No Mow, May…be

It was drizzling this morning as I stepped out to take the dog for her first stroll of the day, and for the first time in nearly six months I could tell that the lawn was starting to turn a familiar shade of green.

That’s not an exaggeration, either. As recently as this past weekend I spent the better part of my days out in the yard raking and cleaning and pruning and tidying and the dominant shade in my life was the colour brown.

But a little bit of TLC and a few days of light rain, and spring greenery arrives in force around here.

All this yard work got me thinking deeply once again about my small patch of grass.

I’ve never been a golf-green-perfect lawn guy. I keep it trim because grass can be low work and nice to walk upon in bare feet. It’s essentially backyard carpeting, and a bit of mowing and a bit of fertilizer and a bit of pulling some weeds makes for a pleasant outdoor space. Yet, having taken a lot of ecology and botany in university I look at the picture perfect lawns of my neighbours and rarely first see the intended suburban paradise, and usually instead ponder the effort we put into this single species of invited invasive plant we uniformly call grass. Biodiversity is rarely represented in suburban lawns, and many of my neighbours put countless amounts of time, energy and resources into perfect sod.

In fact, I was thinking about lawns so much that I was getting ready my rechargeable mower batteries thinking that the yard would be due for a trim as soon as mid-May.

Except.

Except, I’ve stumbled upon this online campaign twice now to support that aforementioned biodiversity and support neighbourhood ecological health by skipping the mowing bit for a month.

#NoMowMay suggests waiting until June before cutting the grass.

Skipping the mowing for a month is not exactly much of a hardship in Western Canada, I would caveat here. I may get to avoid mowing altogether simply by virtue of the weather. It could start snowing again before the week is out and the effort would be impossible. Or, on the other hand, the grass could be knee-height by the end of the week and I could be sending search parties into the backyard for the dog when she goes out to pee. This time of year is a botanical prognosticators nightmare.

The sentiment of #NoMowMay intrigues me tho.

I like the idea of thinking forward and holistically about the ecology of our spaces, rather than purely cosmetically.

I like the idea of putting insects and seasonal cycles and the complex system (even if it is a little artificial and of our own creation) of nutrients and water and growth and light ahead of a few minutes pleasure of being barefoot in the grass.

I like the idea that the lawn is actually more than backyard carpeting.

Sure, my little Canadian lawn just coming out of its winter hibernation might not be impressively overgrown by the end of May, but in its own way I think there is a lot to learn from letting nature do its own thing for a few weeks in the spring. It might be worth keeping the mower in the shed until June, despite what the neighbours might think.

This Spuds for You

May is planting season around here, the month usually starting by ensuring the root veggies are in the ground and ending by poking hundreds of more delicate seeds into the soil.

The weather cooperated long enough for me to till the recently-thawed layer of topsoil in the corner of my yard which I keep open for an annual vegetable garden.

… and then to plant a small bag of seed potatoes, neatly covered up with dirt and marked with a makeshift stake in the ground nearby.

A local gardening guru was recently a guest on the CBC morning radio show and he was discussing a strange topic to which the answer was, in fact, potatoes.

As it turns out there is a strong community of home gardeners who think deeply about things like caloric yield and nutritional output per square meter of soil. In the event of an “end of the world” type scenario, maximizing how much food one can grow in a small plot of land is something that enough folks have given enough thought to that aforementioned guru used it as the topic of his weekly radio segment.

His calculations showed potatoes were the winner, being both one of the most reliable and highly producing plant that can occupy your backyard in the event of cataclysmic events of the kind that wipe out the global supply chain, but leave you enough time to become a backyard subsistence farmer.

A similar calculation played out in the science fiction novel (and later film) The Martian where explorer astronaut Mark Watney finds himself left behind and stranded on Mars after a mission failure and hasty evacuation, and needs to use his botany skills to stay alive long enough for a rescue attempt some months (or years?) away. The science-driven narrative turns to the humble spud, the only fresh food sent along on the space voyage and intended as a happy holiday dinner on another planet, as the means by which meticulously calculated cultivation keeps the astronaut alive long enough for the plot to proceed.

I planted nine hills of potatoes yesterday which by late summer should yield enough tubers for a couple plates of fries and a few roasted dishes alongside maybe a campfire steak or two.

And ideally that’s all I’ll need them for.