If you don’t like rants, you may want to stop reading now…
I spent all afternoon tearing out clover in our lawn, so that we could reseed grass seed in those patches. We might put our house on the market, so a few people told us that we needed to “fix” our lawn. Our lawn, unfortunately, looks like most suburban lawns. If I had my way, we would have a small patch of grass in the back for the kids to play in, and the rest of our yard would be food-producing. So spending an entire afternoon working on the lawn annoys me in general because I would rather be spending that time working on the garden beds that actually produce food for us*.
I spent the afternoon ripping out clover getting progressively angrier about the stupidity of tearing out a natural, free nitrogen fixer (clover) so that we could plant more grass that contributes next to nothing valuable to our family or our environment. People buy organic food, and then send their kids out to play in their chemically-laden lawns – all for the sake of monoculture lawns that all look the same.
Does anyone else see the idiocy of this? I was getting all fired up in the yard that I came inside and found this old interview I did with Grace’s Outreach team several years ago that I thought I’d edit a bit and re-share here…
1. Please help me out on this…does yard work have anything to do with God’s kingdom purposes, or am I simply trying to overspiritualize things?
John Calvin said, “Let every one regard himself as the steward of God in all things which he possesses.” I think if we all lived with that thought in mind, we would be living much more sustainable lives. Many of us suburbanites have yards that, rather than “stewarding,” we dump dangerous chemicals onto that not only affect the immediate health of our families, but also have long-term consequences for our communities in terms of run-off, erosion and soil depletion. If I had my choice, we would all be spending much less time and energy on nurturing our little plots of monoculture grass in favor of turning our yards into huge gardens of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and native plant species – to feed ourselves and our neighbors and to provide a respite from the craziness that is twenty-first century America.
Unfortunately, I haven’t yet been able to convince my neighborhood association of the enormous benefits we would reap as a community if we allowed homeowners to get rid of the traditional grass lawn altogether.
2. Let’s talk about water. I can’t help but think about having guests from an underdeveloped country come to visit be appalled seeing that we are basically pouring out clean water on the ground so it can look nice. Do you struggle at all with the idea of watering your yard?
I do struggle with watering our yard, but we have found that eliminating pesticide and commercial fertilizer use has made for a much healthier yard and garden. Plants’ and grass’ roots that aren’t dependent on industrial fertilizers grow much deeper, therefore needing less water. Most Americans over-water their lawns and gardens, which leads to shallow root systems and immature plants and trees, which are far more susceptible to weeds and disease. Lawns and gardens only need about an inch of water a week during the growing months.
If you are going to water, buy a rain gauge, so that you know exactly what level of watering is needed and when; if you must water, water for a long enough period of time to reach the inch mark. If we are forced to water, we usually do so no more than once a week and for at least 45 minutes at a time. Long, gentler waterings are much more beneficial for the lawn – they encourage deep roots and are less wasteful. Water in the early morning hours – when you water in the heat of the day, much of the water evaporates soon after hitting the ground and watering at night makes your lawn and plants more susceptible to fungus.
I do struggle with watering our lawn at all. Setting aside the obvious environmental issues at work, lack of clean water is THE leading cause of illness in the world. UNICEF estimates that at least 4500 children die each day from preventable diseases caused by lack of access to clean water. My sister lived in Benin for two years (Western Africa), and she had to walk about 200 yards to a well several times each day to get water for drinking, bathing and cooking, and she was fortunate to even have a well in her community. I feel guilty putting perfectly safe and potable water on our lawn or using it to flush our toilets or running the shower until it gets hot. I haven’t figured out how to reconcile these issues yet, but I do think the first step is acknowledging the great resources that are available to those of us that are fortunate enough to live in the West.
3. I know many people hesitate to spray weed killers on the ground because they basically see it as poisoning the Earth. Others have no beef with it. Your thoughts? (Are there any effective alternatives?)
Numerous recent studies have shown a direct link between pesticide exposure and autism, cancers and several autoimmune disorders. I care about creation because God calls us to be stewards of it and because I feel closer to God in nature than I do anywhere else. But, even if you didn’t care about the environment, I would think you would stop using any other substance that was linked to serious illnesses for the sake of your and your family’s health, especially something as trivial (let’s face it – in the whole grand scheme of things, a perfectly manicured lawn isn’t that important) as a weed-free lawn.
There are plenty of effective alternatives! For nearly a decade now, however, we haven’t put chemicals on our lawn, so it has a few more weeds than your average golf course. We typically pick them by hand every spring (Grant and I have what we call “wine and weed parties,” which sounds like a but more fun than it is – we get out a bottle of wine, put on some music, and spend an evening pulling weeds). Our favorite fertilizers are compost from our compost bin because it’s like free plant food. We also love the local company, Castaway Compost, that will come out to your home and spray highly nutritious compost tea on your lawn and plants. We occasionally use Ringer Lawn Fertilizer – or locally Habig’s Gardens has some great organic fertilizer and weed control options.
5. What are some practical ways we can honor God while maintaining a nice lawn?
I think composting is about the easiest “green” step out there. We started composting about ten years ago now, and we have vastly reduced our garbage. We only have about one trash bag full of actual garbage per month these days – everything else is either recycled or composted. We keep a little bowl by the sink where we dump everything throughout that day that can be composted, and then we take it to the compost bin about once or twice a day. We now have three compost bins, and none of them stink. If you keep compost well fed and turn it regularly, it rarely, if ever, smells. Call us if you need help getting started!
Rain barrels are much more ubiquitous these days than when we first made our own when we first moved into our house. They’re so easy, and you will be amazed with how quickly they fill it up. I think it’d be silly not to have at least a couple rain barrels on every house.
6. What lessons about God can we learn from working out in the yard?
I don’t know about you, but my “day job” rarely consists of actually producing anything tangible. I like my job, of course, but it is easy to feel like I’m running in place at times. When I’m pulling weeds in the lawn or spreading compost in the garden, I quickly see the results of my hard work. God gave us work, so that we would have purpose. He blessed us with a beautiful creation, so that we would tend it well. I am reminded of these truths about the goodness of God every time I set foot in our yard or garden.
One of my favorite things over the past several years has been to see the excitement in our son and daughter’s eyes every time we set foot outside. Even if we’ve spent the whole afternoon working in the garden, it’s always an adventure for them. There’s beauty and wonder in our own backyards, and I think we miss that so often in the hustle and bustle of modern American life. Of course, there’s little better than picking a tomato, ripe from your hard work and God’s willing collaboration, straight from the vine and eating it right then and there!
*I’m obviously being a bit hypocritical here since I did tear out some of the clover for the sake of possible resale, but a big part of the reason we want to move is because of this pervasive ideal of golf course like lawns throughout the ‘burbs.