Replace your lawn with native plants to save money, time and energy
In my work with homeowners to create the gardens of their dreams, I have been dealing with a lot of lawns that homeowners want me to find solutions for. I have been asked to remove weeds and mushrooms from my clients lawns, plant grass seeds and design solutions to make people’s lawns more useful and I have seen that it takes a lot of work and resources to take care of your lawn, a decent amount of space and large amounts of regular watering to keep a lawn looking good. All of which is completely unproductive and costly as my clients also regular hire lawn care companies and pay anywhere between $360 and $1200 a year on to have someone come in and take care of their lawns. I would like to propose a different solution for your front yard – plant native plants.
Yes a beautifully manicured and well kept lawn looks nice and lawns are a huge drain of time, energy and money to keep up and in the grand scheme of things are completely unproductive. So why do people have grass in their lawns? Keeping up with the Joneses is a factor as the homeowners that I have worked with feel a certain pressure to have beautifully manicured grass lawns so they can match their neighbors homes and look good. Here’s the kicker though, according to a NASA study, American lawns are the largest single crop in the U.S. (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/lawn-largest-crop-america_n_55d0dc06e4b07addcb43435d). This means that more eland is devoted to grass lawns than to food production, which is absurd.
Lawns also seem easy to take care of as all you need to do is mow them (or hire someone to mow them), water them and sit back and relax and there are a lot of hidden costs to taking care of your lawn. Lawnmowers are powered by gasoline, need fertilizer to grow (most of which is derived from gasoline or gasoline by products) and require huge amounts of water to maintain. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency determined that 9 billion gallons of water per day are used on lawns alone (https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-stop-mowing-your-lawn-20150805-story.html). So why not divert your time and energy away from taking care of your lawn.
Well thankfully there is a solution, planting native plants has been shown to have be extremely beneficial in a number of ways. Native plants are uniquely adapted to the climate that you live in, which means that they will naturally grown in your environment without needing the copious amounts of water, the large amount of work and the investment that comes in maintaining your lawn. Native plant gardens comes with a whole host of other benefits, which includes increasing biodiversity in your region, creating bird, butterfly and pollinator habitats, conserve water and can remove carbon dioxide from the air and store the carbon dioxide that they take in (https://www.audubon.org/content/why-native-plants-matter).
Native plants stand out in your front yard and provide a stunning array of colors, species and many different types of habitats from shrubs, to flowers to trees and bushes. Many native plants are perennials that can live for decades with the proper care, can survive long winters and hot summers without extensive care, are often drought-resistant and even help eliminate weeds by growing in dense groupings (http://grownative.org/why-use-native-plants/).
When you think about it, native plants make a lot of sense for homeowners, schools and gardens. The benefits far outweigh the benefits of having a lawn and if you are not ready to fully give up your lawn, then you can devote a part of your lawn to native plants and still receive some of the benefits of native plants.
Michael Forman is the Founder of Pure Love Sustainability Inc. He works with homeowners to help create the gardens of their dreams, solve garden problems and teaches homeowners how to grow their own food in their backyard. Michael can help you to get rid of your yard and create a native plant garden that can provide all of these benefits. If you are interested in ditching your lawn and planting a native garden, submit a contact from on Pure Love Sustainability Inc’s website
Development and loss of farmland throughout the United States is going to wreck havoc on our food system. Yes we need to create new acres of organic, sustainable produce farmland in the U.S. and yes we need to make farming a profitable venture once again and yes we need small, local farmers who are producing food for their local communities and I posit that we also need as many people as possible growing their own food in their backyards. The resiliency of our food system is being challenged right now, even though you may not feel the effects of it at this moment.
Loss of farmland is a huge factor in why our local food systems are being threatened. According to the American Farmland Trust’s Farms Under Threat Initiative, the U.S. lost 31,000,000 acres of farmland from 1992 – 2012 and 11,000,000 of those acres were among the best farmland in the nation—classified as the most productive, most versatile and most resilient land. If we keep on losing land at these rates, our food prices are bound to go up and the amount of food that we produce as a country will go down.
It’s the same story with development, farmers are choosing to sell their land to real estate developers to cash in for their retirements. Another reason why farmers are selling their land is because their families do not want to go into farming and look for more glamorous jobs that pay better and allow them to lead a more comfortable lifestyle. So if we do not have enough farmers in the country and we cannot grow enough food to feed our population then we are going to have to start importing food from other countries, which will increase food prices and will impact our local economy
With these two factors in play, what are we to do to ensure that our local food systems stay strong and to ensure that we are continuing to grow food for our local communities?
