Any way to speed up sod composting?

nygardener(z6 New York)December 30, 2006

I'm digging up a couple hundred square feet of sod to make a two new 4'Ã25' vegetable garden beds. I'm not planning to strip all the topsoil out of the roots because it's too time-consuming, but will knock off what I can and stack the sod strips upside-down to compost. From experience, I know this stuff takes a long time to compost. Will sprinkling dried blood, manure, bone meal, or anything else between the layers speed it up?

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Yeah, some ammonium sulfate 21-0-0, or some alfalfa meal or pellets should help. Perhaps some browns like some leaves along with the manure, and you could be on your way to building a good hot compost pile.
Bill P.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2006 at 10:56PM
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First there is no good reason, other than that sod being an invasive grass species, to strip sod to make new beds. All that is needed is to cover the existing sod with newspaper and cover the newspaper with something to hold it in place (and hide the paper) and the grass will die and feed the soil too.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2006 at 7:44AM
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kqcrna(z6 SW Oh)

I'm with kinnsr. No way I'd do all that digging. I'd mow, cover with cardboard, layer some greens and browns and call it lasagna.


    Bookmark   December 31, 2006 at 7:59AM
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nygardener(z6 New York)

This is very stony, clayey soil, which needs to have rocks removed and organic matter added. To do that I need to remove the sod first. I suppose I could then put it back and let it rot in place. Or I could stack it, perhaps together with something else to help rot it faster.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2006 at 9:25AM
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Sure, you can cover the grass with lots of things in an attempt to kill it. You can try as Kimm suggests...and take forever to accomplish what you want.
Or you can cover it with a sheet of black plastic and let the sun bake it.
Or, you can do it as you prefer....remove the sod, then till it and improve the soil for whatever you intend to use it for.

There are chemicals available in your garden centers, Home al, to sprinkle over your compost to speed things up........or you can just throw some high nitrogen lawn fertilizer in there to do the same thing.

But the time involved is not that different than just letting nature take its course. Treat your sod pieces like any other addition to the compost pile....cut it up into smaller pieces and turn the sod down.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2006 at 2:34PM
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brdldystlu(5b Mo)

I would never go through that much work of digging out sod. I would go with kimmsr's suggestion of covering with newspaper or cardboard and then some kind of mulch, chopped leaves, straw, hay, horse stall cleanings, coffee grounds from starbucks, all of the above is really good. Yes putting black plastic out will kill off the sod, will also in time kill off your soil. Next spring you will have a nice planting area. As you plant when you find rocks you can remove them. Other than that I would not worry about the rocks. Trust me it won't take for ever to kill the sod.
If you so wish to get the good workout and pull up the sod then yes chop it up into smaller chunks, add to a mix of other compost materials(the sod is a green). The more you mix it over this winter/spring the quicker it will compost. You can also pull it up, pull out the rocks you want to pull out, turn the sod upside down then pile the above suggestions onto the bed. Again by spring you will have a great planting area. I have spent the day today laying out another layer of cardboard with leaves ontop of the cardboard and now this week I will do a couple runs to the horse farm for stall waste. I will lay that ontop of the leaves/cardboard and by next spring it will be a very rich area waiting for planting.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2006 at 6:54PM
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adirondackgardener(Western Maine)

I've stacked sod and it rotted in no time, particularly when I covered it with some plastic to keep the sod from continuing to grow at the edges of the pile.

Forget the idea of composting it in terms of a conventional compost pile. Sod is mostly soil by weight and is not a "green" in my opinion. And no amount of ammonium sulfate 21-0-0, or other high nitrogen stuff will compost soil, which is mostly what you will have.

The grass and roots, once they stop growing and die, will be gone relativly fast, though the amount of organic matter they add will be minimal. Stacking or making some attempt at composting it is a lot of work for little return, in my opinion.

I'd cut the sod into chunks, put it to one side, loosen the soil below with a fork, removing the rocks and lay the sod back in place but upside down to speed up the rotting. I've done this and it worked for me.


    Bookmark   December 31, 2006 at 10:07PM
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Well ayne, I do not think that you can "compost dirt" either, per se, but as nygardener said that he was going to knock all the dirt out of the sod that he could, what is left might be compostable and some 21-0-0 (or manure like he mentioned) should help with the decomposition of that along with the leaves if moistened and a hot pile were created.

Perhaps I missed it, but I have not seen any chemicals at H.D. advertised to speed up composting. If they have it, it would probalby be some nitrogen packaged similar to those that some of the cataloge companies advertise. I thought that most every one except for novices had already learned that is an unnecessary waste of money. Some people do still put a few shovel fulls of old compost or garden soil in a new pile, thinking that it needs some kind of a starter. It probably does not hurt anything in a good sized pile, but is un necessary too, in my opinion.
Bill P.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2007 at 1:02AM
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Covering soil with plastic, so plants growing there will be killed, will cause anaerobic conditions to develop that will make that soil so sick it will take much longer to cure than the plastic covering would be worth.
I have many times covered grass with newspaper (since I discovered this 25 years ago that is the only way I like to make a new planting bed) and it takes a matter of weeks before the bed is ready to plant. Covering the newspaper with other types of organic matter, or piling material on as suggested by the Lasagna Gardening people suggest, will create a soil healthy enough so the stones and clay are not a problem. A very few clay soils, usually black, need to have organic matter mixed in, tilled, while most will get that OM worked in by the soil bacteria, eventually. The web site linked below will help explain this process.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lasagna Gardening 101

    Bookmark   January 1, 2007 at 7:26AM
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If you want an easy way to get rid of sod use the Lasagna method described above. Here is a book to link to it. Sod is a great basis for the bottom of a lasagna gardening. We are using this in University Place due to arsenic in the soils so leaving the sod and making raised beds is easier and contains the arsenic.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lasagna Gardening

    Bookmark   June 18, 2009 at 10:32AM
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