sodding tomorrow..want to go totally organic

lemonpeels(z5 chicago)October 10, 2007

I will be having about 6000 sq. feet. of RTF (tall fescue) installed tomorrow..and would like to get off on the right foot organically. So far I have tilled in approximately 3 inches of mushroom compost thru-out to a level of 6-8 inches.

Is there anything else I should apply prior to the sod being put down..such as lime? Secondly once the sod has been put down should soybean meal or CGM or both be applied sometime this fall, and if so when would you recommend?

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I wouldn't apply lime without getting a soil test. From what I've read, mushroom compost is pretty alkaline.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2007 at 12:04PM
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Put alfalfa down before the sod is laid @ 20-30lbs/1000sqft and water in with 1" water. After installation apply alfalfa or SBM 10-20lbs/1000sqft.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2007 at 12:27PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Okay. It is too late now to get off on the right foot, at least in my opinion. Why don't people write in before they start???

You have wasted your money and time on tilling. Furthermore there is just about nothing worse you can do to prepare soil for turf or seed than tilling. The only thing I can think of worse would be to till in baking soda or boric acid. In a year you will be writing back here saying, "my yard is bumpy. How can I make it level again?" If you are in a hurry to put the sod down, then it is too late to do anything about the tilling problem.

You wasted a lot of money on the mushroom compost. You could have used the same compost but used only 1/4 inch instead of 3 inches. The best time to use compost is after the sod is laid down.

The best time to apply ground grains is 3 weeks PRIOR to seeding or sodding.

So the question is where do you go from here? First, after you apply the sod, roll the sod down with a water fillable roller. This will ensure you get good contact between the bottom of the sod and top of the soil. Roots will not grow through air to reach the soil.

A soil test will tell you about lime. I would wait until spring for that. For now just apply ORDINARY ground corn meal at 10-20 pounds per 1,000 square feet after you put the sod down. Sod tends to get a fungal disease from the watering regimen and the corn meal will prevent that as well as fertilize. Water daily for 15 minutes to knit the roots into the new soil. After 2 weeks of daily watering, back off on the water until you are watering weekly. You can apply organic fertilizers anytime you want to. Don't expect miracles at this time of year, but it all goes into the soil and does not leach away, so it's all good.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2007 at 12:47PM
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Keep your negativity in the chemical lawn forum dchall san antonio.

We are encouraging organic practices here to anyone who is interested, and lemonpeels, you have done much more than the average sod installer and it is going to pay off!

I was forced to have bluegrass installed with my new home and I could not till or disc or apply anything prior to install. You are, in my opinion, at least two years ahead of things by doing your prep work and choosing fescue compared to me.

Get the sod watered in, it is not to late for install, and begin with the organic program of your choosing.

This is not rocket science as many try to make it.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2007 at 6:45PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

vintageways: You see it as negative if you want. The next reader might see it and think, "Wow! I'm glad I didn't make those mistakes." Speaking as a bona fide former rocket scientist I can reaffirm that laying sod is not that tough. If lemonpeels had come here before starting, I would have suggested leveling the surface of the soil with a real tractor and box blade. That is what commercial landscapers use, certainly not a tiller. Nor do they mix anything into the soil unless the landowner absolutely insists. After scraping you put the sod down and roll it. It is a three step process: Scrape, lay, and roll. Simple. Now let's compare that to using the Navier-Stokes equations to derive a closed form solution to the aerodynamic flow field of a missile speeding along at Mach 30...or not.

I vehemently disagree that the original writer is ahead of you with his prep. I see it exactly the opposite. Lemonpeels' payoff will be in re-leveling his lawn for years to come. He says he tilled to 6-8 inches. Let's assume he is exactly correct. That means there is a 2-inch difference from high to low underground. The tiller covers all that firm rolling soil with light fluffy soil. When it settles back down, here comes the 2-inch difference back to haunt. It is not anyone's fault that there is a 2-inch difference. That is the nature of tilling and that is why it is a mistake for lawn prep. If you are churning up your vegetable beds, you'll never notice the difference, but in a lawn you will notice every time you mow. If (when) there are pockets of compost underground, when those fully decompose they will leave still more "holes" at the surface. In addition the decomposition process for the mushroom compost buried in the soil will rob nitrogen from the soil for at least a year. Tilling is lose-lose (expense and unsatisfactory results). Tilling in compost is lose-lose-lose-lose-lose (expense, expense, unsat results, robs nitrogen, and creates more holes). You (vintageways), on the other hand, will at least have a lawn permanently set at whatever level you started with, good soil structure, microbes already at home, low potential for unevenness, and a lot more cash in your wallet. All you need to do is water, mow, and fertilize.

