Grow Food Not Lawns – 4 Reasons Why You Should Dig Up Your Lawn

It is probably a well-known fact that I do not have a lawn.  Correction: I don’t have any lawns, anywhere on my suburban block (except for the nature strip and I am working on that).

I am a strong supporter of the grow food not lawns movement, if there is such a thing.

In fact, one of the very first things we did after our green awakening was to dig up our lawn so that we could save water.  From there it was a natural progression to replace the lawns with vegetable garden beds and fruit trees.

So let me provide 4 reasons why you should dig up your lawn and grow food instead.

1.  Lawns are resource intense and expensive to maintain.

Now, I don’t think I am that hard-core when it comes to growing food.  Well, maybe a little.  

I have seen more intense cultivation in smaller spaces than mine.  Only a few mind you, because most suburbanites are in love with their lawns.  I don’t know why, they just are.  They water them, mow them weekly, trim them, fertilize them with artificial gunk, weed them, use pesticide and herbicides on them, and generally dote over them.  

Don’t get me wrong, I used to be one of them, but I certainly didn’t let it rule my life. 

But the simple fact remains; lawns cost a heck of a lot of money and your precious time to maintain in pristine condition.  And you get to waste lots of water for no benefit whatsoever, which is not the right thing to do in a drought stricken country like Australia.

On the other hand growing fruit and vegetables takes a lot less time, money, and resources. Best of all, you get something in return.  You get food on the table for a bargain basement price.

 2.  Front lawns are for your neighbours, not you.

Once I thought in this way, it was almost impossible to not dig up my lawn.  People maintain front lawns for only a few basic reasons.  One, to impress the neighbours.  Two, to raise the perceived value of their home, and Three, to keep lawnmower manufacturers and services in business.

Have a think how many times you use your front lawn.  I bet it is not very many.  How many times a day do you actually see it?  Twice, once when backing out of the driveway on the way to work, and another when you get home?  Is it really worth all that hassle.  Then only person that actually gets to visually enjoy your front lawn is your neighbours across the road.  Weird.

Dig it up and use the space for yourself.  Grow fruit trees on dwarf root-stock and you will be able to feed yourself most of the year round.

3.  We can’t eat lawns

When push comes to shove, the real reason you should dig up your lawn is that we can’t eat it.  If you are suddenly out of work and struggling to make ends meet, are you A) going to mow the lawn and make a salad out of it, or B) going to pick some pumpkins or tomatoes that you have grown in your veggie patch where the lawn used to be?

I think B is by far the more palatable option (pun intended).  Food is going to help you in a crisis, lawn will not.  Unless you get a goat and let it eat your lawn, then milk it and make delicious cheese.  But then it wouldn’t be a lawn, it would be a pasture.  Big difference!

4.  Grow Food Not Lawns

Let me show you a couple of photos from the front of my house, and you decide what looks better.

Gavin Webber old front lawn

Front lawn, circa 2004

This is what the front of our house used to look like few years ago.  A pain to mow, and we hardly ever used it.  It was a big waste of space.  Boring and inedible.

Compare that scene to this photo I took this today.

Grow food not lawn - Front lawn, March 2014

Front lawn, March 2014

In this scene I can see five fruiting trees and two types of vegetable (pumpkin and long yellow peppers), and this is only a part of the lawn.  It is much more productive than the first picture way back before we dug up the lawn.  There are 12 Queensland Blue pumpkins hidden throughout the pumpkin patch.

Not convinced yet?

Here are a couple more from the west side of the house which is our main entrance.

Gavin Webber's lawn before

Gavin Webber’s lawn before 2006

It’s all about the productivity.  Why slave at a job to pay off your little patch of suburban paradise, if all you are going to use it for is to grow an unproductive lawn?  At least do something productive with it, like maybe, grow some food!  Fruit trees don’t need that much care during the year.  A little bit of a prune in late summer, early autumn, a bit of water if it hasn’t rained in a while, and maybe a net to keep the birds off your abundant harvest.

Grow food not lawn - Veggie patch, January 2010

Grow food not lawn – Veggie patch, January 2010

That’s it.  They look after themselves, finding their own water and nutrients from the soil.  Pretty cool, and beats lawns hands down any time.  You can even grow fruit trees in large pots with good success.  All of my citrus trees are in pots and producing masses of fruit each year.

Vegetables are even easier.  Once you have good soil to plant them in, or build raised garden beds as I have, then the rest is easy.  Plant seeds, water, weed occasionally, then harvest and eat.

