Friday, October 14, 2011

UGH - Lawns

The Old Chemical Lawn
One thing leads to another.  The more I learn, the more I want to know.  I started this journey drawn to the low maintenance and natural beauty of native plants.  Then I found out about the positive and important ecological role of these in our lives.  Along the way I learned that most of our turf grasses are not native  That led me to learning more about the synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides I've religiously applied to my lawns for most of my adult life.  They were part of the regimen necessary to keep these non native lawn grasses lush, weed and pest free.  Researching, researching, and finally listening to my own heart, I had to stop the chemicals and go organic on the lawn.  As with all non-native plant environments, this chemically treated lawn is devoid of life.  The evidence of links between lawn chemicals and cancer in ourselves, and our pets is growing.  There is a huge controversy surrounding this issue, but as a cancer surivior, I'd rather be safe than sorry.  Now, I'm not going to hijack my own blog on Native Plants and blog on and on about organic lawn care.   I promise.  Rather, after this one post, I'll put all my organic lawn info on a separate page within this blog.  There is an enormous amount of info on the web about this subject.  I'll just tell you what I'm doing. 

This started as an experiment.  I took three parts of the yard, generally out of sight from the street, and stopped the lawn service from applying the chemicals.  After reading numerous books and other papers, I decided that to make this work, I had to get the soil back to the biologically rich environment it once was.  In order to compare the before and after results of my organic treatments, I took soil samples from the test area.  Instead of the standard nutrient soil tests, I sent these away for a biological test to determine what and how much life was in the soil.  After a year or two I will compare the organic results visually and scientifically (before and after biological soil test comparisons) with the remaining chemically treated lawn.   As suspected, the microbial life in the soil was pretty poor.  The chemicals had drastically hurt the "soil food web". 

Step one had me stop the lawn service chemical treatment to these three areas.    Step two was to spread a thin layer of compost over the test areas.  As part of this initial strategy, I also had the compost tested for biological life.  The free compost available at our city was surprisingly strong with the necessary life.  Organic matter in the soil is one of the things that helps to feed the microorganisms.  This compost not only adds some organic matter, but also inoculates the soil with the lacking microorganisms.  In step three, I sowed grass seed into the existing turf.  In step four, I brewed some compost tea and applied to the new organic lawn areas.  Actively aerated compost tea (AACT) is easily created and contains high populations of the microorganisms found in the compost.  So this really kick starts the whole process of reestablishing the soil life.

The plan was to apply two thin layers of compost annually, along with four applications of AACT to the test areas.  During the summer and into the fall, I kept the lawn service for the rest of the lawn.  When mowing I had always left the grass clippings on the lawn.  I had known for a long time that this helped to provide the soil with some organic matter and natural nitrogen.  But I never considered the counter affect the lawn chemicals would have on this practice.  Put organic material on, then kill the microbes that break it down into nutrients the plants use.  I guess that doesn't make much sense.  DUH!

Every time I cut the lawn, I kept asking myself if I should really wait the planned two years to see the results in the test sections.  As I was struggling with my own impatience, the lawn service did the fall chemical  application and posted the required "pets, kids, and people stay off for 24 hours" notice sign.   Everyday I see neighbors walk along our neighborhood yards with their kids and pets.  I'm a cancer survivor and this time the notice really hit me hard. That did it.  I decided to pull the plug and go totally organic. No test.  The yard is now totally organic.  No more synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.  Better safe than sorry.

6 cubic yards Compost
With the leaves falling and nighttime temperatures periodically dropping into the 40's, perhaps it's too late in the season to effectively make a big change.  Nonetheless, I'm doing what I can.  Knowing I've got to start  restoring the biological life to the soil, I cancelled the chemical treatments.  I did have them do a core aeration right away.  Next I've started raking organic compost in a thin layer over the entire lawn.  So far it's taken a whole week to get only 2/3 of the lawn done.  And there is probably another 2 cubic yards of compost to spread.  This has proven to be a lot more work than I ever imagined.  I've definitely got to find an easier way to accomplish this in the future.  Once the compost is down, I'll spray about 10 gallons of AACT on the lawn.  And then if the temperature forecast shows a warm up coming, I'll over seed with a slow growing grass seed mixture.  From then on I'll continue spraying AACT perhaps four times a year to help maintain the microorganisms.    That soil biology will effectively break down the grass clippings and naturally feed the grass plants.  I'll continue to over seed as necessary. 

Here's the goal:
1) Gradually reduce the lawn size to the point where I can comfortably cut it with hand powered push mower.
2)  Where I must have grass, it will be maintained exclusively with organic methods. 
3)  Get more neighbors to do the same.

No More
And from now on. I'll update you on my organic lawn on a separate page within this blog.  Here's to less work on lawn maintenance, lower water bills, no chemical pollution to the runoff water, less frequent mowing, and best of all, a safer and healthier lawn for the benefit of my family and neighbors.

No comments: