A Nature Based Approach to Lawn Care
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Have you ever wondered how plants managed to grow and thrive before humans began feeding them fertilizers?
For over 400 million years, soil microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes, collectively called soil microbes) have lived in symbiosis with plants, providing them with water and nutrients. In return the plants provide food for the microbes in the form of sugars released from their roots. These sugars nurture and sustain the microbes which in turn allow the microbes to nurture and sustain the plant while reengineering the soil around their roots to build better and deeper plant root habitat. Creating a self-reinforcing, self-sufficient cycle, with plant benefits that stack year on year. The whole of this system is called the soil food web.
It is the foundation of all land ecosystems around the planet and has been the backbone of plant success long before humans were ever around to fertilize them. Many of our desirable landscape plants, including turf grasses are designed to participate in this web, but unfortunately this web is now broken in the vast majority of our landscape soils. When you sever the links between plant and microbes, the whole web breaks down. Like a tower, if you remove its base everything above it comes crashing down. Leaving us with little choice other than to chemically feed our turf grass.
A fully functioning soil food web provides many services to our plants, including ample water and nutrients, pest and disease suppression, and soil conditions that aren’t conducive to weed growth. Without the support from the soil microbes turf health is greatly diminished. The symptoms of the problem below ground appear visually, above ground with a lawn that is weak in color, vigor, density and more prone to disease and weeds. We treat these symptoms year after year with fertilizers, herbicides, and other chemicals. They do a great job addressing these above ground symptoms but do nothing to cure the underlying problem. These methods of symptom management provide no accruing benefits, and never come with the promise of needing less in the future. Soil microbes are constantly trying to reestablish in our lawns, but the continuous use of chemicals knock them right back down. Reinforcing the endless need for these products. Addressing the problem in the soil, addresses the problem on the surface.
The solution is not to stop using chemicals and wait for the microbes to reestablish on their own, this would take decades and leave your lawn looking more like a jungle. However, it is possible to rebuild your soil while maintaining a pristine look. The solution is to reintroduce the most important web of microbes back into your lawn in a functional form, ready to go to work feeding your turf and rebuilding your soil year one. We are here to debunk the myth that you can’t grow plants without synthetic fertilizer. Our approach is to support and enable nature to quickly relink the relationship between plant and microbes. Feed the microbes and allow them to feed the grass, and together they can build a lawn that is more resistant to climatic changes, lives in synergy with our planet and is less expensive to maintain.
Back to Earth’s Approach:
We use a suite of products that synergistically focus on repairing the link between plant and microbe in the soil food web. Each product preforms a different function, each relevant to one another.
What each product provides:
- The missing microbes themselves, in an active, aerobic form.
- Immediate microbe shelter and food upon introduction into a degraded soil lacking the proper microbe habitat.
- Stimulation of a communication channel between plants and microbes that gather key plant nutrients.
We call this living, breathing mixture, Trinity. Simply put its nature, supercharged in a liquid solution. Because Trinity is packed with active life, it doesn’t have the ability to sit on a shelf at a store, like products we are used to buying. Between the beginning of Trinity production and application to your soil is a 3-day turnaround. In order to provide a potent mixture of the required balanced microbes this condensed timeline is a necessity. At Back to Earth, we are extremely motivated to return our soils to a state of good health and recapture the services and benefits it can provide our community, more on these benefits later.
The food web components Trinity brings back to your lawn. Your grass, our biology.
Two Pathways Towards Nature-Based Lawn Care:
We understand that throwing away the decades old rulebook on conventional lawn care might be a scary proposition, understandably so. That’s why Back to Earth offers a transitional program, to ease the worries of us whom might be more cautious. Along with a full send, cold turkey program for those who want their lawn living in synergy with nature as soon as possible. This program gets you off chemicals in year one. Fast-tracking the recovery of your soil towards self-sufficiency, while maintaining that beautiful look.
“Weaning Off Chemicals” is a stepping down approach where every year one synthetic fertilizer application is replaced by a Trinity application and the amount of fertilizer applied during each application is continuously reduced. For example,
Full Send, Cold Turkey
Going all-natural year one we beef up our ingredients in Trinity and start off with 3 applications over the course of the growing season. We want to get the microbes in place with all the tools they need to hit the ground running and working overtime in your lawn’s soil. For the years following, we drop down to two trinity applications during the growing season for a 2-5-year period. We anticipate around the 5-year mark Trinity will have done the work we want. We to be able to drop down too 1 application of supplemental microbe foods annually to continue to promote a strong diverse community of soil microbes. For example,
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What about the weeds?
