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Starting organic lawn care

Posted by bucks502 7 (My Page) on
Thu, Jan 9, 14 at 16:34

I have over two acres of lawn and want to start using organic fertilizers. Do I have to spread compost first? That would take close to one-hundred yards and I have read without spreading compost it like starting a car without an engine. Thanks

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Starting organic lawn care

Absolutely not. I am rewriting the Organic Lawn Care FAQ as we speak (write). One of the main points is you don't need compost to get started. That was sooo 1940-2000. We know much more about the soil now, and the idea of using compost is being seen as a waste of good fertilizer.

Compost is not fertilizer. Compost is what fertilizer becomes if you compost it. The original foodstuffs that went into the compost are the real fertilizer. Those would be food. If you look at a bag of organic fertilizer you find ingredients like corn, wheat, soy, alfalfa, feathers, cottonseed, and some other food like ingredients. Similarly, if you look at a bag of dry dog food you find the same ingredients. These modern organic fertilizers are made from food. Food is what goes into the compost pile to make compost. So it is my strong opinion that you should short circuit the compost option and go straight to applying food to your lawn. Here's how.

You can buy a 30-bag of organic fertilizer for about $30. Or you can visit your local feed store (they are everywhere) and buy 50 pounds of alfalfa pellets (rabbit chow) for $12.50. The application rate is the same for both products at 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. So what thousands of people have been doing since I first presented this idea 10 years ago is buying plain brown bags of animal feed at the feed store and fertilizing their lawn with that. The cost per 1,000 square feet for the commercially bagged stuff is $20 while plain alfalfa costs $5 per 1,000.

One sort of 'wild card' I did not mention was poultry litter (chicken-sheet). Poultry litter of one form or another appears as an ingredient in many organic fertilizers. This happens to be a ready-to-go manure type material that helps do what the old compost did. Thus I don't think you need it, but if you have an easy source of inexpensive poultry manure, take it.

Compost is great for introducing a population of exactly the right microbes needed in your soil. The issue there is your soil already has those microbes - they simply are malnourished. Compost does not feed them. Compost increases their population. Organic fertilizer (food) feeds them so their population increases naturally. That's all you need to do. Feed and water them and they will take care of everything else for you.

Don't know if you've already seen this picture. It was taken and posted here by mrmumbles in 2011. He had scattered alfalfa pellets on one spot in his zoysia lawn. He applied it in mid May and took the picture in mid June. Note the improved color, density, and growth. There is no denying that this works.

RE: Starting organic lawn care

Thanks dchall for the reply. I went to the feed store yesterday and have another question. Can you put down any animal feed or do you have to stick to the single ingredient bags? Also is scotts organic good food for the soil?

RE: Starting organic lawn care

Any animal feed is okay as long as it is ground into a meal. For example, deer corn would work fine as a fertilizer except it sprouts in the soil giving you a forest of corn plants. Fortunately for that example, corn dies right away when you mow it. But birdseed would not work well because it is all seed. So check your feed mix for intact seed before you buy it. ...and don't ask me how I know the answer to that ;-)

The other thing I don't like about commercially bagged organic fertilizer (Scott's) is they nearly all contain supplemental potassium in the form of potassium sulfate or potash of sulfate. I don't see the need for chemical salts in the lawn unless you have a soil test that shows you are low on potassium and sulfur in the soil. Sulfates are pretty hard on the soil fungi and fungi are the things you really want to nurture in the soil.

RE: Starting organic lawn care

The first thing one should do when going organic is minimize the amount of lawn.

Two acres is a lot of lawn to be mowing and fertilizing.

IMO, to be sustainable you should shrink the lawn area to about 1/4 - 1/2 acre and then convert the rest to a prairie or other natural area more appropriate for the area where you live. (I say prairie because that is what works where I live in 5b IL)

When you start buying dry feed meals to fertilize the lawn (which I do just as dchall says) its much cheaper/easier/sustainable to do a smaller area.

