Q: How do I start a vegetable garden on a former lawn without using chemicals?

Answer: Smother the grass by laying wet cardboard or several layers of newspaper on the ground, making sure to overlap any seams. On top of the cardboard or newspaper start layering organic material, such as compost, straw, leaf mulch, shredded paper or sawdust. Allow the site to cure over the next six to 12 months. Then you will be able to plant directly into the amended soil. If you cannot wait the six to 12 months of curing, plant your seedlings by placing potting mix in the planting holes. Or if seeding crops, put a 1- to 2-inch layer of potting soil on top of your beds.

Q: How can I keep the neighborhood cats out of my garden space?

Answer: You can exclude, repel or trap cats to keep them out of your garden space, although most neighbors will not appreciate having their cats trapped. To exclude cats, construct a 6-foot high fence with 2-inch-by-2-inch mesh and a curved 2-foot overhang. If the cats are using the garden as a litter box, consider creating a more appealing site for them 30 feet or more away from the garden. Only motion-activated sprinklers and cat-chasing dogs have proved effective in repelling cats. Humane traps, such as the Havahart brand, can be used to catch any cats that visit the garden, but may not be effective in keeping cats out of the garden and most likely will create hard feelings between you and your cat owning neighbors.

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Mary Jac Brennan is the agent for fruit and vegetable horticulture for small farms and local food for the Forsyth Cooperative Extension. Contact Mary Jac about commercial production, local foods, and sustainable agriculture questions. For information on home and gardening issues, contact the Forsyth Cooperative Extension office at maryjac_brennan@ncsu.edu or call 336-703-2850.

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