Early Application of Organic Fertilizers on Turf

Discussion in 'Organic Gardening' started by Landscaper, Mar 19, 2009.

  1. Landscaper

    Landscaper Member

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    Not long ago I had an interesting talk with one of the professors from Oregon State University regarding the issue of whether or not to apply nitrogen to turf late in the season in an effort to help grass survive and come out from a long freeze. As an alternative to this practice, he mentioned that an organic fertilizer such as Milorganite could be applied very early in the season, and because of its dark color it would tend to heat up the soil necessary to provide the needed nutrients.

    I’m a bit unsure whether doing this would really make a whole lot of difference, however I’m all ears to opinions. At any rate, out of curiosity I’ll experiment with this on a section of my own turf…
     
  2. bob 2

    bob 2 Active Member

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    Hard to answer you directly as we still have 1-2 feet of snow over the grass here and deal each year with snow mold.
    Where did you say you were located?

    Bob
     
  3. Millet

    Millet Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    Because Milorganite works sooooo slowly, the time period of continued nutrient release, will feed your grass well into the middle of spring. Milorganite works by retention of the nutrents plus certain tace minerals not found in most synthetic fertilizers. With the thermophilic process that Milorganite goes through, obviously the microbes, good and bad, are burned away in the 1,000 degree F incinerator to remove most harmful bacteria associated with the activated human sewage sludge process.
    What occurs in the soil is a repopulation of specific bacteria which is needed to convert the nutrition found in Milorganite while increasing the bacterial count. This is why Milorginate is so slow to activate. I would think it should work well enough for your grass, even at this time of year.- Millet (1,402-)
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2009
  4. greengarden bev

    greengarden bev Active Member

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    re: heating up soil through application of dark-coloured topdress...

    I don't have any specific experience doing this, but the Amish around here scatter wood ash on their snow-covered kitchen gardens, to speed the melt. They get the added benefit of the potassium and calcium.

    My opinion on early- vs. late-season N for turf: the harshest stress on turfgrass is from summer heat and drought, not from winter cold, at least around here. Our springs are short, winters are variable, and summers are HOT. A pre-summer topdress will help a lawn prepare for the stress; a fall dress will help it recover from the stress. Better to prepare than recover, I think.

    (I'm not saying that you should use a lot of early-season N so you can keep the grass green through the late summer heat/dormancy period. I let grass go dormant as it should. )

    If you've got a lot of the really deep-rooted, drought-resistant species (certain fescues and ryes) in your mix, your turf might just sail through heat and drought, so it wouldn't matter so much when you fertilize.

    Just checked out Milorganite. NPK of 6 2 0-- for N, a little will go a long way. Applying it at the recommended rate (a 30 lb bag per 1000 sq ft = ~2 lbs N) will not give you the dark, heat-absorbing covering you're looking for. Even at the twice that rate, which is the maximum annual N recommended for lawns, the cover would still be pretty sparse.

    Also, to grow really stress-busting turf, the roots, not top growth, should get the attention. At the risk of oversimplifying things, N is for the top growth; root development and overall "robustness" arise from nutrients other than N, assuming adequate amounts of N for overall metabolism. So the Milorganite alone, which is not complete or balanced, might not be your best choice for stress-beating turf.

    Just some thoughts.
     
  5. bob 2

    bob 2 Active Member

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    I took a quick tour of the website and this bacterial sludge seems quite dependent on high heat, high-energy, high-pressures and some chemical intervention in order to turn it into a usable product.
    Unless they are getting their heat for free it would not make it as a "green" product despite it's origins.

    It seems like lot of work to go through in order to produce a product with a stated value of 6-2-0 (6% by weight nitrogen)
    I suppose it can't hurt anything but I can't see the economy of it.

    It is a great way for the city to get rid of it's sludge however.
    Bob
     
  6. Landscaper

    Landscaper Member

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    All of you have very interesting comments. Bob, I am just on the east side of the Cascades at the 4000 foot elevation, within the ponderosa forest, and also in the grey and pink snow mold territory.

    If methane gas from sewage waste could be used to heat and process the sludge that is turned into Milorganite, then perhaps we could qualify it as being green.

    I’m skeptical, like Greengarden Bev, whether the recommended application rate would be enough to create that heat absorbing covering. However I suppose that if the Amish scatter wood ash to speed up the melting process, then undoubtedly I could try the same but with Milorganite added. I see that may be one more test bed I’ll have to prepare…
     
  7. bob 2

    bob 2 Active Member

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    Landscaper, we are about 2500 feet above sea level but blessed with bright cloudless skies for most of the year.
    I tend to leave my own grass long in the fall and also leave the thatch and leaves on until the ground is cold but not frozen. When I pull the debris off the grass seems to spring back very quickly. I have done this for about 20 years . Each spring I aerate the lawn to about 4 inches then keep it cut rather long for the summer.
    It seems a healthy as my neighbours who have professional care with liquid fertilizers.

    p.s. I'm not above spot spraying mecoprop once a season but no weed and feed as it's too generalised and will run off to easy.

    p.s. if you try out the Milorganite I hope you can post your experineces here.

