around my fruit trees and berry bushes. This provides a mulch that will slowly break down into the soil over the winter months. It works, and it’s free! The bulk of my grass clippings gets thrown in a pile in a corner along with any kind of brown matter I can find to throw in with it. I’ll periodically turn the pile with a pitchfork to bring a little more oxygen in to assist with the breakdown process.
The Mulching Mower
To make all this happen, I use a mulching lawn mower. The blade activity of this mower breaks grass clippings and fallen leaves into small pieces that will break down quicker. I use it to create compost by collecting it in a bag, and I use it to break down and spread the mulched grass clippings as I mow, to fertilize my lawn. Studies have shown that by doing this, lawns do 30% better than they do bagging and hauling away the grass.
What A Waste
Studies show that typical yard waste is made up of approximately 25% tree limbs and 75% grass clippings. A lot of this ends up in landfills along with the plastic bags used to collect the grass clippings. Tree limbs and grass clippings are both useful materials in the permaculture garden. Tree limbs for Hugelkulture, and the grass clippings as I mentioned earlier, for fertilizer, organic matter, and composting. Recycle and reuse!
Tools To Own
There are only two tools needed to manage your grass clippings, a mulching lawn mower, and a pitchfork. These two tools can provide you with years of fertilizer, compost, and mulch for just a little time and labor.
So, when I suggest keeping some lawn area, I don’t mean you need a lot. Keep it minimal because you don’t need much to get the benefits I mentioned above. For those of you who have way too much lawn area, I’d suggest you consider a forest garden, a wildflower meadow, or both, to replace most of it unless you get your Zen meditation fix from mowing!