Not a lawn mower or can of fuel in sight.

Summary

So what are you waiting for.  By digging up your lawn and growing your own food, not only are you providing for yourself, but you are growing nutritious and delicious fare for your family and friends.  I hope to see the day when the resale value of a home is determines by how much food is grown on the block.

Now that is when suburban land is truly valued, and not the urban food desert that it is today.  After all, most suburbs were farm land to begin with, so we are only returning it to from whence it came!

Have I convinced you to dig up your lawn, or have you already taken the leap towards being lawn-less?  Chime in with comments, observations from your own experience, or even questions.

Comments

  1. Tracey says

    How I would love to do this but I am in rent house and therefore have to keep the grass green. Looking forward to my own home early next year and can do what I want with it. At the moment it is a plot of sand but after that house is built and we can move in it will be great. Still have to have grass in front yard but this is small as the developer landscapes the front. We are thinking of asking for artificial grass then hopefully after a few years things will be relaxed enough for us to have food plants out front.

    • says

      Hi Tracey, I just saw your comment so I don’t know if it’s too late, but I’d suggest real lawn is better than fake lawn. Fake lawn can get REALLY hot, and that hot air is gonna contribute to warming your house; they’re uncomfortable to walk on; they are devoid of any life at all (at least real grass is growing and alive!); and plastic is made from fossil fuels and will end up in landfill at some point. Lawn may not be perfect but artificial lawn is horrid! If you can, find somewhere with fake lawn and go there on a warm day and see what you think! Maybe you’ll change your mind…?

  2. Marie says

    Hi Gavin
    I’ve been reading your blog for a few years now, you always write about such interesting subjects.This is my first time responding.
    While I completely agree about lawns not being necessary I don’t find they are that much work as compared to flower or vegetable garden. In my case I do the gardening but my husband cuts the lawn so maybe I’m a bit biased :)
    However we do not weed,water or fertilize the lawn area.Half my front lawn is a flower garden, but I had to make a path through it so the water meter would be accessible to the reader man, same with the mailman, and my paper boy would walk right over my flowers if I didn’t have a pathway or lawn area.
    This winter we’ve had so much snow and shoveling it on to grass is better that putting it on the gardens, just now I still have a 2′ pile of snow across the lawn area and of course that snow comes with the salt that was spread on the driveway to try and melt the ice.

    Now my backyard lawn is slowly giving way to vegetable beds, but I still need to keep some lawn area for pathways and around the bird feeders.

    I love the pictures of your gardens
    Marie

    • Gavin Webber says

      Hi Marie, thanks so much for leaving a comment. Sounds like it would be difficult to do something with your front lawn, especially with that salt and heavy snow. You back yard sounds quit productive though, and I wish you luck building more veggie beds.

  3. Victoria says

    While I agree that home gardens are great (and love mine), I also think lawns or other clear spaces have a place in the home yard. It definitely depends on your climate and use of the space.

    1) The only resources my lawn uses are a reel mower and an electric weedwhacker. I mow about once a week, which is a pleasant half hour of walking back and forth pushing the mower. The weedwhacker is used about once a month to clean up around the edges of the lawn, and around the garden fence. If it’s a dry summer, the grass turns brown. I’ve never sprayed chemicals or fertilizer on it. In contrast, the garden which is 1/4 the size of my lawn takes up 3-4 hours of my time a week planting, weeding, and watering as needed.

    2) I don’t use my front lawn, which is why I’ve allowed it to “naturalize” – I don’t bother to rake the leaves or mow, and it looks like part of the forest in front of my house. I do use my back lawn frequently; most nice days in the summer I take a blanket out there and sit or lie in the sun for a bit, and then my boyfriend and I will grill out there in the evening. I also have friends over at least once a month, and we can all sit on the lawn around the grill and fire pit.

    3) I can’t eat the lawn, but I also can’t eat much that will grow there without a 6′ electric fence around it! Deer are a huge problem in my area, and various other wild critters don’t help. The only things which I can grow outside the fence are some herbs, rhubarb, and onions; even for those I need a raised bed installed to keep them out of the wet clay soil, and there’s only so much I need of each of those.

    • Gavin Webber says

      Those deer sound like it would make growing food rather bothersome. Does garlic grow all right with out being eaten by the animals? It is a great crop if you only have a little space.

