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Starting a Garden on Sod

April 17th, 2013

This is the second installment in the 5×5 Garden Challenge Series. Every Wednesday I’ll be posting about the challenge, covering topics that will help all the new gardeners get started. If you haven’t heard about the challenge head on over to the 5×5 Challenge Website, we’ll also be putting up a page here that pulls in all the 5×5 Challenge posts.
5x5 garden challenge
Chances are, if you don’t already have a garden area, you’ll be starting from scratch for the 5×5 Challenge. I decided to start my garden in the lawn since I thought some of you might be dealing with the same issue. I chose an area in the middle of the yard, away from any large trees and in an area that gets a good amount of sun.
new garden on sod 1
Next up was laying down some kind of mulch to start smothering the sod. It doesn’t have to be really thick, one layer will do. You will want to overlap layers if you don’t have a sheet as big as your garden.  You will also want to extend your cardboard out beyond the 5×5 area just a bit, four or five inches on each side will do. This is done to kill the grass around the edges of the garden. If it’s hot enough in your area already, you can use a piece of clear plastic to kill the grass.
new garden on sod 2
This cardboard won’t be staying down, though you can do that if you want. It should do a great job of killing the grass by the time I want to get my garden started. I thought about putting some chicken litter under the cardboard, thinking the heat from the fresh manure would provide extra heat and kill the grass faster, perhaps I’ll go out and do that tomorrow.
new garden on sod 4
Weighing down the cardboard with rocks is a good idea, I even added a full watering can on top because it was really windy yesterday. It should be interesting to see how long it takes for the grass to die.
new garden on sod 5
If you are starting from sod, I’d highly recommend building a raised bed for your garden. This will make it much easier than digging out the sod. There will be a post about how to build an inexpensive, easy raised bed in this series. I want to make sure this garden looks really nice since I can see it from my kitchen window and it’s right in front of the main entrance to the house.
new garden on sod 3
If you live in a southern climate, you can already be seeding some of your plants. If you have questions, head on over to the discussion forum and hook up with other gardeners in your area.

Have you ever turned sod into a garden?

20 Comments to “Starting a Garden on Sod”
  1. Marina C on April 17, 2013 at 6:15 am

    I made raised beds, quite deep, so I did not have to kill the grass first.
    I used the lasagna method, layers of grass cuttings, plant matter, twigs, etc, and topped with 6 inches of compost and topsoil.
    My community garden group uses the newspaper/compost/hay method, an planted right on top. That works too.
    They just keep pilling in on every season.

    Reply to Marina C's comment

  2. K.B. on April 17, 2013 at 7:54 am

    I built my raised beds right on sod, and it works great. My only caveat: don’t plant potatoes the first year. Wireworms destroyed my entire crop in a newly made bed, but the crop planted a few feet away in an established bed was fine. Apparently, they are a problem in sodded areas turned into gardens, but the population declines with time. Gardening – always something to learn!

    Reply to K.B.'s comment

  3. angie h on April 17, 2013 at 7:57 am

    I’m adding raised beds this year, but definitely noting how you are doing a new in ground bed for future expansions. When we broke ground for our original garden, my father-in-law just tilled through the grass and we had to pick it all out…all summer. But, this seems a good way to get straight edges which is what really drives me nuts about my garden! It is better than it was, but still not straight!

    What is gray in the last picture in front of your plot? Are those rocks?

    Reply to angie h's comment

    • Susy on April 17, 2013 at 11:52 am

      Yes, Angie, those are HUGE rocks.

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • angie h on April 17, 2013 at 12:47 pm

        I want to see more pictures of your big rocks…I’m wondering if that is bedrock cropping out in your yard?

        to angie h's comment

      • Susy on April 17, 2013 at 1:11 pm

        I don’t think these are bedrock, but in front of these there is a spot where it is. We actually have a lot of spots of bedrock peeking through the soil around the gardens. You’ll love looking at all of them when you visit.

        to Susy's comment

  4. Maybelline on April 17, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Yes. My entire vegetable garden was converted from lawn with pine trees (sickly).

    Reply to Maybelline's comment

  5. kathi Cook on April 17, 2013 at 8:22 am

    I created three large raised garden beds using the lasagna method. I began the layering in late fall the previous season. My beds are full of earthworms and the soil seems to be rich. I add some compost and llama or chicken manure each year to condition it. I should have it tested,however I never have a problem growing what I choose to grow, so I figure why bother. I am going to add a new bed for blueberries and I did just have that area PH tested. I do need to ammend the soil for blueberries.

    Reply to kathi Cook's comment

  6. Joan on April 17, 2013 at 9:08 am

    We created our entire garden out of sod – it was an old field when we started. We hired someone with a tractor to rototill the first year. Then we used our small tiller after that for a few years. Now we seldom use the tiller because our soil is fairly good and we’d rather not turn it over and disturb it and all the earthy critters living in it.

    If an area gets too weedy, we put the chicken tractor on it for a week or two and the chickens do a great job turning all the vegetation into bare ground. We have an area about 10′ x 50′ that we created later entirely with the chickens – just moving their chx tractor around as needed until they had killed most of the vegetation. We planted buckwheat, then potatoes – not the best crop to plant in an untilled area because of all of the rocks that hadn’t been brought to the surface yet and got mixed in with the potatoes!

    We also created a couple of raised beds for herbs in a manner similar to what Susy is probably going to do in the 5×5 challenge – layering cardboard, soil, leaves, grass, aged manure and compost, ashes from our woodstove and charcoal from a brush pile we had burned – we just used whatever we had. We made a wood frame around them. We surrounded the raised beds with cardboard and woodchips from the chipping crew cleaning up the electrical lines in the area. These are really nice – the soil has a great consistency. I wish I had layered something more permanent just under the edge of the beds though, since the cardboard has rotted away and grasses keep peeking through around the edges.

