food not lawns


Posted on Posted in Gardening

We’re gonna turn our lawn into a garden.

There’s this thing that’s happening, see, called Food Not Lawns. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of it, it’s very hip. Steve, the instructor for our class, described it as ‘urban permaculture’.

My wife and I discovered Steve’s class through Communiversity; Food Not Lawns won out over How to Psychically Communicate With Your Pet by a hair.


food not lawns


Steve Mann led the class and invited two other local specialists to present some material—Matt Bunch from Kansas City Community Gardens gave a talk on fruit trees and berry shrubs, and Dayna McDaniel from Seed Savers KC presented on seed saving. All of the information was fantastic, and gave Juliana and me a structure to start planning our own industry-blasting, soil-saving, stomach-feeding urban garden.



To grow vegetables on your lawn, first you’ve got to kill the lawn. I’m the one that pushes the mower, so I’m ecstatic to hear this.

You’ve got to kill the lawn right, though. Digging it up causes all sorts of problems, like killing the soil and encouraging weeds.  It is not the Food Not Lawns way.  The smart way to kill a lawn is to put a few layers of stuff on top of it, then the grass dies underneath and rots, creating richer soil.

The first layer is something nitrogen-rich, like compost, wood ash, or manure. That’s to ensure plenty of nutrients for plants to dig their roots down into. The second layer is a dense covering to keep grass away from the light and hold in moisture. Steve recommended newspaper, several sheets thick. The final layer is mulch, like wood chips, compost, or straw. Your plants will grow right in the mulch. As the layers decompose, the plants tunnel their roots down into layer after layer of rich, healthy, grass-less soil.

Die, grass. Die so hard.


food not lawns seeds



Dayna generously brought a bunch of seeds to share with the class, so Juliana and I returned home with pockets stuffed full of seed packets. Being a notorious cheapskate, I intend to populate my garden almost completely with these (free) seeds.

I really want potatoes, onions, and garlic, though, so I guess I’ll have to make a few purchases…

Here are the vegetable seeds we got:

  • Self-blanching Cauliflower (Brassica oleracea)
  • Delicata Squash (Cucurbita pepo)
  • Apple Melon (Cucumis melo)
  • Nobel Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)
  • Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach (Spinacia oleracea)
  • Blue Lake Bush Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
  • Tom Thumb Mini-Bibb Lettuce (Lactuca sativus)
  • Waldmanns Green Leaf Lettuce (Latuca sativus)
  • Pink Lipstick Swiss Chard (Beta vulgaris)
  • Aunt Molly’s Ground Cherry (Physalis grisea)
  • Seven Top Turnip (Brassica rapa)
  • Pescos Jalapeno (HYBRID)
  • Green Lentil (Lens culinaris)
  • Dwarf Tomato Tasmanian Chocolate (Solanum lycopersicum)

You’ll notice I included the scientific names; that’s because common and brand names can vary wildly, so the best way to know exactly what you’re getting is to stick to science.

You might also have noticed that several of these different vegetables actually have the same common name. That’s because they are, on the genetic level, the same plant. All those crazy varieties of tomatoes? Same species. Broccoli, cauliflower, savoy cabbage, brussels sprouts: all children of the same wild kale. They’ve been bred to behave and grow differently, but they’re genetically pretty much identical, and can cross-pollinate in a second. They’re promiscuous, as Dana was fond of saying.


food not lawns



Our vegetable plot is a strip in front of our porch, about three feet by fourteen. I’m going into this with a handful of seeds and some extremely rudimentary knowledge, which boils down to:

  1. Beans and lentils fix nitrogen, which is good.
  2. Leafy greens and brassicas (the cabbagey plants) don’t like to get too hot.
  3. Vegetables that are actually fruit, like tomatoes, peppers, and squash, like a lot of sun. Like, a lot a lot.

That gives me some basic guidelines for my space, which are as follows:

  1. Spread the beans and lentils around so’s everybody gets in on the action.
  2. Keep the leafy and cabbagey things near the back, close to the porch, so that they get less sun.
  3. Put the fruiting plants in the front row, away from the porch, so that they get as much sun as they can.

I found a square foot gardening planner online (there are a lot; here’s the one I used), and spread the plants around the plot according to those basic tenets.

I expect to learn a lot over the next few months, mostly about what not to do. I’ll make a lot of mistakes. But at the end of it, hopefully, I’ll have some homegrown vegetables ready to start weaning us off of the industrial food conglomerate.

Tomorrow I start laying down newspaper to kill my lawn. Kill it dead. Stupid lawn. More as is occurs. Wish me luck!


food not lawns
This chart shows how many varieties of vegetables there used to be, compared to how few there are now. Crop diversity is vital!

food not lawnsfood not lawns

food not lawns
They are!


  1. This is terrific—best of luck to you with the project! We were actually planning to do pretty much this same thing with our front (west-facing) yard at our first home when Hubby received a very good job offer from an out-of-state company, so alas, off we went. I had the garden all planned out on paper, and even our near neighbors (it was a close-knit community) were really intrigued by it. Happily, our new home is set in the woods, and I plan to fill the home site with veg, flower, and herb gardens. Can’t wait!

    Don’t forget to plant some flowers—they’re pretty, pollinators love them, and many of them (nasturtium being my favourite!) are tasty, too! Have fun with this—I’ll bet you two have a blast.

    1. Thanks! The instructor actually recommended planting a ‘diversity strip’ full of big, tasty flowers and native plants somewhere in the yard, to give pollinators a place to feed and hang out, so we got a bunch of seeds for that as well. Good luck in your new place!

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