RE: Starting organic lawn care

Here is my list of alternatives to grass on large acreage

accent lighting in trees
arbors (for vines)
beds (perennials, annuals, bulbs, herbs, ferns, roses, hostas, container plants, rock, and fruits).
bee keeping
butterfly garden
decorative gates (may be free standing)
dog run or kennel
edibles (veggies)
fences (accent)
fences (privacy)
fragrance garden
ground covers
herb garden
hot tubs
hummingbird garden
Japanese garden
jogging track
moon garden (plants and lights for night time viewing)
ornamental grass garden
other groundcovers
out buildings (like sheds)
outdoor theater
overhead sunshades
parcours (exercise stations)
parking area
party room (free standing for games, theater, pool table, etc.)
picnic or barbecue area
play yard for children
ponds or garden pools
potting bench or shed
putting green
rock garden
rolling hills
rose garden
screened rooms (free standing)
screens (foliage hedges or growing on a wire mesh)
sitting or reading area
sports courts
storage buildings
sun room (free standing)
swimming pools
tool shed
trees (shade)
trees (accent or decorative)
tulip garden
vining plant garden
walkway (formal paved)
walkway (informal path)
walls (retaining)
walls (accent or decorative)
Zen garden

RE: Starting organic lawn care

Why can't I do this on a bigger stage if I want to commit the time and money. I'm sure there are many others that have more lawn than than I.

RE: Starting organic lawn care

You can do it, if you take the attitude that it is a hobby and not a chore. I do 1+ acre, and I am in the habit of applying Milorganite weekly. I'm 60 years old, and mow the whole thing with just a 21" Honda (I have a tractor, but strongly prefer the Honda's cut). David (DCHALL) knows who I am and will vouch that I didn't just make up all of that.

I find that the toughest part is carrying around the (less dense) organics, multiple times (into the truck, out of the truck, carry to the application site) - it takes almost 15 lbs/K of organics to equal the nutrients in 4-5 lbs of synthetics. Applying it is no big deal.

It works fine if the attitude is good.

RE: Starting organic lawn care

Andy who???

RE: Starting organic lawn care

Oh yeah. I remember him now. Had to think a minute ;-)

Andy is a lawn guru who takes it all to another level. When someone catches up, he steps it up again.

RE: Starting organic lawn care

That is great! I am all about the lawn and do not mind the work. My last house I had people stopping to ask how my lawn looked so good. That was with synthetics and now would like to try organic.

I always leave my clippings on the lawn but do not use a mulching deck. Should I invest in the mulching kit. I ask because I just purchased a x540 and the kit is over two-hundred.

RE: Starting organic lawn care

No need for the kit. My Toro mower for 30 years just blew it out the side. If the grass was too long after being blown out, I drove over it again and it chopped it up fine. If you don't do that you risk cutting off air flow to the grass and getting a disease started. Depends on many factors, but covering grass with chopped grass is not a good thing.

This post was edited by dchall_san_antonio on Tue, Jan 28, 14 at 9:51

RE: Starting organic lawn care

dchall, you don't have prairie on your list!

bucks501, You CAN do it, but should you?

Typically people who are thinking about organic lawn care are thinking about sustainability and being good stewards of the environment.

Maintaining a large lawn - a mono-cultural expanse of green that requires fossil based inputs (mowing, fertilizers), and provides no benefit to the ecosystem is not an environmentally friendly practice.

If you are thinking about going organic, you may want to read the following books for inspiration:

The lawn, History of an American Obsession by Virginia Scott Jenkins.

Bringing Nature Home, Doug Tallamy

Noah's Garden, Sara Stein

My suggestion is always, have some lawn but keep it small, maintain it organically, and then the rest of your property should be in a diverse biomass that contributes to the food web.

