Killing Grass Without Killing Yourself
Tim Boucher

Participatory Agronomy

Each Individual Metaentity Has Its Own Needs

I wanted to unpack a little more from this discussion on Tim’s piece on Killing Grass:

DAMMIT, Medium, quoting conversations is ridiculous. I shouldn’t need to screencap this! But onward….

I’m converting my Seattle front yard into an edible landscape in 6' x 18' rows, adding a row each season (so this year was the third). I don’t have any pics, but the method I’ve been using to convert the useless grass lawn into workable soil is sheet mulching:

“Sheet mulching” for me is way less complicated than ol’ Hemenway’s example above. Basically, I just tossed down wet cardboard right on the grass in September, and started heaping it with a mix of soil and compost. Then I covered it all up with leaf mulch and a layer of weedblock fabric, and let it hang out all winter long.

In March, after a winter of Seattle rains (which was even dryer than usual), I checked under the cardboard, and found a nice layer of rich humus, complete with worms and mycorrhizal strands everywhere. The grass had died and started rotting, incorporating all of its delicious nitrogen into the soil. Six months after my hour’s worth of work, I’d transformed the grass into nice growing conditions. (Sorry, no before and after pics this year!)

Thing is, though, there are a ton of reasons this method works for me, but not for Tim. Tim is in Quebec, in the Frozen North, on a small farm. He does WAY more than a front yard, and doesn’t get the wet, relatively warm winters that make sheet mulching for beds work so well in the PNW. So, he’s out with a rake, which will certainly work just as well and doesn’t require 6 months of the whole plot “just sitting there.”

And, that’s a problem with a lot of modern theories of agronomy, including MANY schools of permaculture, and “scientific” ways to view nature and growing things: they’re designed as one-size-fits-all answers to problems originating in a whole HOST of ecosystems/biomes/metaentities/etc.

In permaculture, we see this all the time. Hugulkultur, swales, forest gardens, biochar: these are all awesome technologies for agronomy if you do them right, but they’re also trendy and faddish, and unless they’re installed in the right place at the right time with the whole local metaentity considered, will likely have minimal impact or utility. (For the record, a good Permaculture course will emphasize that these items are elements in an entire site design and analysis, and may not work in every situation.)

We’re seeing the same thing with the Silicon Valley types who want nature to be an “app.” Having an electric sensor in your garden might work really well for you in California (where there is NO WATER FALLING FROM THE SKY), but let’s see how long they’d last in Florida’s humid summers (whereas, using a tried-and-true device like a “finger” would work in either scenario).

This is another reason I’m skeptical about GMOs. They’re sold as a one-size-fits-all, magic bullet fix for a number of items (“Too many weeds? GMOs!” “Poor nutrition? GMOs!” “No food access? GMOs!” “Apples turning brown? GMOs!”), and I just don’t buy it. But we’ve decided to close that can of worms on this site from now on, so let’s “drop it.”

It’s basically the same as diets. No single diet, be it Paleo or Gluten Free or Low Carb or All Fat or Cow’s Blood or whatever is going to be “correct” for every single person. Yet, they’re sold that way in popular culture, and then when somebody drinks cow’s blood for a week and doesn’t feel better or lose any weight, that person may give up on any kind of eating right. And yet, their friend might follow the exact same diet regime and “lose weight and look thinner.”

Nope, ultimately you have to treat your agronomic ecosystem like you treat your body. No single diet is going to work for everyone, and no single solution to cultivation is going to work for every metaentity. Just as you have to participate in your own health to feel good, you have to participate in your ecology for it to produce what you need.

When not studying Permaculture or drinking licorice fern and salal berry sodee-pop, Jeremy Puma writes some things and cooks some things. Jeremy will be teaching a class in urban foraging with the Seattle Farm School on May 30, 2015.Click here for more details.

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