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Need help transforming my lawn to organic  RSS feed

 
                                
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A little background –

Live in western Connecticut, house was built in 1966, 1 & ½ acre lot, approx 14,000 sf of lawn area, 70% shade, only water new seeding or dry spots (well water), lived here for 13 years.

Due to limited water supply and shade trees I have not made any real attempt to have a nice lush green lawn. However, three years ago I decided to give it a try. To my surprise I now have a weed free lawn that is nice and thick.

I’ve moved from occasional use of Scotts to the Jonathan Green 4 step approach –
http://www.jonathangreen.com/search.php?category_id=f2e14759d05beed8f290033855cb2b06&category=lawn ; and use Bayer weed killer - http://www.amazon.com/Bayer-704130A-Lawn-Crabgrass-Killer/dp/B001H1EPPM to keep the lawn looking good. But, I find that the top soil is now very (1”) shallow and the lawn is only growing (I assume) due to the chemicals and it burns very easily during the hot weather. Mow my lawn approx every 4 days to a height of 2 ½ in (as high as my mower will go). 

I’d like to get out of this cycle of chemical dependence and high maintenance and move to a more natural or organic approach. Is there a way to do this successfully without having my lawn suffer? Also, is there any value in me starting a compost pile and adding it to the lawn in small amounts at a time?

Any guidance or links to good education would be appreciated.

Thanks
 
Al Loria
Posts: 395
Location: New York
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David,

I can tell you the first thing you have to do is to get that compost started. Well, maybe that is the second thing.  The first will require a new mower (paragraph 3.)  My lawn started out this year looking like it wasn't gong to make it.  I have not used anything on this lawn in about 15 years.  Before that we did have a lawn care company for a couple of years.

I came to this forum with the hope of getting my lawn back and using no chemicals to do it.  I used Jonathan Green organic fertilizer, humates, and two applications of compost.  Also, I have started to dig worm pits, but have not completed that part yet.

Now to the most important part that you will see here time and again.  MOW HIGH!  And that means 3.5 to 4. inches.  It will make a world of difference.  Look at Paul Wheaton's "Lawn for the Cheap and Lazy" link and follow the plan

Here is the link to my lawn journey. You can see the pics of before and after, and it has only been about a month.
http://www.permies.com/permaculture-forums/3841_0/lawn-care/help


Good luck, and remember, mow high!


Al
 
                                
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Thanks for the help Al. I see you also use John Green products but you used the organic.
Is it as simple as that...stop using John Green 4 step and switch to the organic?

Some places in my lawn has deep dark soil...others spots its almost no soil at all. Should I add compost to the bad spots? Is tea better than dry?

My neighbor has a lawn service and to save some money he only has them cut his lawn every two weeks. His lawn is very deep (4" to 6" and is the greenest and thickest I have seen in CT...so there is much truth to mowing high. Will have to check my owners manual to see if I can rais the cutting bed.

Thanks

 
                                  
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I think the question in my mind is how long does it take to have a thick, rich lawn when you're transforming from chemical to organic.

I started this year and to be honest, my lawn looks horrible. I live in eastern NY near David.
We get hot, dry summers and long cold winters. Last year I stopped bagging the grass. This turned out to be a huge mistake. First it caused a lot of thatch despite the a cut height of 3.5" and cutting less than 1/2" per cut with extremely sharp blades. Second it spread the weed seed like nobody's business. I'm using and organic fert and no seed inhibitors I fear the crab grass this year

So my question is how long realistically, does it take for my lawn to look as good as it did when I was killing it with chemicals.  I mean grass, turf, not all the neat stuff Paul likes to grow in his lawn
 
                                
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buddy10, that's what I'm concerned about; I don't want to messup what I do have.

I checked my tractor and the absolute highest I can cut is the 2 1/2"  I,m cutting now... that's with the blade/carriage all the way up in the storage position.

I do not bag, I mulch. After each mowing I go out with a strong leaf blower and knockdown all the clumps and the dead grass still laying on top.

All we need is a little hot or dry weather and dry spots appear around the yard. If I dig into one of them I can only get the shovel down 2 or 3". The ground is packed hard and is very dry.

I want to start adding back into the soil the beneficial guys to help get things back on track and stop the chemicals. I think the approach I have so far is to add some good quality top soil...1/2" in the spring every year, check into making compost tea, find a way to mow my lawn higher.

Anything else? Does this make sense?
Thanks
 
                                  
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Sounds about right. I'm spraying compost tea also. I have one advantage in that I'm irrigated so I can water if needed, which I do  about an inch per week
 
                                
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Does the tea really help? Any good web sites to show how to make the stuff?

