3 Simple Steps, Garden

3 Simple Steps – Yard Care

With spring around the corner (we hope) in the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere (hi friends to the south) moving into fall I’d thought it time to mention:

3 Simple Steps – Lawn Care

(1) When you mow let the clippings fall back to the ground. This will provide nutrients for the lawn, food for the good microbes in the soil, and save you a bit of work.

If you must bag the clippings then: Compost – either in your yard or through a community composting program. compost

[Many communities now have green waste cans along with the trash and recycling cans – YAY for them. If you’re community has yet to get with modern times most landfills or transfer stations offer a green waste drop off. This is also a good place to pick up inexpensive compost or mulch]


(2) Aerate – this process allows needed nutrients to reach the roots of your lawn aeration-graphic
There are many devices touting they can aerate your lawn (shoes with spikes – they don’t work, equipment to buy or rent) the easiest is to hire a lawn care company to come and aerate for you. They have the right equipment and it is fairly inexpensive. As a bonus you won’t have to deal with the care and storage of another piece of machinery. If you think of renting an aerating machine keep in mind those suckers are heavy and you will have to transport and clean the equipment.

(3) For that extra green boost switch to an electric mower or better yet a new push mowerreel mower
Want even more organic lawn care tips? Check out this slide show from Popular Mechanic.
3 Simple Steps will pop up occasionally on this blog and feature easy to manage, difference making, changes you can do right there in your home and community. If you have a topic idea you’d like to see leave me a message.


Leaves to Mulch to Plants

Ryan_park_lawn_sunset- cropped

Hi All! Last week I promised you a way to use up those piles of leaves you just had to rake up. As a bonus you’ll also end up with a new useful spot in your yard.

When Michael and I bought Hawks Landing Farm it was run down. We moved in during the fall so as to have the winter to get the outbuildings and house fixed up. Not only did we have the huge expanse of pasture, but surrounding the house were acres of lawn. This would have been great if we wanted a soccer field or to do as one neighbor did and put in a baseball diamond complete with backstop and benches. We had another vision, creating a working farm.

That lawn needed to go.

There are several methods to use for lawn removal. Being dedicated to sustainable and organic practices we ruled out chemical means. Another option would be to rent a machine to remove the sod. This is fairly labor intensive and comes with the need to dispose of the removed sod. Not having the money to rent a machine or the place to dispose of the sod we passed on that option to. What we did have was the whole winter season, a pile of moving boxes, and drifts of leaves from the orchard.

mulch layers cropped

The method for making planting areas out of lawn is fairly simple. We marked out the area we wanted the planting beds. In our case it was two fairly large spaces – one for commercial flowers and the other for vegetables.  You can make your planting beds any size you want.

First we cut the grass at the lowest setting letting the clippings fall into place.  From the dairy farm down the road we had picked up a load of manure. If you don’t have access to a farm bags of manure from the home improvement store work just fine.  Between the grass clippings and the manure we put down a layer about an inch thick.

Next we lay out the cardboard. You should have seen Aaron, almost five, tromping along beside us dragging out pieces of cardboard as tall as himself and putting them in place. Make sure any boxes you use are free of tape, stickers, and staples. You can also use thick layers of newspaper, remove the glossy ad sections. One trick to getting the boxes or newspapers to stay in place as you work, wet each layer thoroughly. Also, make sure your edges overlap by at least an inch. You don’t want any gaps where vigorous grass and weeds can poke up.

boxes Lisa Risagar cropped
photo by Lisa Risagar

From here it is just a matter of adding layers.

First layer: organic matter – eight to twelve inches deep. Here is where the raked or mulched up leaves come in handy. Other material that can be used is straw, spoiled hay, wood shavings, stable sweepings, rabbit droppings, or any organic matter you can get your hands on. Friends out at the coast have even used seaweed. Grass is okay, in small quantities, when mixed in with other organic matter.

Second layer: compost. If you’ve had a compost pile going now’s the time to use it. We were fortunate because the former owners of our property did have a compost pile, of sorts. We were able to add this to our layers. You can also get bags of compost from the store.

Third layer: more manure – anywhere from a fourth of an inch to an inch.

Top layer: a weed free cover layer. Make this about two inches deep. This can be straw, raked up leaves, wood shavings, or sawdust. Be creative here. Get to know people in your community. Is there a wood worker you can befriend? Bring a pie and the offer to sweep up his wood shavings. We befriended the owner of a tree trimming and removal company. He was having to pay to dump his wood chips. Now, every few months he brings a load to our place. Most of the time we use it as is. Sometimes we run it through our chipper making the pieces smaller and use it for bedding in the barn, or a top layer of mulch in the now established flower beds.

With a soaker hose or sprinkler set to low gently soak the layers.

If you want you can immediately plant in the layered mulch. Brush aside the top protective layer, put in your seeds or plants, and then replace the top layers. This type of planting area is much better six months later when all the good nutrients have had a chance to mix and mingle. For those in the Northern Hemisphere, fall is the time to set out a new area for planting in the spring.

Happy Mulching!


photo by Sarah Macmillan




leaves cropped by Ben Dalton
Ben Dalton (cropped)



the bane of many homeowners, especially those with lawns. Our parents taught us – rake up those leaves. Then they were typically bagged and hauled off to the dump.




                                               A waste of time

                                                                A waste of energy

                                                                                A waste of resources

There are better things to do with leaves then shove them in plastic bags and consign them to the trash heap.

If you do have lawn, and your leaves are relatively disease and pest free, use your mower and mulch them in place.  Michigan State University did a study and found that when the leaves were mower mulched the lawns did not suffer any ill effects and in the spring were actually healthier than their unmulched counterparts. This is the method we use in our orchard. As a bonus, the chickens love to scratch and peck around in the mulched leaves for tasty bugs.


The best way to mower mulch the leaves into your lawn is to mow with the bag removed. Mow in the direction so the leaf litter and grass clipping are blown to the section you will next mow so each leaf will get passed over a few times. The goal is to cut the leaves into dime sized pieces. If after the first pass the leaves are still to big cross over your lawn again at a 90o angle. Depending on the amount of leaf fall you have you may need to mow more than once a week.

The leaf bits will sift their way down below the blades of grass giving back nutrients and energy just when most North American grass is at its prime root building phase.

Next Week: But I really need, or want, to rake those leaves – what do I do with them?

colorful leaves Ctd 2005 cropped
photo by – Ctd