    Bob
     
  8. Landscaper

    Landscaper Member

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    And Bob, you’re also blessed with one very big mall to keep you out from those bright cloudless skies!

    My fear is that some rather safe chemicals such as Mecoprop (MCPP) could end up being restricted or banned, such as how 2,4-D has been in Ontario. Just like pseudoephedrine, chemicals like 2,4-D, MCPP, or glyphosate that is found in Roundup, could suddenly vanish from our shelves. The problem is that abuse and misuse often leads to no use.

    Yesterday I prepared a few small test plots, one area prepared with wood ash along with Milorganite, another just with Milorganite, and then one more control area with nothing. I’m thinking that by mid April I should be able to see whether or not there is any difference in these areas.

    FWIW, quite a bit of the wood ash that I used was rather light in color, however some ash that still contained organic matter was dark, like charcoal.
     
  9. bob 2

    bob 2 Active Member

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    I just heard this morning that Health Canada issued a ban on "No Damp".
    It's been around for about 120 years with virtually no human impact.
    I have to wonder when the madness will stop.

    p.s. the mall is for tourists and it seems to work well.
    locals don't care that much for it.
    Cheers

    Bob

    "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be
    the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under
    omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep,
    his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our
    own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of
    their own conscience." -- Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963)
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2009
  10. Millet

    Millet Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    It constantly amazes Americans, the vast number of common every day chemicals considered safe in this country, even considered benign by many, that are routinely made unavailable to the Canadian people by their government. - Millet (1,398-)
     
  11. cowboy

    cowboy Active Member

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    An interesting observation. My initial thought is that it might relate to the different styles of health care offered.
     
  12. bob 2

    bob 2 Active Member

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    Interesting topic albeit not directly related to this one.

    There must surely be some reliable statistics on birth/death rates and duration of illnesses we could look at to see if indeed the two systems are functioning as they should.
    Personally, I find it difficult to pull the rhetoric away long enough to examine the facts. ;-)



    Bob
     
  13. Landscaper

    Landscaper Member

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    Update.. Current results of experimental test beds show a noticeable difference between the Milorganite with wood ash fertilized area and the area fertilized with only Milorganite, however little difference if any from only Milorganite and the unfertilized area. Interesting?

    Now the question comes up why Milorganite with wood ash may help. Since wood ash contains very little nitrogen we can rule that out. It does contain potassium and minor elements good for plant growth, however nothing that would likely produce immediate results. And while ash can change the soils pH slightly, as if adding lime, I can’t help but to disregard this as a factor that would lead to greening up turf. Could it act as a catalyst?

    Finally, two important variables that need to be weighed into this matter are that until just recently soil temperatures have been at or very close to freezing with little available moisture. The turf was not irrigated, which is typical for this time of year in this area. Since Milorganite is 85% slow release and breaks down with moisture, it could be that in dry winter areas where the ground is frozen its timely usefulness could be negated.
     
  14. bob 2

    bob 2 Active Member

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    Landscaper, it looks like we may have to wait for a few more degrees of heat and some moisture to guage the effects of these combos.
    I hope you can find the time to give us an update when that happens.

    Regards
    Bob
     
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2009
  15. Landscaper

    Landscaper Member

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    Okay... at this point in time I should have formulated some sort of conclusion whether or not an early application of organic fertilizer does indeed help a lawn recover from it's winter sleep. Notice that I said that "I should" have formulated a conclusion, however I'm still a bit perplexed why the organic fertilizer alone did not produce noticeable results and yet when wood ash was applied with it the turf certainly greened up quicker. All I can say is that I need to try this again next year. Perhaps I'll have someone else try it as well.

    I think that my test was foiled a bit because of the weather, and likely not so much because of the temperatures but rather because there were a number of days following the application of fertilizer that were dry. My feeling is that more moisture was needed to activate the fertilizer. And I ask myself, "Okay, so how would wood ash help with this?" Next year, as crazy as it may look, I may have to venture out into the freezing weather and give the turf a bit of water. You can never tell what the weather will produce here; snow flurries yesterday but temperatures will be above 80 this weekend... Yeah, some plants hate that!
     
  16. bob 2

    bob 2 Active Member

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    One of the things that has always baffled me is how much the soil temperature and available light have to do with waking up plants from dormancy.
    The only thing done differently with this test was the application of wood ash which by virtue of its dark colour could have transfered heat to the emerging grasses .
    Is there an easy method to measure that next year?

    Bob
     
  17. Millet

    Millet Well-Known Member 10 Years

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    Wood ash is commonly added to soils to raise a low pH, but also adds small amounts of calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and sulfur. The exact amounts of these minerals is variable and hard to determine determining of the type of wood. Wood ash is about two-thirds as effective as ground limestone in raising a low (acid) pH. Another advantage is that wood ashes spread around the base of plants can also keep slugs at bay. Ever notice in the barrow ditches along the road side after a fire, how dark green the re-growth is of new vegetation that emerges up through the ashes ? - Millet (1,347-)
     
  18. bob 2

    bob 2 Active Member

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    Millet, I always thought that was Magic! <g>
    Come to think of it...


    Cheers

    Bob
     

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