Turn your lawn into a garden

Even farmers like gardening. Although Teri Dillon and Jon Jenkins work on an organic farm in the Annapolis Valley and get most of their food from the farm, they still couldn’t resist the lure of creating their own garden. They dug up a part of their lawn for a garden plot and shared some tips and instructions on how it’s done with Rustik.


Location, location, location
Choosing the right spot is half the battle. Choose a sunny space that is easily accessible. Look around to see if there are any spots where the grass and weeds are more lush than anywhere else in the yard. Since you will be planning to strip the top layer, it’s not a big deal if there are a lot of weeds. Weeds are basically opportunistic plants: if they have chosen a particular spot to grow in, chances are it’s because they can get what they need there. You are likely to find healthy, vital soil and microbiological activity that your garden will love too.

Work smarter, not harder
Investing in the proper tools will make your life easier. Poorly-made goods are not designed to last and will cost more in the long run, as you end up having to buy new ones every year. Spend a bit more for top quality gear and it will not only last a lifetime, but will save you from extra body aches and pains. For this, Lee Valley is hard to beat. Their tools are affordable, well made and come with a lifetime guarantee. This saves you from getting all bent out of shape when your fork gets all bent out of shape, or when your spade handle snaps mid-season.

Harness your ambitions
Don’t take on more than you can reasonably achieve the first season, or you will just be setting yourself up for disappointment. Remember that you will be doing most or all of this work by hand, and what looks like a small space can actually seem pretty huge once the garden is underway. If you’re the only one in your household with a green thumb, start small and plan to expand as you see fit. That way there’s less chance of getting frustrated and giving up before you even start planting.

The same goes with selecting what to grow and how much to plant. Be reasonable: don’t plan to supply all your yearly food needs the first year. It’s one thing to grow a garden, it’s another thing all together to grow your own food. The goal of supplying your food needs for a whole year (including the winter, which in Nova Scotia can still be pretty long) is great for the long term, but start first with a manageable garden and go from there.

sod-rollBreaking new ground
Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of cutting through the sod to start your garden.

  • A good way to start is by staking out the corners of your garden space and running string between the posts to ensure the edges are straight. This is not absolutely necessary, but it’s a nice touch.
  • Next, use your spade or a sod cutter to cut out a rectangle. Make it no wider than the depth 8-12 inches, and about three feet long, so you can roll up the sod and carry it away. It will still be pretty heavy at that size, so bear that in mind.
  • After cutting out the section, kneel on one knee or sit down, hold the spade or cutter parallel to the ground, and use the kick plate on the top of the blade to cut just below the surface of the lawn. This will be hard at first – and you’ll feel it in your glutes for the next week – but it gets easier once you develop a technique that is comfortable. You can either slice along the whole long edge of the section and then roll from one end to the other, or start at the end and cut and roll as you go. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you get the grass off with as little soil as possible. If you cut too deep, don’t worry – just scrape the soil off as you roll up the sod.

After you have removed the first piece, it will get easier. On the second and all subsequent pieces, you’ll have an edge to work from where you can see the cross-section of the roots and know where to position your spade blade.

After removing all the sod, your garden space will just need a little more work to be ready for planting. If you’re fortunate enough to have a rototiller, go for it! Otherwise, use a fork and break up the soil by turning it over a forkful at a time.

You should find that you have few weeds the first year, because you’ve removed the top layer of soil. Though removing topsoil in your soon-to-be garden space is not ideal, creating a garden in the first place is better than not doing so, so it should all even out. Use manure or compost to compensate.

Happy gardening!

Teri Dillon’s passion for agriculture began in her mother’s market garden in Manitoba and brought her all the way to Nova Scotia, where she farms for a living with her partner Jon.

This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. froddard says:

    Your readers might also want to try sheet mulching or ‘lasagna gardening’ to establish new garden beds. Instead of breaking sod, you simply layer soaked cardboard and half-finished compost directly on top of your grass. Top the whole thing off with good quality soil/compost mixture, and plant directly in your new bed!
    The weeds and grass get composted in place, and earthworms race up to work on the cardboard and compost. The rotting compost adds some heat to your soil bed, which in turn keeps your roots nice and warm (often a great idea in cold damp Nova Scotia!). We have such poor soil here to begin with, it’s a great way to make the most of all the topsoil and organic material as possible.

    I started quite a few beds like this last summer and grew amazing eggplants and tomatoes the same summer. No weed problems, either! 🙂

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