Starting your own garden and growing your own food is the solution and I believe that this is a new path that will solve food insecurity, provide a huge boost to the local economy and make sure that our food systems will not be interrupted by development and the loss of farmland. If we are all growing our own food, then our local food system will be optimized. In a working local food system homeowners will grow enough food to take care of their needs and any excess food that a homeowner grows can be sold or bartered with neighbors.
If you are looking to contribute to your local food system, start your own garden. If you need guidance and support to grow your own food, because it can be challenging, then request a consultation. Heck I can even hold a consultation with you virtually as long as your are in your garden space and can show me your garden space via Skype or FaceTime. Click on this link to request a consultation or send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines activism as a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue. Pretty straight-forward and after reading the definition of activism you must be asking yourself what does it have to do with gardening? How about everything!
By gardening you are choosing to speak up for your values, speak up for what you believe in and take a stand for how you want the world to be. As many people garden to grow their own food, provide their own food independence and resiliency, not be reliant on big companies dictating your food choices, grow flowers that provide habitats for bees, enjoy the literal fruits of your labor and take charge of your own destiny. Standing for your food independence and resiliency, not relying on others to tell you what you should be doing and take action to be in charge of your own destiny sure sounds a lot like activism.
When you garden you are telling people that I don’t want to allow others to tell me how my life should be, I don’t want pesticide, herbicide or fungicide- on my flowers and vegetables and you are choosing to support causes that you are aligned. Which is no different than fighting for a cause that you believe in and telling the big businesses that want things to stay the same that you are voting for others options with your dollars. On top of all of this, gardeners tend to support the local economy with more vigor and buy their tools, seeds and garden support structures from local businesses because doing so aligns with their values.
So whether you garden to teach your children where food comes from, if you garden because you love beautiful flowers and wildlife, if you garden to grow your own food, if you garden for fun or if you garden for any other reason you are being an activist. You are creating positive change in the world and you are telling the world what matters to you and how you want to live your life. And the world is happy to have you speaking your truth.
Raised bed gardeners beware, standard potting soil and/or soil that you get from a garden center is low in organic matter, has no bug life, has been sterilized and typically has the minimal amount of nutrients and minerals needed to provide enough life to support vegetables and flowers for one to two years. So you either need to purchase new soil one to two years to refill your garden beds with, which can be expensive over time, you can add chemical fertilizers which will damage your soil over time, or you can plant specific crops that fix nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and more in your soil. I highly recommend the third option and we’re going to explore how raised bed gardeners can enhance the life of standard potting soil and soil that you buy from garden centers without adding chemicals fertilizers to their soil.
Soil is alive, yet when you sterilize soil (this is a very common practice in bagged soil or soil that comes from a garden center) you kill all of the soil’s life. Potting soil typically has those white, rock-like substances in them and yes these white rock-like substances are fertilizer and these fertilizers pellets break down in a year or so which leaves the soil without anything to support plant growth. Garden center soil is sometimes amended with compost or other nutrient mixes and once again, compost and nutrient mixes only last for a short period of time before they get depleted and then you’re left with lifeless soil. So what is a raised bed gardener to do?
Plant peas, beans, clover, alfalfa, peanuts and other nitrogen-fixing crops. Nitrogen-fixing crops have bacteria that grow on their stems that can take the nitrogen that is in the air that cannot be used by plants or humans and convert it into a usable form to provide the soil with a steady supply of nitrogen. Nitrogen is one of the key nutrients that vegetables need to grow and all soil can store nitrogen.
Cover cropping your soil at the end of the season and then laying the cover crops back over your soil will provide calcium, phosphorus, potassium and more to your soil. Common cover crops include hairy vetch, oats, field peas, buckwheat and rye. If you plant cover crops before winter, then kill them in the spring before they flower and finally lay the killed cover crop on top of your soil, they will break down over time and supply your soil with these key nutrients. One of the major factors in cover cropping is to plant your seeds underneath the cover crops so that they can directly receive nutrients while they are growing.
While cover crops are a fantastic panacea for lack of nutrients in the soil, not every cover crop works in every environment. So before purchasing a cover crop you will want to find your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone and then research cover crops that grow well in your plant hardiness zone. Certain cover crops also support certain vegetable growth and you also need to make sure that the cover crops that you are going to purchase are beneficial to the vegetables and/or flowers that you want to grow.
