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

  1. dan deutekom

    dan deutekom LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 424


    I guess my point is that in the 30 odd years that I have been in this business I have established and kept nice lawns using organics, synthetics, combination of both, and nothing at all but mowing. My point is that IPM is the answer and that uses every tool that you have when it is needed whether it be organic, synthetic or physical and none when not. A good horticulturist cares about the environment or else they wouldn't do what they do. But chemicals are not necessarily bad and organics are not necessarily good. All are tools of the trade with risks and advantages and we must choose wisely when we use any of them.

    I just wish people wouldn't be on one side of the fence or the other because there is room for both.

  2. Dchall_San_Antonio

    Dchall_San_Antonio LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 327

    This is a good point. Add volume to the concern about weight. I do have a friend in Canada who's a greens-keeper for several par 3 golf course. He read what y'all just read last year and went organic using corn meal. So far it seems to have solved all his problems, but it hasn't even been a year yet. We'll see how it goes, but he's absolutely thrilled. He writes me every week with pictures. He applied corn meal one time and that's all so far. He isn't complaining about anything.

    I've never been called an environmentalist before. I'm LOL! Whether what I said is the truth or not will remain open to question I suppose. I appreciate the A+ - just wish I had learned to write before I was 28.

    Fungus problems are addressed with corn meal, believe it or not. The Texas A&M University at Stephenville did the research on that. They found that using corn meal against the common fungal diseases on peanut crops had the same effect as crop rotation. For those of you who don't recognize what that means...it means the farmers don't have to rotate out of peanuts and into grass for a year or two while the field recovers from disease. It means they can plant peanuts year after year if they use corn meal against the fungus. It also turns out that the same fungi that attack lawns are the ones in peanuts. Corn meal is a preventative and a cure for lawns with disease. The problem with corn meal, if you want to call it a problem, is that it takes 3 weeks to show results. But you can rely in on it. It works every day of the year, in the heat or cold (above 50 degrees F), rain or shine, day or night. Show me any chemical fungicide that works under all conditions on all diseases.

    Corn meal is revealing itself to be the most important discovery in organic farming in the past year. Corn meal works by bringing another disease in to combat the first disease. A fungus in the Trichoderma (try-ko-DER-mah) family likes to grow on corn meal. The Trichoderma fungus attacks the cell walls of the disease causing fungus which causes it to die.

    Insect control often depends on the insect but beneficial nematodes are coming into the forefront as THE insect control for grub worms, flea beetles, fleas, ticks (in the winter), ants, chiggers, noseums, and some others that I'm drawing a blank on their names. Beneficial nematodes are the ones that attack insects, not plants. They come on a blue sponge that gets wrung out in a bucket of water and then you spray with the water. The nematodes work by bringing a disease to the insects living in the soil. The insects die in about 24-48 hours from the disease. In the mean time the nematodes lay eggs in the insect and move on. The eggs hatch and the young nematodes actually feed on the disease organism inside the dead insect. Gory but effective. The disease only affects insects, not mammals, birds, or fish.

    Weed control is handled by deep, infrequent watering and by mowing. Deep (an hour or two at a time) and infrequent (no more than once a week) watering allows the surface of the soil to dry out completely. Shallow rooted weeds die off while the deeper rooted grasses continue to get water from the depths. And if the grass is mowed at the highest setting on the deck, the grass itself will shade out sun loving weeds as well as the weed seeds that need sun to sprout. Some grasses, notably bermuda, bent, and centipede, must be mowed at 1/2 inch so they don't work with this, but when mowed at 1/2 inch, those are pretty dense turf and actually provide the same weed preventing benefit. Tall grass also has deeper, drought resistant, roots. And it supposedly uses less water due to the increased number of stomata on the long blades. Apparently when the stomata get all their CO2 early in the day (from all the extra stomata in the tall grass) they close up the stomata early and thus retain the moisture they would have "exhaled" by leaving the stomata open longer. Good theory anyway.

