Compost Organic Lawncare vs. Organic Fertilizer L/C

Discussion in 'Organic Lawn Care' started by c2weech, Mar 19, 2011.

  1. Smallaxe

    Smallaxe LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 10,081

    Just observe in your parents lawn, as to how much less N you need, for each app and the fewer apps that are required... Then understand ... WHY...

    Perhaps you already do... :)
  2. ICT Bill

    ICT Bill LawnSite Platinum Member
    Posts: 4,115

    I would be curious in the area you are in what is the typical soil organic matter of your soil, just east of you in IL in some places it is 9% to 10%, not much compost needed in those instances
  3. ParadiseLS

    ParadiseLS LawnSite Member
    Posts: 76

    might as well tell him.....

    dig down about a foot and pull up a core of soil to that depth. stick it in a 1L jar with a couple cups of water and a tablespoon of calgon. shake the jar like crazy so it mixes into the water well, then set it down and come back a day later. the different particulates will settle to the bottom of the jar at different rates, starting with sand, and ending with the OM, which should actually float around for awhile longer. measure the depth of the different particles and you've figured out your soil composition.

    of course, you might want to try this several times at different points in the lawn and get an average of the measurements. that's a simple way to get a good idea of where you are starting from, and a great project for elementary school science!
  4. c2weech

    c2weech LawnSite Member
    Posts: 62

    Lets say the lawn/soil does have a high % of OM. Does that make compost top dressing useless then? Because without the ferts they have been applying or even before they started using ferts (only used ferts about the past 7years) the lawn sure was not very good.

    What method would be suggested?

  5. ParadiseLS

    ParadiseLS LawnSite Member
    Posts: 76

    supposing the om% is reasonable, you would still probably want to topdress once in the spring for good measure. but you could definitely get away with just doing a couple apps of compost tea/extract and forgetting about the bulky compost. also, in a case whee OM is high, you might think about a basic soil test: pH, NPK, Mg, Ca, CEC, etc.

    until your bacteria populations are built up, the OM isn't really immobilizing the nutrients for you, so they are leaching--maybe a little less intensely due to better soil structure, but nevertheless occurring.

    until you fungal populations (as well as actinomycetic bacteria) are spreading through the soils, and mining deep into the rhizosphere for minerals, it can be tough to expect good balance of nutrients and minerals in the soil. as you build the soil OM% and build the microbial populations, you establish a system where the fungi are mining the nutrients for you, the bacteria are scooping up and immobilizing what is lost, and you are just dealing with surface issues and a couple CT apps to maintain a healthy diversity in the rhizosphere.
  6. JDUtah

    JDUtah LawnSite Silver Member
    from UT
    Posts: 2,636

    I'll bite... but remember, it is easy to be a critic, and idiotic when you criticize something you were not willing to do yourself.

    Break down for a basic 1 ton pickup operation...

    Average lawn: 5,000 sqft
    Depth: 1/4"
    Compost per lawn: 4 yards
    Compost cost per yard: $25
    Material cost per yard: $100
    Labor time per lawn (2 man crew): 1 hour
    2 man hours @ $18 labor cost per man hour: $36
    Average travel time per lawn (including material pick up): 1.5 man hours
    Travel time cost @ $18 per man hour: $27
    Avg travel distance per lawn (including material pick up): 20 miles
    20 miles @ 10 miles per gallon: 2 gallons
    2 gallons @ $3.50 / gallon: $7

    Total lawns completable in 8 hour day: 4
    Total cost of application: $100 + $36 + $27 + $7 = $170 per 5,000 sqft lawn

    Average lawn: 5,000 sqft
    Pounds per 1,000 sqft: 20
    pounds per lawn: 100
    Cost per pound: $0.75
    Material cost per yard: $75
    Labor time per lawn (1 man crew): .41 hour
    Man hours @ $18 labor cost per man hour: $7.38
    Average travel time per lawn: .3 man hours
    Travel time cost @ $18 per man hour: $5.40
    Avg travel distance per lawn: 8 miles
    8 miles @ 10 miles per gallon: .8 gallons
    .8 gallons @ $3.50 / gallon: $2.80

