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Make your lawn amazing by introducing earthworm towns  RSS feed

 
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Fukuoka-sensei talked about daikon for soil tillage; another radish to consider. The start of the triangle?

S
 
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I can't believe I didn't think of the flower bed being a worm pit when I posted. 

I just went out there with a stick to see if I was wrong.  Nope.  The flower bed soil is loose enough to push a stick in 6-8 inches easily by hand, and more in some spots.  6 inches outside the bed, and on the lawn, about 1-2 inches is al I could do by hand.  12 inches away only about an inch.  That side of the house, the west side, has burned grass, hard soil, and I manually aerated it a few weeks ago.  The holes are as visible as if I had just done them.  This is the worst soil of the lawn, and it is bone dry even after plenty of rain this past week. It also does not get all that much sun there. Only in the afternoon. The rest of the lawn has slightly moist soil, and it gets almost full morning and filtered afternoon sun.

The garden abuts the flower beds on the south side and there are plenty of worms that made it into the veggie garden.  The veggie garden has only been in since April.

So, after that long-winded explanation, I am at a loss as to why the bed has not spread its wealth to the side lawn. 

This throws a wrench into the works now.  I have no clue as to why why the beds did not help the soil next to it.  Will the pits be worth doing or not?  I am depressed...

That Rescia Guiliano is awesome.  Looks like the same setup as the Yeomans blade.  After seeing the price for the tractor and ripper, it will have to wait for quite a while.  Something new to put on the wish list.



Al
 
Al Loria
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Scott, I looked at the Daikon too.  The Groundhog radish seems to have better properties than the Daikon, but that could all be in the marketing.

After reading what Joel said about letting them grow for two weeks I might just try it.

I am running out of ideas and obsessing over this nightmare of a lawn.  I know there has to be a solution, but i don't want to be conventional and till it with topsoil, organic material and start over.  I would like a natural solution that will leave the present lawn in place.


Al
 
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I bet his landrace of radishes would be an excellent starting place, yes. Like the Groundhogs, I imagine they've been allowed to return to a more branching style of root, and have been selected to be more competitive than garden varieties. But I bet his have a greater genetic diversity. The ads for Groundhog radishes only show a typical daikon variety.

I've read it's difficult to get a fertile hybrid out of radish x brassica, but there is a lot of territory to be explored in the vein of root vegetables that are intended to be left to rot. I could imagine one that looks tree-like, rather than spike-shaped; where even the central part of it never gets much thicker than a pencil, but the process of thickening into a storage structure sometimes extends several nodes down the branching hierarchy. Stranger things have happened.
 
Al Loria
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On our slope we have Pokeberrry growing.  If you've ever seen the root on one of those you would swear it was a human forearm.  Even after we cleared the slope in the spring and I kept slashing them, they continue to grow back.  I know these are big-time soil busters, so I don't mind them.  As long as I keep slashing them down the roots should rot.  They grow at an alarmingly fast rate.  Too bad they are poisonous.  Some people do eat the leaves after special preparation. No thanks!  "Poke Salat" is what they call it.  Those bad boys on the lawn could do some damage, but the dogs wouldn't appreciate poison plants.

The radishes are seemingly more and more like a better idea, along with the worm pits.  I'll probably order some seed tomorrow.  Can't hurt, as long as it is winter killed anyway.   Let the neighbors laugh! 

I just read some interviews and articles about Fukuoka .  Good practices for permaculture.  I feel more alienated than ever by having a lawn now.  What jackass came up with the idea for needing lawns anyway?  As a status symbol, it sucks.  To walk on it barefoot, sit on it and play on it, that's cool.  Just having it to look at is...empty.  But what do I know?

Anymore good ideas, please pass them this way.  Tomorrow I am going over to the cooperative extension to get the soil analyzed and to get some additional ideas.  The more thoughts the better.  If it is a matter of patience and a little effort, so be it.

Thanks again guys.


Al

 
Al Loria
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Went over to the cooperative extension and picked up the form.  did not submit the sample yet.  I am thinking it might be a waste of time to try and use this soil/dirt for anything. 

Tonight, I watered an area that was bone dry for over an hour, and dug in to see what had happened.  About an inch of infiltration.  Not good.  The only areas that did get moisture deep, and over a wide area, were where the holes were that I plug aerated a couple of weeks ago. 

Under the watered inch, which was filled with organics, the soil was silty and dry and crumbly. It actually separates in a layer from the roots.  The roots are mostly up in that top one inch.  Probably the reason it looked so good in the spring then rapidly declined in the heat. 