Planting cover crops and nitrogen-fixing plants can make a huge difference in adding life to your soil and when it comes to adding life to your soil this is something that you have to do on a yearly basis. So make sure to plan out your cover crop seeds on a yearly basis and plant nitrogen-fixing plants on a yearly basis as well. Doing so will ensure that you can keep your soil healthy and strong for years to come and ensure your raised beds gardening success
Gardens can benefit tremendously from the organic no-till methodology
Organic no-till agriculture is the ultimate way, in my opinion, to restore the health of your soil. Organic no-till agriculture involves planting cover crops either in between or at the end of your season, killing the cover crop before it flowers by pulling the cover crop out of the soil from its root and laying the cover crop back over the soil. Then you plant seeds directly below the crop cover so that the cover crop provides instant nutrients and minerals to your seeds and you create a thick mat of mulch that can store and slowly release water to your seeds, reducing the amount of water and fertilizers usage in your garden.
Cover crops are brilliant tools to build up the health of your soil as they help turn unusable nitrogen in the air into nitrogen that your plants can use, they breakdown directly into your soil to contribute phosphorous, potassium, calcium and more directly back to the soil and research from the Rodale Institute, the leading organic no-till farm has shown that using the organic no-till system consistently increases yields in dozens upon dozens of crops. So why has this technique not made its way to gardeners.
I believe that part of the reason why organic no-till methodology has not made its way to gardeners is because gardens are small-scale and many people think that this methodology is used on large-scale farms. In all actuality, organic no-till principles work extremely well in small-scale gardens. We used this technique at Pure Love Organic Farms, in New York City, to quickly turn our contaminated, yellow-ish soil into fertile soil that was high in organic matter in less than 6 months.
Another reason why gardeners may not be aware of this methodology is because not many gardeners utilize techniques that restore the health of their soil at the end of the season. Adding compost is great in the spring and if you utilized cover crops at the end of the fall season you could set your soil up for tremendous success in the spring and the addition of compost in tandem with organic no-till agricultural principles would supercharge your soil and create yields like you have never seen before. This was one of our keys to growing over 300 tulips, over 50 hyacinths and dozens of daffodils, irises and crocuses every spring.
Organic no-til agriculture also provides a tremendous defense against weeds as many cover crops have allelopathic properties that naturally suppress weed growth. Add in the thick layer of green mulch that cover crops generate and the ability for cover crops to alter soil microbial communities to prevent weed growth and you have a killer solution for suppressing weed growth (https://articles.extension.org/pages/18524/how-cover-crops-suppress-weeds)
.Using organic no-till methodology is a big boon for your garden. This system of growing can be implemented quickly and start to show dividends for your garden in less than 6 months. If you are interested in utilizing organic no-till methodology in your garden, schedule a consultation with us so we can create a plan to bring the amazing benefits of organic no-till agriculture to your garden.
Michael Forman is an urban farmer who founded Pure Love Sustainability Inc. and teaches gardeners and farmers how to create optimal conditions for soil health. Michael loves teaching these techniques and principals to new gardeners and offers no-cost initial garden consultations that help gardeners create and maintain the gardens of their dreams. If you want to learn any of these techniques, need support in your garden and/or want to try your hand at gardening for the first-time, please fill out a contact form on his website
Three weeks ago I met with a client who said that they wanted to grow food in their yard for the first-time. During our consultation he said that they wanted to grow lemon trees in their backyard and I instantly told him that there was no way that he could grow lemon trees and expect them to produce lemons where he lives unless he was going to constantly bring the trees back and forth from his yard to his home. He understood this and then he asked me “Well why does the Home Depot here sell lemon trees?” My answer was “They’ll grow in a greenhouse here and lemon trees need the summer heat of Arizona or Southern California to grow”. I can understand the hope that that my client got from seeing a lemon tree at the Home Depot and it made me realize that people are not aware of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones and how they affect what can and cannot grow in their climates.
I really thought that everyone knew about their USDA Plant Hardiness Zone or at the very least understood that only certain fruit, vegetables, flowers and bushes only grew in certain climates. Yet most people don’t and it’s not because they are ignorant or unaware, it’s because books, YouTube Videos and Pinterest posts exist that tell people that you can grow 250 pounds of produce on a quarter acre of land, that you can start a lasagna garden that will restore the health of your soil in no time and provide an abundance of organic veggies and posts that show that you can grow pineapples in cold climates if you follow this garden hack. Yet gardening for the most part is not magical and there are so many factors that go into your success including your experience level.
Are these things possible, yes? Does it take a solid amount of knowledge, skill, experience and problem-solving ability to make it happen? Yes, yes it does. New gardeners need to start small and learn the basics first and one of the key basic principles to know is your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone. Your plant hardiness zone is based on the climate that you live in and gives you a historically accurate view of when you can begin to plant where you live, when your growing season ends and what types of fruits, vegetables, flowers, trees and bushes will grow well in your climate zone.
