Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The magical fall comeback

I didn't post all summer for one reason. I was ticked off.

Spring wasn’t too bad. The dandelions were less numerous this year and the crabgrass seemed more manageable.

Then midsummer came along. Hot, dry, hotter and drier. Did I mention it was hot and dry?

Attempting to avoid a repeat of 2010, I had a mid-summer application of corn gluten meal ready to go. Before the crabgrass took over the neighbor’s lawns, I had it down. Thought I'd nipped it in the bud.

I was wrong. I might have well flushed $100 down the commode, or so I thought. The crabgrass spread like Britney Spears Twitter gossip, in spite of my corn gluten vigilance.

It was a dark moment in my organic lawn journey. After 24 months of toil, way too much money and countless weekends lost to lawn labor ... my lawn looked about the same as it did when the chemical squad was spraying and salting my yard with nasty herbicides, insecticides and other miscellaneous life-icides.

I'll be perfectly honest, I was ready to throw in the towel in this folly of an organic lawn experiment and buy some big-ass bags of cheap-ass chemical weed-&-feed for spring.

Just thinking about the lawn put me in a dark mood. I harbored fantasies of to sending Tukey email to give him a piece of my mind and calling Mike McGrath on his radio show to yell at him.

Of course, I wouldn’t do either of those things, no matter how angry I got. First, my mom didn’t raise any pinheads and second, it’s a lawn, for God’s sake. It’s not the kind of thing that warrants that kind of emotional expenditure.

So I stewed and plotted. I had a compromise planned. Come spring, I’ll go to the turf warehouse and by some straight pre-emergent, without herbicide. Maybe that way I could get a jump on the crabgrass without killing the clover I’d so carefully encouraged for the past two years. At least the crabgrass was green, albeit the wrong green.

Then something uncanny happened. By August, when the hottest part of summer was over, the lawn transformed itself. As the crabgrass died off, new growth of good grass and clover replaced it. Little by little, the days grew shorter, the nights grew cooler – and the lawn got greener.

This is what a healthy lawn is supposed to do. But here’s the news flash: it had never happened here before. Any other year, the crabgrass took over all summer. When it died, come fall, it left a brown desert in its place. When the chem-squad was showing up every other month to spread poison, they were killing the soil. Dead soil, dead lawn – every fall, like clockwork.

As I was plotting revenge fantasies against Tukey and McGrath for leading me astray, watching the crabgrass race across the lawn, the roots of the good grass were feeding and growing below. As soon as Mother Nature took the crabgrass out of the picture, the lawn bounced back – like a champ.

That’s big. And unprecedented.

Sorry, Paul. Sorry, Mike. Sorry for doubting you. Sorry for muttering unkind things about you, under my breath. You guys are OK in my book. I'm glad I hung in there.

Thank God I never sent that e-mail.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Again with the corn gluten meal

Last year we were caught with our pants down. By Independence Day the crabgrass was going completely nuts in the yard.

Mid-season around here, there's a big bloom of newly germinated crabgrass. It's obvious thanks to the bright, kelly-green color. I think it's this guy, but not entirely sure. And it's everywhere. Every lawn, empty lot and roadside. I even pulled some from a discarded flowerpot yesterday.

My lawn is pretty diverse right now - all kinds of wonderful turf crops and herbs sprawling out there. The perfect cover to hide the new blades of crabgrass. I never even saw them.

But up the street - a blue-green carpet of chemical-induced monoculture. Not so diverse. And smack in the middle, a patch of bright green crabgrass. That was my sentinel moment. It's a few weeks early - thanks to an uncharacteristic heat wave last week, I suspect.

Back to the seed store. Fortunately they still had a few bags of meal. And on to the lawn. The weather cooperated perfectly. It started drizzling as I was spreading and rained nice and steady for several hours thereafter. Mother nature watered it in for me. Today's going to be dry - the perfect cycle for corn gluten activation. It won't kill what's already sprouted but at least it will put the cabash on any new seedlings.

Keeping my fingers crossed.

Year Two: Diversity

I don't know if this is wrong, right or "other." But it looks beautiful to me.

At least four species in this one small patch of lawn: the fescue I planted and three soil-improving legumes. Midway through our year-two growing season, they are pumping nitrogen into the soil, so we don't have to.
All "weeds" according to conventional market hype (and the neighbors). Fortunately, once you join the ranks of organic turf farmers, you no longer have to swallow market hype.

The neighbors? I placate them with free homemade beer. That salves their grumbling. :-)