The soil separation in a jar I did last week has compacted even further.  3 3/4" down to 3 1/4" now.  It just keeps compacting with the moisture.  Maybe the dogs playing on it compact it as well.  I am thinking it is a bust to try and get this crappy silty dirt to turn into productive live soil.

The thought I have now is to do the nasty deed and rototill in compost and topsoil to 4-6 inches, or just lay 4 inches of topsoil on it and seed a new lawn. 

Again, any suggestions would be appreciated.  I was afraid it would come to this.  This year's heat brought out the worst of this lawn.  My neighbor's lawns have greened up quite a bit from last week's rain, and mine has gotten worse since last week.

I really hope all of this helps someone else who is trying to work with poor soil.  I don't think mine is one of those situations where patience will make a big difference, unless someone really thinks I can still work with this stuff. 

Sorry to be such a pain, but I was hoping to show this could work.  It surely looked like it would a couple months ago.


Al
 
Al Loria
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Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
For instance, a clump of grass trying to adapt to drought, living say a foot away from one of the post holes, will find that water is available in the subsoil just a little farther away, and be encouraged to delve a little deeper. This effect will be more rapid after that big downpour.



Joel, your theory is definitely correct.   I put a sprinkler on the lawn and left it there for a couple of hours today.  The sprinkler added so much water to the pit that the shepherd's crook with the two hanging plants over it fell over.  It turned into a swamp in the pit.  I put my hand into it up to my wrist.   It did prove that the soil in the pit was very absorbent, whereas the rest of the lawn was still rock hard.

The pits do work, but a hole 18" x18" is not a whole lawn.  I have to figure out how to get the rest of the soil to do what the pit did.


Al
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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In that recent experience, how was the soil that had been right at the edge of the pit?

Does the depth you can drive something in, after not-too-recent irrigation, show sharp edges, or a gradual transition?
 
Al Loria
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The edges were still clearly defined.  I don't think it has been long enough to expect any transitioning into the surrounding soil.  The part that did amaze me was the complete lack of compaction in the pit.  It should have been almost as tight as the surrounding soil.  It did hold water like a bucket because around it the drainage was poor.  Still, the organics that were mixed in kept the pit soil loose and it must have been very aerated for it to have taken water in so deep.  I looked at the lawn this morning and the pit area is still green while the rest of the lawn received little help from the deluge I gave it.

I am going to do the the rest of the pits in a week or two and give it a year to see how it goes.  Top dressing, C/T and organic fert will be used as well.  If I can keep adding pits over the next couple of years until the spaces between them are close enough that it won't take eons to join themselves together, then it will have all been worth it.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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It would be a lot of work, but it just occurred to me that one could use a spading fork to break up the edges a little. It would be important to catch the soil at a state of moisture that is workable but not too vulnerable to compaction.
 
Al Loria
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Not a bad idea if I am thinking what you are thinking.  You do mean the edges of the future worm pits we will dig, right?  The turf could be lifted quite easily without too much damage using the fork and then loosen up the surrounding soil area beyond the hole. I like It!  Then it should be much easier for the organics in the pit to migrate through the adjacent soil.  Neat little trick if I can pull it off.  The extra work doesn't scare me if I can attain success and have a cheap and lazy man's lawn down the road. 

Just went for tires for the wife's car today.  There goes the truckload of dirt idea...
 
Al Loria
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A short report on this morning's findings.

Over the worm pit there are a large number of centipedes or millipedes about an inch long.  They are also numerous in the surrounding area.  At least there is life that is visible.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Al Loria wrote:You do mean the edges of the future worm pits we will dig, right?



I was thinking more of the existing pits. Where you can see healthy grass next to unhealthy, stick a spading fork an inch or two on the bad side of that, and loosen the soil right at the boundary. It will harm the turf under the fork, but allow the grass just beyond that to send roots into the worm pit.

Your interpretation of what I wrote also makes sense, but if you're working through a hole lifted from the sod, perhaps a digging bar would be the implement of choice.

Al Loria wrote:Over the worm pit there are a large number of centipedes or millipedes about an inch long.  They are also numerous in the surrounding area.



Wow. That seems to be very good news.

Are they flat on top and kinda spiky, or are they more rounded and shaped more like a woodlouse?
 
Al Loria
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These are centipedes about 1 to 1.5 inches long, and wormlike in shape with many legs.  We do have woodlice, called pill bugs or roly polys around these parts.  It looks like the centipedes are turning the leaf material from the compost into a more humus like material.  They are tunneling through the surface soil about 1/4 inch deep and loosening it up.

The pill bugs are all over the slope in the back yard and in some places on the lawn.

I will use the fork this weekend.  It makes sense.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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It sounds like they're millipedes, then.

