Help Going organic in Chicago suburbs

Omar80September 29, 2013

Hello everyone after being a homeowner for four years I can not have the green or healthy grass that I want . My grass will only look good for a couple of months thanks to fertilizers and water but than will turn yellow . After searching here I decided to go organic and give it a try . Can someone tell me how to start . first where can I get a good soil test second what to use corn meal or what feed also any feed stores near the northwest suburbs by elgin il thanks in advance.

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Your university of Illinois offers soil testing as well as advice about what you might need to do to create a good, healthy soil. The feed stores around here have all converted to cooperatives and do not sell to the general public any more. However, there are other farm supply stores to choose from
Aside from commercial meals what other types of organic matter are available to you? Grass clippings? Deciduous tree leaves? Yard and garden waste?
What does you soil need other than something, maybe, to adjust the pH? Would these simple soil tests, along with a test for pH, Phosphorus, Potash, Calcium, and Magnesium be of some use?
1) Soil test for organic matter. From that soil sample put enough of the rest to make a 4 inch level in a clear 1 quart jar, with a tight fitting lid. Fill that jar with water and replace the lid, tightly. Shake the jar vigorously and then let it stand for 24 hours. Your soil will settle out according to soil particle size and weight. For example, a good loam will have about 1-3/4 inch (about 45%) of sand on the bottom. about 1 inch (about 25%) of silt next, about 1 inch (25%) of clay above that, and about 1/4 inch (about 5%) of organic matter on the top.

2) Drainage. Dig a hole 1 foot square and 1 foot deep and fill that with water. After that water drains away refill the hole with more water and time how long it takes that to drain away. Anything less than 2 hours and your soil drainsâ too quickly and needs more organic matter to slow that drainage down. Anything over 6 hours and the soil drains too slowly and needs lots of organic matter to speed it up.

3) Tilth. Take a handful of your slightly damp soil and squeeze it tightly. When the pressure is released the soil should hold together in that clump, but when poked with a finger that clump should fall apart.

4) Smell. What does your soil smell like? A pleasant, rich earthy odor? Putrid, offensive, repugnant odor? The more organic matter in your soil the more active the soil bacteria will be and the nicer your soil will smell.

5) Life. How many earthworms per shovel full were there? 5 or more indicates a pretty healthy soil. Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy.

Here is a link that might be useful: UI CES

    Bookmark   September 29, 2013 at 7:23AM
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Thanks I will look into the UOi for the soil test I did find cracked corn and alfalfa pellets in a near by tractor store when should I apply it

    Bookmark   September 29, 2013 at 3:57PM
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Grains, such as cracked corn, and the Alfalfa pellets can be applied anytime you have time to do that. Now would be a good time, while the soil is still warm and the Soil Food Web is still active and can convert what you put down into nutrients the grass can use. Toward the end of October may be getting a bit late up in this area of the world.
Dave may come in and suggest applying these 4 times a year, about the major holidays just as the synthetic fertilizer world suggests, but I find that a once a year application is adequate for me. Feeding the soil more often than that, and providing adequate moisture, simply means the grass grows faster and needs to be cut more often.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2013 at 6:38AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

If chemical fertilizer cannot keep your lawn green, there might be a chemical imbalance in the soil which restricts the availability of iron to the plants. The soil test should tell you. As an alternative to your local university, Logan Labs in Ohio has been the "go to" lab for soil testing in other lawn forums. There is one lawn forum which specializes in reading Logan Labs reports. One of the members here, morpheusPA, is one of those experts. Whether he would read one here or not, I don't know. The LL test costs $20 and gives more results than other labs' tests which cost much more than that.

Yes, organic materials can be applied any day of the year that is convenient for you. I have what I call the federal holiday schedule. It starts on Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. For those of us in the south, I add Washington's Birthday. I picked those based on watching my lawn green up, remain green, and then go off toward yellow. Also they are very easy to remember. As kimmsr mentioned, his lawn is different. Probably everyone's is different.

Here is a picture of MorpheusPA's lawn the year when he applied 50 pounds of organic fertilizer per 1,000 square feet every weekend...

That picture was taken in July of 2010. Morph will correct me if I got the year wrong on that. His neighbors do not have the same hybrid Kentucky bluegrass that he has, but the real difference is in his highly tuned up soil and, secondarily, the weekly overdose of organics.

