Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Further lawn reduction, more edible garden space, and zebra longwings!

Zebra longwing on tropical sage.

Florida's State Butterfly

This year we’ve had a huge jump in population of Zebra longwing butterflies (Heliconius charithonia). Our property is aflutter with all their striped glory.  They don’t have deep wing beats like a lot of floppy butterflies–their wings hardly move as they fly.  They are skittish compared to some other butterflies, but they are mesmerizing.

This is Florida’s state butterfly and deservedly so, there are more sitings in this state than others. The larval food is the passion vine (Pasiflora spp), but they like it best when it’s grown in the shade.

I’ve been trying for years to create a welcoming habitat for the zebra longwings, so finally we’ve reached the point where this could happen and now we’re teeming with zebras. Continue reading my post over on Beautiful Native Plants blog, Teeming with Zebras.

Just before starting the bed expansion & lawn reduction.
The shovel marks the new lawn edge.

Lawn removal

I decided that I needed more area for the edible beds near the garage and the elevated rain barrels because I was not going to continue fighting the weeds and the sandy soil on top of the drainfield mound.

It took several days (A day of gardening at this time of year goes from 7am to 9:30am at the latest.) of hard labor to accomplish this project. But having the crops close at hand will make it all worth while.  I also took advantage of having virtually nothing planted here but the cover crop of marigolds to dig them under.  See my previous post on marigolds and nematodes.

Here's what the project looks like when we have removed about half of the grass.

The three large containers lined up at the edge of the mulched area will also be used for edibles.  They used to contain prickly pears and a yucca. I planted the yucca, but discarded the prickly pears. To the left of the containers you can see the rubber edging we pulled out up until that point. There was a joint near the rain barrels. You can read about our cool elevated rain barrels and how they have saved my back because I can now use a hose to irrigate the edible garden beds. You can also read more about the tool shed and how we moved it to this handy location in my post Two geezers and a shed. The shed post also provides a better look at this area before we started this project.

Almost done with the lawn removal.  Note the torpedo grass
separated out in the wheelbarrow.
Invasive torpedo grass makes the
job much harder.
The torpedo grass (Panicum repens) is a Florida invasive and probably came with the sod that the builder put down.  It's all over the property and we've been fighting it as it escapes from the lawn for all these years. My plan for most of the sod is to use it in my next compost pile, but I certainly did not want to include all of the torpedo grass. I'm sure some of it did not get sorted out, but maybe I can spot it as I create the pile or later as it sprouts from the pile.

Making the bed narrower. The bed had been too wide for easy tending, so now it
will be about 18 inches narrower in the middle.

With the narrowing of the fat part of the bed and the curve in the new addition,
this bed is probably not much larger than before.

 Mowing Curves

The curve was constructed so the mowing around the bed would be very easy.  We also left about six inches of flat surface inside the rubberized edging so the mower wheels would have a place to roll. We work hard to reduce the need for extra trimming after the mowing.
Time to resink the edging. Dean pounds the soil around the edging for stability.
After having experience with this edging, we would probably not spend the money on it again. After a couple of years it gets covered with the turf and the weeds and sinks out of sight. We think it might be just as effective to run a flat shovel along the edges once a year or so to cut back the creeping weeds.  But since we already have it, we reinstalled it because it does help to some degree.

I still need to compost the marigolds and smooth out the the new part of the bed near the rain barrels.
And we need a new load of arborist's chips to remulch the path. We definitely added more planting area
in this bed--about 4' x 4'. I also gained some area in this bed because I moved the walking onions. I'm also thinking about adding another 4' x 6' bed in front of the rain barrels, but that project will have to wait!
The bed will sit for a few weeks to settle and to allow the marigolds to compost to some degree before I plant anything. At this end of the bed closest to the garage, I'll leave the marigolds until frost kills them in December.

Marigolds attract so many butterflies and other pollinators.

The next project: removing this weird tongue of lawn--it measures about 6' by 9'. I will plant a nectar
and pollinator garden. I'll use some of the sod removed from here in the bare spot left next to the
edible bed. This is the edge of the drainfield mound. I will not use the top of the drainfiled for crops any more.
Sunset from the front yard the other day.

I hope you are enjoying your gardening this fall.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt


  1. Ginny, I loved this post as I am wanting to do the same thing when the weather cools, remove more grass. I noticed you have the same insulated planters with the cross-hatch design that I have. I want more but have been unable to find them. Do you remember where you purchased yours and would you mind sharing the info?
    Thanks for your great site.

  2. Rennie, we bought them several years ago at the navy base (JAX NAS) garden center. They are nice pots and have held up well.