I am going to predict that lemonpeels will have a very nice green lawn for a few weeks. When the roots hit the underlying soil I'm afraid the grass will start to yellow from lack of nitrogen. Please don't think it is due to the organic program. Whatever fertilizer you use next year, I think you will need more of it than your neighbors use to keep it green. I do believe that sticking with organics is your best bet for curing the problems to come. If you stick with it through the first year, you will be home free.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2007 at 3:52AM
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lemonpeels(z5 chicago)

dc...I appreciate your opinions as negative as they may be, however, i do not agree, as I did plenty of research prior to tilling and of the main problems with my prior lawn was construction compaction..which caused drainage problems, I am including a link to my sod farms instructions for installing sod, which states to till soil and then to roll , which is what i plan on doing..your comments do tend to border on negative and non-constructive, to predict that i will be suffering problems with my lawn in the future..If I do, that will be very sad, but at least you can be the one that told me so.....

    Bookmark   October 11, 2007 at 9:28AM
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Given the fact that you are going to be organically caring for the soil, consider these negative effects of deep tilling the soil: worms, arthropods and any fungal (mychorrizal especially) development is mostly destroyed and won't come back in just a couple weeks. The top layer of soil is mostly where they call home and definitely the worms and fungal structure aren't going to survive. I gotta vote no roto-till as the best route. Nothing against central sod but it is simply old practice to till the ground as it makes traditional but not scientific sense.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2007 at 10:14AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

I can find you any number of sites, books, magazine articles, and university studies that disagree with my opinion on tilling, so I cannot fault you for going with the mass opinion. My opinion is based on what I read here and other websites and on my college era experience working with a "finish grader," the guy who prepares the soil for the landscaper to come in and lay sod.

I also agree that my comments are in direct conflict with the course of action you are in the middle of. Thus they would certainly be read as negative from your perspective and at least harsh to many others, including vintageways. If I had nothing constructive to offer I would not have replied. I do not consider my comments to necessarily be constructive to you but hopefully informative for anyone else reading this thread with similar interest. I try to get into as much detail as is necessary to explain why I think my opinion is of value. Sometimes the detail is helpful and sometimes it is not. The reader can at least know why I think what I think.

Additionally I consider myself open to new ideas. I used to be a tilling kind of guy. I also used to aerate, mow short, bag my clippings, overuse compost, water daily, feed with Scott's, and use chemicals to kill the disease, weeds, and insects resulting from the improper management. If you come back in a year and none (or even any) of my predictions have come true, I'm going to ask you a lot of questions about the details, because you will be one whose experience differs enough to make me wonder about what I have learned here. Then I will be learning from you. It happens all the time. There's someone over on the lawns forum who seeded into tall grass and is getting excellent germination. I've never heard of that, but I trust he is not writing in just to troll. Could it be the conventional wisdom on seeding into scalped lawn is not quite correct? I want to know.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2007 at 10:35AM
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I'm going to add a dissenting voice in support of lemonpeel's methods so far. I disagree that tilling will necessarily create more problems than it solves. Compaction is one of the primary reasons turf grass applications suffer or do not thrive - compaction reduces the ability of turf grass roots to penetrate the indigenous soil and it will inevitably impact drainage. Tilling in OM is the best and most efficient method of reducing or eliminating soil compaction.

And I'd dispute the notion that adding mushroom compost or other composted OM will "tie up nitrogen" - that's a fallacy that is simply unsupported. Wood-based soil amendments (bark, sawdust, wood chips) incorporated into the soil may create an imbalance in nitrogen availablity as they are much harder to digest by soil organisms and take longer to breakdown. However, any type of composted OM will add to nitrogen availability to some degree. I also disagree that tilling, provided it was not overdone, will substantially destroy the the soil biology. Some disruption can be expected but as long as OM has been added, populations of beneficial soil organisms will regenerate rather rapidly, especially now as soil temperatures remain warm enough to encourage their proliferation. At this point in time, nitrogen availability is rather moot anyway, as root establishment rather than top growth is what is to be encouraged. Application of a supplemental nitrogen source can left until spring.

As to the unevenness of the finished lawn alluded to by others as a result of the tilling, that is also not necessarily a forgone conclusion. As long as the incorporation of amendments and tilling was done sufficiently in advance (1-2 weeks) to allow for settling and the lawn bed carefully raked to grade, any uneveness will be minimal.

IMO, lemonpeel is off to a very good start.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2007 at 11:03AM
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I didn't really see David's comments as being negative and nonconstructive.

If you had posted here before tilling, I would have advised against it as well. I didn't comment on the tilling after the fact simply because I saw it as water over the dam. I understand why you wanted to till and why you wanted to till in the compost, but as it settles and as the compost decomposes, it will almost definitely do so unevenly. Depending on how unevenly it settles, it may not be too difficult to correct. Some people correct it by raking the cores to low spots when they core aerate and others use a light top dressing of sand, since it will naturally flow to the lower spots.

