Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Insane American Farm Lawn



From this...


To This.
 I grew up on the north side of Chicago, in a two bedroom, third story walkup apartment, my early childhood spent on rickety wood porches and hard concrete. When we finally left for the burbs there were 7 of us living in that tiny space, my folks and their 5 kids. The sixth child was smart enough to wait to be born until we had a real YARD.

Being last in the birth order has always had it's benefits whereas first borns like myself had to pave the way for them.

Our yard in Warrenville, Illinois 1968 was actually a tiny lot but we thought we lived on a football field with all the grass we had to play on. Happy days it was. Then 4 years later, my folks bought a real country home in Elwood Il. complete with five acres.

Let the serious mowing begin!

But, in the country back then, yards around the farms were still manageable in size and pastures were allowed to grow as livestock needed a place to run (and food to eat.)

Todays American Farm is very different. Drive for 100 miles in Central Illinois and you'll be lucky to see a few cattle out and about, but pigs on pasture are very rare and sheep almost non-existent. We here (not here on South Pork Ranch but "here" in the United States) have evolved into the use of enclosed buildings for raising our livestock and the farm lot that became a farm yard in now a farm lawn.

Lawns...what a waste. It's not like anyone ever puts up a Badminton net or plays croquet anymore.

So what has happened to all that pasture we had for livestock? Well, most of it has been planted with corn or soybeans or perhaps soybeans and then corn depending on the farmers rotation. And the American Farm Lawns have gotten massive. This time of year the air is filled with the sounds of the ever running mower or the chemical sprayers to keep weeds under control.

Rarely is it a push mower we see or hear but more likely the riding mower or the zero turn mower or the HUGE zero turn mower. We mow and mow and mow chopping up grass that could be perfectly good animal forage.  And then we purchase feed for our livestock who now reside in buildings that are far better climate controlled than this old farmhouse and we go to the grocery store to buy our meat. Instead of raising critters out front of the farmhouse as past generations used to do we raise a flag and curse the stray alfalfa plant or dandelion that interrupts the sea of perfect weed-free lawn grass.

We too are part of this insanity but we are working hard to break the habit. We do not use any chemicals in our yard (I love the rogue dandelion) and do less mowing overall, even though that might be hard to believe if you drive up our lane. But if you look closely you might see the grove of trees we allowed to take over a patch that used to be all grass just 19 years ago. Our GK's call this area "The Woods."

You might also notice  the self seeded patch of sunflowers growing crazy wild this year when last year the area was a hog pen and five years before that goat pasture and before that...just more grass to be mowed.
Inside this patch of sunflowers we cut out with hand clippers,  a circular area for a possible GK fort or better yet a writing alcove for this Midlife Farmwife.
I'm thinking I'll find an old circular rug-faded Oriental?- at a garage sale, a couple of chairs, a wet bar and call it good.
Off to the north of this area is a throughway between our farm store and the feed shed. We used to mow a 20 foot wide strip here but narrowed it considerably in 2014. Now the path is just wide enough for one or two to walk on .
And I have to say the butterflies, birds, ducks, chickens and myself all enjoy the wild flowers
 that border this path now. Not unlike the overgrowth of plant material all along our driveways.
I used to mow up and down both those lanes at least once a week. I think I've only done it three times so far this year. Again, more flowers for bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.
One more region of grasses allowed to reach for the sky is the area around our old 1949 International M tractor. For at least the first decade we lived her I insisted it be mowed. But one day I came home from work and Keith had fenced the area off with hot wire and blocked one of the drives with a saw horse so the cows could graze. Now, we never mow it and we run cows on there a few times each summer.
As you can tell I need a new sign. It used to read House to the Right and Barn to the Left. We do still mow around the sign but who knows why since the sign can't be read for all the peeling paint!
Even the areas around the wind breaks are no longer kept tidy. It's like our windbreaks created from trees and bushes we've planted over the last two decades have their own windbreaks.
The short grass on the left is the horses pasture. She does her own kind of "mowing."
But with all my talk of land not mowed, or mowed with a push mower and attached bag with the clippings given to calves and pigs...we still have our areas of weakness. Like just in front and back of the house.
Ah well, the farm is still up for sale and the average country dweller/potential buyer likes lawn. So for now I'll still tool around on my riding mower, getting a construction worker tan and the dry elephant skin that goes with it.  But I will continue to dream of the "no mow" lawn, which we plan to have at The Poor Farm.
There...we will have no one to impress but the livestock who will be thrilled to have the endless pastures. So until then, as me old friend Stacey L.used to say...
Mow is me.


