Building top soil in your front yard

Our farmers are obsessed with building top soil, but farms are not the only places we can build healthier ecosystems. Urban and Suburban landscapes are also important homes for local species. I’ve been reading a great “how-to” book on converting traditional lawns into natural meadows to foster diversity, improve water retention, and help you save some money.

I know this is a topic that other Waldeneers are interested in, any other resources people are using?

I’ll have to check this out - been trying to increase my gardening knowledge. Unfortunately I don’t have a garden, but I’ve been looking into some shared public spaces. The one book I did just finish reading was The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which has some relevant information on building healthy soil. Michael Pollan describes the soil as “earth’s stomach” as it breaks down organic matter, like dead plants and leaves, and transforms it into nutrient dense ground for new life. The complexities of soil are fascinating.

We also did a pretty in depth blog post on soil here: The Importance of Soil Health - Walden Local Meat Co.

Nice. Have you looked into community gardens at all? I walk by the somerville growing center all the time and it looks like they have some very neat programs. One of these days I will actually stop by to say hello

I’m up in Melrose right now, but I’ve walked past the Somerville Growing Center before and it does look cool! I wonder if anyone here actually belongs to a community space. Would be interested to hear their experience.

I do! We have a huge 1.7 acre community garden in Westford that has over 150 families gardening it in.

Each community garden works slightly differently as the rules are set by either the town (frequently the landowner) or the gardening community. For mine, each gardener applies for a plot at the start of each year (varying sizes from 15’ x 15’ to 30’ x 45’) and agrees to the rules, which includes volunteering 10 hours of your time each season for communal tasks. Returning gardeners with experience and good volunteering track records get first dibs and then they assign the rest of the plots from there.

I’m in the process of creating a garden in my new backyard (yay - no more condo!), but I’ve loved the social and community aspects of the community garden. It’s really fun walking around and seeing the different things people are growing and the different techniques being used. One other thing I’ve loved is how much food we donate. When you’re swimming in too much produce or if you’re away on vacation, the donations working group collects extra veggies and gets them to the food bank or senior center. It ends up being thousands of pounds of veggies each summer!

2 Likes

@Courtney what are you growing right now? I ended up starting fairly late this year so we are just starting to see zucchinis… it’s been a little hard to tell if the delay is because of when we started or because the weather has been so weird!

1 Like

I’m also just seeing zucchini, so I think it’s the weather because I started mine when I usually do. I usually have zukes the first or 2nd week of July. Same goes with tomatoes - lots of green but no ripe ones yet!

In general, everything I’ve planted has come in late. I’m just starting to get green beans and peppers too. I don’t think I’ll get any winter squash or melons this year because the vines are just puny and no fruit seems to be setting :frowning:

1 Like

This is something I’m interested in… we’re going to be moving to a house in Worcester with our own yard soon, and I want a native plants & wildflowers meadow instead of a grass yard. However there’s so much information I’m not sure where to start! Beyond buying a bunch of seeds and casting them around to let the lawn grass duke it out with them Darwinian style, that is, and while that’s amusing I’m not sure it’ll be super effective.

1 Like

@rykilde the book I linked to above suggests 2 methods:

  1. Use one of several methods (can provide more info on some herbicide-free methods if you’re interested) to clear vegetation from an area… the idea is to make sure your new seeds aren’t out-competed when you plan them
  2. Pick a couple plants that you like (either from seed or as potted plants) and plant them in small clusters where you can pay closer attention. (The same book has some recommendations for plant types based on light/soil). This is a nice option because even native plants need quite a bit of water in the first year.

If you go with the latter strategy, the idea is to create a ‘home base’ where your wildflowers can propagate from. After that, it’s about creating competitive pressures that will help your plant succeed (mowing to the right height at the right time).

Another thing you could try is let your lawn grow out and see what’s already there. Chances are you have some native plants already, and you can let those shape what else you decide to choose!

1 Like

Thanks for the info! I think we’d probably go with #2. I got a good look over the weekend. The previous owner apparently mowed but didn’t do much other lawn work. There are additionally 2-3 rectangular mounds that seem to have been raised beds at one point, with the sides now gone. Judging from what’s in and around them, they were herb/vegetable gardens. So, the ‘lawn’ is mosly clover, violets, plantain, oregano, and mint. So, so much mint.

1 Like

Speaking of overly prolific plants, the Smithsonian just put out an article on invasive lawn species: 'World's Worst Invasive Weed' Sold at Many U.S. Garden Centers | Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine

Also features a list of some plants I’ve definitely seen walking around in Somerville:
Japanese maple, panacled hydrangea, Chinese silvergrass, wild sunflower, Japanese barberry, Norway maple, burning bush, reed canary grass, glossy buckthorn, Tatarian honeysuckle, Canada thistle, corncokle and Johnsongrass

That list isn’t specific to New England… But mass.gov does have this list if you want to spot check a species before planting and mass audobon has a short list with pictures if you see something you’re suspicious about in your yard!

2 Likes