Nearly 2% of the land in the Lower 48 is lawn. In the most populous areas, that percentage is even higher. It’s fair to say that most of us have too much lawn and not enough garden — especially this time of year, when you keep getting ambushed by little plants at the farmers market. You bring them home and have nowhere to put them.
If you’re lucky enough to have some lawn at your disposal, chances are you may have considered the idea of converting it into a garden. Sure, it’s nice to frolic on freshly mowed grass once in a while or whack around a croquet ball, but it would also be nice to have space for more tomatoes.
Lawn conversion can be a grueling project. Or it can be as relaxing as a cup of tea. I chose the path of least resistance, but to each their own.
The hard way to replace a lawn is to dig out the thick sod, shaking the dirt from the hefty roots. You must dispose of all this plant matter and the wasted potential it represents. Those roots are made up of a lot of carbon, which would be good to have in your future garden. The problem is that as long as those roots are alive, they won’t decompose. They’re also nearly impossible to kill. No matter how hard you try to remove every last root, you’ll probably still have grass sprouting in your garden.
The easy way to replace a lawn is to cover it with a sheet of black plastic. You can then attend to other matters while the lawn becomes a worm farm. Two months later, what was formerly turf is now a sea of soil, mostly soft worm poop. Weed-free and ready for planting.
The only problem with the easy road is that you have to wait for results. The problems with the hard road are that the results are less perfect and you have to get to work right away.
Each path is therapeutic in its own way, and, fortunately, we don’t have to choose. We can actively dig up one spot while elsewhere, tucked under plastic, the earth turns itself. When the time comes to garden, the digging will be easy as butter.
If you get that plastic on soon, you could have a garden spot by mid-summer, which would be a perfect time to plant a fall garden.
Kale, spinach and carrots can grow throughout the fall and even winter if you take measures to keep them warm. Beets, radishes, salad turnips and many other short-season, cool-weather crops can also produce large harvests with an early July start.
While you work on your new garden spot, move your piece of plastic to its next location: the future garlic patch.
Garlic is planted sometime in the fall, by about Halloween. So, if you were to move your plastic in the middle of summer, the new spot would be right on schedule for garlic. When the frost is on the pumpkins and next year’s garlic is in the ground, you can fold up that sheet of black plastic after a productive season and keep it safe for next year’s lawn-killing adventures.
Hardware stores should have black plastic, although it might not be in the garden section. You want at least 6 millimeters in thickness. At my local Ace Hardware, a 10-foot-by-25-foot piece cost $30.
Before you lay down the plastic, first rake and mow the spot, leaving the clippings scattered. After the plastic is in place, set heavy objects like bricks or pieces of wood around the edges to keep the wind from getting under it. Furniture works, too, depending on the exterior decor you’re going for.
Before you plant, consider digging a trench around the edge of the new spot and installing some kind of edging to block the grass roots from invading. Wood boards, buried with the thin edge at ground level, will stop the march of the persistent lawn — or at least slow it to a manageable pace.
In honor of our future harvests of carrots and garlic, here is a recipe for carrot aioli. Garlic and carrots are always in season, even in the middle of winter when they’re stored patiently in the pantry. Being a form of mayonnaise, carrot aioli makes everything taste better.
In this recipe, steamed carrots take the place of egg as a thickener, if not an emulsifier. The tangy, rich sauce is good on bread, chips, pasta, protein, raw or cooked vegetables — just about anything savory. Or straight off the spoon.
Makes four large servings
Steam the carrots until you can easily poke a fork through, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, add the garlic, salt, lemon juice and zest, oil and optional herbs to a blender and blend until smooth. Add the carrots, still hot so they cook the garlic a little, and blend until silky smooth. Add a little more olive oil if necessary to help the mixture achieve a nice vortex in the blender.
Serve as a condiment, dressing or main course. Refrigerate any leftovers.
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