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Discussion in 'Organic Lawn Care' started by jettabug, Mar 28, 2002.

  1. SWD

    SWD LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 988

    Your right, Milorginate doesn't add beneficial microbes to the soil. What it does do is to provide very active exchange sites for microbial populations to increase.
    The USGA Agronomy section has been studying the effects of micrbial populations in sterilized soils (particularly greens mix for putting greens construction) and has reached an interesting conclusion. Sterilized sils will repopulate them selves to pre sterilization levels without any need to add microbes. Kind of shoots a hole in the organics/microbe adding theory.
    Another thing, processed fertilizers that are naturally urea based (milorginate, sustaine, turkey/chicken litter) do not, as previously posted, contribute micorhizal or other bacterial to soils. The benefit of some alternate N sourced fertilizers are the micronutirient sources.
    This is what provides some benefit to organics and trace package use.
    Dan has a good point, a good balance will incorporate synthetic and micronutirent containing organics/trace packages.
    One other point, the alleged microbe supplying organic fertilizers, what is the shelf life of this material?
    Interesting discussion so far.
  2. Dchall_San_Antonio

    Dchall_San_Antonio LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 327

    I'm new to this list and forum forum but not to the topic on other lists. Also, whether it matters or not, I'm not a lawn pro; but I have been around organic for a while and learned quite a bit that may help some of y'all to understand why they work. Unfortunately I can't be brief on anything, but I'll try, so stand by.

    As has been said here, with organic management you feed the soil and not the plants directly. I don't want to demean anyone's education, but if you haven't been in school in the past year or so, some things have changed in the world of soil science and chemistry. I believe the discoveries explain the mystery of organic fertilizer.

    In the recent past it had been thought that there were perhaps tens or maybe hundreds of different kinds of microbes in the soil. This reasoning was due to the ability to grow these microbes (fungi and bacteria) in a laboratory petri dish. More recently with DNA analysis, they have discovered there are 25,000 different microbial species in farm and garden soil and up to 45,000 species in forests. What this discovery means is that the ability of the soil microbes to manufacture nearly any organic soil food or disease is nearly unlimited. Obviously there is a limit but for us to comprehend the number of combinations and permutations is nearly unlimited. Whereas when we thought there were only a few or few hundred microbes, we could get a handle on that - and the handle we had did not indicate that there was much of any value in those microbes. Now we know that the microbes have developed a symbiotic relationship with plants that goes to great care to ensure the survival of both plants and microbes.

    We also know that microbes need both sugar and protein to live. That's not news. But what is news is that the huge diversity of microbes have the ability to manufacture exactly the proper plant food, deliver it exactly at the proper time, and in the proper amount, all with very little waste. All we have to do is feed the microbes that sugar and protein.

    Normally plants get their first level of sugar directly from the plants. Plants manufacture plenty of sugar through photosynthesis. The excess is made available to the microbes that might live inside the plants, on the leaf surfaces, attached to the roots, or in the root zone. Protein historically has been provided by dead animals or plants laying on the surface of the soil. First level microbes provide a decaying or rotting service that feeds protein to all the rest of the soil microbes. It is all done from the surface of the soil. As species after species "exudes" wastes and themselves die, the proteins are exchanged from one species to the next all the way through 25,000 to 45,000 different species. Somewhere along the food chain (now called the soil food web), plant food, medicines, enzymes, growth regulating hormones, and everything the plants need are made available.

    That's the basics.

    Someone mentioned that compost is not a very good fertilizer. That's exactly correct. Compost is a better source of microbes for soils that need a quick dose of living organic matter. These soils included soils that have been hit with a fungicide, pesticide, or herbicide. It also includes soils that have been underwater for a few days such that many of the formerly living microbes have been killed. The good microbes also need air to survive. So the time to apply compost (in thin layers of 1/3 inch) is after a chemical spill or a flood. But as someone else said, the soil has amazing recovery ability and will restore the species in time. The compost just speeds up that process for your clients. Plus compost should be about the most expensive thing you ever apply in an organic program. It should be a high profit item for y'all, but just not needed that much. Our local compost guru claims to have only used compost twice in his 30 years of manufacturing and selling it - and he says the second time he didn't really need it. That speaks volumes to me.

