Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lovely Unnecessary Lawns

I’ve been thinking a lot about grass. My horses also (presumably) think a lot about it. They’re disappointed so far this year because our pasture grass has not truly begun to grow yet. Another frost this morning is just adding to our very late, very cold spring. I stand at the fence and study the grass and worry about it. The grass is the main food source for my critters all summer. Our winter hay ran out early because we had two solid months of snow-covered ground. My hay guy and neighbor keeps bringing me what he can, but it is increasingly less attractive as he digs deep into the recesses of his barn for hay baled nearly a year ago. I toss out a few flakes and the horses sniff it before walking up the hill in search of better food, only to return soon after to pick through the hay. When you’re hungry you’ll eat almost anything.

My husband and two of my kids returned late Saturday night (actually early Sunday morning) from a work project in Honduras. They were helping to build homes for the homeless in a remote village in the mountains where prosperity is judged by whether or not you have any chickens. I asked my son how the food was during their 9 day stay and he said, “I’ve learned to be a lot less picky about my food.”

The horses are figuring this out too while we wait for the grass to grow. I sent a soil sample off to Penn State for analysis and found out that my pasture soil has a perfect ph, plenty of nitrogen, but is low in phosphorus.  This will require a custom blend of fertilizer which is probably more money than I’m willing to throw at this problem. This led to some research on fertilizers.

Did you know that Americans use 90 million pounds of fertilizers and 78 million pounds of pesticides on their lawns each year? And nobody is even depending on that grass for survival. In light of the stories and pictures from my kids’ experience in Honduras, that seems grossly excessive. Those fertilizers do make the grass bright green, but they also contaminate rivers and streams and eventually drinking water. There is a creek at the bottom of my hill and every time it rains we watch as a steady torrent of water runs from our pasture, down our driveway, across the road to the stream below. If I were to apply the fertilizer I’m considering, how much of it would land in Deer Creek? And is it really worth it?

Besides making the grass bright green and contaminating local water, fertilizer also makes it grow faster which means you must cut it more often. For a lawn service, this is a boon. You pay them to fertilize and then pay them more to cut that fast growing green grass. Cutting your grass more often increases your carbon footprint. Gas-powered mowers give off as much pollution as 11 cars.  

Fertilize? Don’t fertilize? That is the question. We’ve decided to let the grass do what it can with that perfect ph in our soil. It’s not worth the risk. Maybe the horses will have to wait a little longer this year, but it will be here.

If you’re concerned about the effects of your lawn on your environment, here’s a few suggestions –
Don’t apply chemical pesticides. There are more organic lawn services and organic lawn products popping up each year. If you can’t live without a ultra-green lawn, consider investigating organic, non-toxic lawn care options. You can make your own compost tea by diluting compost with water (about 10-1 water to compost) and letting it sit in the sun for a few days or longer. This powerful fertilizer works better in trials than chemical fertilizers and strengthens your grass more deeply reducing the need for fertilizers. 

Don’t cut your grass so often. No one’s playing golf on your lawn. Cut your grass low, but then let it grow longer between cuttings. I do the same thing with my bangs – I ask the hairdresser to cut them shorter than she’d like so I can go longer between trims. Just think – if you cut your grass even one less time this year, it will be the equivalent of taking 11 cars off the road.

Before you blindly apply any fertilizer, have your soil analyzed so you can apply only what you need.
Reduce the square footage of your lawn by putting in vegetable gardens or planting trees and bushes. To me, lawns are like the knick-knacks that cover your shelves and create more work for you when it’s time to dust. Less lawn = less work.

One more thing to consider when caring for your lawn – take a page out of my son’s book and be less picky. How perfect does your lawn need to be? Once you put it in perspective you might decide to spend your time and money in more beneficial pursuits.

(The cats are not concerned about the grass growing)


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  2. Hey there great article I had a similar PH problem with my soil. I had had some trouble in the past with PH issue and last season I got some PH soil testing from Tomlinson Bomberger and I found it extremely helpful for this year! II'd recommend other people test before taking rash actions against their lawns. Also, my cat prefers to EAT my new grass instead of lounging in it and that drives me nutz. Thanks for the post- I liked the article a lot! If anyone else out there is reading and is thinking about soil testing : these guys were excellent and I had a great experience with them- they have a blog too that has a TON of great lawn tips!

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