Compost tea makes an excellent, safe alternative to fertilizers and other products which should not be used near lakes, streams, or rivers.
Archive for the ‘Compost Tea’ Category
You may have heard of the benefits to the human body of yogurt containing probiotics. A well-made compost tea can benefit your lawn in many of the same ways; it’s a probiotic for turf health. Compost tea is an effective bio-nutritional spray applied to lawns designed significantly to improve resistance to insect and disease damage. Tea is typically made by brewing many ingredients along with sugars, organic matter, nutrients, and micro-organisms to produce a living end-product desirable for improved soil and plant health. Tea makes otherwise poor or dead soil come alive through a series of spray applications and keeps already healthy lawns healthy. Unfortunately, mainstream lawn care customers have not heard of or understand the real benefits derived from using compost tea on their lawns. Here is the inside scoop from a turf veteran of 27 years.
Compost teas vary in benefits according to manufacturer, handling, and ingredients. Most teas are designed to deliver micro-organisms into the soil which in turn helps the turf grow better. These little creatures vary in type and content but can include bacteria, fungi, protozoa, yeast, and nematodes. Depending upon the content and strains blended, compost tea adds life to a soil which is likely unhealthy. These micro-organisms are vital when it comes to grass roots capturing nutrients found in the soil. Turf is known as a bacteria loving plant because these tiny organisms help provide, and in some cases, capture nutrients which would either be reduced or impossible to access within the soil.
Most teas also are designed to deliver valuable organic matter in a variety of sources and benefits not only to the grass, but again, the soil environment itself. You may have gathered by my introduction that soil health is more important than most people realize. Although fertilizers and other products can help improve a lawn faster and more dramatically, compost tea works on the problem itself, bad dirt. Yes, bad dirt can range from sandy soil in a new lawn, to one compacted by excessive use, or one very high in silt and water logged. Remember, grass roots grow in the air pockets in the soil and extract nutrition from the surrounding soil particles. If those air pockets are filled with water or are small, grass will not grow well and will be thin or die off completely, resulting in bare patches. Compost tea, at its simplest form, seeks to not only provide organic matter which increases nutrition and healthy air pockets for lush growth, but add life through a variety of important micro-organisms.
Chippers has used compost tea in our lawn program for some years now and have seen the benefits described. In addition it provides an earlier spring green up, not from warm soil, but from enhanced microbial activity. This season, we are adding a second blend of compost tea which will allow water front or shore land lawns to be safely treated, unlike the prohibited fertilizers containing phosphorus and other conventional products. This is exciting news because Chippers will be the first in NH and VT to provide a quality alternative to those folks on lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams; many which are vacation homes and are used for recreational use during the summer. Applying compost tea to these water front lawns in combination with lime, aeration, and overseeing will yield a healthier, greener lawn and remain in harmony with the environment by avoiding fertilizers and pesticides in and around our sensitive waterways. You can treat your lawn organically and still have great results. Compost tea will continue to gain popularity as a substitute or enhancement to conventional fertilizers as time progresses. Since our compost tea is alive and fresh, I can hardly wait for spring and the ability to improve lawns in both NH and VT.
Most can agree that there are certainly some basics to really providing visible improvement in lawns, from color, to density, or reduced weeds. If there was an overall wish list for lawn treatments, a list which highlighted the best of the best, the hardest working, the biggest bang for your buck; would you be interested? I thought so.
Without question, fertilizer is at the top of the list for several reasons. First, grass appreciates the additional nutrient supply in order to improve color and increase growth both above and below ground. You can serve up your fertilizer varying from slow release, all organic, a natural blend, or a conventional fast release product. Each type of fertilizer has its advantages and disadvantages depending upon how fast you are trying to improve your lawn, your proximity to surface water/wells, or disposition for organic things in life. The underlying focus of fertilizer is simple; give the lawn a boost to make it healthier by growing better than surrounding weeds. This is where fertilizer needs some additional help in our wish list for the most beneficial lawn treatments for your money.
