Monday, April 19, 2010

Not too bad

If it weren't me talking, I'd say that's a pretty nice looking lawn.

Let's hope it looks as good in the middle of August.

Friday, April 16, 2010

My worm tea is a chick magnet

You can't make this stuff up.

A bit of background. I am fortunate to live in a neighborhood of very attractive moms, The Mrs. included. In fact, I recently I suggested to her that we petition the town to change our street's name to "MILF Island."

And the other day I finally carved out some time to dig into the worm bin and see if I had enough compost to make a batch of tea. I did, as it turned out. The worms had completely vacated level one, as promised, and had moved on to new food supplies on the higher levels. They'd left me a good 10 lbs. or more of incredibly rich castings, seeded with a few uneaten eggshells. (They don't eat them, I learned, unless you grind them up first.)

So once I'd finished cleaning and rearranging the worm farm, I had my compost ready for a batch of tea. I was well prepared. I had a mesh bag from the homebrew supply store, an air pump and aerator from the aquarium supply store, a clean, new garbage can picked up with hardware store reward points and a nifty brass spray head that had recently arrived by mail. (Really well-made product and it shipped free.) Most folks mix up a few gallons of tea at a time but I knew I'd need more than that. Big lawn.

Although some recent research has debunked the conventional organic wisdom, most in the community agree that compost tea remains an important component of the organic lawn protocol. The whole lawn needs sprayed once a month during the growing season. It both fertilizes the grass the treats the soil, encouraging the growth of beneficial organisms that keep the soil healthy and boost natural disease resistance.

A few days later my big-pot-o-worm-tea was ready to spray. It was too windy but I learned too late that you have to plan your tea brewing carefully: the tea is good for only 24 hours or so, then the bacteria and other stuff growing in there starts to die off. So it was now or never, wind or no.

I assembled my tea bucket and sprayer and started on the first of my sixty gazillion square feet. That's when my next door neighbor's big Cadillac Escalade pulled up. She hopped out and made a bee line for me.

"Is that the worm tea?!"


"Omigod - that is so cool! I've been reading all about it! How does it work?!"

I could scarcely believe how excited she was. Way more than I. So I showed her the whole works, the spray head, the tea, the bucket - a salvaged kitty litter bin. She was beside herself.

"Hey," I said, brushing my hair off my forehead. Real cool and suave, like. "I'm gonna have extra worm tea. I made too much. You want what's left?"

She was like an eleven-year-old on Christmas morning. "But I don't have one of those spray thingies!"

I smiled and looked her right in the eye. "No prob, sweet pea. You can borrow mine."

Am I the King of the 'Burbs, or what?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A shout-out to Mike McGrath

Mike rocks. Period.

If you don't know him, you need to remedy that. Hear him weekends on your local NPR radio station. He's a complete goofball – a perennial pun purveyor and a real Philly guy. Mike doesn't tell you how to grow tomatoes. He tells you how to grow tah-may-tahs.

The best thing about Mike is that he's one smart cookie – and he's passionate about keeping chemicals out of America's yards and gardens.

If you can't get his radio show in your town, check out his amazing online archive. A veritable encyclopedia of gardening success.

Thanks, Mike!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Attack of the zombie dandelions

I like dandelions. I really do. They're miracles engines of life on earth. They're cute. They feed my neighbor's honeybees. They're nostalgic for me: I grew up picking and eating them with my Italian grandmother.

And they're tough little buggers that grow anywhere. They don't even need dirt. Take a dandelion seed, add rocks and a half a drop of water and in five minutes, you've got nifty yellow flowers.

I've dubbed 2010 the Year of the Dandelion. I guess all that snow and rain guaranteed every last seed would germinate this year. Never saw a year like it.

But I am a realist. I know I can't let them grow in my yard. Suburban etiquette and all. So I spend an hour a day (or more) yanking the buggers out by the roots. I fill a bucket with 10 or 20 pounds of them and dump them into the compost pile – the perfect blend of green and brown a compost pile loves.

One more reason I respect them – the photo at the top of this post. They knew they were in trouble, having been uprooted from their comfy lawn mooring. So they immediately went to seed in the compost bin. One last desperate act of procreation.

If a plant ever had indomitable spirit, it's the dandelion.

Well, I was wrong

Earlier I posted "Who needs a soil test when you have sheep sorrel?" I had just spread 16 million yards of leaf compost (at least that's how my arms felt) and the sheep sorrel was popping up everywhere.

Tukey's voice in my head: "read your weeds." Sheep sorrel is acid-loving, an indication your pH is low. It dovetailed with my preconceived notions about my soil, reinforcing the tale I'd heard from friend after friend after neighbor for years: in south Jersey, he soil's so acidic, you can't overlime.

We were all wrong. Tukey's voice again: "get the soil test."

Went down to my county Extension Service and picked up my $20 dirt bag. Seriously, it's a little canvas bag you stuff with soil and send off to Rutgers University for testing. And you don't even need a box - the Post Office sends it as is. Pretty cool.

About two weeks later, the test results arrived. And these words jumped out at me:
pH: 7.45 Very slightly alkaline, indicative of overliming.
Yikes! Here I was liming spring and fall – heeding the conventional wisdom – and I actually pushed the pH high.

The problem: high pH limits the availability of key minerals, including copper, manganese and boron. The good news – the report recommends "Amendment with organic matter is the best long-term solution ..." Bingo. That would be ... compost tea. The problem will take care of itself with time. And there's a bright side. I can skip the fall liming which will satisfy my lazy side.

Lesson: get the soil test. It might surprise you.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Awesome tools - Rittenhouse

These guys have some pretty cool toys for organic turf farmers, including propane heat and torch devices for weed control, no-bend weed diggers, salt injectors and more.

Check it.