Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Playing with Dirt

The prototypical American home is one with a lush green lawn and the proverbial white picket fence. We're told that this is what everyone strives for. So, I can certainly understand why our neighbors think we've gone off our nut more than usual. While my neighbors water and weed to keep their yards as green as possible, I sit in my yard day after day digging up the grass!

I know that my job would be made easier if a) I used poison to kill the grass or b) rented a machine that mechanically digs it up. But I have chosen neither method; I use a shovel and my bare hands instead.

Using the shovel, I dig down below the main root level to loosen the root structure. I kind of square off small sections, then I pull the sod up with my hands. It comes out in big chunks of fused grass, roots, soil and rocks. I next do something that must perplex the neighbors -- I sit on my little stool and gently break the soil away from the clump. And I do this slowly clump after clump.

It's a slow and solitary process, but I like slow and solitary pursuits! I like feeling the soil in my hands and under my fingernails. I figure it's the most respectful way to honor the grass I'm ripping up.

At this juncture, about 1/3 of our front yard has been turned into a big pit of dirt. Since we're entering the less rainy period, it will mostly remain dirt and not be transformed into a giant mud pie farm. :) As we reclaim more and more of the area from the non-native grass, we've begun the process of planting native species.

To date, we've planted the following: blue-eyed grass, columbine, camas, a variety of ferns, kinnikinnick, salal, salmonberry, and wild strawberries. It doesn't look like much right now, but by summer's end we hope that many of these plants are firmly established and will have spread through rhizones. As money is available, we will add some more native species.

Next spring we'll remove the tarp from the next section of grass and begin the process all over again. It looks like I'll be playing with the dirt for years and years to come.


  1. True living down in the dirt, I like it.

    Won't the neighbours be checking up on the blog to see your progress?

  2. That sounds like a good effort. I like the idea of re-establishing native grasses and doing away with the monoculture. I am basically doing the same thing only no so proactively. I discovered a few years ago that even though my house appears to be in a subdivision and subject to its covenants on grass and other things I am actually not. I have since let me yard return to a more natural mix of vegetation. It will take a few more years before it is complete as the fescue is holding on.

  3. Tao,
    Pacific County, Washington is still mired in the early 20th century! Far too many people around here view the internet as a commie plot. :)

    Yes, monoculture is a bad thing. It's good to know that, between the two of us, we're striking a blow for diversity. Now, if we could only convince the millions of people between Georgia and Washington to follow our lead...


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