Centipedes are usually predators, and while they would still be a good sign, enough animal life to support a noticeable population of predators might suggest something a little out of balance. I see a few of them in the compost pile when I turn it, but it would be odd to see several out in the open at once.
 
Al Loria
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They might be millipedes.  I don't really know the difference between the two, and not being an entomologist I will defer to your conclusion.

I have seen these in the compost pile too and in the compost tumbler as well.  They only seem congregated heavily over the pit, if that means anything.  I'm only too glad to see the lawn isn't totally dead and that there is visible life in it.  I'll let you know when I see any worms.  Only have seen two near the pit and one under some dark organic matter in a shady spot all summer.  When I see worms in numbers, then I will know I am on the right track.
 
Al Loria
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Encouraging news!

Tonight, I dug samples of the lawn soil just to see what was going on after last night's inch and a half rain.  The organics were nice and dark and easy to see.  Organic material is working its way down into the soil, and about 4 inches can be dug with a hand shovel with ease, and it is mostly better soil now.  The silt/clay mix is getting aggregated to where it crumbles even when wet.  A fairly friable soil at 4+ inches and some of the organics are visible down to 6 inches.  And it drained very well.  The worm pit had the best soil down to about 8 inches and probably more, as I did not dig deeper to see.

I believe many of the problems with the grass were heat and drought related conditions.  I only watered a few times this summer and I should have watered all along.  The lawn just could not take the stress this year with the extremes of weather.  Considering the soil was in much better shape than I had thought, more water should have seen a better result. 

I spread alfalfa pellets last week to get a jump on getting some nitrogen into the soil because I put a lot of compost on this year.  In a week or two when it cools down the worm pits will get done, and we'll be adding a little organic fertilizer and do reseeding of the bare spots.  Also had some grass that had died and came detached from their roots.  I used milky spore yesterday in case grubs are in there.  Did not see any, but the back lawn has them, so I treated both lawns.  Agway had a great deal for 10 ounces of Milky Spore with a free tube applicator for $24.95.

If you are spreading compost, spraying ACT, mowing high, digging worm pits and have stopped using chemicals, the soil will turn around, and the lawn has to follow at some point.  Don't give up.  I was ready to till this all under in the fall and start over.  Now I can see great soil in the making.



Al
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Wow, that's really exciting.

Four inches isn't bad, considering the time the grass has had to really grow well.
 
Al Loria
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Only wish I had kept enough water on it to have seen the roots get deep.  I was expecting too much with the great look I had in the spring.  I didn't know how this type of silt soil behaves.  When dry it is much like clay and becomes hydrophobic.  I had a hard time getting water down 2 inches into it.  Once it gets finally wet it is probably best to keep it moist until the roots can get deep.  It may dry out again and get hard, but now the structure has improved enough where it should not be as bad.  And as time goes by it should continually improve.  I could only see the organic material gone deeper now with the presence of enough moisture to make it visible.  If the entire lawn was like the worm pit it would be golden. 

There is no question all everyone has said here of applying compost is the answer.  I saw this happen in the raised bed garden this year too.  Gravity works.  And there is no need to till if you have the patience to stick it out.  Like everything that I have read, if you give it 3 years you will see things improve to where it is pretty much self sustaining.

This project has had me frustrated because of my lack of patience once it looked like it was working early on in the spring.  This was all farmland a hundred years ago and my guess is it had to be good soil at one time.  What was missing was carbon material and biologic activity.  I still don't see any worms.  When worms are actively in the soil then we'll know the soil is living and carrying on the soil web processes it is intended to do.




Al
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Al Loria wrote:I still don't see any worms.  When worms are actively in the soil then we'll know the soil is living and carrying on the soil web processes it is intended to do.



Millipedes are also detritovores. From what I've read, they can dig more forcefully.

It sounds like the food web is functioning, and the major niches are occupied. More worms and fewer millipedes would, to me, be a sign that the soil is softer.
 
Al Loria
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Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
Millipedes are also detritovores. From what I've read, they can dig more forcefully.

It sounds like the food web is functioning, and the major niches are occupied. More worms and fewer millipedes would, to me, be a sign that the soil is softer.



Sounds encouraging.  And we did see three worms as we were pulling weeds the other day.  They were located up against the concrete walkway in the top 2 inches of soil and roots.

I checked the soil survey map for my area and got a little bit of a boost from the resulting find.