With chemical fertilizers you cannot apply in the heat of summer. With organics you can, so you can carry the fertility over through the heat when others cannot. Then all you need is water.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2013 at 2:36PM
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I think my mistake was that I use to much fertilizer and water too often than stop watering I use to water Monday wed and sat here's a few pict of how my lawn look from the beginning

    Bookmark   September 30, 2013 at 9:58PM
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This one was back in June

    Bookmark   September 30, 2013 at 10:01PM
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This one is from last week

can I apply both corn and alfalfa at the same time or do I need to wait also what do I need to do to winterize the lawn sorry for all these questions and thank you for your time .

    Bookmark   September 30, 2013 at 10:05PM
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Just wanted to thank the people that reply to my post I haven't use any Chemical fertilizers since I post here and only have applied corn meal cracked corn and alfalfa pellets to my lawn and looks healthier so far this year thanks to alll :)

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 1:24AM
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Awesome! That's one gorgeous lawn!

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 2:00PM
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Thanks the only thing that I'm getting is what I believe it's clover but I think
I can live with it

    Bookmark   July 6, 2014 at 3:24PM
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It's clover or some oxalis variant (I'm terrible at weed ID because...well, I don't get any weeds).

If it really bothers you, there are chemical methods of control, but no organic ones other than to cut the grass as tall as you can stand it, and feed well to encourage it to be as thick as possible.

On the up side, clover forms root associations with nitrogen fixing bacteria and helps supply some of the nitrogen your lawn requires. It also encourages bumblebee and honeybee populations by providing plenty of pollen and nectar.

It's not an aggressive weed, and many of us actually don't consider it a weed at all. I'd love some clover, but my lawn simply won't allow it. It won't go nuts unless there's an open area, in which case it'll move to cover it. But encroaching grass can easily outcompete it.

Of all the things you could have, clover is probably the least harmful and, actually, one of the most benign. Plus the flowers are sort of cute in the lawn.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2014 at 5:07PM
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Clover, White Dutch Clover, is beneficial in lawns because it will add Nitrogen to the soil which will feed the lawn. The only reason it is considered a "weed" is because the manufacturers of the plant poisons cannot make on that will not kill it.
When I was growing up having White Dutch Clover in the lawn was considered necessary for a good healthy turf.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 7:00AM
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I think it's white Dutch clover since it does have white flowers
I'm very pleased with the results so far
this has been the best that my lawn has been in 5 years it looks very healthy and it's the first year I went organic. Once again thanks to all of you
Now my question is how can I make the lawn get thicker how often should I feed it so far I did
Crack corn and alfalfa pellets in spring march and April
And milo granite in May and June.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2014 at 12:04AM
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While I generally answer that with "monthly if you irrigate," there are some considerations.

Corn and alfalfa don't do a great deal to supply nitrogen to the lawn because they don't have a great deal of N in them. But nothing beats corn for soil conditioning!

Soybean meal and Milorganite do a much better job of feeding with 7% and 5% nitrogen respectively.

For us with northern lawns, heavier feeding will be more advantageous in late summer and fall. I start with the heavy drops on August first, about 2 to 3 weeks before night-time temperatures just start to drop for late summer. Then I feed heavily monthly thereafter through October.

Winterization can't be done organically for either of us, but at least we can still use urea (an organic molecule, just generally synthesized these days). Drop that whenever top growth stops at bag rate, or target 1 pound of nitrogen per thousand square feet.

Feeding in fall will encourage density and root strength without touching off too much in the way of excessive top growth.

However, when I was just starting I was dropping stuff like mad--there are really few rules with organics. My top flight year was over 1,300 pounds per thousand square feet, delivering a total of 37 pounds of organic nitrogen. It was an experiment...what I got was an explosively growing lawn of dark forest green that spread into any hole before I really noticed the hole was there.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2014 at 2:35AM
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Where can I get urea sorry if I ask dumb questions I did found a feed supply that I'm going to go check this week end here's what they have what should I get ? I don't know the prices yet but will find out.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 12:35AM
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Well, they have pretty much everything!

One warning--don't ever use whole corn. It sprouts. I even have to remove corn sprouts occasionally from the gardens just from the cracked corn, but it's rare (and amusing).

Cracked corn is an excellent soil conditioner but a lousy feed at 1.65-0.65-0.45 equivalent. It also provides some minor fungal protection. You can use as much as you like, with 60 pounds per thousand not being excessive once your soil is used to accepting organic feedings. Because of the low nitrogen level, it doesn't usually smell when decomposing unless you really overdo it.

