Is your lawn organic? (Think barefoot kids and wild salmon)

Don’t you just love wriggling your toes on green grass? Me, too. Until one summer day in the park. Picture this: Several boys playing frisbee in the park. Barefoot. The kids were having fun. But yikes! They were romping on grass treated with chemicals. We’ve all seen it. What to do?

I’ll share the best lawn fertilizer money can’t buy. What’s more, it’s our favorite way to jumpstart a lawn and maintain it—without the use of chemicals. In Kodiak, Alaska no less.

If we can do it, you can do it, too.

Believe me. It took some experimenting. After all, we live in a temperate rainforest. What’s more, the soil is acidic, sticky, and lacks organic matter. Oh, did I mention volcanic ash?

Still, the method I’m about to share is simple. And I’m confident it will work for your patch of green.

Let’s dig in.

We started our lawn from seed on a base of peat moss, shredded kelp, and compost. Your lawn probably differs. No worries.

Guests staying at our Cliff House Bed and Breakfast marveled at our green lawn. And yes, you’d be right to say that it takes work. Our lawn must withstand heavy rain, snow, moisture-sucking winds, and freeze-thaws. Plus the pressure of many footprints.

Footprints like visitors, kids, grandkids, and dogs.

Sound familiar?

Let’s start at the very beginning…

Green lawn care: Spring greening

Spring arrives. It’s natural to grab a rake and start cleaning up winter debris. Twigs, branches, spruce cones, plastic toys, dog poop. Warning: Be gentle.

Give it a light combing with a leaf rake. And step lightly. Treading on a soggy lawn it one of the worst things you can do. Better to wait until the turf has dried out and the ground is not mushy.

Here’s the deal. When you walk on a soggy lawn, you squeeze out the air between soil particles. Air pockets are critical to soil health. Without air “highways”, water and nutrients can’t reach the root zone. Water forms puddles. Then one day, you look at your lawn and wonder, “Why does it look so pathetic?”

Remember, turf grass thrives on the same kind of soil in your garden: Rich, well-drained soil, high in organic matter.

You may have guessed, but perfect, well-drained soil doesn’t come naturally in Kodiak, Alaska!

So we had to create our own. And that’s what I want to share with you.

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What is the best lawn fertilizer?

It’s easy being green. Whether you apply organic or chemical fertilizers. There are differences, however.

Organic fertilizers enrich the soil which improves aeration and root growth. Which means your lawn:

  • Survives drought and extreme weather conditions
  • Holds onto nutrients longer
  • Requires less maintenance

Sounds good?

Here’s an important lawn care tip: HOW you mow your lawn makes a big difference. Keep your mower blades sharp and leave your grass 3 inches longer. This improves your lawn’s health because the leaves of longer grass have more access to sunlight, which helps the grass grow thicker and create deeper roots.

Chemical fertilizers turn your grass an enticing, Day-Glo green. But at a price.

Chemical fertilizers:

  • Wash away in heavy rains
  • The toxic runoff ends up in lakes, streams, and oceans
  • Create a toxic playground for kids and pets
  • Have been linked to cancer and poisonings. Kids are higher-risk

Unfortunately, most Americans follow a “more is better” attitude. Overfertilizing to the tune of 3 million tons per year. This damages soil by killing beneficial microorganisms, worms, and fungi with toxic salt buildup.

With an organic lawn, you’re not simply putting down fertilizers four times a year; you’re initiating cultural practices to nurture life in the soil, and in turn, the soil sustains the grass.
~ Paul Tukey, author of  The Organic Lawn Care Manual

The one simple tip for every lawn

Guess what? I have nothing to sell you. Except for the happy thought of you enjoy a lawn that’s green, easy to maintain, organic, and safe for kids and pets.

Here’s the simple tip: Spread sifted organic matter on your lawn.

That’s right.

A couple inches, more or less, is all it takes.

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How often?

We do this twice a year when the lawn is relatively dry. Then add water. Rain or sprinkler.

What to spread?

No exact science here. It depends on what’s available in your location. In coastal Alaska, the list includes:

  • Spreading a combo of peat moss and compost, or
  • One part peat moss to 3 bags steer or cow manure, or
  • Finished compost plus sifted kelp, or
  • A manure-compost blend

Well-aged manure is like a good wine

You can also mix in:

  • Soybean meal
  • Cottonseed meal
  • Dried molasses
  • Well-aged manure–like a good wine!
  • Finely shredded leaves (leaf mulch)
  • Compost

Blend ingredients in a wheelbarrow. Then dump it on the lawn. That’s right.

Spread it with the backside of a steel rake. Or broadcast it by the shovelful, as if feeding chickens. Then spread it around with a leaf rake with a combing, fluffing action.

Needless to say, your lawn will look horrible for a while. Maybe a couple weeks. The neighbors will think you’re crazy.

Then something magic happens. New, green shoots emerge and the brown stuff settles into the ground and disappears.

Your lawn will be ten times healthier. You don’t have to worry about your kids running around barefoot. And the neighbors will stop whispering behind your back.

Now it’s your turn.

Thanks for visiting. I hope this article is helpful.

Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska, Kodiak Island

P.S. I’d love to know what changes you make to lawn care. Drop a note below…

P.P.S. I’ve written a general overview of organic gardening: Organic gardening tips | Cool climate gardening | Alaska gardening tips

Marion Owen is a “Jill of All Trades,” with 30 years of experience as a teacher and columnist. She’s on a mission to help busy people enhance their daily lives. How? She “Readers’ Digests” topics such as photography, cooking, and organic gardening. Get her free 4-page “In Good Light: Photo Tips for Busy People” and feel recharged when taking pictures.

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0 thoughts on “Is your lawn organic? (Think barefoot kids and wild salmon)”

  1. Marion,
    Peat moss on acid soil?
    Visit your favorite coffee merchant and work a deal to cart off all their spent coffee grounds. Then mix the grounds with an equal amount of cracked corn, sometime called screenings. It’s like coarse corn meal. Spread this on the lawn. Then add a few hundred night crawlers, or whatever native worms you might have, here and there and everywhere. The living rototillers will multiply and enrich the soil better than almost any other method. They will plow miles of tiny air/water passageways, bringing nourishment deep into the soil.
    Daryle Thomas
    UVM EMG ’94

    1. Hi Daryl!
      Greetings from Kodiak… Yes, a little bit of peat moss when mixed with compost or other organics works just fine to hold moisture and provide tilth. Since it breaks down so quickly we consider it a jumpstart and one-time use. And yes, I LOVE to use coffee grounds. We run them through the compost. As for nighcrawlers, they are truly the unsung heroes of the soil. Great visual, the “living rototillers.” Humans would die without them, I’m sure. How much of a lawn do you have?

      1. Actually,Marion, not much.
        The bank is doing its best to foreclose. I am accepting unsolicited prayers that I will win a bit more than enough in the lottery and send the bums packing.
        I do a fair amount of consulting … OPL, other people’s lawns. I’ve got an idea for growing food year around and preserving it. I am not opposed to allowing people to give me money to teach them how to grow what they eat. Much of Vermont’s “fresh” food travels about 50 hours from California behind a PeterBuilt. By the time it’s on the store shelf, another two days have past. With California drying up, there will be fewer leaves of lettuce at much higher prices. Stepping out one’s back door into one’s own green house to pluck a salad for dinner just makes more sense. It’s a perfect way to retire and live off the land … the fiddleheads should be out sometime this month.

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