    Total lawns completable in 8 hour day: 10
    Total cost of application: $75 + $7.38 + $5.40 + $2.80 = $90.58 per 5,000 sqft lawn

    Let's see...
    4 per day @ 170 dollars cost per lawn managing 2 employees
    10 per day @ 91 dollars per lawn managing 1 employee
  7. Kiril

    Kiril LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 18,308

    Is there anyone on this forum that can actually make a realistic comparison? You CANNOT compare 1/4" application of compost to an application of 20 lbs of compost, or meal. Unbelievable! :wall
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2011
  8. Smallaxe

    Smallaxe LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 10,081

    If you are one of those high OM areas, as Bill suggestted you might be... You could actually have a muck soil... In with case, air to the roots may be a problem, and N being lost to anaerobic conditions...

    Jab a spade into the ground about 6" and open it up enough to see the soil profile... Do this when it is reasonably moist... If you see different colors layered in, you will want to note what textures you are dealing with at each layer... Also just how thick and deep the root of the grasses are...

    Most soils will need a N boost, but today we waste a lot as well... Once you learn your soil's best culture, you can fertilize much more effectively... Whether organic or synthetic...
  9. Kiril

    Kiril LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 18,308

    SOM has a pH dependent charge which is not directly dependent on bacteria. Bacterial populations might have an impact on nitrogen leaching (increase or decrease it), but beyond that they (bacteria) will have little overall impact on nutrient leaching.

    You want fungal associations with your roots (mycorrhizal) in order to bring nutrients from outside the rhizosphere (i.e. the bulk soil). The rhizosphere is a very small zone around the root, it does not represent the bulk soil.
  10. Dchall_San_Antonio

    Dchall_San_Antonio LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 327

    Just to clarify a few thoughts and answer a couple questions. Sorry but this is a long post.

    I am not a Rodalian and I'm probably in agreement with you in many ways.
    I haven't been around since the beginning of this forum, few have, but I believe you were the founder. However, I am offended that you would think to dictate or determine what this forum is supposed to be about. I notice you haven't posted since May 2009.

    Dictate is such a negative word. But essentially you are offended that the person who set up a forum would have the gall to determine what his own forum was all about? I am making a note your interesting point of view.

    I have not posted in a long time because the forum became self moderating. I am not a lawn care professional. I am a subject matter expert on the care and feeding of soil microbes. When the forum first started, it needed to be moderated. There was one member who could not post without becoming very negative about organics. I suggested several times to him that we were well versed in the problems with an organic lawn care business and that we were looking for solutions. After several weeks I pointed him out to the forum owner and he banned the guy. Since then the forum has moved along with a much more level head. The discussions were on topic and without conflict. I can tolerate some banter when y'all are discussing relevant topics.

    Before this forum was established the Lawnsite conversations about organic care were horribly misinformed. If you folks think you have issues with each other now, you would be aghast at the flame wars back then. My purpose in setting up this forum was to 1) provide a separate place for discussions about organic lawn care, 2) bring a little bit of modern science to the discussions, and 3) to turn the discussions toward ways to make a profit. At the time compost was thought to be the only practical organic amendment. The organic fertilizers at the time were very high priced and nobody understood how they worked. Everything about organic care was much more expensive than Lesco, so it was hard to make a business out of it. I should also point out that the distinction between compost and fertilizers was an issue then as well.

    Who are you to say it is off-topic?

    Uh, I'm the guy who set up the forum. I will agree that sustainability is an acceptable topic for this forum. In fact is it much more on topic in this forum than any of the others at Lawnsite; however, for those who believe sustainability is a superior business objective to profitability, then I would suggest there are other forums (not Lawnsite) to discuss sustainability issues. The primary difference between Lawnsite and GardenWeb (or any of a number of other forums) is this is the one where the members are in the lawn care service industry to make a profit. This is not the Hairy Armpitted Earth Mothers of Oregon Forum where we protect the world from evil peat moss miners. GardenWeb has forums where they discuss general topics like sustainability. If you can make a case to show me that a business model with sustainability as the prime tenet will lead to a higher profit over the long run, then there is a case for it. For now I am unaware of how that would work. Furthermore I think sustainability is a red herring that distracts the conversation away from how to make a business work selling organic lawn care.