It may go without saying, but lime is not what your grandfather used to use back in the day. In fact, lime has been formulated to address more than just a simple pH adjustment. Since grass appreciates a slightly acidic pH (6.5 to 6.7) for maximum health, what else can lime do that you may not know? I prefer a high calcium lime, pelletized for easy application and loaded with calcium to help improve the cation exchange in the soil. Cation what you say? Well, simply put – a high calcium lime actually helps soften soils, it’s a natural material to improve soil structure and this in turns makes growing roots a lot easier. More roots, better lawn, thicker lawn! Lime and fertilizer go together like peanut butter and jelly; they are good friends and do a lot for the dollar spent.
The third lawn application that is underrated but is more valuable than people realize is core aeration. Yes, core aeration is a form of dethatching so don’t get too excited. Core aeration is probably the single most beneficial non-chemical, all organic treatment you can do for your lawn. I’m not talking about sweet little metal stars that you pull and rotate with your home lawn tractor. I’m not talking about shoes with spikes in them where you walk around and believe in your deepest heart that this is the best form of aeration since color TV. No, real core aeration physically pulls a 1” or so diameter core with hollow tines which goes down several inches and deposits a plug on the surface of the lawn. The result is a grid of small holes in the lawn which then allows in air, lime, fertilizer, water, and a place to seed into! Wow, I can feel the difference just writing about it. Core aeration should be an annual, or every other year process to keep even a healthy lawn in check. There is a good reason golf courses aerate all the time, it works! Do yourself a favor in 2013, have your lawn aerated! You’ll sleep better at night.
Sea kelp or Compost tea don’t normally come up at the dinner table when folks think about improving their lawns or when reviewing a conventional turf contract for the spring. In fact, I’m sure every man would fall over if his wife or girlfriend turned to him at dinner and said, “Hey honey, why don’t we try sea kelp this year on the lawn? I hear it is full of organic matter, amino acids, and good stuff like that!” I myself might even shed a tear at such a revelation but most others would be petrified. The fact remains, she is right – compost tea and sea kelp are super at providing micro-organisms like fungi and bacteria, exactly what most lawns lack from abuse or low organic matter after the house was built. Poor soil is one of the leading causes of nasty looking lawns and no matter how much fertilizer and lime is applied, your lawn will only rise to a mediocre level at best. Adding compost tea and/or sea kelp is a great way to build up a healthier lawn from the soil up. A great house must be built on a solid foundation, so must a lawn be grown from soil that is better than sand, gravel, back-fill, or compacted clay. If you have never considered compost tea or sea kelp, give it some serious thought because whoever brings it up first at the dinner table wins!
The last treatment which ends this blog post and ends up coming in at the number five position is insect control. I mean grubs below ground or chinch bugs on the surface. Nothing will destroy your lawn without you noticing until the damage is done like insects. Weeds cannot damage or kill a lawn like a grub infestation can. While the hot, dry weather of 2012 behind us, the pests remain and will continue to wreak havoc in NH and VT lawns well into the early summer of 2013. Please don’t waste your money on milky spore either, a product designed for use down south, not to mention it only works on one type of beetle under ideal conditions. We have over a half dozen grub beetles in our growing area, so save the coin and have a treatment done professionally. There are good organic products available for all of these pests as well as great newer treatments in a more conventional mode. If you had insect problems in 2012 resulting in skunks digging and crows tearing up and tossing turf, get some help!
There is little disputing the 2012 growing season was a record breaker in more than one area. Extreme heat and corresponding drought caused widespread damage to even well cared for lawns. The effect of these weather phenomena then led to massive explosions of pests like grubs and chinch bugs. Even with November fast approaching, the pest issues will spill over into the spring of 2013, and if left untreated, will continue to cause turf damage. There is little that can be done for physical lawn repairs at this point in the growing season like bringing in new loam or trying to establish a lawn through seeding. However, beneficial turf treatments applied now like potassium, lime, compost tea, sea kelp, and slow release fertilizer can help both a damaged and healthy lawn. Lawn repairs ranging from small to full renovations should be explored now or at least during the winter months as landscapers and lawn care companies will be overwhelmed this spring by sheer volume of repairs necessary never mind pest treatments. Timing could not be more critical in terms of seeding and treating for damaging turf and ornamental pests than the spring of 2013. Even if the weather pattern returns to a more “normal” or stable pattern, the repercussions of this season’s heat and drought will continue into 2013. Although brown grass in October can be a result of past drought and exposure to dry weather, it can also spell bug troubles in the surrounding lawn as grubs vigorously eat fast growing root systems.
