Lawns are falling out of fashion and for good reason. They are energy and resource guzzlers, and often, they are contributors to planetary pollution. But, don’t despair entirely if you do have a lawn, as there are plenty of positive things to be done with all those grass clipping that come from mowing every weekend.
Firstly, let’s not get too judgmental. Lawns are simply what’s been done, and that’s not our fault exactly. We were led this way. But, we should realize that we are fighting against nature with them, creating vast monocultures of grass, often in places where grass is not well-suited to grow. That’s why lawns require constant maintenance, annual fertilizing, and endless watering (as much as half of our household water consumption).
However, what they do produce is a lot of nitrogen-rich organic matter, aka grass clippings, that can be utilized in many ways by those of us looking to get a little greener in our practices. So, here’s how to begin using your lawn clippings for the forces of good.
Growing the Lawn
Ironically, as we became more and more acclimated to lawns around our homes, we also became obsessed with removing grass clippings. This is a major mistake. Grass clippings add nutrients back to the soil, so when we removed them, all that goodness is taken out of what would be a somewhat natural cycle of decomposition enriching the soil. Not only will short grass clippings break down quickly, but they encourage useful elements like microorganisms and earthworms to hang around in the yard.
Mulching the Gardens
At about the same time our lawns need constant mowing, our gardens need constant weeding. For a bit of efficient economics, grass clippings can be used for mulch. Even better, grass clippings, especially fresh ones, contain a heaping helping of nitrogen, which the plants will love. Spread the grass clippings on one-quarter-inch layer at a time, and that will allow it to dry out before the lawn needs mowing again. The dry stuff won’t cause smelly rot problems, and as they dry grass clipping build thicker, fewer and fewer weeds will be able to poke through. This also works a charm under young trees, as it will provide a nutrient boost and keep the competing weeds at bay.
Composting the Green
Good, functional compost requires brown (carbon) and green (nitrogen) elements. Carbon elements include things like fallen leaves, cardboard boxes, straw, twigs, and paper. Nitrogen additions could be kitchen scraps or animal manure, and grass clippings are another fantastic, plant-based choice. Mix a compost heap in roughly equal parts fresh grass and (perhaps slightly more) carbon material, which interestingly could be dried grass clippings. Make a pile a little larger than a cubic yard, turn it every few days to keep it aerated, and it’ll be decent compost.
Brewing a Fertilizer
Rather than spending money on fertilizers and polluting the earth with chemicals, fresh grass clippings can be steeped in water to create a mineral-rich liquid “tea” that can be fed to garden plants, crops, or even back to the lawn. The clippings will release useful things like nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus that hungry plants are looking for. What’s more, after the tea has been made, the grass clippings can still be thrown into the compost heap or applied as mulch to make them doubly useful.
Making a Raised Bed
Raised beds are the way to go in many environments because they help to ensure plants have well-drained soil, meaning the roots won’t rot when the weather is too wet. Perhaps the best way to make raised beds is to use a technique called sheet mulching or, the slightly more culinary-sounding, lasagna method. This involves building a sort of spread out and layered compost pile that will be left to slowly break down over time rather than being turned. Fresh grass makes a great nitrogen layers, while dried grass (and other lawn matter, like leaves and twigs, makes a great carbon layer. Slowly fill up the raised bed area, then top it off with cardboard or a few layers of newspapers before throwing on some soil. This will make for a really good raised bed.
Worse comes to worse, there are recycling centers and composters out there looking for good, chemical-free grass. Instead of sending it to the landfill, do a quick search and find a more useful end for the ends of the lawn. Finding and utilizing these sorts of natural cycles is how we can help our planet get back up to snuff, as opposed to constantly damaging it.
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