Farm Your Backyard

Just what, exactly, has your lawn done for you lately?

By Judy Naegeli June 14, 2010 Published in the July 2010 issue of Seattle Met

Bow down to basil Uproot your grass for an edible garden and you’ll be unearthing your backyard bounty in no time.

IN THE YEARS before I became a backyard gardener, I would always get the itch to grow vegetables in July. The sun was out, I was warm and bursting with energy, and family friends would serve me homegrown zucchinis, beans, and early tomatoes so delicious they weakened my knees on the first bite. At my exclamations of delight, these backyard farmers would always say the same thing, “They’re not that hard to grow, you know. You can do it yourself.”

Yeah, right. Even then, I knew about life cycles. My friends had carefully laid soil and compost over seeds the prior April to get their harvest. “But I want a garden now,” I’d whine. As it happens, I could have one. It’s a little known fact that almost everything you plant in April can also be planted as late as July. With a few quick preparations, you can be on your way to backyard bounty by early fall.

Get off grass. The first step is finding a place to plant with as much sun exposure as possible. I hate to break it to you, but this might mean digging up your grass. “Grass lawns take up space in the middle of a yard, where the sun is typically unobstructed,” says Amy Pennington, owner of Go Go Green Garden (, a garden service that digs into client’s backyard problems, teaching them to make maximal use of their outdoor spaces. For decades (centuries?), the manicured lawn has been a source of pride and a measure of property values, but that is all changing. “The new generation of home-owners doesn’t want to waste water and energy on grass,” says Colin McCrate of Seattle Urban Farm Company ( “Grass doesn’t give back.” A relationship with a vegetable bed will prove far more reciprocal.

Go to bed. Once you’ve picked your spot, you can install a simple four-foot by eight-foot rectangular raised bed using a rot-resistant wood such as cedar or black cherry. With a shovel, cut out the grass in the shape of the bed. “Most lawn grass is a rhizome, which grows underground sideways,” says Pennington. Make sure you’re digging wide enough to pull out the roots, or the grass blades will keep popping up between your plants like weeds. If you don’t have the time, or you’re up against a steep slope or rock-laden soil, hire a landscaper or a personal gardener like McCrate or Pennington to help.

Grow it. Once your bed is full of dirt and compost, you can start planting right away. The best Puget Sound weather is still to come. Popular plants such as heirloom tomatoes and pumpkins won’t have time to mature before the short days return, but according to Seattle Tilth’s Garden Hotline (206-633-0224), carrots, peas, greens, beets, onions, herbs, and broccoli, to name a few, will offer a rich harvest through September or October. Just water, weed, repeat, and you’re on your way.

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