My yard is broken into manageable sections so I could do one section at a time...14,000 sf may be to much to do at once but I don't know how far the tea goes. 
 
Al Loria
Posts: 395
Location: New York
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Davidb6 wrote:
Thanks for the help Al. I see you also use John Green products but you used the organic.
Is it as simple as that...stop using John Green 4 step and switch to the organic?

Some places in my lawn has deep dark soil...others spots its almost no soil at all. Should I add compost to the bad spots? Is tea better than dry?



David, I think it is a combination of all these things.  Organic fert, compost, humates, worm pits, as well as the high mowing.  I used the organic because of the dogs.   

I had plenty of spots with no topsoil.  Adding topsoil could never hurt.  Using the tea may be easier for you given your size lawn.  Mine is small and the compost seems to have been a good and easy choice.
 
Al Loria
Posts: 395
Location: New York
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Buddy,  all that neat stuff is green!  I've changed my mindset and have come to embrace the dandelions, plantains, clover and all else that mixes in with my lawn.  Just a matter of acceptance of the diversity.

I don't know if you ever can achieve a totally monoculture lawn by just going fully organic and mowing high.  You will however cut down on the weeds in the long run.

I've heard it takes a few years to get the full chemical free system up and running.  Patience is the key.

Sounds also like you too have a clay situation.  With everything I've put into practice I Still, may have gotten lucky to have such a good response form the lawn so quickly.


A
 
                                
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Thanks for the help, I'll try - organic fert, compost, humates and worm pits as well as try to find a way to mow higher.

Any good web sites you can recommend that may help me learn more about this stuff - worm pits, tea, compost piles, etc?
 
Al Loria
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Location: New York
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In the event you have not seen this yet, here is Paul Wheaton's plan in total.  It works!

http://www.richsoil.com/lawn-care.jsp

The one thing I don't think you said is whether or not you've had your pH tested and what the results were.  If you haven't done it yet, get to it.

Good luck.

Al
 
                                
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Last year I had my soil tested. With my lawn being large and very different in different areas I did 4 separate tests.

The 4 PH results were -
5.6
5.8
6.2
6.6

In all cases my phosphorus was low as well.

I treated the lawn with John Green products (based on test recommendations) but have not re-tested yet.
 
                                
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Based on my lawn size I don't think it makes a lot of sense for me to spread dry compost. I've been searching for compost tea which seems to make more sense. I've found so many different ways to make it but none in large enough qty for a lawn.

Any links?
How much to apply per 1,000 sf?
Formulas
methods

I'm thinking 55 gal drum...maybe some rain water If I can collect it, some ingredients, maybe a fish tank pump to spray it around the yard. May need to have the drum on wheels. I can buy the dry ingredients until I get my compost pile up and running. Maybe I can just buy the tea?
 
Scott Reil
Posts: 179
Location: Colchester, CT
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Dave, I can at least get you started with the Mother Of All Compost Tea threads. It will take a couple of days to wade through, but you will get beaucoup info...

A gallon per thousand sq.ft. is about right; easiest to dilute 1:1 and go 2g.s per 1000 as spray settings don't normally go that fine...

Al is right about the mower. Paul and I ae in lock step on the high cut; it is the most important part of the picture. I bag and compost my clippings, avoiding  the issues Buddy is complaining about, but I know lots of folks who get fine results  putting it back, and if you don't overseed with clover like I do, then the loss of nitrogen needs to be made up with a fertilizer, another expense and chore. Clippings return 2Lb.s of nitrogen per K, most of what lawns need for a season...

If you are already on the rider, they do make tow sprayers which would work for tea; it would be twice around, but easier than hand pumping a spray jug. A fish pump and spray bar sounds iffy to me, but maybe...

As for a brewer to make 55 gallons, I like the Bob-o-later; not cheap but proven effective. You can jury rig something yourself, but then you aren't sure what you are producing with out the microscope or the $250 Soil Food Web analysis (I have seen the Bob-o-laters SFW sheet and it definitely works...)

Low phosphorus isn't that common, at least my end of the state, but compost top dressing would go a long way to correcting that as would compost tea. Maybe both...

And if you are still not sure, I am available for consultations... 

S
 
                                
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Great link Scott...thanks. I've read some of it and need to digest. I've also found some very good web sources myself and have been reading them.

Yesterday, by chance, This Old House TV show featured compost tea. It showed how Harvard University has transitioned for chemical to tea and the improvements in the soil. The show also gave a good example of a home DIY setup with 55 Gal, a pond pump for air and a sump pump for applying to the lawn. Just what I was looking for.

Any advise on finding a good source for the ingredients?
 
