Of all the weeds that will inhabit a garden, grass is the worst. It is not all that bad in singular form –that is singular root, singular blade, singular plant. But grass grows in numbers, and while an individual grass root is rather fine and easily broken, an established grass root system is unbreakable without a shovel. Likewise, singular grass blades don’t shade too much in the garden, but if they close the gaps? Grass has perfected the art of group and conquer.
In starting a food forest, or garden, most people don’t start with a well tilled, weed free piece of ground; they start with grass. This can be a big problem if you are the kind of person who frowns on tillage, abhors grass poison, and try’s to avoid bringing in outside resources such as for foot thick sheet mulch made of wood chips, newspaper, cardboard and all that. In this situation, there isn’t much a person can do, accept revert to one of the above approaches, unless they observe nature, think outside of the box, and come up with a very permaculture solution, the problem. That is not a typo.
I am referring to the “The problem is the solution” principle as taught by the so called “father” of permaculture Bill Mollison. His idea is that there are no ‘bad’ forces in nature, just forces, which can be used to our disadvantage, or advantage. We could go on for a while about the depth of meaning in this principle, but back to the practical aspect of grass.
The grass is a force. It grows, it chokes out other plants, it seeds, it rots. Grass is not going to rid you of grass, but you can use grass to rid you of grass by mowing a large area of it (preferably just before it has bloomed), and thickly mulching with it (grouping it). In this way, the grass doesn’t get any light, and dies (conquer it)! Yet you have not brought in any outside materials, have not tilled, and have not sprayed poison.
Sheet mulching like this is far better than just hoeing the grass, which dry’s out the soil and leaves it exposed to sunlight. The thick cover of grass holds moisture very well, and the abundance of grass translates to abundant nutrients for soil organisms to eat, which leads to healthy soil life, and a rich layer of humus to grow plants in.
In the case that your mulch wasn’t thick enough, and the grass can make it through to sunlight, rake the mulch around to bury the grass again, and continue to do so until the grass has starved to death.
In the picture, I made the mistake of planting strawberries directly into the green mulch. It was only about four inches deep when I applied it, so there is some grass coming through, so I am just reaching underneath and cutting them of.
In the places where I have been smart, and have refrained from planting anything, until the grass is dead, I will plant lugumes in the mulch, and let them establish a new root system before planting my perennial and self-seeding annual vegetables.