Your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone will also help you to determine when you should start the different types of crops that you want to plant for the year and will save you a lot of guessing time. Armed with this knowledge, you can scientifically plan your garden for the year and avoid some of the challenges that have stopped you in the past.
Michael Forman is an urban farmer who founded Pure Love Sustainability Inc. and teaches gardeners and farmers how to create optimal conditions for soil health and help gardeners and farmers get maximum yields year in and year out. Michael loves teaching these techniques and principals to new gardeners and offers no-cost initial garden consultations that help gardeners create and maintain the gardens of their dreams. If you want to learn any of these techniques, need support in your garden and/or want to try your hand at gardening for the first-time, please fill out a contact form on his website
Soil is comprised of a mixture of bacteria, fungi, algae, minerals, nutrients, protozoa, nematodes, ants, worms, spiders and a host of other creatures and organisms that can be visible or invisible to the human eye. Actually I am going to edit a portion of that statement, the correct statement is healthy soil is comprised of a mixture of algae, minerals, nutrients, protozoa, nematodes, ants, worms, spiders and a host of other creatures and organisms that can be visible or invisible to the human eye. It is the health of our soil that produces the results that you get in your garden. Yet, so many of the methods that we have been told to use to grow strong healthy plants actually destroy the life in your soil.
It is the naturally occurring life in soil that makes soil healthy. I know that we hate seeing bugs in our soil and some bugs are actually beneficial for our soil, our vegetables, our flowers, our fruit trees and berry bushes. In fact in most cases an outbreak of bugs that are eating the vegetables, fruit and/or flowers in your garden is caused by a lack of bug life in your soil as certain bugs like spiders, ladybugs, caterpillars, praying mantises and beetles feast on the insects that eat your crops (https://www.planetnatural.com/pest-problem-solver/beneficial-insects/).
Yet chemical pesticides are designed to kill all bug life and bug life can and will eventually become resistant to consistent pesticide use which can lead to your garden having an abundance of aphids, Colorado potato beetles, slugs, earwigs and cutworms because of a lack of predatory bugs that control their populations as a result of spraying pesticides. I know that it may be hard not to spray pesticides and nature takes care of itself when you give it the right conditions. Certain bugs like worms are actually gardeners best friends (https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/soils/biology/earthworms) as worms increase nutrient availability in your soil, improve soil drainage, improve soil structure and their castings are a natural fertilizer that is rich in all of the things that your soil needs to grow beautiful flowers, vegetables, fruit and more.
Chemical fertilizers such as Miracle-Gro are one of the many things that we have been told to use to enhance the growth of our flowers and vegetables and while Miracle-Gro gets the job done, it also has such high nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous levels that it burns your soil and over time will kill most forms of life. So much so that in a few years you have to not only continue to use Miracle-Gro on your flowers and vegetables, but in fact you have to use more Miracle-Gro than you did a few years ago because the soil is dead. I have had a handful of people reach out to me panicking because their gardens don’t look right and nothing is growing and one of the first questions that I ask them is what fertilizers have you used. The reason that I ask is this because consistent use of chemical fertilizers, which by the way are also petroleum (gasoline) based, will eventually strip the life from your soil. When bacterial, fungal and bug life are stripped from your soil it will become as infertile and you may start to see massive weeds take over your garden. Chemical fertilizers also completely unnecessary if you are using compost or techniques such as organic no-till agriculture to restore the health of your soil (More on organic no-till agriculture to come later).
Fungicides are also big problem for soil life. Yes nobody wants fungal outbreaks in their soil or on their plants and by spraying fungicides in your soil you are killing the natural balance of fungus that exists in all healthy soil. Once there is no fungal matter left in the soil, bacterial colonies have no competition and your soil becomes so bacterial or alkaline that not many things can grow in it. Here’s the thing though, fungal outbreaks in your soil and on your plants are typically caused by low nutrient and bacterial levels in your soil. So by spraying fungicides in your soil, you are only creating conditions that can cause more fungal outbreaks. I know it sounds counterintuitive and fungicides kill life in the soil which can cause a host of other issues to pop up.
Bacterial life, bug, life, fungal life and soil organism life are kin to our immune system. They all protect the soil from being diseased, they protect the soil from being ravaged by harmful bacteria or predators and they keep the soil strong and alive for years to come. There are also many ways to increase the health of your soil, just like there are many ways to boost our immune system and there are a number of ways to naturally increase the health of your soil.