                                
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Very interesting subject, I think I just cramed a couple years of learning into two afternoons.

I'm now past..do I need tea, and have moved beyond..how to make tea..to now I'm looking into the need for a microscope so I can check the population explosion of the organisms in the tea to know when it's ready.

Great subject..thanks for the help. 
 
paul wheaton
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Davidb6 wrote:

I checked my tractor and the absolute highest I can cut is the 2 1/2" 


You need a new mower.  Preferably something that can mow at 3.5 or 4 inches.

If I dig into one of them I can only get the shovel down 2 or 3". The ground is packed hard and is very dry


I think you're on to something there.  That sounds like a great candidate for the two foot deep holes, filled with wood and dirt and stuff.

Does the tea really help?


I would rather put the compost out there than the compost tea. 

And if you could get some annual earth worm habitat going plus some earthworms, then they will quickly work any compost down into the dirt to make soil.





 
Scott Reil
Posts: 179
Location: Colchester, CT
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I'm with you up to the last point, Paul. There, you lose me...

How are you getting biology through the soil profile? Tea does it nearly instantly...

Moving that humus down past the crowns? Tea wins again...

Ease of spreading? Allowing for multiple applications with little effort? Tea again...

Just have to put together a brewer (not very hard), using far less compost (allowing for more treated area at increased rate), and figure out application (a watering can will work if you can't do better, but a hose end sprayer makes short work).

This is ecologically better than any chemical fertilizer, more sustainable and local than any purchased microbes, and you make it yourself... who do you trust more than that?

Al's lawn certainly looks great over the pits, but it looks darn fine overall, and that would be tea, methinks; the pits wouldn't have had that kind of overall effect... I know it's not quite lazy, but I know of no better elixir for lawns with so little input...

S
 
Al Loria
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Location: New York
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Scott,  I never had used the tea.  I used straight compost.  Then again, the watering in of the compost would almost qualify as tea.

I have a question regarding CT that I have not seen an answer to.  I think David might like to know too.  If you have heavy clay and almost no topsoil or organics in the soil, how does the tea benefit the soil/lawn other than foliar feeding?  Don't you need the organics present for the tea to have something to work on?  Or, are the microbes able to work on extracting nutrients from the clay and help to improve soil structure somehow?

If the CT gives quick results, David should be using it right away as a start to his overall program.  Then he can work on reducing the size of the lawn.  Something for which I am very grateful to see coming into fashion.  I am slowly reducing the size of the back lawn already with tall native grasses, plants and a vegetable garden.

I have the aquarium bubblers and buckets ready to go.  I even went out last week and bought molasses.  I'm ready to go with the tea as soon as I can get the whole thing set up.   This will not be the lazy man's lawn this year.

David, sorry to steal your thread with my own questions and stuff, but you do need to start planning now for the fall.  Get those compost piles up and running and make the tea and do whatever you need to do to get off the chemicals.  Your lawn may not look great for a while, but the benefits will certainly outweigh the effort.


Al
 
Scott Reil
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Location: Colchester, CT
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Al, compost tea provides all the above; while it does not move as much humus into the soil as compost alone, it moves it down into the soil in particulate form, along with (and here's the important factor, Al) the biology to release the nutrients in the soil. In fact that biology is of itself the nutrient sink for our fertillity. As protozoa and nematode eat bacteria and fungi (all in that tea in some form or another), they release ammonium, which is concentrated nitrogen.

You all are correct that this will be more effective in a soil with a higher humic content, but even tea alone will start that process. Sorry, Al, I thought you had already started, but it sounds like you are ready to go; it's a great boost through hot weather...

S
 
Al Loria
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Scott, thanks for the explanation.  I might start the tea today since it will be almost too hot to do anything else. 

I had to do a deep watering yesterday.  No choice, as the clay was turning into concrete.  This was the first real watering I have done this season.

I'm guessing this will be a three year project at the least, but I'm in no real rush.  The front lawn has been secondary to the slope project this year.  I'll be posting pics soon of what we did to the slope in back to control the erosion.  That has been the main focus of this spring and early summer. 

Some of the garden centers are getting on board with the no chemical lawn.  The owner of one of the biggest private nurseries around here started his own lawn on organics last year, and he is more than happy he did.

David, don't get discouraged if the progress is not what you want or expect it to be for this year.  It will eventually be an awesome living soil that will produce the results you are looking for.


Al
 
                                
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Update - I've made a compost tumbler out of a 60 gal drum and started a compost pile on the ground. Without much upfront (gathering) work I'm finding it very difficult to find enough green material to build a 3 x 3 x 3 pile. I've been cutting branches out of trees, pulling the green leaves off and chopping them up with my mower. This helps but is a very slow process.