    No offense meant but I gotta laugh at some of this. I've been repeatedly exposed to organic food like corn meal for 50 years now. Science has studied it extensively and found all the protein sources I listed in my first post to be safe for humans and other mammals to eat day after day for decades at a time. They have also studied the decay of organic materials. There would be no reason for you to have read about it, though, so I'm not faulting anyone for not knowing. Organic stuff decays in the soil. After a time it disappears completely. Otherwise we'd up up to our asses in dinosaur sheeit and bones and stuff. Y'all might be interested to know that if you put a dead cow into a hot (150 degree F) compost pile, the cow will completely disappear in 4 days. No bones, hair, skin, horns, hooves, NOTHING after 4 days. So what happens is the bacteria and fungi in the soil digest the animal protein and turn it into microbe poop. Other microbes come along and eat the microbe poop as well as the dead microbes that ate the first stuff. And there's at least 25,000 species doing this. So the residue is microbe poop which seems to be safe or we wouldn't be here.

    But is is absolutely correct to be skeptical of the word "organic." Not all organic materials are safe. Some extreme examples are rattlesnake venom, hemlock and other alkaloids, micotoxins, and even alcohol is an organic poison (which must be diluted with water before consumption!!).

    I'm not going to do any more tit-for-tat on this subject. But I thought there was enough interest in learning a little more than what had been posted already. I will give y'all a few websites for those who are interested in further reading. I'll also warn you that if you "go organic," you will have to UNLEARN some things you know to be the truth through your experience and training. I know because I used chemical ferts and chem-icides for 40 years before changing.

    This site gives the NPK of various organic materials. I'm not sure you can directly compare the N of organic material to the N of Miracle Gro. Feathers have a ton of N but it takes for-freakin'-ever to decay.

    This one is a free copy of the Soil Biology Primer put out by the USDA. Excellent reading with links to pictures. It's the entire book.

    This next one is an entire book first published in 1943 and now on the Internet. Some of these older scientists who were discredited are now being found to have hit the nail on the head. You might have to go through a FREE registration process to see the book. You have to promise not to reproduce it and sell it.

    This is from the University of Western Australia. Easy reading and covers a lot of ground.

    This is from our Bureau of Land Management. Did you know that well managed rangeland has more tonnage of living organisms underground than on top?

    I've got about 50 more sites but I have to stop somewhere. I know some of y'all are thinking, "should have stopped about 10 paragraphs ago."
  3. GLAN

    GLAN Banned
    Messages: 1,647


    Interesting stuff

    I for one am glad that you posted. When it comes to organics I am but an infant.

    I honestly would like to alter my approach to lawn care. Just one problem. Unless there is an EPA registration number for every organic I am going to be extremely skeptical. In addition there has not been enough published that I have read that would change my mind completely. A few articles and I will look through the links you provided.

    I am also voicing my opinion based on others that I know and the experience that they have had. In addition to information I acquire through an association that I am a member of.

    Am I not getting to see the entire picture? perhaps. Am I not getting all the information available out there to make a more education decision on my part? Perhaps.

    The other problem that I would be faced with is attempting to switch over our program for all our clients. And try to convince them that the showcase lawns they have now will deteriorate to some degree before the organic approach is fully affective. That sentence pertains to insect and weed control. The other problem I have is the height of cut that was mentioned. Nothing was said as an optimal height for wee supression. Normaly in summer I cut at 3" this year it is 2.75" for reason of the need for the soils be able to dry. and due to irregularties in the level of the soil the machines can nearly scalp, that is at any height. It is those situations that weeds become more prevelent and in need of synthetic control. Another aspect regarding the height of cut is that I am finding that more of our customers over the recent years are younger and with children, they lead active lives and do request a shorter cut. For me to go to 4" or more cut is not likely. A time where we cut at 3.25" was hard for many to deal with. though in reality it was the best the lawns looked and the best it handled stress and weed, fungal problems.

    Like I said I will look over the material you provided. Will make a determination of my own. For the reason that there is an alternative method to the way we handle lawn care.

    DUSTYCEDAR LawnSite Fanatic
    from PA
    Messages: 5,132

    i have been using more organics but at the end of the day it smells like i rolled in a cesspool and the lawn smells for a week after application. other than that i have been getting good results
  5. Randy J

    Randy J LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,124

    Dan, I agree completely with your last post, just that for me, "natural" organics are the way to go.