      • Victoria says

        Oh, the deer are a complete menace. They’re overpopulated enough that they’re wiping out native plants, and when they get hungry in the winter nothing is safe; they wipe out all sorts of bushes and small trees. So far I have 9 4’x8′ raised beds inside a 6′ electric fence which they can’t reach, and some currant and blueberry bushes that are fenced in safely. I’m planning to put in fruit trees out near the street next year, and looking at around $400 for fencing materials.

        I’ve got a garlic patch in the fenced garden; a 2’x4′ space seems to be enough to grow the household garlic supply for a year, and set aside seed garlic for next year :)

  4. tpals says

    Love this post. A large part of my back yard is covered with black walnut trees which are good at killing other plants. Each year my chicken pen expands to enclose more of that space so no mowing is needed. :) Most of the rest back there is already garden and I add fruit trees and bushes every year to the front and side.

    The strip of lawn to the north of my house has me stumped though. It’s covered by the shadow of the house for a large part of the year so most veggies wouldn’t do well.

    • Gavin Webber says

      Hi tpals, depending on the climate, the shady spot could be used to grow leafy green in the hight of summer. If would definitely aid in their survival. The black walnuts sound delicious. How many nuts do they provide in a season?

  5. says

    I love growing my own vegetables and should put in more fruit trees as we have seven acres – too much to not have any grass growing of course :) Thanks for the inspiration Gavin, lovely to see the photos :)

    • Gavin Webber says

      No problem Tanya. I bet you can do a fair bit with 7 acres, it sounds very productive already ;-)

  6. Jeff says

    I have converted half of my front yard to fruit trees and a vegetable garden, and am really pleased I did.
    But I am not sure it is right for everyone.
    I tend to think that a garden takes a lot more work to plant, weed and protect from pests and diseases etc.
    Compared to a lawn.
    Most people never water, weed or fertilise their lawn, and it still survives OK.
    Just a few minutes work to mow occasionally.

    • Gavin Webber says

      Hi Jeff, I think you were lucky with only a few minutes mowing. It used to take me at least 75 minutes to do my entire place when I had a lawn. It was a shocker, especially in summer. Well done on the fruit and veg!

  7. wendy says

    I agree Gavin, lawns have to be the biggest waste of resources, I do have one, well not really a lawn more of a dust bowl at then moment as I never waste water on it, it greens up in the winter. I will eventually expand the veg garden and decrease the size of it but with dogs you do need somewhere for them to stretch thier legs and go to the toilet.
    You know what makes me see red? when I drive out to Bacchus Marsh and see all this water being sprayed on the turf farm! I think they pulled up fruit trees to put that stuff in too. No matter how many times I see it I always get just as angry.
    Anyway thanks to peopla like you there is hope. I enjoy your blog.

    • Gavin Webber says

      Hi Wendy, I hear ya! That turf farm really grinds my gears. They ripped out a perfectly good orchard to build it. Can’t eat grass.

      Oh and thanks for the feedback.

  8. Joy Hopes says

    I love what you and your family have done at your place. I have converted almost half of our front lawn in the past couple of years to 6 raised vege beds. The rest of the lawn is a car park – which is supposed to be de-grassed and then gravelled. I have left the plants in the flower beds for the time being that go across the front and down one side of our block and then in front of the house. We don’t have a front fence.

    Many is the time I wish hubby would allow me to put more vege beds and fruit trees in the back yard. He hates mowing so much it only gets done when the dog goes missing in the undergrowth (he’s the size a cat).

    We haven’t watered the grass/lawn for years – it survives on natural rainfall. Same goes for fertilisers. Over this summer I have noticed that we now have lots of bare patches of dirt. We have 3 dogs and they kick and scratch after toileting. When we get some rain it’s going to turn to mud and any topsoil is going to run off into the neighbours yard!

    Joy in Melb

    • Gavin Webber says

      Hi Joy, your front yard sounds excellent. How much food can you grow in those six beds? Are they large?

      And rain, don’t get me started. We have received only 16mm in 4 months. This would have to be the driest spell I have seen in a very long time.

  9. Maxine says

    Hi Gavin, just new to your blog and this way of life? We have had a small veggie patch for past couple of years but due to cost of water increasing we have cut back. I have heard about wicking beds do they save much water with additional benefit of increased crops. We do not have cash resources for rain tanks we have a couple of small ones. I have the extra problem of a complex medical condition which basically has me house bound over warmer months so I was wondering if these were also an option to help here. I struggle to get out in any heat past 9Am during summer but could manage to refill beds weekly , would this be often enough. Could you also direct me to videos on DIY wicking pots and beds in or on ground. I have also just joined Cheapskates after you wrote about it on your blog. I am a single mum of two great girls, I had worked all my life until a couple of years ago when a genetic medical condition took hold and am now unable to work. Both my girls have same condition so I thought a change of life would be of benefit on many fronts for now and into my girls futures.

