Groundbreaking Work

As the pandemic took hold, a lot of us got the food security jitters and either expanded our gardens or created new ones. If you’re starting with turf, follow these steps to ensure the best results.

Take a soil sample. Before you can fertilize your ground, you need to know what’s already there and what’s lacking. Contact your local cooperative extension for resources or use our Soil Testing Service.

Smother the grass. This is the part that takes patience, but it’s much better than trying to spade it under (which inverts the soil profile and usually is less effective at killing the grass) or digging it out (which removes precious topsoil too). You will need a thick, light-blocking barrier: old billboard covers have a reputation among commercial farmers for being the most effective, but there is also some concern that they leach unhealthy substances into the soil. A double or triple layer of cardboard (weighed down with compost, soil, or straw) will also do the trick. Don’t use materials that will photodegrade (like plastic tarps) or try to get away with using only a thick layer of straw (the grass will laugh at you). It will take at least several weeks to thoroughly kill the grass. Vegetation should be completely withered and the roots will be brittle.

Add fertilizer and compost (according to your soil test results) and incorporate it into the soil. Yes, no-till techniques can do wonders for long-term soil health, but now is not the time: first you have to teach this ground to grow annual vegetative crops instead of perennial grasses. Liming materials must be worked 6" deep. If you can’t or won’t use mechanical tillage, we recommend investing in a Broad Fork (found at

Plant a cover crop of annual ryegrass. One of our seed growers in Aroostook County recommends Annual Ryegrass as the best cover crop for “retraining” soil to grow annual crops instead of perennials. It can be planted any time from early spring to first frost.

Avoid certain crops the first year. Ground that was recently in sod often hosts wireworms, which are especially harmful to potatoes, corn, beans, peas, and root crops. (Yes, we know those are crops you really want to plant in a survival garden: reserve your existing garden space for them!)