Monday, May 7, 2007

Lawn Care Without Poisons, Chemicals, Power Machinery or Watering

Michael Pollen wrote that a lawn is land "under totalitarian control." We Americans are control freaks, and one thing we can control is our lawn. It never talks back.

Still, I find myself wondering why I, like almost all Americans, care about my lawn so much. Why not just let it grow wild? Someone asked me shortly after I moved here how nice I wanted my lawn to look. I heard myself say, "A little bit better than the worst lawn on the block." I was raising children. Why should anyone with such an important activity care about raising a lawn?

Then the kids left and I felt a calling to demonstrate how good a lawn can look without poisons, chemicals, power machinery, or watering. Now, why would I feel THAT calling? Anyway, if you want a carefully thought-out summary of my approach to lawn care, or want a flyer to disseminate my suggestions, you can click on "lawns" on the homepage of my website, most easily accessed via a Google search on "Pat Kenschaft," The short version is mow high, let the grass clippings drop to fertilize the lawn, and NEVER use power machinery or water the lawn. When there are doubtful places, hand-scatter compost that you have made yourself. I've found that fixes the problem; I don't have to ask questions or do tests.

There are socially acceptable alternatives to lawns. Maxine Hoffer, my wonderful creative writing teacher at Nutley High School, had a ground cover through which marvelous daffodils arise each spring. "I fertilize it by never raking leaves," she told me. She died a few years ago at a venerable age, but I see that her successors have not destroyed her good property care ideas, so you can see it at 27 Stuart Avenue in Nutley on the corner of Passaic Ave. In her waning years the property required no care, and it continued to look spectacular every spring.

During my empty nest summer, I took my garden cart to the front yard after dinner in August and hand-pulled weeds. After three weeks of filling a garden cart each evening, the yard was weed-free, but a bit empty. I bought "lawns alive" from Gardens Alive, and that's the only time I've put anything commercial on my lawn -- 20 years ago! Those seeds thrived.

Since then I have spent about five minutes several times a year removing dandelions from my front lawn, and that seems enough -- less than a half hour total per year. Once you get them out, they don't come back...much.

Not watering means that the roots go deep. The lawn survives dry spells better than most. When a water ban arrives, my lawn still has a bit of green. When the rain finally comes, mine is the first to be truly green.

The United Nations predicts that 21st century wars will be fought over water, and I've read that 30% of the household water in eastern U.S. is used to water lawns.

Children and dogs that play on lawns with pesticides have higher rates of disease, especially cancer, than those who don't. can provide you lots of alarming statistics if you want to read about them.

Leaf blowers destroy lawns, and give landscapers an excuse to charge more money to repair them. Shrubbery needs leaves as natural fertilizer; it especially distresses me to see people blowing under shrubs. I've been told that the main reason they are used off season is to increase the number of hours for which the landscapers can charge the property owners for "care" but one can't be sure of other people's motives; it's hard enough to know one's own.

A distinctive problem this year has been the many baby trees planting themselves around. Fortunately, they come out far more easily than dandelions. Working with two hands, I can remove often two per second, which is more than 100 a minute. Apparently, I've removed thousands in the past couple of weeks, with thousands more to go. Anyone know WHY we have this new abundance this year? I hear it's not just my property.

I spend far less time on my lawn most weeks than the landscapers spend on my neighbors' lawns. Mowing the front lawn typically takes 12 minutes with my human-energy-powered push mower. This week it took only ten minutes.

Someone borrowed it last May and found it took her LESS time than her power mower because she didn't have to be so careful going around the edges. It provides healthy exercise, is safe with children around, and you can talk with passers-by as you mow. When I was a child, Daddy's lawn mowing time was also child time. Human-powered lawn mowers cost about $100, and don't involve the time, money, and global warming acceleration of fuel.

It's a beautiful time of year. Enjoy caring for your lawn...if it's worth having a lawn!


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