I am seeing grubs in record setting numbers and on lawns which have never had a past issue. While a curative treatment is only a short term fix, a preventative treatment in 2013 may well be in order for more lawns than previously expected. I do not normally endorse the use of materials to preventatively protect against grubs, which in a normal year are rarely a huge issue unless past history indicates a problem. However, I will be firmly endorsing both curative and preventative grub control on a case-by-case basis for 2013 because of the high risk factors recently experienced in New England. Furthermore, another mild winter would further enhance tick populations in 2013 in addition to hundreds of other outdoor pests. Make a note on your calendar to explore the potential health issues this winter and make plans, if deemed appropriate after speaking to professionals in the industry, such as Chippers.
On the bright side, the recent rain and cooler weather in combination with fall lawn treatments are helping damaged and weak lawns recover to the maximum degree possible before winter. Don’t dismiss potassium, compost tea, and aeration after the harsh growing season we experienced this past year. All of these treatments can be done well into November in most of New England so long as the ground does not freeze.
In closing, don’t forget the millions of crabgrass seeds which were deposited in record numbers along driveways, patios, and walkways because of drought or insect damaged lawns. Although a thick, healthy lawn is your best defense against crabgrass, some areas will not be up to the task without additional help of a preventative crabgrass barrier in the spring of 2013. Timing will be key and a lot of good can be done in an eight week period next spring, so don’t file your lawn contract when it arrives this winter, review it carefully and setup a proactive plan to both protect and perhaps restore your home lawn for the investment it truly is!
The unusually dry weather has extended into September and even with cool weather, suffering turf remains brown while damaged lawns look more like broken boats on a beach after a hurricane. Where do you begin unraveling such chaos and what appears to be a seemingly dauntless project? There is still time to prioritize appropriate action, and even if they all cannot be done, setting goals now is critical so next spring you can continue with your lawn improvement plans.
First, is your lawn undergoing insect damage right now from grubs or chinch bugs? If you cannot find the enemy yourself, have a professional check your lawn and determine if treatment is warranted. If you miss this crucial step, most lawn pests will overwinter and not go away to Florida. In fact, the population that damaged your lawn will continue to expand next spring causing even more problems. Don’t be an ostrich, any repairs made now without addressing an underlying issue will be a waste of time and money.
Address the most important part of your lawn and focus on doing the job right. Don’t bite off more than you can chew by attempting to renovate a half acre or more by yourself on a few weekends. Unless you have access to a small army, you simply will not have enough time to remove the dead thatch, add loam/compost, seed, add starter fertilizer, and lime before it’s the end of October in New England. Do the job right, don’t throw down 20lbs of seed on top of dead thatch and expect a new lawn, this simply won’t work. For proper results, grass seed must be planted into a seed bed, be it compost, loam or a combination. Like pepperoni on a pizza, making good soil contact without burying the seed is vital, with watering being the most important factor in a lawn fix. No water equals no lawn. You must commit to at least 2-3 weeks of watering in order to establish a turf area under normal conditions. Even if the weather is cool, moisture is needed during germination and the early days of growth.
October generally brings leaves and debris as fall fades into early winter. Be sure to keep heavy leaf litter picked up, especially on new grass. Excessive leaves can mulch the newly planted lawn in mere weeks. Mowing height can be slowly dropped to around 1.5” at the end of October for a last cut generally occurring in November. A short cut can help reduce snow mold, winter kill, and other turf issues due to matting and long grass under the snow. A pure potassium treatment in October can offer some increased hardiness by increasing cell wall thickness. Don’t let the remaining weeks pass without addressing at least some of the lawn issues you are facing. Even if some projects have to wait until next spring, get a game plan together now because with such widespread problems, professionals like me will be busy booking work into 2013. Good luck!