Was considering using a light coat of peat for my top dressing this fall until I can get the compost going. Was also thinking of buying CT concentrate on the web, again, just so I can get something started. Put down my first application of J Green organic fertilizer last week.

Were in a very dry spell and my lawn is getting crispy so I don't think I will be able to tell the negative impact of switching to organic. I don't water the lawn on spot water...well water.



 
 
Scott Reil
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Nix the peat Dave; when it is dry it is a water excluder; actually causes water to run off. IN dry like we are getting right now it would mean less water, not more...

Mixed into your compost as a brown? There's a good use...

Got a few crispy spots as well; noticably they are all win the areas the clover hasn't grown into yet. I think the horiziontal leaves shade the soil better and it stays cooler and moister. That's my theory anyway. Plus it fixes the nitrogen...

S
 
                                  
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David,
  I don't think Jgreen is organic. I had a look at the bag and it said urea. That's synthetic I think??

Anyway, do you have any farms near you where you can get some manure? Chicken  droppings are great!  They will heat up a pile like nobody's business. I planted my tomatoes in pure compost (made with Chicken manure) and they're over five foot tall!!! Last year before they succumbed to blight they produced the best tasting tomatoes I even ate!     

I was watering until today. I'm selling the house so why spend the money watering . I've given up on the lawn care altogether for now.  The new home will get the full organic treatment. It's much smaller which will be easier to manage. This yard was 2+ acres.
 
Al Loria
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buddy110 wrote:
  I don't think Jgreen is organic. I had a look at the bag and it said urea. That's synthetic I think??


Buddy, I don't see any urea in the J green organic lawn fertilizer at all.  I even tried googling for it.  You may have been looking at their regular fertilizer.  The organic contains Kelp, Feather, Bone, and Blood meals, Amino acids and Humic Acid.
 
                                  
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Northeast Al wrote:
Buddy, I don't see any urea in the J green organic lawn fertilizer at all.  I even tried googling for it.  You may have been looking at their regular fertilizer.  The organic contains Kelp, Feather, Bone, and Blood meals, Amino acids and Humic Acid.


Very possible.
 
                                
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Here's the info from the web site - Organic Lawn Fert -
Exciting new formula for organic lawn customers, contains Kelp, Feather, Bone, and Blood meals, Amino acids and Humic Acid. Helps to rejuvenate your tired, sick lawns with a slow, gentle feeding promotes a healthy, thick Dark-Green Turf over time. Can be used throughout All Seasons. 8-3-1.

The person at the store told me he switched to it a couple years ago and did not see any changes in his lawn from the J Green chemical stuff...That's pretty good if true, the chemical J Grenn stuff really works great.


http://www.jonathangreen.com/search.php?category_id=c02bd0226aa93f9bc3649a1a42f6df07&category=organic
 
Al Loria
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David, the organic JG works.  And the nice thing is you can't overdo it.  You can't burn the lawn with it.  A beautiful thing.  I am going to use it again in the fall and then maybe the corn gluten in the spring with the fert.  Twice a year for the next couple of years and then maybe only in the fall.  I will keep up with the compost though.

Speaking of compost, I did the compost tea.  I brewed a batch on Monday.  I did an 8 hour brew.  Might have been a little short-time, but I wanted to give it a go.  It smelled a little like wine, so I figured it had to have something going on.  I used a watering can and did the lawn and garden.  Can't see anything on the lawn, but the garden is looking better in just 2 days.  We'll see how it goes.  When I have more time I will brew a 24hr batch.

Get that organic JG on the lawn by mid August.  There is really no bad time to do it, though.  As long as you have some microbiology going on it will turn the JG into nitrogen the lawn can use.

Good luck and keep us posted.


Al
 
                                  
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I've used Agway's organic and it's also very good. It's mostly made from poultry manure. I'll have to try the JG next year

 
Al Loria
Posts: 395
Location: New York
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Buddy,  I was just at the local Agway not 10 minutes ago.  Saw their 4 step organic product.  Also saw an organic lawn and garden product called Chickety Doo.  Composted chicken poop.  Was thinking of getting it, but passed on it.

Picked up a pump sprayer to use for the compost tea next time. 

Looks like their organic lawn fert might be a good choice too.  I have to say I am very happy with the JG product.  Would love to try the Ringer brand if it were sold locally.  The shipping on that stuff is killer.

 
                                
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Northeast Al, I also tried the chicken poo in the spring. I though it helped green up the grass pretty fast. However, knowing what I know now (about mixing organic and chemical fertilizers) I'm sure it would have been even better if I used J Green organic after it.

It did smell for a few days but nothing I couldn't handle.
 
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