In Defense of the Suburban Lawn
Grass is Your First Garden
In Defense of the Lawn
People who think holistically often criticize the lawn, front or back. It’s a monoculture of Kentucky Blue Grass, it creates water demands, it makes for fertilizer run off, it makes for herbicide pollution, and of course lawnmowers use gas. These criticisms are all valid.
The problem is that these holistic thinkers are not thinking holistically enough. Lawns make neighborhoods pretty. Lawns are where kids and families play. Lawns are an echo of nature. Lawns are sociable. Lawns are outside. These benefits are also all valid.
As the saying goes, touch grass.
The steader philosophy is basically permaculture holistic environmentalism that does not artificially exclude human flourishing.
Nature isn’t something that we do. Nature is something that we are.
From the standpoint of human flourishing, having a place where the kids can run around and play in a nonstructured safe way is vital. It leads to bigger, healthier, and happier families.
This doesn’t mean every family has to have a lawn. It does mean that you shouldn’t feel guilty about having one. You should give serious thought to having one if you don’t.
Cartwheels, grass stains on the knee, Frisbee and baseball catch, catching fireflies, spontaneous wrestling and tug of war, water fights with the hose.
Touch Grass the Steader Way
The lawn benefits can come in various ways. In areas where public order and cleanliness are maintained but that are also friendly to free range kids and fresh air families, a nice park within walking distance might be good enough. Places like this exist, you don’t have to live in Unicornville, Republic of Fairyland.
In a community concept—where you live in a planned New Urban style neighborhood or where you have developed a hamlet where you and others are co-homesteading—it can also be a joint grassy area, easily accessible, since it was intelligently built into the initial planning.
And there is always, yes, the suburban lawn.
The Steader Suburban Lawn
Once you have decided that lawns are good, its time to think how steader lawncare might differ from the suburban reflex standard. Just because lawns should be good doesn’t mean they are.
First, beauty is good but not the primary good. All other things being equal, a lawn should be beautiful. HOWEVER, beauty should not trump use. Patches from play are wonderful. Its ok if your lawn isn’t one perfect sward of Kentucky Blue because you are trying to limit the time impact or environmental impact. Use the lawn. Put in the time to enjoy it. Grill, picnic, play. Beauty matters, but use over beauty.
Because use is the primary good of the lawn, you are more concerned about how it feels rather than how it looks. The primary sense your lawn aims to please is the skin, not the eyes. This will influence your choice of grasses and will usually lead you to mowing the grass higher than is normal. Please the skin.
Generally lawns are healthier and require less water and fertilizer if the grass isn’t cut as short as American lawns normally are. Mow high.
Poisons create poisonous run off and linger in the ground where your barefoot children play and where your food grows. Limit or avoid herbicides, pesticides, and run off.
Be judicious with fertilizers. Healthy soil practices means less fertilizer is needed. Use compost or humanure or other natural soil additives as much as you can. It’s good for you and your children to experience the lawn as part of a growing ecosystem and not something out of a box in the store. You want to think of the lawn as your little patch of nature, not as a purchased suburban amenity. Fertilize less, build the soil more.
For the same reason, do your own lawncare and make sure your kids are involved. Kids can use a pushmower at a younger age than you think. Again, you want to think of the lawn as part of your household work, not as a sterile amenity. Family yard work is a must.
It doesn’t need to be all one variety of grass and it doesn’t need to be all grass. Grass variety and some
weeds forbs are fine. Weeds won’t overtake a healthy lawn, and besides you can always pull some of them. Weed-free is a waste.
Make your lawn multi-use. A totally flat lawn is boring. Especially around the edges, you can put fruit tree hedges, spreading nut trees, strawberry towers, a quick growing pumpkin vine, or other flowering or ornamental plants, shrubs, and trees. Make your lawn multi-use.
Don’t waste water or light. Overseeding with a summer grass in a cool area or with a winter grass in a hot area can give you more months of pleasure and makes the most use of the gifts of light and rain that your lawn receives. The extra growth builds the soil. There can be a learning curve and not every climate can pull it off, but it’s easier and can be done in more areas than you think. Overseed where you can.
Think about what you are going to do with your clippings, your leaves, all of that. Don’t throw them away. Use them as mulch or compost them. If you have poultry, they love scratching around in the stuff and it composts naturally as they work through it and poop on it. But for clippings, usually the best thing to do is to leave them on the lawn. Keep your clippings.
Grass is for grazing. Is there any way to graze yours? For larger lawns, poultry tractors or even a lamb or two would work, or a milk goat, neighbors and code enforcement permitting. You can raise a spring lamb for late fall slaughter on 7000 square feet of grass. Less if you can supplement a bit with hay towards the end when they are bigger. Alternatively you, or you and some neighbors, could feed an animal with grass clippings. An average suburban street has enough grass to maintain a milk cow. Is grazing possible?
Please the skin.
Limit or avoid herbicides, pesticides, and run off.
Fertilize less, build the soil more.
Family yard work is a must.
Weed-free is a waste.
Make your lawn multi-use.
Overseed where you can.
Keep your clippings.
Graze your grass.
The two mindset keys are
(1) think of yourself as a grass gardener, which is what you are,
(2) start small and learn by trial and error. If you aren’t doing everything on the steader lawn list, pick one or two more and try them out. Failures can and will happen, that’s OK.