    Reply to Joan's comment

  7. Elyse on April 17, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Short answer – no… We’re doing a raised bed this year, but I have lots of plans for the future – I want to try everything! Our soil doesn’t seem as unpromising as we’d first thought – doesn’t seem to be too sandy. And there are earthworms!

    Reply to Elyse's comment

  8. Caroline on April 17, 2013 at 11:30 am

    I hope the raised bed post comes soon! Even though we’re expecting MORE snow (seriously? Where the heck is Spring???)

    I think raised beds just look so good! Plus I think there’s less chance of my hubby accidentally mowing anything he shouldn’t! Should also help keep the kids from running through it!

    Can anyone tell me, should I wait until all of this snow and crud has passed, or should I take the next opportunity I can and go lay some cardboard/newspaper/whatever out on the grass to kill it? OR if I do a raised bed, will I even HAVE to worry about that? (I’m not planting anything like carrots or potatoes this year, I am planting onions though.)

    Reply to Caroline's comment

    • Hazel on April 17, 2013 at 5:02 pm

      I would wait until the snow melts if for no other reason than the uneven snow melt will likely make it difficult to keep the cardboard weighted down. Chasing bits of cardboard or newspaper around is not particularly fun, no matter how entertaining it is to neighbours! Plus, the snow will probably melt faster, and the ground thaw out faster if the sun can heat it directly.

      If you are planning a raised bed you will likely still want to either kill the grass underneath prior to filling the bed, or lay cardboard/newspaper on the bottom before adding soil. Grass can be surprisingly tenacious: I wind up with bare patches on the lawn, but somehow grasses always seem to manage to grow in my garden beds!

      Reply to Hazel's comment

  9. Caroline on April 17, 2013 at 11:31 am

    OH! Just remembered, my father-in-law accidentally killed a patch of grass in his backyard last summer when the solar cover for the pool got left on the ground a little too long. I don’t know if that would have this same effect, but just throwing it out there :)

    Reply to Caroline's comment

    • Susy on April 17, 2013 at 11:53 am

      That would be a perfect place for your garden!

      Reply to Susy's comment

  10. KimH on April 17, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    My daughter & I just dug up a 5×5 garden in her yard a few days ago.
    We laid it out & then I dug it up with a shovel, and she helped bang the clods against the cinder blocks we used to outline it to get the soil out of the grass roots.
    I have to say, her soil there is really wonderful.. Its a sandy loam and what I would consider the perfect growing medium so it wasnt too difficult to get it done. I wouldnt have near as easy of a time if I did that here.

    And yes, I’ve made gardens in sod before as well.. usually we’ll use a tiller first.. easy way at first though you’re tilling the grass/weeds into thousands of pieces for the most part.. Depending on what you’re tilling up, it can be a breeze or it can make that spot a pain.. I usually till..

    Reply to KimH's comment

  11. Maria on April 17, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    We built our raised beds over the contaminated soil in the lawn. In our neighborhood, lead paint from the old buildings (circa 1930) seeps into the groundwater, so it’s not safe to eat food grown directly in the ground. I capped off the soil with permeable landscape fabric and some plastic that had a few holes poked in it. One of my neighbors suggested I do sub-irrigated raised beds, but that just sounded like too much work. haha

    It was actually really difficult to find an authoritative source on capping off contaminated soil. I think this method will work out ok and I’m hoping to get 4-5 years out of the arrangement. At the end of every growing season I’ll dig down to the bottom of the beds and make sure the barrier is still intact.

    Our lawn is so sad (patchy) that I dug up all the grass where the raised beds would go and used them as sod to fill in the patches. :-D It took days, but things are much greener now.

    I’d LOOVE to connect with another city-grower who’s working through the same issues. Feel free to contact me if that sounds like you!

    Reply to Maria's comment

  12. Hazel on April 17, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    I’ve turned over 6000 square feet of field/lawn/sod to garden over the past three years, mostly by tilling with a bit of sheet mulching when I had access to enough organic matter. For sure my preference is lasagna style/sheet mulching/hugelkultur for starting new gardens (I am still dealing with grasses in the tilled areas) but the size and speed with which I wanted to get gardens in necessitated tilling.

    I was really hopeful that the chickens could kill the sod and make a brand new garden, but even they needed a bit of help from the tiller. (If I had more than 12 hens in 1600 square feet of electronet it might have gone faster/better.)

    One tip I have for anyone looking to kill grass with cardboard is to pick up bigger pieces from the grocery store or Costco (like the empty bins that watermelons come in). The bigger the pieces, the easier it is to cover a large area.

    Reply to Hazel's comment

  13. The Prudent Homemaker on April 18, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    I’m in a zone 9, and my lettuce is starting to bolt. My spinach bolted weeks ago and my Swiss chard is 3 1/2 feet tall (it’s bolting too).

    The grapes and growing well, as are the peaches, apricots, and plums.

    The nasturiums are threatening to take over; I could use some nasturium recipes that the children will like (they’ll eat Johnny Jump-ups, but not nasturiums, because they’ve got a bite to them).

    I saw a blogger kill grass with plastic tarps (black ones); she did it in the fall and they were ready in spring.

    Reply to The Prudent Homemaker's comment

  14. Eric in Japan on April 20, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Double digging 25 square feet of sod is not a problem- for me! But I love digging! I think it is just personal preference. If you are planting seeds it is tough to keep weeded, but if you are doing transplants, just mulch around them with straw or leaves and there is no difference. I rarely till after the initial double digging.

    Reply to Eric in Japan's comment

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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