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Ideas for a Front Yard Garden: Get Rid of the Lawn and Grow Food Instead!

One summer day I was watching my neighbor meticulously patch his lawn after spending a half-hour edging the sidewalk and all I could think was, “If he spent that much time and care on a vegetable garden, he could feed his family all summer long.” There are so many ways we could use more of our land for food, from ideas for front yard gardens to green bean plants in containers on our porch.

This idea continued to come up when on a field trip with my son, the instructor showed the kids a photo of a lawnmower and asked what tool did that job 100 years ago on the farm. The scythe was the answer, and I thought, “That wasn’t for cutting grass, it was for fieldwork.” I was struck by the realization that farmers 100 years ago didn’t have lawns. They didn’t have time for them, nor did they probably see the point.

woman in garden with box of veggies

I’m also certain that people 100 years ago would laugh at us while we jump around for an hour doing P90X. They would think we did an awful lot of manual labor with no practical result. (I agree!) When I compare our labors today vs. those of a more agrarian society decades ago, I find myself surprised at how busy we are with so little to show for it. 

Should “Victory Gardens” Make a Comeback?

Recent times have also shown us what it feels like to experience a disruption to our food supply with so many of our staple items gone from the grocery store shelves for weeks. I don’t know about you, but it’s reminded us how fragile our food system is!

And yet we continue to mow our lawns in the midst of feeling the pinch of food insecurity.

The Victory Garden Campaign began in World War I and was brought back during World War II. At least 15 million families in the United States were inspired to plant these gardens by 1942! This nationwide campaign meant to inspire people to plant food in all of the available lands was meant to boost morale, safeguard families against food shortages, and ease the burden on commercial farmers that were also feeding troops overseas.

Just a couple of years later these victory gardens produced roughly 8 million tons of food—which was the equivalent of more than 40 percent of all the fresh fruits and vegetables consumed in the United States.

There are so many benefits to gardening (from stress relief to saving money), can you imagine the impact it would have if we started replacing our lawns with gardens again?

If you stop and think about it, how much lawn space do we have in this country? What if everyone with space for a lawn had a large garden and maybe some chickens instead?

It’s about time that those of us that can, take more responsibility for growing food and stopped relying on farmers, processors, and manufacturers to solve a food crisis.

We need to collectively come to the realization that it’s better to spend time tending a garden instead of mowing and fertilizing the lawn, raising productive pets instead of walking the dog for exercise.

This concept has been a paradigm shift for me. I had never before thought about all the usable land on each individual home’s property, even in the city, for growing food, both the rooted kind and the walking kind. It now comes to mind every time I see a perfectly manicured lawn.

Gardening as a lawn alternative is just the kind of practical life choice that I could really get behind. (Honey, if you’re reading this post, don’t worry: I still don’t want to get chickens!)

basket of vegetables

4 Steps to Get Rid of the Lawn and Grow Food Instead

1. Grow only the Foods You Currently Eat

Planting the perfect tomato plants and spending time over the summer weeding and watering seems like a great idea until you begin to harvest them and realize that no one in your family really likes tomatoes all that much. The same can be said for planting half a garden of carrots and realizing you can’t eat them all fresh and don’t like them frozen.

If this is your first year gardening, simply stick with foods you know your family will eat!

You can also use one of the many garden calculators available to figure out how much of each type of vegetable to grow based on your family size.

COST SAVING TIP – Start your plants from seeds. Some plants need to be started 8 weeks before planting, others can go directly into the ground, so check the packets! You can also save a considerable amount if you shop the spring sales at your local gardening center.

garden with rows of plants

2. Pick the Perfect Place in Your Yard for the Edible Garden

Many families have figured out how to grow a year’s worth of food on only 1/4 of an acre! Ambitious for sure, but it just goes to show what a bit of ingenuity and hard work can accomplish.

If you’re not (yet) replacing your entire lawn with fruits and vegetables, it’s important to select the right area for your garden! This will help ensure you get the most food (success!) while minimizing physical labor and monetary expenses.

  • make sure it gets enough sun exposure (at least 6 hours) and be aware of the shadows around your home if you’re adding edible landscaping to your plan
  • place it near a water source
  • ensure proper drainage

COST SAVING TIP – Check your local garden center at the end of the gardening season (late June into September) for clearance items. You can find garden tools, seeds, outdoor containers, and even plants at steeply reduced prices.

HELPFUL RESOURCELearn how to grow up to $700 of produce in a 10×10 plot!

picking blueberries

3. Plant Perennials to Save You Time and Money

If you have space in your yard, these plants have more upfront cost but will produce for years and years. Fruit trees can be added as a functional yet beautiful addition to your yard. Blueberry bushes can be added around your landscaping (other berry bushes can be somewhat invasive and also have prickers on them, so plant accordingly).