    Someone mentioned that you have to use a lot of organic fertilizer to get any value. If you're measuring pounds of materials, that is also a correct statement. Organic fertilizers are heavier than synthetics. A normal application rate for organic fertilizer is 10-20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. So a 50 pound bag covers somewhere between 5,000 and 2,500 square feet. With synthetics the same coverage would weigh about 10 pounds. However with synthetics you have zero protein. The nitrogen is in the form ready to feed the plants. So the soil microbes get no benefit.

    For those of you concerned about the cost, it is not more expensive to apply organic materials. If you'll look at the ingredients of organic fertilizers, you'll see a list of protein sources. They include corn meal, corn gluten meal, alfalfa meal, soy bean meal, canola meal, milo, feather meal, cottonseed meal, and most other materials commonly found in animal or dog food. You can get that stuff at the feed store in 50 pound bags for about $5. Buy in huge bulk and you can find it for half of that or less. Compare that price to the same materials sold in commercially marked bags in the same stores for $30 for 30 pounds. Maybe you professionals cannot apply a product marked "FEED" on a lawn, but we homeowners sure can. I use whole ground corn meal.

    If you want to test this yourself, dump a half a bowl of dog food on a turf somewhere where the grass is not otherwise fertilized. Wet it down so it melts into the soil and the squirrels don't run away with it. Then come back in a month and see what happened. Dog food is too expensive in bulk, plus it has sodium in it. Don't need that. Shoot, even used coffee grounds make a great fertilizer. Lots of low budget organic gardeners get free coffee grounds from Starbucks and other savvy coffee shops.

    Someone mentioned Milorganite. Several years ago they sent out a bad batch or two that had some heavy metals in it. Now they test the biosolids before the Milorganite folks get it to ensure there are no metals. Then the sludge is incinerated at over 1,000 degrees to turn it into the near ceramic quality you see in the bag. It is pretty sterile. And I don't like the smell either.

    Someone else mentioned manure smelling bad. Well, duh! Manure is supposed to be composted so it doesn't smell bad. After the microbes get through with it, compost smells fresh like a forest floor. It smells incredible! But uncomposted manure has NO place in organic gardening (IMHO).

    Someone mentioned organic fertilizers contaminating runoff waters. If it is a proper protein based fertilizer, it does not run off or contaminate anything. Manures might, but they have a different role when properly used. They are for growing microbes, not direct fertilizing.

    Here's a list of things an organic program can do that no chemical can do. The beneficial microbes in the soil do the following.
    1. Decompose plant residues and manure to humus.
    2. Retain nutrients in humus.
    3. Combine nitrogen and carbon to prevent nutrient loss.
    4. Suppress disease.
    5. Produce plant growth regulators.
    6. Develop soil structure, tilth, and water penetration/retention.
    7. Clean up chemical residues.
    8. Shift soil pH to neutral and keep it there.
    9. Search out and retrieve nutrients in distant parts of the soil.
    10. Decompose thatch and keep it from returning.
    11. Control nitrogen supply to the plants according to need.
    12. Pull minerals out of inorganic soil components for plants.
    13. Provide the exact chemical nutrients to the plant that the plant has evolved with rather than man's cheapest chemical approximation.
    14. Provide exactly the required quantity of nutrients that the plant needs.
    15. Provide the nutrients at exactly the right time that the plant needs them.

    No chemical can do any of that. To be fair, no single microbe can do all of that either. In fact, it could be that it takes 100 different species, one working right after the other, to do any one item in the above list - sort of like a microbiological assembly line. But at least it's real easy to get all the right microbes. The biology of the soil is very complicated.

    At the same time, many chemicals inhibit the microbe's natural abilities to do these things. Herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides are all designed to kill various biological life. As a byproduct, they often kill off the beneficial microbes that are doing 1 through 15 above. Any break in the assembly line can interrupt the process, damage the mini ecosystem, and lessen the benefit of the organic methods.

    Organic fertilizers can give every bit as successful looking a lawn as a synthetically fertilized one. And I enjoy letting my 5-year old barefoot daughter help daddy through out the corn meal.
  3. heritage

    heritage LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,352

    Well said sir.

