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The Glenstone Project: Unveiling the Science of Organic Lawn Care, Step by Step

As reported here throughout the past few months, the SafeLawns Foundation and the Glenstone Foundation are partnering with the University of Maryland’s world-renowned turfgrass department on a long-term study to review the efficacy of organic lawn care. After months of planning, researchers broke ground in the last two weeks at test plots, both at the university’s turfgrass research station and also at Glenstone itself, which is the site of a prestigious modern art museum in Potomac, Md.

The photos, below, emulate many of the steps a homeowner might undertake in a fall renovation:

Dr. Mark Carroll, the project's lead researcher, stakes out the trial area.

Dr. Mark Carroll, the project’s lead researcher, stakes out the trial area.

Graduate student Siqi Chen mows the grass to 2 inches, bagging the clippings to collect any weed seeds.

Graduate student Siqi Chen mows the grass to 2 inches, bagging the clippings to collect any weed seeds.

Next, Dr. Carroll, left, oversees the aeration of some of the plots; others were left untouched in the study for comparison.

Next, Dr. Carroll, left, oversees the aeration of some of the plots; others were left untouched in the study for comparison.

The core aerator made one pass in each direction, pulling up thousands of tubes of soil and turf and leaving holes that compost, air and water can easily enter.

The core aerator made one pass in each direction, pulling up thousands of tubes of soil and turf and leaving holes that compost, air and water can easily enter.

Next, Siqi dethatched the lawn to remove any dead grass and surface roots.

Next, Siqi dethatched the lawn to remove any dead grass and surface roots.

Peter Flack then raked the thatch off the affected plots. In a home lawn renovation situation, overseeding immediately after dethatching is highly recommended.

UMD’s Peter Flack then raked the thatch off the affected plots. In a home lawn renovation situation, overseeding immediately after dethatching is highly recommended.

UMD's Mathew Kasalaruis spread a carefully calculated amount of compost over each of the plots. Two different types of composts were used — one from leaves and one from human waste (biosolids). And different depths of compost were also applied in various plots so that researchers can evaluate any variability in outcomes. By design, all the products used in these trials will be readily available to the public in Maryland.

UMD’s Mathew Kasalaruis spread a carefully calculated amount of compost over each of the plots. Two different types of composts were used — one from leaves and one from human waste (biosolids). And different depths of compost were also applied in various plots so that researchers can evaluate any variability in outcomes. By design, all the products used in these trials will be readily available to the public in Maryland.

Applying different treatments to 36 different 10 by 10 plots took the research team several hours.

Applying different treatments to 36 different 10 by 10 plots took the research team several hours. The crew will return monthly to evaluate differences in the trial plots and, beginning next spring, will apply compost teas to one half of all the plots to evaluate the impact of the liquid.

Meanwhile, the lawn on the Glenstone campus, which has not had synthetic fertilizer applied in more than 15 months, was shimmering green just as the maples were at the peak of fall color last week.

Meanwhile, the lawn on the Glenstone campus, which has not had synthetic fertilizer applied in more than 15 months, was shimmering green just as the maples were at the peak of fall color last week.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1023
  • Mike Serant

    How awesome is this!!!!!!!!! Great encouragement for us all.

  • http://natraturf.com Brian Milam

    Great pictures and a great study! Looking forward to seeing it all play out. This is a groundbreaking and exciting organic study and to have a major University be behind it is even better!

  • Ling

    Looks beautiful, can’t wait to see the final study. I personally wouldn’t use biosolids – aren’t there safety and health concerns with that?

    • Trish

      I strongly agree. Biolsolods have no place where humans (especially chidren) exist. Biosolids are a huge problem and source of not only heavy metals but high levels of bacteria most noteworthy- antibiotic resistent pathogens. There are both government and indpenedent studies confirming these facts. See: http://www.wef.org/about/page.aspx?id=11292
      I can provide the contact info for an expert in this area.

    • http://www.joeturf.com JoeTurf

      No issues with biosolids if they’re processed correctly. Typically they’re heated to over 1000 degrees F. This kills any harmful pathogens. This process also locks up a good share of nutrient benefits. I’m not a big biosolid fan however the fact that its “organic” makes users feel warm and fuzzy.

  • http://nativeplantconvert.blogspot.com Hal Mann

    This is awesome, Paul. Brings it down to realistic homeowner size treatment. I was hoping to see a mechanical way to spread compost for a homeowner. My back is very tired after shoveling and raking 6 cubic yrds of compost on my lawn. Maybe you can talk UMD’s engineering department into designing one – royalties to go to Safe Lawns efforts, of course.

    Keep up the great work.

  • Norma Johnson

    God bless Glenstone for doing this. Please thank the people who make such decisions profusely for all of us, for all of humanity. I’ve been so worried that you and your work wouldn’t have the stamina to endure all the nastiness you encounter from the chemical industry. I’m just so happy you have such a supporter behind you.
    Norma Johnson, Baltimore

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