20 Edible Perennials for Your Garden
  1. asparagus
  2. rhubarb
  3. horseradish
  4. watercress
  5. strawberries
  6. blueberries
  7. raspberries
  8. goji berries
  9. garlic
  10. grapes
  11. avocados, lemons, and limes (zones 9-11)
  12. mulberries (watch where you plant these trees – they’ll get messy over a driveway!)
  13. peaches
  14. currants
  15. radicchio
  16. apples
  17. peaches
  18. cherries
  19. pears
  20. herbs like sage, oregano, and lavender

COST SAVING TIP – Buy your fruit trees in the fall for lower prices and water conservation (you won’t need to water them in cooler weather near as much while they establish a good root system).

girl watering vegetables

4. Get the Whole Family in the Garden

Nothing’s worse than planting a huge garden and fighting over who has to weed! So be honest with yourself before you start digging…how much time and effort do you and your family have to devote to gardening?

  • Do you and your husband both work fulltime?
  • Are you having a baby this year?
  • Will your teens be home to help take care of a garden?
  • Do YOU have the extra time and mental capacity to raise a year’s worth of food, or is it more feasible to grow just enough to eat fresh from the garden a few meals per week through the harvest season?
  • Is your spouse going to help daily/weekly or is this your pet project?

So often we tend to bite off more than we can chew and our good intentions become a stressful situation. Let’s turn our lawns into gardens, but not at the expense of sanity! If this isn’t your year to start a garden, or it’s too late in the season to plant, take advantage of CSAs and local UPick farms to fill your freezer and pantry instead.

If you’re ready to plant full steam ahead, start by letting your family in on the planning process! Let them help pick out the seeds and get them started. Try giving small kids a section of the garden or a few containers to plant their own seeds to take care of. Devote some time in the early parts of the day (when it’s cooler and everyone is well rested) to weeding and watering to lessen the complaints.

Most importantly, let the kids help harvest from the garden and learn to cook all of those veggies for meals!

Recent Google Trends statistics also show that more people than ever are searching for information on gardening,3 seed sales are up, and gardening may be making a big comeback! I really hope this brings about a cultural shift and we all get back to growing more of our own food, whether it means starting with a small container garden or forgoing the lawn completely and replacing it with a garden.

Do you use some of your yard space to grow your own food?

Ready to get your hands dirty? Here are some more Gardening Posts from KS: 

Sources

  1. Schumm, L. (2014, May 29). America’s Patriotic Victory Gardens. Retrieved July 08, 2020, from https://www.history.com/news/americas-patriotic-victory-gardens
  2. Philpott, T. (2020, May 29). Gardens have pulled America out of some of its darkest times. We need another revival. Retrieved July 06, 2020, from https://www.motherjones.com/food/2020/05/gardens-have-pulled-america-out-of-some-of-its-darkest-times-we-need-another-revival/
  3. Google Trends. Retrieved July 08, 2020, from https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=all&geo=US&q=Garden
Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

16 thoughts on “Ideas for a Front Yard Garden: Get Rid of the Lawn and Grow Food Instead!”

  1. Pingback: Thirty Three Things (v. 1) – The Gospel Coalition Blog

  2. Great post! We have 5 acres and are slowly (as time and budget allow) trying to become more of a ‘homestead’ for our growing family of almost 9. We currently have chickens which my 10-year old son cares for. My husband has been working with him for several years on how to care for them. We haven’t used them for meat, yet, but I know that time will come. We sell our extra eggs to friends and family. Our chickens free range and that doesn’t make for a very well manicured lawn! LOL But, it doesn’t matter to us, because there are so many more important things in life. We also garden, but we choose the square foot method after some not so great attempts at conventional row gardening. Our soil is not good, so we are finding much better results with it. All we lack are two gates and our fencing will be finished which means we can ‘seriously’ talk about cattle to raise for beef. It’s been a dream for 7 years now. So, I agree with you. Every little bit of space can be utilized if you let go of the pressure to conform to what society deems is acceptable.

  3. Jessica (thesavingmom)

    I so agree. I live in Colorado where zero scapes are the in thing, but I think garden-scaping makes more more sense. Thanks for the great post! ~Jessica

  4. Pingback: Friday's Frugal Favorites for June the 18th | iGoBOGO

  5. Not considered in this post is the soil conservation that is provided by an established manicured lawn. Also not considered is the mental health and well being of those that “tend” to the manicure and those that simply enjoy the esthetics of the well-manicured yard. A well manicured yard does NOT always require excessive watering and fertilizing and to assume that it does, well you know the catchy phrase about assuming…
    I (and my DH) grew up on family farms. Both farms had large yards (about 3-5 acres each) in addition the gardens, cattle pastures, and grain fields. Proper farming and preservation does not require the keeping chickens and other farm animals most likely is forbidden in most HOA’s across the country. (As well as the proper management of their waste products.)
    While I could (and have) mow the yard to reduce my DH’s workload around the homestead (now an acre in a subdivision), he finds it to be a stress reliever and enjoyable time to mow the yard. Who am I to not allow this feeding of his soul or dare I say judge or even steal this opportunity from him?
    While I do enjoy container gardening and raised beds to tear out established grass and totally replace with gardens is not environmental wise and to change all to raised beds, depriving children of a larger grassy area to run, play (football, kickball, baseball, etc), and learn about the earth (bugs, worms, etc) is selfish and they have never taken a child to the ER with a large gash on his head from running between beds and tripping.
    To say nothing about the crossing the line from need gardening to glutenous is a very fine line to cross. Food pantries across the country generally do not accept home processed foods due the fear of distributing food that is not processed properly. (An understandable worry in this litigious society we live in.) So grow only what you will use, not what you will waste.
    Also not taken into consideration, is limiting potential resale value by limiting the pool of possible buyers (not just your property but those of your neighbors as well). Wise stewardship of both the kitchen and the home as a whole has to take property values weigh into the decision-making.
    .-= Lori´s last blog ..Stoney’s Crew: Back Door Guests Are Always Best! =-.