    As for compost, are you suggesting that it is not the best possible feed for turf?
    Almost everyone that I read on this forum is in agreement that it is the best, IF........

    Only a believer in the great Rodale methods of gardening would make that statement. Those definitely worked but nobody really knew why until the mid 1990s. Now that we understand the science, I hereby declare that to my knowledge, compost is not the best possible [organic] feed for turf. Compost is likely the best source of microbes. Compost is the best source of decomposed protein. Compost is probably the best source of humus. Compost weighs the most if you are trying to measure bulk organic material. Compost has the unique ability to retain moisture. Compost has the unique ability to capture, store, and release ammonia gas from the decomposition of protein underneath it. But when you are looking at a feed, then materials where the protein content is higher will give better performance per pound of material.

    The highest ratio of protein per pound is probably feather meal followed by blood meal. After that it is fish guts and then you get into the grains. The problem with feather meal is it takes months for it to decompose. They are now selling predigested feather meal (hydrolized). I have not used it but it has to be better than just the feather meal. Blood meal is a hot product. Where feathers take months to decompose, blood decomposes nearly overnight. That makes blood meal nearly useless except in very small quantities. Fish works if you can get it at reasonable prices. But fish smells as it decomposes so it would be best the Pilgrims found out from their indigenous companions. That brings us to the grains. Of all the grains, soy bean meal is the highest percent by weight of protein. I have seen incredible lawns fertilized with SBM from unmarked brown bags. If you have a way in your state to apply from unmarked brown bags, then I highly suggest you try soybean meal at 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Apply more at your own risk. It can get a little "whiffy" in higher doses. But it will turn a lawn very dark green. If the lawn is not made of bunch grasses, it will really thicken it, too. After SBM you get corn gluten meal, alfalfa pellets, cottonseed meal, corn meal, and coffee grounds. You can apply those at higher rates than SBM without the odor.

    In the meantime, compost will be the basis for my lawn care business and I WILL be making a profit and competing well vs. TruGreen et al.

    Good for you! If you have not already done so, you might open a thread to discuss how you make a profit with a compost-only operation. That was the original question. How do you price the product? Is it a material that smells fresh or stanky? What equipment do you use? How many repeat clients do you have? How often do they repeat? What are the keywords that sell your service? How many new clients do you get per week? Are there any special issues with a compost only operation?

    I have to disagree [with the idea of using grains] here. When we are looking at increasing SOM, bulk is king.

    I was never talking about increasing SOM. I was talking about making a profit. If you are selling the idea of increased SOM to your clients, more power to you. I would be a little shy about selling something I could not guarantee. Selling a dark green color is the direction I would go.

    Personally I feel if people are not selling a "program" that is designed to build a more fertile soil and move the site towards a more sustainable and closed system (i.e. reduced inputs), then you are not really "organic" regardless of what product you are using.

    You have a noble goal but your definition of organic differs from mine. I'm sure mine differs from many others. I will not fault you for that. There are as many different definitions of organic as there are for vegetarian. To paraphrase your statement in terms I see as important for this forum: If you are not selling a program designed to make a profit, then you will not be in business very long regardless of what products you are selling. As I have said above, I don't see sustainability as component of making a client happy with a lawn service nor as a component of profitability. I could be wrong and am open to ideas on that.

    For those interested in the topic of native grasses which take no maintenance, here is the list. Western Wheatgrass, Streambank wheatgrass, Crested wheatgrass, Sheep fescue, Blue grama, Strawberry clover, and the ever popular Buffalo grass (particularly the Tech Turf and UC Verde varieties). These are full sun turf materials which perform very well in the high desert soils and climate of the southwest USA. Some are bunch grasses. But if you are in the business of applying fertilizer, these take none, so keep that in mind.

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