    Sustained Horticulture is the Future.
  4. GLAN

    GLAN Banned
    Messages: 1,647

    I have just been schooled.......:)

    Not sure if I want to get into this discussion?

    Think I should. Just have to collect my thoughts and find this thread later on...........;)
  5. GroundKprs

    GroundKprs LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,969

    For A DIY consumer, cost is perhaps similar for organics and synthetics. However, as anyone in business can recognize, it is a lot more expensive to use an organic program. Cannot transport 5x the bulk for the same cost, can't store 5x the bulk for the same cost. And sure as heck can't get it spread at the same cost! Labor cost to spread 5 tons instead of one ton would be quite a dramatic increase, and a man is not going to be able to cover a daily route that can be done with synthetics.
  6. dan deutekom

    dan deutekom LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 424


    You have just be schooled...............But is it the truth or just enviromentalist propaganda? Have to admit if I were a teacher I would give it a A+ as an essay even if it was one sided. Didn't address weed control, insect control or fungus problems. Ever notice that the best growing grass tends to have fungus problems?
  7. Randy J

    Randy J LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,124

    Actually Dan, if I'm not mistaken, having "the best growing grass" is a key component of IPM. Weak grass is much more susceptible to pests of all kinds. I'm far from an expert on grass, and although a believer in organics I'm smart enough to know they aren't the only answer to every problem, but you're just plain wrong here dude.

  8. GLAN

    GLAN Banned
    Messages: 1,647

    LOL Dan thanks.............You snapped me out of that trance......;)

    You have to admit that was one of the best explanations of organics. Now do I buy into it?

    OK allow me to express my opnion and what I know.

    "Organics" is exempt from the EPA laws and regulations. Because it is considered "Organic" Where I am being a pesticide applicator I can apply "organics" without the proper notification. The county east of me, they require that a pesticide applicator applying organics have certification in organics, a one day seminar.

    Now being a licensed pesticide applicator, by law I have to apply by the label and use the proper precautions with handling and applying the product. We must do this to apply legaly. We also do this for the FACT that all the chemicals registered with the EPA have gone through extensive testing. We know what the risks and reactions are.

    Through the EPA registration process the chemicals is tested for it's affect environmentaly. We know for FACT what these chemicals do and how they do it. We know a chemical as Dursban does not move verticaly in the soil. We know it moves horizontaly. We know that Dylox moves Verticaly down a couple inches to where the target pest is located. We know what contact fungicides do and how they react, as well as weed killers and so on. We also know for a FACT how the chemical breaks down and what it's after life is once the application has been performed.

    We know all this because of the FACT that provided the product has an EPA registration number we know that some $2 million dollars has been spent in research of the product.

    We also know that a vigorous healthy turf aids in the utilization of the products and the filtration process.


    What we don't know is the affects of prolonged exposure to organics is. We do not know how they move through the soil. We do not know how they break down in the environment or if there is a prolonged residue. OK, I know that this part of my explanation is short. That is because WE DON'T KNOW ANYTHING. Science has not told us these things. Because they are Organic and to be presumed safe?

    There are products under my kitchen sink that have a label of WARNING, where as lawn chemicals I use only have CAUTION. And I am supposed to be believe that organics or home remedies are safer and more environmentaly friendly because they are called "Organic Products"

    I'll stick with the stuff that WE KNOW about. Because they have been tested. Not by folklore or myth.
  9. dan deutekom

    dan deutekom LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 424

    Randy J:

    I should have put best growing grass in quotations. It is just an observation that some of the lushest nicest lawns tend to have dollar spot, or fusarium or other fungal problem due to the moisture they receive. Treatment isn't needed because it isn't enough to cause any real harm but it is there. And that is an important part of IPM. To know what is there, and to know when and what to do about it (if anything). I still state organics can have an important role in lawn care, but without chemicals lawns as we know them today are bye-bye.
  10. Randy J

    Randy J LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,124

    Sorry Dan, I missed the irony. However, I do disagree with your position on synthetics. I established and kept a nice lawn in San Antonio, TX only using organics. But as I said, synthetics do have their place.


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