From Lawn to Vegetable Garden

Our presenter this week, Susie Everding, made a bold choice when creating her new vegetable garden. Having made the move from a large country space to an urban lot, she knew she wanted a garden, but was thwarted by the mature trees shading the back and side yards of her property. She was left with the unconventional choice of using her front yard, and so, with the help of her willing family, she got started!

Bylaws and Services

Susie was able to have a couple of informal chats with City staff at the beginning of the project, as Utilities Kingston were out in the area and stopped to enquire about the garden. Their interested and helpful staff indicated there was no real concern with front yard gardens other than the caveat that at least a portion of the land may be City property and, if necessary (for example, to deal with water main issues), this could be dug up at some stage. This is very reasonable and accommodating. If you are interested in a detailed exploration of the bylaws, particularly with respect to wildscaping your property, or wish to challenge a bylaw complaint, we have a blog post for that!

Prior to any digging however, Susie contacted Ontario One Call which resulted in getting the gas, power and water mains all marked with spray paint on the grass. If you are doing raised beds, that’s probably not necessary, but any digging, planting or post hole work should only be done after all buried infrastructure services are located.

Creating the Garden Beds

The process began with the removal of existing front yard shrubs. The branches were chipped for later use on pathways.

Grass removal was the next step. There are various ways to remove a grass lawn; the method to choose depends on time and resources.  Susie started her garden in April and wanted to plant it in May, so she decided to remove the sod instantly, using a rented sod cutter.  For those willing to wait, the lawn can be “smothered” by covering it with layers of cardboard or newspaper, carbon rich straw and nitrogen rich grass clippings and then a final layer of soil/compost mix. After several months to a year,  the newspapers and sod have decomposed and the garden bed is ready. Alternatively, the lawn can be “solarized” by covering it with clear plastic, which generates enough heat to kill plants and seeds, or with opaque black plastic which blocks the sunlight plants need to photosynthesize. 

Soil was ordered from one of several local companies that provide garden quality soil. Most suppliers include a calculator on their website to help determine the quantity of soil needed for the area to be covered. Susie covered her beds to a depth of 8-10 inches to allow for settling of the soil over the season.

Planning and Planting

Plantings were planned to scale using graph paper. Most gardeners establish beds 3-4 feet wide so that plants can be tended easily, with wood chip covered pathways in between about 18 inches wide. Beds were marked out with stakes and twine, and soil was added and raked. Once planted, the beds were mulched with straw to conserve water and which conveniently decomposes to return nutrients to the soil. Watering was done when needed with rainwater runoff from the house roof, collected in barrels. 

When choosing what to plant, start small, grow what you like to eat, enjoy the harvest and most of all, have fun. This front yard project turned out to be an unexpected way to connect with neighbours and to develop new friendships.


Graph grid used was taken from “The Gardener’s Journal – A Ten Year Chronicle of your Garden”.  Published by Lee Valley

The Rideau 1000 Islands Master Gardener website has lots more useful information:

Soil suppliers and soil testing

More information on foodscaping