When David was predicting some of the things he expects to happen (uneven lawn, yellowing of grass) he was doing that so you wouldn't blame the organics and switch after the first year. I'm not very familiar with mushroom compost, so I don't know for sure if it will rob nitrogen from the soil, but if it doesn't have enough nitrogen to feed the microbes digesting it, then it will rob nitrogen from the soil, which will cause yellowing. Depending on the starting pH of the soil, the mushroom compost may also cause yellowing due to iron deficiency. If the mushroom compost raised the pH too high, it will interfere with the ability of the grass to use iron. The soil may have plenty of iron, but it will be in a form that is not available to the plant.

What I'm trying to say is that you may have some yellowing grass from the mushroom compost next year, but you would have that whether you use chemical or organic fertilizers. By the following year, the conditions in the soil should be changed enough that the yellowing will go away. If you use an organic approach next year and get discouraged by the yellow grass, you might get discouraged and switch to chemicals. You'd see nice green grass the next year and might conclude that the difference was chemical vs organic. In fact, you'd likely see the same thing if you use chemicals next year and organic the following year. You're likely to have grass that is prone to yellowing next year, but things should be better the following year.

On a related note, in my earlier post, I said that I wouldn't apply lime without getting a soil test first. After thinking it through, I think I'd take that a step further and suggest that you wait a year before testing the soil since the mushroom compost could throw the results off now.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2007 at 11:05AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Although gardengal disagrees with my opinion, I think we agree that all does not have to be lost. There are ways to recover from the situation you are in, even in my most pessimistic view. However, by writing in one day saying you are going to sod the next, you didn't allow any time to make corrections. As she says you can minimize the effect of tilling by allowing time to work for you and settle the soft soil prior to sodding. I would suggest that if you were going to till, then the approach after tilling would be to level, water, let dry, level, water, let dry...until the surface is as smooth as you can make it. I would even suggest a regimen of roll, level, roll, level, roll, water, let dry, roll, level, roll, level, roll, water, let dry, and on like that until you have it where you are happy.

Or you could hire a tractor and box blade with rippers to come fix it for you. This involves more expense and more time. Had you not tilled the rippers would not be needed. Then the box blade would have scraped the surface and moved the minimum amount of soil to give you good surface drainage.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2007 at 2:49AM
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lemonpeels(z5 chicago)

ok, guys thanks for all the great feed back, the sod went in yesterday, a week after being tilled, and rolled several let me be proactive..knowing my situation...could you guys sketch out a plan for organic amendment this fall going into next year..very open to all opinions..I am considering brewing worm casting tea and using sbm, what would you guys do and on what time schedule?, and the more specific the better, I will post pictures monthly with details of the program that I embark it can be a helpful experiment for everyone. Thanks in advance

    Bookmark   October 12, 2007 at 9:00AM
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rcnaylor(z7 Tex)

What to do next?

Here is what I found on your area:
Chicago's average first freeze date: The average date of Chicago's first freezing temperature in the autumn varies considerably across the metropolitan area, occurring earliest in outlying areas and latest downtown. The range is from October 11 (O'Hare) to November 6 (Loop).

If you have until Nov 6, I'd put down 20 lbs of soybean meal now. If your first freeze is around the corner, I'd skip the organic fert and just go with next step. After your first hard freeze has put your lawn into dormancy, I'd apply 1 lb of nitrogen from a quick release fertilizer like urea. Then one application of an organic fertilzer late next spring and your done until next fall.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2007 at 10:16AM
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Out of the gate, make sure the sod gets plenty of water next season. My neighbor and I were on the same organic program since the day we moved into our houses in '04. I must say he watered with his irrigation system more than I thought was needed, but he never browned out and I did. We had bluegrass sod, and I do not have an irrigation system.

I've been making up for that water shortcoming since, and may have finally got back to 'normal' this year. I watered 5 times in my front lawn this year and was as green as the chemical, every other day watering guys on the block.

I have been aerating and overseeding turf-type tall fescue into my bluegrass every fall have not been browning out.

My overall plan is rather simple. 4 apps. in all
1)CGM 2)Chicken Poop 3)CGM 4)Chicken Poop

Keep in mind this program has worked very well for me, my budget and time. Do stick with the organic program that makes sense for you, it will work!

    Bookmark   October 12, 2007 at 1:48PM
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My overall plan is rather simple. 4 apps. in all
1)CGM 2)Chicken Poop 3)CGM 4)Chicken Poop

That'll work. I use alternating Milorganite (easy to get) and soybean meal (not so much but one trip a year does it) and have great results. Oh, plus one shot of alfalfa early in the season.

CGM/Chicken droppings would do the same.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2007 at 7:50AM
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