    • Gavin Webber says

      Hi Maxine. Welcome on board. We have a wicking bed, and it works really well. We only need to top it up once a week, even in summer. I do the watering early in the morning, usually before 8am before it gets too hot. I think they would really work for you, and help reduce exposure to the heat.

      My wife Kim also suffers from the heat in summer due to her MS, I can totally empathise. It is not fun at all, but we muddle through.

  10. says

    OK Gav, there is something missing in your post – HOW THE BLOODY HELL DO YOU GET RID OF IT!!! Have you seen my Kikuyu! Its 20 years old and has never been racked and as such is about a foot thick on a clay base. Its like concrete under there and i cant get a shovel in. Nor can i get a lawn cutter in and we only have a side gate for access. Ive started on the dreaded roundup this weekend. Im sick of having kikuyu in the veggie beds.

    Hoping you have good advice, as usual.

    • Gavin Webber says

      Dear Lynda. I also have this dreaded grass growing in placed I don’t want or need. I find that pouring boiling water over the grass works well. I have heard that steam kills it rather well also. We have found that double thickness weed matting with pebbles on top works as well.

      Salt and vinegar spray works, but only for a while. It also makes your soil acidic and increases salinity, so it might not work where you want to grow trees or veg.

      Hope that helps.

      • Lynda says

        Gav, i bought 100m X 1.85m of weed mat on the weekend. I will not be defeated!!!! Thanks for the water and steam option and the doubling of mat.

        Death to Kikuyu she shouts with a raised round up wand in her raised right arm and a kettle in her left. (You have to picture me like a Viking warrior woman).

  11. nzecochick says

    Fantastic good for you!! Your new gardens look freaking amazing!!! I so agree with grow food not lawns philosophy. I am slowly converting my front lawn into raised beds one bed at a time. I wish I would do this to my back lawn too but I have two small boys and so they need space to play but one day!!! Mx

    • Gavin Webber says

      Thanks Mads. Sounds like you are well on the way to being lawn free in the front yard. Liberating, isn’t it?

  12. Madeleine says

    Hi Gav,

    I agree, your place looks so much better without the lawn. I have roughly a quarter acre block with a little cottage and lots of very invasive grass – it’s even grown up through the tall raised beds I put in. I noticed your lovely gravel paths, and wonder did you use weed mat under the gravel? Do you know if it leaches any toxins into the food?

    Would you recommend getting a bobcat in to dig up all of the grass? I’m worried if I turn too much to garden I may not be able to maintain it/ the grass runners will take over.

    Any suggestions welcome :)

    Madeleine.x

    • Gavin Webber says

      We did cover the grass with black weed matting which killed it off. The garden bed areas were sheet mulched first with heavy cardboard.

      As I didn’t use weed mat near the food garden, not worried about potential leaching. When grass or weeds pop through the paths, we just pour boiling water from the kettle or any steamed veggies over them. Kills them off for about six months.

  13. says

    Hi Gavin, I’d love your thought on fruit trees in containers. I moved two weeks ago and finally have a balcony, so have bought some fruit trees and pots to get it all started. Now my experience of growing is in the UK but now I live in Perth WA – two very different climates! So I’d like to hear what you did, please. Did you just drill holes in the pots, stick the trees in with some soil and pretty much leave them to it? Do you fertilise – if so how often? I have a Eureka lemon and a Tahitan lime, and two half wine barrels to plant in, and I’ve bought some decent soil and manure. The guy at the shop reckons I should be adding something to the soil every 8 weeks but I don’t really have the budget or the space for a ton of soil amendments! So if you could tell me what you do and your yield (estimated if you don’t know) that would be helpful! Also, how do you find watering them in summer? Do you use retic or water by hand?

    Sorry for such a long question! Any advice appreciated! : )

  14. chrystel says

    I’m in the process of converting lawn to productive veg gardens. I’ve decided not to do raised beds, but instead dig over the whole yard then compact areas for pathways. I also am planting an edible hedge to screen and protect the area as I have no fences whatsoever.
    I have a question about planting in such a huge blank canvas – where do I start with deciding which plants to put where? and as I don’t have a fence do you have any advice to stop vandals/theives?

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