Friday, September 30, 2016

63 attendees at the Organic Turf and Athletic Fields Workshop on September 22nd!

Full room at Cheshire Park and Rec!
Written by Jenna Messier, NOFA OLC Program Director

We had a great turnout last week at our first NOFA Advanced Workshop on Organic Turf and Athletic Fields, held in Cheshire, CT at the Parks and Recreation Department.  Over half of the attendees were municipal employees who actively manage town parks, properties and athletic fields, and the others were Accredited Organic Land Care Professionals who are looking to learn more about new developments in organic fertility and lawn care.

Chuck Sherwood
Chuck Sherwood, owner of Sherwood Sportsturf and contractor with Cheshire Park and Rec. Department, started out the day by explaining his approach and practices which he has been delivering on Cheshire's many sports fields.  Chuck has been utilizing soil tests and focusing on improving the Calcium to Magnesium ratio in order for nutrients to be available for the turfgrass. Chuck has worked for many towns in Connecticut and he shared with the audience the necessity for working within a town's budget to create each individual field's management plan.  Thankfully, Cheshire has irrigation and enough fields to allow some fields to be rested, in order to renovate the turf with aeration and seed.  The fields which we visited for the on-site demonstration were not being played on until late Spring or early Summer, which is why we chose the site for added inputs.

Chip Osborne
Chip Osborne from Osborne Organics, a national consulting service, spoke about his practices of reviewing chemical soil tests and additionally soil bioassays, in order to survey the state of the soil prior to making any land care decisions.  Chip consults for the National Parks Department and has also volunteered for many years in his hometown of Marblehead, Massachusetts as the advisor for all town parks and sports fields which have been organic for over 10 years.

Chip reviewed both of the soil tests from the Far Fields at Bartram Park, and he noted that the pH was lower than desired and the soil was fungal-dominated; which is not the best scenario for turf which prefers bacterial-dominated soils for optimum nutrient cycling.  The soil bioassay was provided by Soil FoodWeb NY, and was very helpful when Compostwerks planned their brewing of compost tea for the afternoon application.

After the soil test review, Chip discussed some of the parameters for a municipality to plan for organic turf management.  He also stressed the reality of working within town budgets and taking a longer-term approach to improving soil health, such as selecting priority fields to put resources into, and choosing to re-seed one year, perhaps fertilize the next year, and select aeration in year three, as examples of spreading practices over time. Chip shared his view of what turf management has evolved to, including the following innovations:
  1. Creating programs which address short and long term needs of the turf, while addressing soil health
  2. The combination of liquid and granular applications as a strategy
  3. The improvement of liquid fertilizers now available on the market in powder and liquid forms
  4. The very strong emphasis on providing food and resources to foster healthy microbial life within a turf program.
Frank Crandall
Next, we were joined by Frank Crandall from Frank Crandall Horticultural Solutions, a Rhode Island-based company which provides business consulting and workshops. He first reviewed some accounting practices for assessing the cost of equipment. Then he moved on to incorporate methods for pricing particular organic practices which were suggested by Chip, such as pricing for granular and liquid applications, over-seeding, and providing microbial foods such as humates or molasses.  Frank gave us his spreadsheets electronically, which can be found at the bottom of the webpage for the workshop at

Jenna and Jeff
Before lunch break, CT NOFA's Executive Director, Jeff Cordulack, thanked all of our presenters with his signature token of thanks - a jar of honey - symbolic of the importance of caring for pollinators with sound land care practices.  Jeff also surprised me, the author Jenna Messier, with an acknowledgement of my 5 years of work at CT NOFA, reading a letter from our Board of Directors and giving me a bonus in the form of a check.  Very nice, yet I couldn't stop blushing. It was truly an honor.

Bad lighting, but glad to have a picture of so many intelligent land care professionals together!
Tom Corradino
After lunch we headed out to the Far Fields at Bartram Park, where field hockey will be played next year.  We started with the aeration demonstration, in which Tom Corradino, from Schmidts and Serafines, a hardware store and power equipment shop located in Waterbury, gave us some information about the equipment while co-owner Lee Schmidt did the aerating by riding up and down the field. You can either rent a machine or purchase depending upon your expected usage. The process of core aeration involves soil cores being removed from the turf so that oxygen can enter into the root zone and relieving compaction.

Soil cores will disintegrate in time

Left to right, Peter, Lee and B.G.

Peter Schmidt and Gregg Twehues

Next, Peter Schmidt from Compostwerks, talked about the process of brewing compost tea, which is utilized as a fertilizer and a source of microbial biological life forms that are critical for nutrient cycling in the soil.  Very early in the morning, the tea needed to be brewed prior to the workshop, due to its short life span of 6 hours.

