Getting off the grass

Getting off the grass
Ari LeVaux - 05/14/2020

If you are lucky enough to have some land at your disposal, chances are you have been turning it over in your mind. Stuck at home, with grocery shopping less carefree than ever, it’s no wonder
we start eyeing sections of lawn the way a hungry coyote might look at his pet rabbit. 

Sure, it’s nice to curl your toes in a little grass once in a while, or whack around a croquet ball. But perhaps you can spare a sunny corner, or four, for a different mission. Nearly 2 percent of the lower 48 states is lawn, while garden space is a small fraction of that.

Lawn conversion can be a grueling project. Or it can be as relaxing as a cup of tea. If you don’t have any lawn or land to look at longingly, I hope that someday you find some. In the meantime, please stay for some carrot aioli.

The hard way to convert a lawn is to dig out the thick sod, shaking the dirt from the hefty roots and tossing them into a pile. You then must dispose of all this plant matter, and the wasted potential it represents. The best thing to do would be compost it, but it will take a while to kill all those roots, and proper composting is hardly a passive piece of work. One way or another, that dug sod is going to make you work some more just to deplete the land’s fertility. And no matter how hard you try to remove every last root, you will still have grass sprouting in your garden.

The easy way to replace a lawn is to cover the garden-to-be with a sheet of black plastic. You can then attend to other matters while the lawn beneath hosts a temporary worm conference. Two months later, what had been a typical section of sod is now a sea of soil, about half of which is soft worm poop. It’s weed-free and ready for planting.

The problem with the easy road is you have to wait for results, but at least there is comfort in knowing that your waiting is productive. The problem with the hard road is the lack of waiting. You have to get to work or nothing happens.

Both paths are therapeutic in their own ways, and fortunately we don’t have to choose. We can actively dig  one spot, while elsewhere, tucked under plastic, another piece of earth turns itself.

If you get that plastic on soon, you could have a garden spot by mid-summer, which is perfect for planting a fall garden. Kale, spinach and carrots can grow through the autumn and even overwinter if you take measures to keep them warm. Beets, radishes, salad turnips and many other short-season cool weather crops can also produce well with a summertime start.

You will have to dig and work the new soil into place, which will be laughably easy compared to the labor of digging green lawn. But before you get started on that new piece of earth, put that plastic in its next location: the future garlic patch.

Garlic needs to be planted sometime in the fall, by about Halloween at the latest. That means if you were to move your plastic in the middle of summer to the future garlic spot, the next piece of lawn would be converted to worm poop right on schedule. When the frost is on the pumpkin and next year’s garlic is in the ground, you can fold up that sheet of plastic and keep it for next year’s adventures in lawn-conversion therapy.

The hardware store should have black plastic, although it might not be in the garden section. You want at least 6 mil (0.006 inch) in thickness. I bought a 10-by-25-foot piece the other week for $30.

When you lay down plastic, first rake and mow the spot, scattering the clippings. After the plastic is in place, set heavy objects like bricks, rocks or pieces of wood around the edges to keep the wind from getting under it. Random pieces of furniture work, too, depending on the exterior decor you are going for.

After the lawn is fried and before you plant, consider digging a trench around the edge of the new spot and installing some kind of edging to block the grass roots from re-invading. Pieces of 1-x-6s or even 2-x-4s, buried with the thin edge at ground level, will slow the invasion of the persistent lawn to a manageable pace.

Meanwhile, early spring is the trickiest time to eat seasonally, as there is little new food and last fall’s stash is dwindling. Since carrots and garlic are virtually always in season, here is a recipe for carrot aioli that you can pull together any time of year. You can then use it to pull together any meal.

In this aioli recipe, steamed carrot takes the place of egg. The thick, orange emulsion is tangy with lemon and functions as a megaphone for the garlic. It’s good on bread, chips, pasta or straight off the spoon.

Carrot Aioli

Makes 4 large servings
1 pound carrots, trimmed and cut to 3-inch lengths 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 lemon juice and zest
1 cup olive oil
Pinch of thyme or oregano
Steam the carrots until you can easily thrust a fork through, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, add the garlic, salt, oil, herbs, lemon juice and zest to a blender and make it silky smooth. Add the carrots, still hot so they cook the garlic a little, and blend until smooth again. Add more olive oil if necessary to help the blender achieve a nice vortex.

Serve as a condiment, sauce, dressing or main course. Refrigerate any leftovers.

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