Mono crops are a thing we hear about a lot these days. GMO, mono crops, synthetic fertilizers; all the product of the big “bad” guys. What we often don’t realize is that one of the most pervasive mono crops is being grown right in our own yards: grass.
I use hand tools and natural/organic practices. So when I am asked to work on someone’s lawn I recoil. Lawns are not sustainable, and they go against all that I love about gardening. This summer I was asked to hand dig dandelions and clover from lawns, to organically fertilize lawns, and to “get rid” of mushrooms in lawns (as if it is that simple, and even desirable to get rid of such things!) all because people have this idea that lawns can be organic.
The definition of organic technically means no chemical residues in the soil, so “organic” is possible with lawns, but it is not practical. If you want that lush green carpet, then you have to treat it chemically, or add constant organic inputs and water to make it that way, as lawns are not natural. For this reason, my mom reports back that German “lawns” are actually made up of many species; clover, dandelions, various grasses and even crocuses. They expect their lawns to bloom and to grow together in tandem with many other species, avoiding the trouble with mono crops.
What is the trouble with mono crops? If you pay attention, you’ll notice there are no monocultures that exist in nature, since this in not sustainable. A monoculture as defined by google is “the cultivation of a single crop in a given area”. In nature plants need various species in close proximity in order to thrive. Trees, shrubs, in fact all plant species must grow alongside mushrooms in order to live, Fruiting trees and perennials need various flowers nearby to attract a crop of pollinators, and therefore to survive. The connection between several plant species and critters in a garden is as necessary as biodiversity in the animal world. If the “keystone” animal in any ecosystem dies, then all creatures suffer and maybe even die. It is the same with the plants in your garden, and I’d love to suggest here that every species is a “keystone” one.
Inevitably, lawns which consist of grass alone are not sustainable.
This is not in any way meant to be a commentary on choices. Lawns are certainly desirable, as they provide spaces for people to play and picnic. If this is what you want to spend your time and money on then that is certainly your prerogative, but don’t expect it to be hassle free.
If you can’t be bothered with spoiling your lawn with constant care, as is the case for me, then enjoy city lawns for that family picnic or soccer game, and turn your own yard into a space that is more practical and sustainable for personal reasons. Sustainable, in my mind, means it can exist more or less independently of human input. As such it:
1) Stays moist enough to grow the plants that are in it. To achieve this be selective with your plant choices and use natural mulches to prevent evaporation.
2) Encourages natural pollinators. Your garden does so because there are natural habitats available year round; dead trees, logs or wood piles, and season-long food sources are available, which means constant blossoms from early spring until late fall.
3) Is no place for weeds, since weeds no longer exist because your definition of what “weeds” are has altered. You understand, as author and lifelong organic farmer Michael Ableman says, that “Weeds are windows into our soil. Learn to read them.”
You now see dandelions as an early food source both for yourself, your family as well as for the pollinators. Honey bees cannot exist without dandelions. You see clover as a “nitrogen fixer” that will feed your soil and therefore your plants without you needing to do that yourself. You will begin to see chickweed as a “trap crop” for slugs. This irresistible, tender green plant attracts slugs to feast on it drawing these potential pests away from your precious peas or beans.
When you embrace a natural approach to gardening you pull yourself into the role of planter and harvester, but the maintenance gets done by desirable garden guests; other plants, pollinators and valuable soil biology do the grunt work while you consider how best to consume your just-harvested carrots or dandelion greens. Keep up with diversity and you will have less work to keep up with yourself.