    Glan, I'm not sure why your lawns would suffer until the organics kicked in. I would think you'd see no deterioration at all.

    Dchall, very good posts. You seem to know your stuff about organics. I just moved from San Antonio about 4 months ago. One of the things I miss the most is listening to Bob Webster on AM550, on the weekend mornings. Do you listen to his show? He's a big proponent of organics, and where I first learned about them.

  6. GLAN

    GLAN Banned
    Messages: 1,647

    Why would my laws deteriorate?

    Lets take Grub control and the use of Milky Spore. That is the most widely know product.

    For Milky Spore to become effective it has to develope it's population in the soil, a season is to short. It has been told to me that up to 5 years is needed. In addition the Milky Spore only tragets one species of Grub.

    Also the transition would effect the control or supression of Fungus, a season again is to short.
  7. Dchall_San_Antonio

    Dchall_San_Antonio LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 327

    I think you are all wise to be wary. I was just trying to add the background info that some of you clearly were looking for but didn't have.

    I'm self taught on organics, but who isn't. You don't just go to college to learn about organic gardening. It ain't taught. Ever since WWII when the explosives industry found itself needing a way to stay in business, the government, universities, and industry have worked together to ensure that synthetic chemicals were sustained at NUMBER 1 in front of the consumer's eye. So to learn about organic gardening, you really have to do your own research.

    I believe there will never be as much science behind organic gardening as there is with chemicals. The reason for that is there's no money in it. Corn meal and alfalfa are literally dirt cheap in bulk. A sack of dirt and a sack of corn meal cost the same. There are thousands of farmers growing it and thousands of mills grinding it. Bayer, Ortho, and Monsanto cannot compete so they market in their own way through the government and universities. That's my government conspiracy theory. ;)

    I do listen to Bob Webster. He's good but he's in the business of selling expensive brand-name products at 6x what the basic ingredients cost at retail. I believe organic turf can cost the same and look the same as synthetic fertilized and maintained turf. In fact, I also believe that the second year the costs drop dramatically for organic due to the build up of beneficial microbes in the soil that protect the plants from insects and disease. Some of you are leaning toward organic lawn maintenance. Some of you have made the leap. Different states have widely differing regulations governing what you can do with a bag of stuff, so some will find it easier to make a move.

    Milky spore disease is being pushed to the back of the rack in favor of beneficial nematodes, at least in the South. As I said, the BN work overnight against a host of insects. I should say that you need a host of BN to work against a host of insects. The little blue sponges have a variety of BN to serve you. BN must be kept refrigerated before use and they do have a 90 day shelf life.

    Of course I live in the heat, but I'll give you a sample of my personal year long program for organic turf maintenance. Everyone is different so you can either adjust or toss my thoughts out completely. The point of me doing this is to show you that there is not much in the way of extra money in organic turf maintenance. My situation is I live in San Antonio, TX. My raw soil is crushed limestone rubble (pure white as the driven snow) from 0-18 inches deep on top of solid limestone. My neighborhood is in full shade of live oak canopy that spreads for a mile or more in all directions. The dominant grass here is St Augustine species. Bermuda is choked out by the St Aug as is buffalo grass. Bermuda can be grown if mowed at 1/2 to 1 inch. Fungal problems usually scare away the zoysia growers. One week of fungus in zoysia gives you a 5-10 year recovery period.

    January - do nothing
    February - fertilize with corn meal at 10-20 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Insect control with beneficial nematodes. (our last freeze is in March sometime).
    March - mow/mulch the spring leaves into the turf as needed.
    April - mow as needed at 3 inches plus (always, Always, ALWAYS).
    May - mow as needed.
    June - mow as needed.
    July - fertilize again with corn meal at the rate above.
    August - mow as needed.
    Sept - preemergent control with corn GLUTEN meal at 40 pounds per 1,000.
    Oct - mow as needed.
    Nov - yes, we still mow as needed.
    Dec - mow/mulch the autumn leaves into the turf.

