America’s Most Progressive Campus: Colorado Goes Truly Green on its Lawns
BOULDER, CO. — Showcasing what is likely the largest compost tea project of its kind anywhere in the nation on Thursday, Oct. 4, the lead turfgrass manager at the University of Colorado offered a behind-the-scenes look at what makes his 70-plus acres of grass truly green.
The compost tea, a biologically active liquid — that some in academia claim is just brown water — is sprayed through the entire campus sprinkler system. The result is remarkably beautiful grass that is safe and luxuriant for the school’s 29,000-plus students and faculty.
“It was a huge challenge to figure everything out,” said Ryan Heiland, the former golf course superintendent who was hosting a group of lawn care professionals from across the nation. “The common belief was that you couldn’t put compost tea through a sprinkler system because it would clog the system with all the particulate matter. It took some time, but we were able to figure out how to make it all work.”
The solution, according to Heiland, involved a simple change-out of filters for some of the sprinkler heads — as well as a complicated trial-and-error approach to the plumbing of seven 250-gallon compost tea brewers set up in three separate pump stations.
“After we figured out the first one, the other two came together much easier,” said Heiland, who said he began the transition to organic lawn care several years ago as a personal response to the super-charged politics of spraying pesticides.
“On one side you have people who just hate dandelions,” he said. “On the other side, you have people who hate the spraying of pesticides just as much, or even more. So my response was to just start using organic fertilizers and methods as an experiment. Then we used them on the entire quad for two years before we told anyone about it. That way no one could tell us that it didn’t work. You stand there and look at the grass and it speaks for itself.”
NOTE: SafeLawns will showcase other aspects of the visit with Heiland in the days ahead.