    1. Lori,
      This seems like an important issue for you; for me, it was just an exploration of an idea. I love that my kids can play in our yard, and I wouldn’t advocate getting rid of my lawn entirely. Just not making it perfect and putting some time toward some veggies. I’m all about balance, if you read around Kitchen Stewardship a bit.
      Thanks for your perspective,
      Katie

  6. Sorry, I have to speak up here. There is absolutely no way that chickens are easier to care for than grass. My grass gets mowed at most every 2 weeks. That’s it. I do not ever water it. I do not ever fertilize or apply any other kind of chemical.

    I hate my grass but I don’t have the time or other resources to rip it out right now. Unfortunately I do not have the time to care for chickens either. I am sure they are worth the work but you can’t invest resources that you don’t have.

  7. Great article…I definitely agree that sometimes we tend to put an overemphasis on our lawns, as well as our cars, home updates, fashion, etc. I know I tend to spend a little more time on my lawn than I should and perhaps I could use it to grow food and have animals….BUT I live in an HOA and am required to manicure my lawn and it would cost a lot more money for me to do something else and make it look good. Oh and farm animals are out of the question. Plus, don’t you remember (or at least I do) running in the lawn with friends play games as a kid or backyard BBQs. As much as lawns take a bit of time and work they sure have given me a lot of enjoyment.
    .-= Matthew B´s last blog ..Welcome Caleb Matthew Becker =-.

  8. Interesting thoughts. I agree with you to a certain extent-I find myself spending too much time and effort in “keeping up with the Joneses” without much lasting effect.

    However, you are missing two things of value when you consider Americans today: the level of advancement and knowledge that our society has obtained as a whole. We would not have the great medical and technology gains without time away from manual labor, ie: mental effort through education. Manual labor takes time away from these things. The level of education 100 years ago was vastly different than we have today.
    Secondly, there is something to be said for aesthetic beauty. While it may be a waste of time and resources to spend hours on a lawn, we do receive happiness and our lives our enriched by beautiful things. For some, this may mean looking at a beautiful lawn. We all need beauty in our lives.

  9. I love this idea, I hate to see oversized lawns perfectly manicured, it also means they have used a lot of terrible fertilizer and precious water on a LAWN.
    We have a few raised beds and have a plan to turn our entire front yard into a beautiful vegetable/flower garden with paths and a sandbox for the littles, when they have outgrown that they extra blueberry bushes will go there.
    Keep planting this seed of an idea in peoples heads, I love it.

  10. bibliotecaria

    They did it during WWII in the Victory gardens. I believe I saw a number once that said some 60% of the population had a victory garden in their yard and produced a significant amount of their own food. I don’t know how accurate the number is, but it does indicate that growing our own food is really not beyond us. We just have to be convinced of its necessity.
    .-= bibliotecaria´s last blog ..Exploring new vegetables =-.

  11. Pingback: Combing the Net – 6/14/2010 « Honey and Locusts

  12. LOVED this post. You are so right! Lawn care is a huge waste of time and money, and land and water too. It’s so silly from every angle! I wrote about it awhile back too..we definitely have the same feelings on this issue! http://moorethanfine.blogspot.com/2010/04/my-true-feelings-about-lawn-care-late.html
    .-= Nikki Moore´s last blog ..A list of fake organic and fake natural products! =-.

  13. Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen

    I do agree, we are doing much of the same on our homestead in Vermont. We are raising chickens and hopefully soon adding goats and sheep. We also started a major garden project this year, which will grow year by year I am sure, until we are at the point that we are at least 75% sustainable – the rest of it being made up for locally.
    .-= Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen´s last blog ..How Does Your Garden Grow? =-.

  14. Lenetta @ Nettacow

    I’m gonna have to come back and read the comments when my eyes aren’t closing on their own… they look good from what I skimmed! I linked to this on my roundup, and while I love my in-law’s eggs, I don’t know that I could butcher chickens. Or much of anything else, for that matter. I specifically remember that Laura Ingalls Wilder had her appetite spoiled for meat after butchering!
    .-= Lenetta @ Nettacow´s last blog ..Inaugural Garden Update (Week 3, Sigh) =-.

  15. my parents are a bit too busy to do an full vegetable garden in their yard but they have planted 6 fruit trees in their back lawn (and have spots for 2 more once they find dwarf varieties of the trees they want). fruit trees are super easy because if you don’t feel like picking the fruit yourself, the local food bank will come out and do it for you (and take the fruit but give you the tax deduction)
    .-= Carrie´s last blog ..How to Make the Most of Follow Friday =-.

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