Turf grass as compost?

I have recently returned to gardening after a long hiatus. The plot I'm using now is too small to justify my buying a tiller, so I'm turning it over with a shovel and breaking it up with a hand cultivator.
My question relates to what to do with the weeds and grass turf that was there when it was merely part of the back yard. I would assume that most any plant is taking nutrients from the soil and concentrating them in its tissues. I would also assume that if I removed the soil from these plants and tossed them away, I would be losing a certain amount of nutrients that had been in the soil.
I am tempted, during this first year, simply to turn over a deep shovel-full of earth, break up the soil that was underneath the turf, and leave the grass and weeds that were formerly face-up to the sun to rot under the overturned earth. This way the soil would retain whatever nutrients they possessed.
At least, that's the theory. Can anybody tell me if this is actually a good idea? Or should I go ahead and shake all the soil out of the turf layer and just get rid of the plant part? I have most of my garden planted and already doing well, but I do have a bit more earth to break up for some later crops.
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com writes:

Just toss it in a compost bin (or even a pile) and nature will take care of it. As the instructor of our composting class said, "Compost happens." You can turn it under as you described and that will work fine as well. Be aware that you will be pulling up weeds so plan to get them early so they are easier to pull, and do it after a good soaking or a heavy rain storm when the roots will better completely release their hold.
A good way to separate the greenery from the dirt is to work it through a piece of hardware cloth. Another way is to beat it against the tines of a garden rake (a rake head without a handle is great for this!). A few weeks ago, I cut off the sod from part of my front yard and put it under my evergreen magnolia tree where it was only dirt. Now, I'm in the process, between other things, of sifting all the dirt there through hardware cloth. The weeds, whatever, go in the compost bin (what I didn't put in the bottom of potato barrels where the worms will have their way with them).
The most important thing is to just do it and use your experience to discover what works best for your situation. We often say, "Your mileage may vary," which is so very true.
Happy gardening!
Glenna who has handled it both ways mentioned
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Joe Williamson wrote:

and particularly dandelions were removed but the rest was just turned over, the soil broke up, leveled, and planted. The resulting crop was fine despite being planted late for our area (July). I'm using the temporary bed for overflow until I get a good grasp on how the raised beds are going to perform. When I turned the soil this spring, there were no signs of the turf that had been turned under. So it worked fine for me. The only problem you may have is with the root vegetables (potatoes, beets, etc). My potatoes did fine but we only grow them large enough to get the small new potatoes. A second problem is the weed seeds can remain in the underturned turf and cause later problems. I guess in theory, you could underturn the first year then spray with round-up before planting the next year. I tend not to use chemicals in the garden if at all possible so have no experience with the round-up method.
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Joe Williamson wrote:

It depends on what kind of grass it is. If it's bermuda, God help you if you turn it under and leave it...
If it's a small area, and if the soil is not overly compacted, I think I would try spraying with Round-up, wait a few days, then transplant stuff like tomatoes and peppers and zucchini in without disturbing it soil any more than possible. Mulch with whatever organic matter you can get. Next year, the grass will be gone, and you shouldn't have a lot of weed problems this year because you didn't disturb the soil.
Bob
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On Sun, 30 May 2004 16:58:29 -0400, Joe Williamson

tillers on new plots..where there is grass growing, merely breaks up the rhizomes and distributes them.. essentially taking a whooole bunch of cuttings and spreading them around, one of the best ways of making more grass! So good you didn't get one! ;-)

yup every time you grow something, be it weed or food crops, it removes nutrients from the soil and store them within the body and seeds of the plants. Removing the plants, by eating them or throwing them into the trash, or however remove them from the place they've grown.. you lose those nutrients from the soil.

That is one way of dealing with them, but weeds will grow in that soil that you've disturbed, be they from the stuff you turn over, that grows back up, or from newly exposed seed that has been lying dormant in the soil until you turned it over, or from seed that blows in or dropped from birds, something will grow there most likely .. unless there isn't enough water to support growth, but that would not promote great soil fertility as soil that dries up, loses beneficial microbial action as well as beneficial other soil critters.
You can turn the soil and plant what you want this year or next. There are those who would not recommend that because the larger portion of soil "fertility" has to do with the microbial/bacterial life in the top inch or so of soil, so when you turn it, you put all those critters deep into the soil where they either die, or have to migrate back to their preferred home in the top inch or two of the soil where it has light, moisture, air all in context of organic matter to feed on and during that action .. their wastes.. interact to free minerals from the supposedly "inert" materials. It's the interface of water/acids/minerals/organic mater/microbes etc that feeds the plants to a great degree. Soooo the general thought there is to keep that stuff where it belongs, and if you do dig, you should more or les move the "slices" taken with the shovel, forward and pull any loosened weeds from there, It's a nice idea, and doable if you aren't working with a Large area. Larger plots, no way, unless you have a lot of small trainable hands that you can get to pluck out any grass crowns and weeds.

If there are quack grass rhizomes in there, you do not want to leave them there in any form, they can, will and DO come back up from depth over 1.5 to 2 feet deep... as I unfortunately have found out. I've covered quack grass for over a year with black plastic, they came back. Covered them with deep hay mulch, it grew back.
If you are able to ..dig out and carefully slice off the sod from the top of the soil.. as long as it's normal turf grasses, you can just slice off the top.. leaving the deeper roots, they'll decompose. Put the live grass/with rhizomes into a pile.. when you've opened up enough of a trench to see where the grass is in the soil, then you can just slice it off the top of the soil Or, you can rent a machine .. sod cutter.. or rent sod cutting shovels.. that look like some hoe or other tool got run over by a steam roller.. and it flattened out something to make it somewhat of a heart shape on a long slightly bent neck LOL Anyway, however you choose to do it with a regular shovel after starting a trench, etc, get the sod off it, and stack it up, grass side Down and cover it with black plastic .. or put it in black plastic bags and leave it in a sunny area, and it will decompose into rich loam that you can then use however you'd like.
The area you removed it from, you can add some bagged or bulk compost to, and as another person suggested.. just set out some transplants.
Or.. you can mow it really really short as in scalped..if the lawnmower won't cut it short enough use a string trimmer to scalp the turf off, water it well, then put down a layer of newspapers, say 5 or so sheets thick, spread them out in overlapping layers..twist the sheets, or just lap them so there are no seams. wet them down very well. Decide what you want to plant in there, from transplants, not seed.. if you have that choice, and cut Xs where you want to plant them, carefully peel back the paper, dig holes with a trowel, or whatever you want, put in your transplant, and then fold back the ears of newspapers, and then tuck the very tips under so they aren't touching the stems of your plants, but keep them close.
Once everything is planted you can water it down again, and then mulch it with whatever you are wanting to use.. to make it look neater, as well as conserve moisture and keep the paper from blowing away. You *could* just leave the paper and weight down the edges with soil, scrap lumber, whatever you want, but be prepared for frowns from neighbors if they can see it, or even family if they're neat nicks. Might have to add more paper too if you leave it exposed. You can just start mulching it with thin layers of grass clippings so it will dry easily, not get too hot. Just add to it each week. .. as long as there are no chemicals on those clippings, like broad leaved weed killers..they don't know your tomatoes aren't weeds.
Whatever you do, beware of the quack grass perennial rhizomes being spread around. Take it out send it AWAY ..or burn it, gotta go..it's EVIL!!! I'm sure there are others in other parts of the country that are just as bad!
Janice
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