Our lawns are about as unnatural an ecosystem as you're ever going to find. And by "unnatural," I mean you're just not going to find anything similar anywhere in nature.
Tell me where you're going to find several thousand square feet of Kentucky Bluegrass, neatly contained with sharp edges, kept at a length of 2-3 inches at all times, with no other vegetation allowed to penetrate the borders. Short answer: No where! Not in the woods, not in the rain forest, not in the desert, not in the tropics, not even on the prairie. Oh sure, there are pastures, where animals graze on grass, but there's nothing quite like a lawn anywhere outside our yards. It's entirely a man-made construct.
Lawns as we know them-- closely-cut areas of grass-- first emerged in 17th century England, where they were a status symbol of the aristrocracy. The nobility could show off that they could afford land that contained neither buildings nor food. The lawn was born as a recreational area, which is what remains today. Sort of a shag carpeting for outdoor living.
But no matter how you slice it, it ain't natural. Now don't get me wrong, I enjoy having a lush green lawn as much as the next All-American homeowner, but the standards we have set for our lawns have become nearly unsustainable. Anything less than a uniform blanket of perfectly green grass blades is seen as an ugly failure.
And that's why we've become so reliant on chemicals. If it's not brilliantly green from April until November? Failure. If clover appears? Failure. If success isn't instant? Failure. But those chemical fertilizers, are actually killing your yard's plant life because those chemicals are killing the microorganisms and fungi and bugs in your soil. Those critters are vital to a healthy ecosystem. Our planet thrived because of those critters long before chemical fertilizers arrived on the scene.
Not putting those chemicals on your lawn this year would be the first step toward restoring life to your soil.
But here's the thing: Just stopping the chemicals won't necessarily give you society's version of a perfect lawn. Why? Because lawns require a lot of nutrients, and they take a lot of abuse from foot traffic and pets and mother nature (winters, droughts, etc). Those nasty chemical fertilizers are one option to give your lawn the nutrients it needs, but as I said, the chemicals actually do more damage than good. They weaken the roots, they compact the soil, they cause thatch, they cause your lawn to become chemically dependent, they pollute the environment and can make you and your pets sick.
So while getting rid of the chemicals will slowly allow those vital microorganisms to return to your soil, there probably will never be enough of them naturally-occurring in your soil to give you that "wow" lawn.
So what do we do at Good Sweet Earth to make our lawn look great, without adding chemicals to it? We apply Worm Tea as an organic microbial soil drench-- Worm Tea has billions of those beneficial microorganisms and fungi living and breathing in one teaspoonful. Imagine what regularly applying Worm Tea to your yard could do for your soil! It could increase the amount of those wonderful microorganisms a thousandfold, or more, in just one season of regular applications!
And why is that important? Because those microorganisms break down organic matter in lawn-- clippings, leaves, worm castings, compost-- and release nutrients into your soil for your lawn to soak up. Worm Tea is like delivering billions of nutrient factories straight to your lawn.
So to reiterate: those microorganisms will always exist in a chemical-free lawn, but there probably won't ever be enough to sustain a truly healthy lawn all year. To get that healthy lawn, you need healthy soil, and to get soil healthy and nutrient-rich enough to sustain a beautiful lawn, you need to infuse it with more microorganisms! Worm Tea does it.
Contact us if you're interested in infusing your soil with billions of those wonderful nutrient factories this year, or read more about what it can do for your lawn.
March and April are frustrating months for gardeners in west Michigan. If you’ve been dreaming of getting your garden in the ground, but you look out the window and see snow in your yard, then now is the perfect time to put your dreams on paper. Every successful gardener has a list of what they want to grow that year so that they know they'll have the space for every plant. Are you new to gardening and wonder what grows well here in Michigan? Well wonder no more; here are the basics:
Most summer gardens here in Michigan have the staples of cucumbers, tomatoes, and zucchini. Sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, and green beans also grow well here. If you are looking to plant earlier than mid-May think lettuce, snap peas, kale, and carrots. Your options for vegetables are really endless, which makes gardening in Michigan very exciting!
Do you have fruits on your list this year? Strawberries and blueberries do well in Michigan. Cherry and apple trees are also Michigan staples. Watermelons and muskmelons also do well if you have a large enough area or grow smaller varieties up a trellis.
If flowers are more your passion, then you are in luck too. Zinnia, marigolds, cosmos, salvia, sunflowers, and petunia are all beautiful annuals (they come up once, then die). If perennials (they come up year after year) are what you are after try coneflowers, Lenten roses, black-eyed susans, allium, sedum, Russian sage, or asters.
Once you know what you want to grow, map it out, put it on paper. Then when the weather starts to improve, its time to get dirty. Happy gardening.
West Michigan yard farmers: For questions on gardening, or if you'd like to go organic in your garden this year, drop Master Gardener Corey Veldheer a line at Corey@GoodSweetEarth.com. We also offer a Garden Consultation Service to help you navigate through an entire growing season; for more info click here.
When I think of farmers of the 19th and early-20th centuries, I think of simple, honest, noble and humble people. When I think of farmers of the late 20th and 21st centuries, one of the first thing that pops into many people's heads are chemical-spewing, soil-destroying, government-lobbying, labor-abusing corporate farming businessmen.
Now don't get me wrong, I know there are still family farmers working the land the correct way-- right here in west Michigan-- but for the most part, we have corporations playing the role of "farmer" in America today. Tens of thousands of acres, producing crops that we don't really need, with genetically-modified seeds, using chemicals that are bad for the environment, and killing pests and diseases that only exist because they've destroyed the natural order of things. And then there's Monsanto-- a seed company that actually forbids farmers from collecting and saving their seeds for the next year. A company that sues farmers when "their" seeds blow from one farm to another.
This is just the epitome of arrogant human behavior. And these practices are destroying our farms and our soil. Soil, mind you, that took up to 1,000 years to develop. Soil, that once it's wiped out, is gone for good. This "money first" approach to farming is the total opposite of the image of the humble farmer-- being a steward of the land, working his or her soil with care and compassion.
And you know what? Humility and farming should go hand-in-hand. The word humility actually derives from the word humus-- which is soil. The Latin noun humilis means "grounded" or "from the earth."
So that's how we need to approach farming and gardening-- with humility. That means before we enjoy the flowers, or bite into those strawberries, or share our abundance of zucchini with the neighbors, we need to do right by our soil. We need to humbly approach our gardens, and realize that good crops don't come from a bottle or a chemical lab. Good crops come from good soil.
That means no synthetic chemical fertilizers. They kill the microorganisms that our plants need to survive and thrive. Humble farmers for thousands of years provided nutrients to their crops by way of compost. We should too.
That means no synthetic chemical pesticides. Humble farmers for thousands of years dealt with pesky and destructive pests without chemicals. We should too. There are always organic ways.
That means no synthetic chemical herbicides. Humble farmers for thousands of years dealt with weeds by picking them and by having healthy soil. We should too.
That means using compost, peat, Biochar, Worm Compost, clean soil, ground up egg shells, coconut coir to condition the soil and provide water retention and aeration.
If you're going to be a gardener, if you're going to be an urban or suburban farmer, focus on the soil, be grounded, be mindful of the earth in which you're sowing your seeds. Humility-- it's really understanding that humans don't always do things better than the rest of creation.
Steve & Corey Veldheer are organic yard & garden specialists in west Michigan.