The link below activates a short video for your viewing enjoyment.
Anyone who is in the professional lawn care business, and by that I mean lawn healthcare, is aware of compost tea. Lawn treatments such as fertilizing, lime, weed & insect control have always been a staple in the efforts toward improving and managing turf grass in a residential or commercial environment. There is a new school of thought that focuses not on improving or protecting the grass plant itself, but the soil it lives in. Although this is not a radical thought, it is certainly a departure as it focuses on the issues at hand in the soil versus treating the signs or symptoms of unhealthy lawns; mainly the grass itself or some pest. Since so many issues in a lawn can be attributed to poor soil conditions, compost tea has risen as one means to improve the soil which then promotes healthy grass. Although not a quick cure all, the strategy here is to add bio-organisms into the soil which then help break down organic matter, thus lending to natural “fertilizer” production. Although this is over simplified, adding bacteria and fungi into any lawn has lots of benefits.
Compost tea is usually a blend or mixture of different kind of bio-organisms, many which have been reduced or lost in the soil due to a variety of issues. Some of these issues include, but are not limited to, high salt content from extensive manufactured fertilizer use, poor soil, and or use of weed and insect controls over time. If we go back to basic high school biology, we find that soil is a living eco-system. As such, soil is influenced by what is put into it such as fertilizers, or removed, such as grass clippings(versus mulching). Protozoa, bacteria, and fungi all live in specific concentrations to help break down organic matter and pollutants in the soil substructure. Anything that is applied to a lawn will move below ground and affect these biological populations. When these organisms can be easily destroyed by any number of means, you can expect that the natural cycle of life is broken, resulting in a broken lawn and the entire ramifications one can expect from such actions. Salt toxicity is a common occurrence by the overuse of fertilizers. Highly soluble nitrogen along with potassium salts lend to reducing or even eliminating beneficial organisms in the soil beneath your lawn. Compost tea is meant to not only add organic matter to the lawn, but to help rebuild those fragile, damaged micro-ecosystems which may have been reduced due to prior lawn treatments. Adding bacteria, fungi, and in some cases protozoa, helps rebalance how nitrogen and other valuable nutrients are slowly added around the turf root system for a more uniform supply of “food” if you will.
Remember, nutrients are technically not food for any plant as they manufacture real food from the sun through photosynthesis, not from fertilizers. Fertilizers only help provide some building blocks which improve the plants ability to fight off harm such as disease, insects, and stay greener so it can grow healthier. This explanation is over simplified, but for the sake of a blog article, it will do just nicely.
Compost tea then, is a rescue line toward saving and improving your soil. Instead of targeting the issue at hand, whatever it may be from poor color, to a disease, or poor grass density; compost tea seeks to correct the underlying issues in the soil versus what you see above ground. Only by focusing on improving the soil can we ever achieve a truly healthy lawn with a decreased demand on fertilizer and other artificial stimuli. The lawn pictures included in this blog post have only received one natural fertilizer treatment in the spring plus several compost tea sprays and kelp. With the client’s good mowing and watering habits, it is clear that this is a great looking lawn, especially in August when most lawns are dormant and full of crabgrass and or broadleaf weeds due to record heat in 2012.
Compost tea can be done at any time of the year and is known to be especially valuable in the spring to jump start the soil biology after a cold winter. I like to use compost tea after seeding to increase germination, disease resistance, and promote healthy growth. Compost tea increases organic matter, stabilizes a soil system beneath the lawn, and helps prevent issues by replacing lost organisms around the grass roots to create a more natural balance. Compost tea is clearly valuable when used with sea kelp, natural fertilizers, and lime. Everyone should consider tea not only for a cold summer drink, but for your lawn.
If you are considering crabgrass control this spring, consider solving the real problem as an alternative spring time lawn project. If you have a crabgrass problem, you have more than just a crabgrass problem. The root of the issue is likely unhealthy soil, compaction, and low organic matter; all of which contribute to an inferior lawn. Most folks will focus on the symptoms of a poor looking lawn such as dead patches or crabgrass and not the underlying issues. Most lawn issues can be directly attributed to bad soil. Can there be bad soil? Well, in a manner of speaking yes, there can be bad soil or at least soil that cannot successfully support good turf growth. Healthy turf does not occur by accident; it takes a healthy soil to support a green, lush lawn. Let’s take a closer look at why good soil is so important and why bad soil really can only support crabgrass or nothing at all.