  1. The less mowing one has to do; the better. Also long grass and 'weeds' harbour insects, most of which are beneficial. My 'lawns' take about 30 mins to mow, once a week.

    1. That's what I'm talking about! Of course you did it in 3 sentences. Want to work as my editor?

  2. Thanks for the tour. It is so important to leave areas to do their own thing. How many acres do you have on this farm?

    1. We own 10 and we rent 40 which surrounds us. On that we raise about 30 cattle and 50 or so hogs at any one time. All various ages

  3. Oh please just fence the whole poor farm in....that way your milk cow could come up to your kitchen window to say hi...that's my dream anyway

  4. My kids kinda think everyone has a garden as big as theirs - they couldn't believe when we stayed with friends in the UK (who have a fab terraced Victorian house but not a huge back garden) how small their garden was let alone kids that live in apartments etc.
    Will gets €10 a month for keeping the grass cut, it's a fair size though, takes him about 3 hours each time!
    I'm wondering have we moved up a notch as a badminton net (from Aldi!) went up in the front garden last week ;) Your lawn looks splendid Donna

    1. Lorna, a Badminton Set ? So proud of you! Seriously one of the reasons I love to read your blog is because your kids are always outside. Playing, running jumping, picnicking..always something. You really don't let them sleep inside do you? Well good for you.

    2. Well, they are sleeping very late at the moment, worse night owls than Brian and I - they just get hyper at about 10 pm now they are on hols. I got home at 11:15 last night from delivering training and they were all outside playing badminton!

  5. Around here (Eastern Iowa) there are people who not only mow huge lawns, but for a mile from either direction of their place. We call them recreational mowers. They must just love mowing. Kind of like Forrest Gump. I can't think of any other reason why they would mow so much. I'll take the clover, dandelions and wildflowers over a closely mowed lawn any day.

  6. lawn mowing.. bah!! currently the "lawn" around our house is home to 150 free ranging broilers, 30 turkey poults, 2 free ranging "barn yard weaners", assorted dogs and other things. yes, occasionally Jim jumps on his mower and does "the open areas" (those not currently inhabited by loose running fowl, rabbits in tractors and those danged marauding weaner pigs. (so about 100 sq ft.. and he gets to mow the driveway strip if he simply must) . but the time spent on the mower is far far less then it used to be.. Oh.. and watering the lawn? we gave that up years ago.

    I too look forward to a day when all our weird little grassy areas have fences so we can just graze things there, not have to mow or weed whack. Of course I guess I had better get a cow to do the grazing.. the hogs are not very neat and tidy about it.. hmmm perhaps sheep.. (shhhh, you did not hear me say sheep!.. ugh)

    1. Farmmamma, my lost twin, lets get some black sheep and we'll only graze them at night. OK?

  7. Our yard is 1.4 acres, so not huge by any stretch. Half is left to go wild, and half i mow. We've had quite a few ticks this year, so perhaps mowing the back half would be prudent, but also a pain in the neck. Lots of self-sowing back there, lupines, cosmos, sweet william, tansy, and milkweed.

    JoJo, my grey tabby thinks of the wilds as her happy hunting ground.

    1. We too have had many more ticks this year. Mostly up at the The Poor Farm where they are no poultry yet so don't go mowing just because of those little buggers. Now I must check out your blog again. Lupines are calling me

  8. i leave a lot of wildflower growth along our long driveway. i let the area around the pond stay as natural as possible. but i do mow my share of yard, too. i don't plant a garden and have almost no flower beds (the summers are too dad-blasted hot!) so what grows gets mowed.

    always nice to have you stop in. sorry the farm sale has not gone through!!!

    1. Thanks Tex, and for those of you who don't know this talented lady with a camera YOU MUST check out her blog!