I have fine sandy loam according to the survey, not silt soil as I thought.  Here is what the survey provides as the classification and description:


[i]UpB—​Urban land-​Paxton complex, 2 to 8 percent slopes

Map Unit Setting

Mean annual precipitation: 46 to 50 inches
Mean annual air temperature: 46 to 52 degrees F
Frost-​free period: 115 to 215 days
Map Unit Composition

Urban land: 50 percent
Paxton and similar soils: 25 percent
Description of Paxton

Setting

Landform: Drumlinoid ridges, hills, till plains
Landform position (two-​dimensional): Summit
Landform position (three-​dimensional): Crest
Down-​slope shape: Convex
Across-​slope shape: Convex
Parent material: Acid loamy till derived mainly from crystalline rock
Properties and qualities

Slope: 2 to 8 percent
Depth to restrictive feature: 20 to 40 inches to dense material
Drainage class: Well drained
Capacity of the most limiting layer to transmit water (Ksat): Moderately low to moderately high (0.06 to 0.20 in/hr)
Depth to water table: About 18 to 30 inches
Frequency of flooding: None
Frequency of ponding: None
Available water capacity: Low (about 6.0 inches)
Typical profile

0 to 10 inches: Fine sandy loam
10 to 20 inches: Loam
20 to 60 inches: Gravelly sandy loam


Here's a link of the Paxton soil layers in MA.  http://nesoil.com/images/paxton.htm  Looks similar to mine in the upper 20 inches except my topsoil/organic layer is much thinner.  We do hit the gray material deeper, as in the photo, but have only dug that deep in one spot

To me, this sounds much better than I imagined the soil was on the property.  Probably the reason the garden did so well, and the plantings for the slope erosion control. This particular type of soil is not conducive to septic systems, hence the need for a sewer system to replace the septic systems of our development 25 years ago.

Any thoughts on the soil type and use of amendments are welcome.


Al

 
Al Loria
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Now that the snow is gone and the rains have been consistent I thought I would post an update.

Last year's efforts paid off.  The grass is coming in a beautiful green and there are no dead spots as there were last year.  In fact, we greened up sooner than our neighbor's lawns.  The only places not filled in with grass are where the dogs have dug to eat the soil.  I still have not been able to figure out why they do this, but it is confined to two small areas, and all four dogs do it.

Lots of clover coming in, and a few dandelions.  That is fine by me.

Okay, so here's the plan.  The lazy man lawn starts now!  No more organic material, except for coffee grounds, no more compost, and most of all, no more getting nuts over this.  High mowing for the entire growing season and we'll see how it goes.  As soon as it all gets a good mow I'll post a few pics.

Now we can move on to other plans.  Started with chickens this year, the garden needs to be planted and we might add a few more trees and bushes.  Not having the lawn to worry about frees up time for better things.  The only thing we will work on with the lawn is to eventually make it smaller.  I have a plan for a small Hugelkultur bed there and have been setting up ideas for plantings.  Suggestions are welcomed.


Al
 
Al Loria
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Al Loria wrote:Now that the snow is gone and the rains have been consistent I thought I would post an update.

Last year's efforts paid off.  The grass is coming in a beautiful green and there are no dead spots as there were last year.  In fact, we greened up sooner than our neighbor's lawns.  The only places not filled in with grass are where the dogs have dug to eat the soil.  I still have not been able to figure out why they do this, but it is confined to two small areas, and all four dogs do it.

Lots of clover coming in, and a few dandelions.  That is fine by me.

Okay, so here's the plan.  The lazy man lawn starts now!  No more organic material, except for coffee grounds, no more compost, and most of all, no more getting nuts over this.  High mowing for the entire growing season and we'll see how it goes.  As soon as it all gets a good mow I'll post a few pics.

Now we can move on to other plans.  Started with chickens this year, the garden needs to be planted and we might add a few more trees and bushes.  Not having the lawn to worry about frees up time for better things.  The only thing we will work on with the lawn is to eventually make it smaller.  I have a plan for a small Hugelkultur bed there and have been setting up ideas for plantings.  Suggestions are welcomed.


Al



I appreciate the bump Paul just had given to this old thread, and it’s a good reminder for me to update what has happened in the past 7 or so years. I came down with Psoriatic Arthritis which has literally wiped me out and kept me from doing mostly anything around the property. The drugs they have tried on me only worked well for a short time and the current immunosuppressive drugs I’m on are not helping much. With that, I’m happy to report that doing nothing of any consequence to the lawn has paid big dividends. The only thing I’ve done in seven years I happened to do this year, and it really didn’t need it. I did a small spreading of Ringers because the lawn was a little slow getting started this year. It has filled in every year where there were bare spots on its own and it is still greener than the neighbors. The dogs, of which we have three now (some have passed and we’ve added new rescues to the family) , do not seem to have any negative effect except in one area along the fence where our Pointer mix likes to run up and down when the neighbors go by. I had never thought that being lazy about the lawn would work as well as it has. We have the least amount of dandelions and crabgrass that we’ve ever had. We mow using the mulching setting and have not thatched in all these years. It is amazing to me how much nicer the lawn is now than it was seven or more years ago. We still have plenty of clover, but it’s green and there are no complaints from me. I would never again use anything, outside of Ringers if the lawn really needed it, ever again. I don’t even water the lawn anymore. Haven’t done that in at least five years.