    You'll notice that there are not many high profit months there. July and Sept are the only months where you both mow and fertilize. The reason I fert in Feb is that we have real grass growing, not just weeds, by late March. Organic fert needs to be in the soil and working three weeks before the soil temp gets above 50 degrees for it to start to work.

    Notice also that there is no money to be made in aeration or dethatching. $:cry:$ With a happy microherd under the soil surface, thatch is literally eaten up by the microbes; and they also dig millions of aeration holes for you. Water penetration is much improved with a combination of deep watering and organic fertilizer.

    So due to the lack of paying work involved, I don't see a wide acceptance in the professional turf management industry for organic care. You can do it but I would think you'd be embarrassed to charge more for it, or even the same, when you do less work. You'll have to make your money on mowing, leaves, and snow removal. I'm trying to be practical about this and provide as much education as I can for y'all to absorb and process. I'm certainly not going to come through the screen and twist anyone's arm to go organic. I just would like to answer a few questions and correct some fallicies I see here and abouts.

    If you do what I do you never touch anything that smells remotely bad. I compost rats, squirrels, and possums with no hint of smell. My dog can't even find his own kill in my compost pile. If your organic materials smell bad, you'll lose customers. There are three reasons why most homeowners shy away from organic materials. One is the cost of the commercial brand names. I've solved that by shopping at the feed store. The second reason is the smell. They've bought manure at some time in the past and were embarrassed for weeks as every watering brought back the smell of fresh horse hockey. Spend the money and get real compost, not fresh manure. Third is that they once killed their lawn by over applying compost (or worse, manure). They were embarrassed again by having a dead lawn when everyone else had green lawn. Compost goes on at 1 cubic yard per 1,000 square feet MAXIMUM. Even then you have to sweep it off the grass blades to keep from shading out the grass. But I also think you don't need compost if you fertilize with organics regularly.
  8. GroundKprs

    GroundKprs LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,969

    This is interesting info for warm season grasses. But where is there a study on cool season turf? Since soil temps must be elevated for organics to function in food delivery, a purely organic approach to management of C3 grasses does not seem practical.

    For those concerned about EPA registrations, fertilizers do not require registration, And corn gluten meal (used as a preemergent) has been exempted from EPA regs. However, CGM is a root inhibitor, and may have the same negative effect on turfgrass roots that most chemical pre-ems have.

    The use of natural enemies or parasitic organisms is not new. Been studied in this country for over 100 years. The problem with this approach is that the enemy or parasite must have a population of the pest to survive itself. And most things in nature do not ravage their life support like humans. So a natural control, using enemies or parasites, requires an acceptance of cyclical activity of the pest: as pest population builds, the predator organism population also grows, bringing the pest under control. But as the pest population is decreased, the predator population also decreases (food supply reduced), and the pest is allowed to prosper again. Using natural controls will never eliminate your pest - but then chemical controls never will either, LOL.
  9. dan deutekom

    dan deutekom LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 424

    Nothing to add at the moment but this is a great thread and kudo's to all that participate. :)
  10. Dchall_San_Antonio

    Dchall_San_Antonio LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 327

    Not sure what C3 is but it seems to reference cool season grasses. Be gentle with me, I'm new here. :D

    I'm not calling my post a study. I'm just saying what works for me on one lawn. It would help if the pros using organics on 50 lawns would weigh in. And since there is interest, how about all y'all Yankees weighing in, too.

    This would be a great topic for people with experience using CGM on 50 or so lawns for 5 years.

    I like to test out theories by checking at the limits of applicability if I can. Here's an example testing a low limit and a high limit. If I drop one coyote into a fenced herd of sheep, the single coyote might be able to leave some sheep alive for the future. What happens at the other limit of the scale? What happens if I drop 10,000 coyotes into a herd of sheep? My guess is there will be no survivors inside the fence within one month. Once the sheep are gone (in about a day), there's no more food and the coyotes will starve too. This is more like the example of using beneficial nematodes or milky spore. You're dropping millions of microbes to kill maybe 12 grubs per square foot.

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