Depending on your lawn’s unique situation and your personal tolerance to weeds, spot treatment with herbicide might be right for you over the first couple years. One of the most effective means of weed suppression is not to give them space to establish in the first place. Overseeding is an effective means of filling the gaps in your lawn and denying weeds space. We will be offering spring and fall overseeding options in conjunction with trinity applications. We will not be offering herbicide applications and it is likely you will have to find an applicator independently, but we are looking to partner with one, so you don’t have to do that search. The combination of occasional overseeding, reestablishing natural nutrient cycling, and restoring soil health will make it extremely difficult for weeds to outcompete your turf grass for space.
The Community Benefits of Going All-Natural
Soil is nature’s great water sponge and Brita filter. Well-structured soils containing organic matter can absorb pollutants and contaminants and hold onto them, preventing them from leaching into surface water or groundwater (where we get our drinking water). Microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, then grab these pollutants and contaminants held in the organic matter, converting them into less harmful substances. These are the same microorganisms and soil conditions Back to Earth wants to bring back to your lawn.
In many natural ecosystems such as, grasslands and forests, the presence of vegetation and soil helps to slow the movement of water and absorb excess rainfall, reducing the risk of flooding. According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, well-structured soils with high levels of organic matter can have water infiltration rates of up to 6 inches per hour. However, as we have modified and developed landscapes for different purposes, we have greatly modified the structure of our soils, and these incredible natural flood control and filtration systems have been destroyed or severely degraded. Luckily in our lawns half of the equation is already in place, vegetation. We are lacking the second key piece of the puzzle, healthy soil.
In the case of our lawns, many of us live in neighborhoods. The construction of these neighborhoods starts with the removal of the top 12-18 inches of topsoil, this is where all those soil benefits originate. Leaving us often with compacted clay soil, a desirable material for building homes with stable foundations. Not so great at capturing, infiltrating, or filtering water. Many studies reference compacted clay soil’s that have water infiltration rates between only 0.05-0.2 inches per hour. That is huge difference from even 2 inches of infiltration, let along the 6 inches a healthy soil is capable of handling.
After our homes are built, we install our lawns. Grass seed, straw, and fertilizer get applied over the top of this clay layer. Without amending the soil before the lawn seeding process, we are left with little choice but to use the conventional chemical approach that ignores the soil and treats the symptoms at the surface. The soil is out of sight, and out of mind. And without the topsoil in place to effectively filter out the pollutants from our chemical applications, the water that is recharging our groundwater supply is carrying some these pollutants with it.
When we receive heavy rainfall events our lawn soils lack the ability to infiltrate and filter this water. The water pools on the surface and then runs across the surface carrying with it the chemicals we applied on our lawns. Leading to environmental and economic expenses in the form of flood damages, larger water filtration plants, larger stormwater management infrastructure, additional drinking water filtration, local waterway contamination, toxic algal blooms, etc. Many of these issues originate from the simple problem that our soil’s are no longer doing this work for us because they cannot infiltrate very much water. Healthy soil is essentially a free water management system, every lawn we can restore helps to reduce the workload of our community’s infrastructure, ultimately saving tax dollars, all while reducing homeowner lawn bills, and cleaning up our environment. If this doesn’t qualify as a win-win scenario we don’t know what does.
If any of this sounds to good to be true, we would encourage you to follow these resources linked below or do your own research. Nature is a wonderfully clever, and beautifully designed creation, with an incredible ability to solve problems. It is the foundation on which our human society has been built, and we know so much more now than we ever have about its role and importance in creating a better and healthier future for all. By no means is our lawn care program a silver bullet to save the world or the only way to go about managing your property in a more sustainable way. It is an option, an option born out of the new knowledge science has provided on ecosystem function and the mechanisms behind it. Back to Earth embraces new knowledge and science. We will challenge the conventional thinking and methodologies of lawn care. We believe in a brighter future where we all enjoy the amenities of today without jeopardizing our tomorrows.
I love my current landscape company or am a landscaper:
The landscaping industry is an important part of a local economy. Our goal is not to take business away from fellow local people. Our goal is to restore community soil. Our service is put together to show that nature works, to build credibility, collect soil data, and continue to refine our process. We need results to show landscapers, and to build their confidence around adopting a nature-based approach. We want to arm landscapers with the knowledge and tools so they can be the great soil stewards of our community, without sacrificing their livelihoods. If you are a landscaper, please allow us the opportunity to trial with you. Analyze the results and decide for yourself if this new approach makes sense for your business. If you already have a landscaping service you love, express to them your desire for more sustainable practices, maybe encourage them to trial with us on your lawn.
Take the Pledge:
Clear Choices Clean Water Indiana has a cool community of people who have pledged to protect water by reducing or eliminating fertilizer use on their lawns. Consider taking the no obligations pledge.
This video is directed at agriculture, but the same principles apply to the soil in our lawns.
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