RE: Starting organic lawn care

I'm not trying to put up a fight about going organic. Can you just agree that it would be better for me to spread organic fertilizers? I just want advice on how to start taking care of my grass organically. I've read that if you take care of the soil then the soil will take care of the grass. That's all I want to do. Have a big beautiful grass lawn!!

RE: Starting organic lawn care

I'm having trouble finding the area of this thread where the OP asked for advice/lectures on what he/she ought to do to meet someone else's ideas about sizes and stewardship of their lawn.

I find it a bit presumptuous to assume that people only use organic sources because of your ideas about what is "environmentally-friendly". Some of us choose to use organic sources to feed the lawn in a manner that utilizes the Nitrogen Cycle through a healthy soil biology and soil chemistry.

Joepyeweed, I notice that you did not ask for the OP's location. A prairie would be just as out-of-place ecologically in a location that naturally is forested as a lawn would be. Please also note that a well-maintained lawn will produce significantly more Oxygen and process more CO2 when mowed at 3.5"-4" than a lower-density collection of prairie items.

One size does NOT fit all, even when it comes to ideas. While David and I share an interest in organic sources to feed lawns, I prefer a high-input regimen and he prefers a low-input one. We respect each other's opinions and trade ideas on another forum - all without tsk-tsk drama.

Keep going, Bucks -- what you're thinking of doing is definitely possible.

RE: Starting organic lawn care

On point Andy. bucks has a similar thread going under the "organic lawn care" thread on grains, etc. through a spreader and has the same lecture going on.

Personally, I do not do organics cause I care about the environment (I do care, but not even close to being a high priority on my list of things).

I went organic after reading what you, morph, dchall, etc. been doing it for many years.

While reading this and the other thread all I could think was whose business is it how much lawn a person wants, just answer the dam question.

RE: Starting organic lawn care

Thanks Guys! Just trying to get started, a few of you have me about to bust until spring comes. Never knew about the grains on yards always just used synthetic and the idea of feeding the soil is a great one.

RE: Starting organic lawn care

Yeah, I use organics because it finally fixed my yard. Andy has described cycling from boom to bust while using chemicals. That's where I was. I could not put a reasonable amount of chemical fertilizers on the lawn and get ANY results. I would have had to go to double doses. Then I tried corn meal and suddenly I had a lawn again. Had I gone to double doses I would have been living in constant fear of losing the lawn to burning. With organic I have no fear of damaging the turf.

RE: Starting organic lawn care

that is why I asked the question why organic? on the other thread....

If someone is thinking about organics, because they want to be sustainable then they need to reconsider a the size of their lawn entirely.

And I did note in my very first post that prairie is what works where I live but isn't appropriate everywhere....

didn't mean to lecture, just trying to get people thinking about what makes sense organically.

A person who considers going organic, without considering reducing the size of the lawn is missing a key factor in organic lawn care.

RE: Starting organic lawn care


I was in the same position last year waiting to go to Grains, etc. It was killing me. Watch out as these guys like Andy, dchall, etc. can get you hooked :)

RE: Starting organic lawn care

Sustainability is a relatively new shred out on the idea of being organic. It's starting to be like being a vegetarian - too many choices.

In any case, in 11 years of lawn forums, I have never run into anyone who changed to organic to become sustainable. I cannot imagine how small your lawn would have to be to fully recycle your way to a green turf. The normal reasons to try it are
1. It isn't expensive
2. It works to make the grass greener, more dense, and grow well.
3. It doesn't stink if you do it right.
4. It isn't hard.

If you do it wrong, you can work your butt off and have an expensive stinky mess that never greens up. So I made it my mission/hobby to help people do it in a way that really works. I call it 'no hassle' lawn care. I think compost is the wrong approach. Compost is expensive, is a lot of work, and the results are not often what you expect. If you happen to get "green" compost, it can be stinky for several weeks. So with compost you have the definition of 'big hassle' lawn care.

And if you water and mow properly, you should not have weeds no matter if you use organic fertilizer or chemical.

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