Soybean would be a heavy-hitter for nitrogen (it's roughly 7-1-2 if it were listed as a fertilizer) because it's very high in protein. Fifteen pounds per thousand supplies a full pound of nitrogen--and that's what I use four times per year as my base feeding.

If you want to mix it up with alfalfa once or twice a year, great, but don't exceed 20 lbs per thousand square feet at any one time...and no more than twice per year. Above that, the growth hormones actually slow root growth. At or below it, they do help.

Most of the rest of this stuff is comparable to alfalfa in terms of equivalent NPK (about 2-1-2) but doesn't contain growth hormones. It might be a good filler if you got forced into using it, but none of the other items have anything in particular to recommend them.

These days, we synthesize most urea because it's cheap to do it (and getting animals to pee in the bottle is difficult). You can get urea based fertilizers at any big box store in the fertilizer section. It'll list urea on the bag as opposed to another form of nitrogen.

Urea fertilizers sometimes have a slow-release portion. For winterization, avoid that--or take one with a very small amount of slow release nitrogen. You want the N to dump in during the (limited) time period between growth stoppage and dormancy.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 1:06AM
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I'm from Kansas. From what stores can I buy cracked corn and the Alfalfa pellets?

Thanks Omar80 for posting those pictures. I was planning to do chemical fertilizer on my yard, which was not taken care by previous home owners, so it's in a bad shape. But after reading through post and looking at pictures, I have decided to go through your route or buy Milorganite. Hope to hear soon from someone in this forum.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2014 at 12:25PM
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Falcon--start your own thread and hopefully somebody local to you will be able to provide specific locations.

Mostly, most of us get them from grain mills or feed supply stores in our areas. Tractor Supply around me has a decent selection (but prices aren't as good as the grain mill).

    Bookmark   July 19, 2014 at 2:07PM
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All urea sold today is a synthetic product made by combining Ammonia and Carbon Dioxide. The urea of today is not an acceptable product for organic growers to use.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 7:08AM
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Urea is not acceptable for certified organic, correct. And everything you'll get these days is synthesized in a factory.

We should point out that the urea molecule synthesized in the factory is exactly and precisely identical to the one you produce. There's no chemical difference at all.

You could dilute your own urine if you wish to use as a fertilizer...except that in my case, I'm on two maintenance medications. The impurities in my own urine would be rather extreme, as opposed to the very pure product produced in the factory.

Since the winterization choices exclude grain products and Milorganite, urea's the next best alternative. It's far superior to the mined nitrogen products that are (by definition) in limited supply. Those that aren't mined are synthesized just as urea is.

Urea is not the best of all possible worlds, but it's the best remaining option.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2014 at 1:23PM
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Urea, like the glyphosates, Carbaryls, malathions, etc. is unacceptable to organic growers.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 6:58AM
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Conflation doesn't work.

Urea, unlike the glyphosates, etc. is not toxic in normal quantities and is, in fact, produced in copious amounts by you and every other mammal. Nature already deals with it easily and has for several hundred million years.

It's a naturally-occurring organic molecule, unlike the above.

Now if you'd like to remove yourself from your high horse and suggest an organic winterizer, that would be nice. Otherwise you're simply trolling and not being helpful in the slightest.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2014 at 1:11PM
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If Urea is acceptable why would other synthetic forms of Nitrogen not also be acceptable? Why would superphosphate also not be acceptable? Why bother using organic methods if there are no standards to follow?

    Bookmark   July 24, 2014 at 7:06AM
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Deflection. Answer the question or stop trolling.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2014 at 12:19PM
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The concept of "winterizing" a lawn or spreading a "winterizer" fertilizer comes from the people that sell synthetic fertilizers, although feeding turf grasses in early fall so the plants can store energy that can be used to grow in early spring is a good idea.
Since one of the basics of organic growing is to make the soil into a good healthy soil that will grow strong and healthy plants that is the area one wanting a good lawn should be looking at and synthetics such as Urea do not contribute to a good healthy soil. Urea is known to adversely affect soil bacteria as well as the other members of the Soil Food Web.
If the soil has an active Soil Food Web any of the grains as a meal, Alfalfa meal, etc. will be just fine as an early fall food for the soil. If the soil does not yet have an active Soil Food Web the same materials will aid in making that happen.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2014 at 7:20AM
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