FAQ #2 - How are they used (pt 1)
How are they used?
In FAQ #1 I listed the organic materials I use in my garden. I will be discussing the use of each of these materials in the garden in a way that relates to the professional. I will also cross reference the materials list so that you can put the list into perspective as to the various uses of the materials. So let’s get started. Remember I am not going to explain WHY these work in this FAQ. That’s going to be covered in another one.
Compost is probably the most recognized organic material in use today. Finished compost (as opposed to fresh manure) is a very important material when warranted, but it is not needed as much as is thought. Compost is made from the digestion of living tissues by microbes, insects, and worms found in nature. The process is called rot, putrefaction, decay, mold, decomposition, and rarely, digestion. The microbes in a compost pile will become so active that much heat is generated inside the pile. This heat, well over 120 degrees F (sometimes reaching 190 degrees) for several days or weeks at a time, is plenty hot enough to kill seeds that might have found their way into the pile. The heat also drives the insects and worms to cooler parts of the pile. Once the seeds are killed (cooked?), they will be digested along with the other ingredients. As the microbes and insects consume the compost pile ingredients, they leave behind their wastes and dead bodies. Other microbes and insects will follow along behind and consume and digest the wastes and dead bodies of the original feeders. This process continues as tens of thousands of species of microbes and insects devour everything that enters the pile. When the process is finished, what are left are the remains and wastes of all those microbes. Virtually none of the original contents remain.
Finished compost is an organic materiel that is cool (room temperature), has a dark brown color, and has a wonderful, fresh smell to it. If a compost material has any kind of bad smell to it, it is not finished “cooking.” It needs a few more weeks before you evaluate it again. Compost must be finished cooking before it is used or you risk spreading bad smells and even disease to the turf or plants you are using it on. The beneficial microbes in compost will digest or deactivate the disease-causing microbes. This is a very important aspect of compost and key to the organic process.
Normal soil will have tens of thousands of microbial species living in it. Both beneficial and pathogenic microbes live in a natural balance with the beneficial microbes predominating. The chemicals used in chemical turf programs are harmful and deadly to many species of microbes. The death of some species can shift the microbial balance toward the pathogenic. That is when the turf is likely to get a disease. So the reason to use compost on turf is to replenish the soil microbes following a chemical spill, herbicide, pesticide, or fungicide application, or a flood. These are conditions where hundreds of species of beneficial soil microbes might be killed off. You need them all to maintain the beneficial balance.
Compost is properly applied to turf at a rate of 1 cubic yard per 1,000 square feet. By over applying you greatly risk the possibility of smothering the turf. Once it is applied, it must be brushed off of the grass blades to make contact with the soil. For small areas a push broom is extremely effective and easy to use. For larger areas, running a mulching lawn mower (no bag) over it works very well.
Over bare spots or in soil prep for laying sod/seeds, compost may be used at any depth. If you are renovating with a backhoe and tines, you can use 4 inches of compost. Compost is a material that will be completely digested in a year or two leaving no depth to it. So 4 inches will become zero inches. This is an important concept.
Proper use of compost around shrubbery is much like mulch. It still serves the function of putting beneficial microbes in contact with the soil, but there are other considerations. Quite often compost placed up against a plant’s stem will allow a fungus to grow and the stem to rot. It is usually good to pull compost back away from plant stems. It can be used at any depth over bare soil. The other consideration is cost. Excellent finished compost can be very expensive per square foot.
Whole ground corn meal
Ordinary ground corn is a protein-based fertilizer. It is one of many vegetable protein sources. Protein is a basic food for all animal life including bacteria and fungi, the microbes in your soil. As will be explained in another FAQ, the protein in corn meal provides the basic building blocks for the soil microbes to make plant food. As such, corn meal is a primary organic fertilizer for all plants. When corn meal is applied to a healthy soil, you can count on a change to a darker green color and an increased growth rate in the plants. That pretty much defines what a fertilizer does.
Proper application rate for ground corn is 10-20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Your first reaction to this information should be surprise at the heavy application rate compared to chemicals. The weight of organic materials is a consideration for professional turf managers. If you have to deliver 2,700 pounds of corn meal to cover three acres, how are you going to deliver it? I suspect this issue would be a good one to discuss on the forum.
Corn meal has a side benefit that should also be discussed on the forum. When corn meal is applied at any rate, it attracts a beneficial fungus called Trichoderma (try-ko-DER-mah). Trichoderma acts as a disease against many other fungi. Among the fungi that Trichoderma attacks are all the standard garden diseases. The Trichoderma eats into the cell wall structure of the disease fungus which leaves the disease vulnerable to attack from other microbes and the disease dies. If you use whole ground corn meal on a 90 day cycle, a disease-prone turf should never suffer any fungal disease. The university research on this can be found at Texas A&M University at Stephenville. The work was done on peanuts which are susceptible to the same diseases as turf. Hundreds of amateur gardeners are successfully using corn meal to ******, prevent, and eradicate many fungal diseases in their gardens.
Corn gluten meal
Corn gluten meal is another source of corn protein for fertilizer. It is a dark yellow dust - the byproduct of the corn wet milling process after removal of corn syrup. It is commonly used as an animal feed. The cost in most parts of the country make it prohibitive for use as an everyday fertilizer. Pound for pound; however, CGM has more protein than most other vegetable meals. To use it as a fertilizer, a rate of 5-10 pounds per 1,000 square feet is appropriate.
CGM also has a side effect, which is why I have it in my garage. When used at rates around 30-40 pounds per 1,000 square feet, it has a preemergent seed suppression effect. Marked bags of CGM carry an exemption enabling it to be used by professionals as a preemergent. Unmarked bags are used for feed but contain the identical product. Keep in mind that if it is used at a rate of 40 pounds per 1,000, the fertilization effect will be quite pronounced. The university research on CGM as a preemergent herbicide was done at the University of Iowa, which holds a patent and controls licensing on the use CGM as a preemergent.
CGM is a very dusty material. It must be dropped from a low height or you will be dusting the neighborhood. At 15 pounds per 1,000 everything in sight is bright yellow. I cannot imagine what 40 pounds per 1,000 looks like. I would suggest using a push broom to sweep the CGM off the grass plants and onto the soil. I have also seen homeowner reports where using it at the high rate and watering it left a certain aroma in the yard. Some people liked it and some did not. I am not familiar with the “fragrance” to be able to describe it.
Alfalfa plants are ground into a meal and pressed into pellets for animal feed from fish to elephants. Alfalfa is a protein source fertilizer just like corn meal. The application rate is the same. I use it simply to provide some variety to my protein sources. Alfalfa does not have any recognized side effects like corn meal does with the anti fungal activity.
Other protein sources include soybean meal, canola meal, mung bean meal, cottonseed meal, wheat flour, milo meal, rice meal, and used coffee grounds. All are used as a fertilizer at 10-20 pounds per 1,000 square feet.
Molasses is a sugar source for the microbes that live in the garden. Many thousands of microbe species live in the soil and others live on the outside of the plant tissues above ground. I’m not sure the numbers living on the plant tissues have been counted, but up to 20 different layers of microbes have been counted on some plant leaves and stems. Molasses stimulates microbes to reproduce if the other conditions (primarily temperature) are in range. Organic gardeners love to have their microbes reproducing.
This product is made from Norwegian kelp ground up, dried, and reconstituted as a thick, dark brown, liquid. Seaweed has lots of minerals and is well known in scientific circles as a primary food for bacteria in the laboratory. If you want to grow healthy bacteria, get some seaweed. You can get it in 40 pound bags in some locations. I use Garden-Ville brand of liquid seaweed.
San Antonio, TX