Compost is easily made from a proper mixture of browns (high carbon materials such as dead plant material, paper, newspaper, dead leaves, etc.) and greens (high nitrogen materials such as grass clippings, hay, food scraps, green leaves and more). An active compost pile produces high heat which can kill weed seeds and the warm, wet, food-rich, plant debris-rich environment of compost piles attract beneficial bugs like spiders, worms, ladybugs and more who help to break the food scraps and plant material down. Once compost is finished, you will have a nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium rich soil amendment that you can add directly onto or dig into your soil. The bug life that was living in your compost pile will also return to the soil and control the populations of bugs that eat your vegetables, flowers and fruit.
2. Opening air pockets in your soil
Soil can easily become diseased if it does not receive air. Fungus loves to live in tightly packed areas that receive little to no oxygen. When your soil is too tightly compacted it can become a breeding ground for fungal colonies which can turn your soil from bacterial (pH levels above 7.0) to fungal (pH levels below 7.0). Fungal soil is conducive to growing trees, flowers, a small array of vegetables and some berry bushes and it will not support vegetable growth over time. So opening air pockets in your soil will help your soil to breathe and will create the space for bacterial life to come back to your soil, creating balance of bacterial and fungal life in your soil.
3. Nitrogen-fixing crops
Vegetables, flowers, trees, bushes and wood chips all deplete nitrogen from the soil. Wood chips are a great way to suppress weeds and they siphon nitrogen from your soil as they are breaking down. Every time that something grows, nitrogen gets depleted from the soil and as mentioned before you do not want to put high levels of nitrogen in your soil or else it could burn the soil, so what should you do to restore nitrogen levels in your soil?
Plant nitrogen-fixing crops. There are a handful of crops (peas, legumes and beans) that attract bacteria to the their roots that can take the nitrogen that exists in the area and turn it into a useable form for itself, the soil and the plant around it. So by planting nitrogen-fixing crops you are naturally restoring the nitrogen levels in your soil. One thing to note is that most flowers and trees do not grow well in soil that has high levels of nitrogen, so it is advised that you plant only one to two nitrogen-fixing plants in areas where you grow flowers or trees.
4. Proper crop rotations
Crop rotations are key. Vegetables and flowers all pull nutrients from the soil to aid in their growth. So if we continue to plant the same things in the same spot year in and year out, the soil will become bereft of nutrients over time and will never get the chance to restore its nutrient stores. This is what happened in the Dust Bowl, the same crops got planted in the same spot every year until the soil was stripped of all of its nutrients and the soil lost its structure and became completely infertile. Properly rotating your crops will help restore the soil nutrient balance as different vegetables and flowers use different nutrients and can also enhance the structure of your soil.
5. Organic no-till agriculture
This is my preferred methodology and it is one of the keys to unleashing the power of your soil. There are certain crops called cover crops that are not intended to be consumed or used. Cover crops are high in nitrogen, potassium, calcium, phosphorous and other key plant nutrients and they get planted either as a rotational crop or a few weeks before your garden’s growing window is about to end. When planting a cover crop the goal is to let it grow to its fullest, cut off the first flower that the cover crop produces and then pull the cover crop out of the soil from its roots. Killing the cover crop before it flowers is key as cover crops are extremely hardy and reproduce easily and if you let too many of them go to seed you will have a new crop of cover crops growing instead of the seeds that you actually want to grow. Once you pull the cover crop from its roots, you will lay it back over the soil to create a thick mulch of plant-life that will breakdown into the soil and contribute all of the nutrients that are held within the cover crops directly to the soil, hence creating a green manure that restores the life to your soil.
You then plant directly into the soil that you laid the dead cover crop on top of and your seeds will naturally receive the nutrients that they need. Cover cropping is a brilliant system and research has consistently shown that vegetables grow larger and produce more in areas that use the organic no-till methodology.
Maintaining the life in your soil is a top priority for gardeners and farmers alike. When your soil is rich in naturally rich in nutrients, nitrogen, potassium, calcium, iron, bacterial life, fungal life and bug life, your plants will continue to be strong year in and year out and you will have fewer issues in your garden or on your farm.
Michael Forman is an urban farmer who founded Pure Love Sustainability Inc. and teaches gardeners and farmers how to create optimal conditions for soil health and utilize all of the above techniques to help gardeners and farmers get maximum yields year in and year out. Michael loves teaching these techniques and principals to new gardeners and offers no-cost initial garden consultations that help gardeners create and maintain the gardens of their dreams. If you want to learn any of these techniques, need support in your garden and/or want to try your hand at gardening for the first-time, please fill out a contact form on his website