Soil is supposed to be filled with micro-organisms in various percentages, nature’s way of supporting plant life through root systems. A healthy soil will contain soil particles of various sizes (clay through sand), air spaces, and water. An ideal soil will also contact organic matter and many micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi, and protozoa, like in high school biology class (wicked cool). Turf really appreciates a soil which has a higher bacterial count. Now you know why grass is always so green over the septic system, an ideal environment for lots of bacteria, organic matter, and moisture.
Poor soil will have a low population of these micro-organisms; in fact, it may not have much, if any at all. Low organic matter is another issue which takes away from a healthy lawn. Compacted soils don’t have the air spaces necessary for roots to grow successfully because roots need air to survive. Add a low soil pH and now you have locked up vital nutrients necessary to support healthy turf growth.
The bottom line is that a good lawn must be rooted in healthy soil. Without moving forward with proper techniques to improve your soil, your lawn is destined to be a field of crabgrass and blowing dust each and every year. Growing a lawn is just like growing corn or any other crop – it has basic needs. Crabgrass is much less fussy and will gladly move in without an invitation and stay all summer long, thriving in high heat with minimal rainfall. Crabgrass is not the enemy; crabgrass is just an opportunist which seizes its ideal growing environment. The real villain is bad soil that is devoid of air, organic matter, and micro-organisms.
Your real hope lies in compost teas rich in bacteria, fungi, and other “good guys” who helps improve a sterile and almost lifeless pile of dirt. Sea kelp adds lots of organic matter plus a host of nutrients, proteins, and minerals. Core aeration breaks up compacted soil, providing air pockets and the opportunity for rain to penetrate a hard surface area. Organic fertilizers provide more organic matter and a plentiful helping of nutrients, not only the grass, but the living community below! While crabgrass suppression can be helpful, the real cure lies in improving your lawn’s soil as a basic rule towards creating an outdoor living space that can be enjoyed instead of being cursed.
With autumn in full swing, most lawns in NH & VT should be well recovered from what was a record setting summer in terms of high heat. Any lingering damage should be very obvious and can be fixed before winter such as dead patches of crabgrass or ongoing grub activity. September and October are ideal months to improve your grass due to warm soil, ample moisture, and cool days/nights. Fertilizing, liming, aeration, seeding, compost tea, and optional weed reduction are all most effective at this time of the year in NH & VT. Any insect activity should be addressed now as the longer you wait; the more lawn you lose and the more difficult the control becomes as the pests grow larger such as with grubs in the soil.
If your lawn has issues with weeds such as shepherd’s purse, chickweed, or henbit; consider a treatment this fall with products such as Dimension. Use of the aforementioned product this fall will also provide some crabgrass suppression next spring.
Autumn is a great time to improve your soil since it is the supporting mechanism for a healthy lawn. Topdressing with compost, adding sea kelp, or spraying on compost tea rich in humates, fungi, and bacteria are encouraging ways to improve the microbial state of your lawn before winter. Using a high calcium lime is a positive step to not only adjust your soil pH, but provide calcium which turf greatly appreciates by improving the cation exchange within the soil itself. What does that mean? Calcium helps loosen soil up while Magnesium based lime tends to bind it up more. The better the cation exchange, the less your soil will leach nutrients, especially when combined with a healthy microbial environment below ground. Soils high in organic matter have high cation exchange capacities while sandy soils have very low ratings. As you can see, healthy soil is more important to your lawn than you may have imagined.
As always, be sure to recycle your lawn clippings whenever possible and mow high even in the fall to promote deeper root systems. As the leaves begin to fall and accumulate, don’t let them mulch out shaded areas- rake them up or mow them into pieces. Improved sunlight can help those marginal areas which were blocked by a tree canopy or forest edge. Even shade tolerant grass will appreciate a little extra sun in the fall before winter snow arrives.