To say the least, I’m impressed by not having to worry about the lawn other than having to mow it, which I don’t do much of myself anymore. I think once the lawn comes into its own balance of microbes, fungi and living critters it takes care of itself. If anyone has the patience to set up their lawn to run itself they will be rewarded with a fully functional and thriving bit of green space.

I can’t thank Paul and all of you enough for your quidance and advice. I still receive the email updates of Paul's adventures and always find he is busy and doing great things. Maybe I’ll check in more often to see what’s going on even if I can’t participate as I once did. Thanks again to all.  
 
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I decided to call this thing a "earthworm town" and changed the subject line.  
 
paul wheaton
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Al, if you get a chance, can you post an updated pic?
 
Al Loria
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paul wheaton wrote:Al, if you get a chance, can you post an updated pic?

Paul, as soon as it stops raining and it can be mowed I will send some update pics. It may be a few days though.
 
Al Loria
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paul wheaton wrote:I decided to call this thing a "earthworm town" and changed the subject line.  

Earthworms are a big part of getting a lawn healthy. We had very few before due to the artificial products and no organic material such as leaves or mulch. Now I know we have a good population now because the soil is less compact and has better drainage. One spot that had pooled water on it every time it rained hasn’t had standing water in years.
 
Al Loria
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Al Loria wrote:

paul wheaton wrote:Al, if you get a chance, can you post an updated pic?

Paul, as soon as it stops raining and it can be mowed I will send some update pics. It may be a few days though.

Here are some pics of the same area as seven years ago. The brown area is from our female dog's urine and the dark patch on the lower right is where they dig to eat the dirt or insects.
2B3F6058-382D-4F6D-B460-0690F846BD16.jpeg
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3B2446DC-92B6-42EA-8FA7-BEA880999D7B.jpeg
[Thumbnail for 3B2446DC-92B6-42EA-8FA7-BEA880999D7B.jpeg]
ECF0E506-AB22-4A22-964A-0CC289D4D034.jpeg
[Thumbnail for ECF0E506-AB22-4A22-964A-0CC289D4D034.jpeg]
 
Al Loria
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paul wheaton wrote:Al, if you get a chance, can you post an updated pic?

paul, I don’t know if you got notified that I posted the pics you asked for. I quoted one of my posts instead of yours. Anyway, they are up.
 
paul wheaton
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just now catching up to have a look!
 
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I have often thought about digging holes around a newly planted tree. Fill it up with kitchen scraps, fish guts, manure, whatever.  Space them where it may be a year or two before the roots get to them. Water infiltration is probably another benefit to doing this.
 
Al Loria
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Location: New York
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wayne fajkus wrote:I have often thought about digging holes around a newly planted tree. Fill it up with kitchen scraps, fish guts, manure, whatever.  Space them where it may be a year or two before the roots get to them. Water infiltration is probably another benefit to doing this.

It absolutely will work. As you can see in the pics I posted there is a Thornless Honey Locust. Two years ago the branches were beginning to rub on the roof of the house and we needed to get it trimmed back. The arborist we’ve used many years back came over to take a look and said “That tree is about 60 years old.” My wife corrected him by saying we planted that back in 1989 after a tornado took out the previous tree, a Crimson Maple, that resided in that spot. The Locust was about 10 foot tall at the time and less thick than my wrist. It had to have side stabilizers put on it for the first few years or so. He was amazed at the size now. Well, the tree had been fed by septic runoff that had been deep in the soil for 30 years. We have sewers now, because the old septic systems did not work with the soil in our community. Our Perc was so bad that you could smell septic everywhere, and most yards and lawns were wet muck during the summer. By the time we got here in 1988, we already had the sewers in place. When the tree was being planted, the landscape guy said he could smell septic as he was digging the hole. Our septic tank was originally located at the back of the house, down slope of where the tree was planted. It was our neighborhood septic flow that had permeated the soil. Sure enough, after a couple of years that tree took off and has been as healthy as could be. I’m guessing the raw sewage in that soil must have gotten broken down and acted like super food for that tree. Doesn’t say much that we’re living on top of poop, but it has worked out well for the trees.
 
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