The tea is kept in a tank with aeration in order to keep the biology alive and oxygenated until the application. They have 3 tanks on their truck which allows for different blends to be brought to a property.  Some plants require a fungal-dominated biology and some require more bacteria to thrive, so each brewing is a unique and calculated blend. Additional amendments were displayed, such as molasses, which they added to the tea right before applying to provide food for the biology to thrive. Gregg Twehues, co-owner of Compostwerks, demonstrated the application process as he walked back and forth across the fields with the wand and hose, spraying the compost tea evenly.

Gregg is applying the compost tea, which smelled very sweet due to the molasses
The afternoon was planned to allow distributors of organic fertility products to explain to the audience specifically how their products work. NOFA OLC does not recommend one particular product or company over another, however, we see this as part of our mission. The NOFA Standards for Organic Land Care do not allow for synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Thus, land care professionals have a critical need to learn about how organic fertilizers are different from the traditional fertilizers, where to find the products, and to know there is a big selection for different budgets and situations.

Fred Newcombe from PJC
After the outdoor demo, we returned to the classroom to discuss organic fertility products with some of the most knowledgeable folks in the business!  Fred Newcombe from PJC Organics talked about their granular fertilizers, namely the Renaissance brand, which his company manufactures. They specialize in serving the municipal market with wholesale pricing and by offering expert advice to their clients.
Joe Magazzi, Green Earth Ag&Turf

Next, we had Joe Magazzi from Green Earth Ag & Turf speak about
how organic fertility products have come a long way in their development, how the price points have come down, and he described how they work differently than synthetic fertilizers. He distributes a product called Quantum Growth which is very popular these days, being used on professional sports fields around the country.  His company also offers organic and biological pest control products as well.
Peter Schmidt

Peter Schmidt discussed the process of brewing compost tea in greater depth than in the outdoor demonstration. In addition, he shared with the group when to select compost or compost tea as the application of choice. Compost is great for adding organic matter, but you should not apply more than a 1/4 inch topdress per application, with concern over adding too much phosphorus in the soil and getting into our waterways.  However, compost tea adds the biology alone and there is not a concern for adding too much.

Our speaker from Hart's Seeds was not feeling well, and unfortunately we missed his presentation. However, we should mention that Hart's Seeds is a Connecticut based seed company which offers many blends of grass seed in bulk shipments. We hope to have Paul back another time!

Chip Osborne and Frank Crandall provided a wrap-up for the day, reminding students that an organic program can be achieved at a variety of prices, and is in direct relation to the level of expectations which the land manager is being held to. A high level of expectation will require a high level of inputs, cultural practices, and over-seeding and will thus require a higher level of spending. This is a conversation which must be had between a municipal employee or a contractor and the decision makers involved.  Frank then told the group to provide the best budgets and estimates possible in order to communicate in financial numbers to town managers all costs involved.

It was a great day, thanks to all for coming!


Monday, September 26, 2016

A Q&A with Barry Draycott, President of Tech Terra Environmental, industry expert, and AOLCP

What is your business and who does it serve?
Tech Terra Environmental is a leader in the green industry providing ecological solutions for professional landscapers, municipalities, schools and National Parks.
What is the state of the organic gardening industry? 

Barry Draycott of Tech Terra Environmental

Where do you see the greatest growth and what’s driving it? (change in consumer sentiment? Municipal laws? Geographical, municipal vs. commercial vs. private (turf, commercial property, hotels/resorts, golf clubs, etc.)
The organic industry is trending! Consumers are becoming more curious and aware of what is going into their gardens and realize that there are solutions that are effective but do not harm. Stricter regulations on pesticides and fertilizers have been effective in driving more interest from conventional landscape management towards an organic approach. In addition, the effectiveness of newer organic/natural insect, disease and weed control products have helped our clients provide better results than past organic programs.

What are some of the most common challenges professionals face in caring for the land organically and what approach do you take to solving them?
I think the biggest challenge to the landscape industry in adopting organic methods is the lack of knowledge of how to implement a comprehensive program for their clients. We help them understand how to improve soil health and implement sound cultural practices while providing them with the products they need to be successful. We recently received this comment from a tree care company in New Jersey; My biggest problem was switching typical pest control to organics. Tech Terra made it seamless for me.

What advice do you have for conventional land care professionals who are considering transitioning to organic?
Speak to other colleagues/ landscape professionals who have converted. Education is a great tool to understand what approach is best for your business. In my case, the turning point was attending AOLCP courses and becoming accredited.
Do your research and purchase products from companies that have experience in the industry and are willing to guide you through the process.

How do you consider your business to be part of the solution to environmental degradation and overuse of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides? How do you educate your clientele?
I have been in the landscape industry since 1979. About 20 years ago I began questioning “standard procedures” and began researching organic methods. Our passion is about being better environmental stewards, not just about providing lawn care products. The products and application programs we offer have been tested by us in the field and by experts in the industry. We are extremely knowledgeable about soil biology and spread the word by educating our market with seminars, classes and most importantly we are just a phone call away for any advice needed.