Suburban Pioneers

The Adventures and Misadventures of Homesteading in 21st-Century America

Sarah: Why the Neighbors Hate Me May 31, 2013

I’m in the process of killing our grass, bit by bit.  It started last summer when we moved in.  I just didn’t water it.

It was slightly embarrassing.  I have to admit that just a little part of me does care what the neighbors think (especially since we’d just moved in and I hadn’t yet had the chance to make a first impression of any kind).

The yard, admittedly, was nothing to boast of when we bought the house.  In fact, it looked like this (and keep in mind this is the real estate photo, so it’s taken in the best possible light):


It looked even worse by the end of the summer.  My embarrassment was somewhat assuaged by realizing that not going to the trouble of watering the lawn also meant that I didn’t have to spend time mowing dead grass.

The first step this spring to re-landscaping was to get rid of the lawn once and for all–or at least to get rid of the hardy bits of lawn which miraculously came back in spite of my best efforts last summer.

Why kill the lawn, you ask?

Well, I could talk about the whole Food Not Lawns movement, but it’s really only in the back yard that we’re growing vegetables because we can’t possibly keep up with a half acre (front and back combined) of garden.  We had to do something else in the front.

A scientist friend of mine points out that lawns aren’t really as bad as people sometimes think because at least they lower the ambient temperature around the house and help retain moisture.  She’s right.  But think of all the other things that go into lawn maintenance: mowing (usually with fossil-fuel-driven mowers), fertilizing (often with chemicals), watering (with a precious resource), and weed-eating around the edges (frequently with a tool that uses electricity).

So the lawn had to go.

Step 1: collect newspapers (if you don’t get your own newspaper, I highly recommend taking the ones that are rotting in people’s driveways–we found the Denver Post to offer an abundance of pages for use).

Step 2: spread the paper out on your grass 6-8 layers thick over your grass (just do it by sections–I especially enjoyed using the lawn and garden section for this project).

Step 3: heap mulch or straw over top, several inches thick (Fort Collins offers free mulch at The Gardens on Spring Creek or sometimes at the recycling center at Riverside & Prospect–check with your city government or local botanical gardens to see if your city offers the same).

Step 4: let the lawn die a slow, painful death under the newspaper and mulch layers.

Step 5: if you want to plant shrubs, perennials, succulents, or native grasses the following year, you can just mulch all the newspaper into the ground–it composts itself!

Do the neighbors still hate us?  We’re not sure, but the yard is looking now like a work in progress instead of a fire hazard, so we’re hoping that our neighborhood standing will be redeemed.


Sarah: Dashed Hopes May 15, 2013

Filed under: Gardens & Compost — suburbanpioneers @ 4:32 am
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Since Lauren owned up to her Suburban Pioneering failures in her previous post, I thought I should come clean as well.  It’s not always smooth sailing around here.


I was really excited about this yard tool that we inherited second-hand:



What a beautiful and simple piece of machinery!  No fumes, no gas-guzzling engine, no complicated parts–I thought it was the perfect suburban pioneering solution until I could manage to kill the lawn (which I’m still working to do–more on that to come).  After all, this lawnmower wouldn’t contribute to fossil fuel usage or CO2 emissions.

It seemed the ideal way to keep the weeds at bay…

…until we returned from a vacation to a foot-high crop of dandelions.


Mowing our small front yard and mowing a large swath of calf-high weeds in the back are apparently two vastly different things.  I had to run over the plants four times with the push mower to cut them down.  The back yard is only a quarter of the way finished, and I have already worked out all work and child-rearing frustrations.  I have also worked out all of my arm and back muscles.

The mower is still sitting in the backyard, and I am not.  I am sitting down at the computer to tell you that there are reasons we have developed tools beyond scythes and reel push mowers. Another ideal has been mowed down, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Despite this setback, I am not so easily deterred.  The dandelions may have won this skirmish, but their time is short.

In the meantime, does anyone know of a gas-guzzling, extra-loud, fume-belching mower I can borrow?


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