"Investing in an organic program is not only a healthier option, but it also is more cost-effective over time because it requires less maintenance," said Almstead Vice President and licensed arborist Michael Almstead.

Organic care used on Scarsdale, NY sports fields

Almstead Lawn Care recently used the latest natural soil supplements and organic fertilizers, along with aeration and seeding techniques, to strengthen more than 20 acres of sports fields in Scarsdale, NY. The benefits of an organic program are derived from improving soil biology in a way that supports lawns naturally.

“Investing in an organic program is not only a healthier option for lawns, but it also is more cost-effective over time because it requires less maintenance,” said Almstead Vice President and licensed arborist Michael Almstead. “Plus, organic programs promote more sustainable environmental practices, which ideally is always the goal.”

While the Village of Scarsdale began to implement its organic lawn care program two years ago, a new state law known as the Child Safe Playing Fields Act recently went into effect requiring all schools and day care centers to stop using pesticides on playgrounds and sports fields. Effective May 2011 for schools and November 2010 for child care facilities, the Child Safe Playing Fields Act aims to protect children from harmful pesticides and has been widely applauded by parents, environmental groups and human health activists. The law does allow for emergency pesticide applications pending reviews and approvals.

“We have people in our community using these fields all the time, and we felt an obligation to pursue an organic approach,” said Suzanne Busby, Superintendent of the Scarsdale Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation. “As the person entrusted to make sure our fields are safe for residents, I felt it was the best action to take.”

Organic lawn care focuses on improving soil biology so that plants and lawns are strengthened naturally. In Scarsdale, Almstead this spring employed a technique called “Slit Seeding,” where a tractor attachment slices into the ground, drops in grass seeds and folds the grass to cover the soil all in one pass. After a summer of active field use, the Almstead team returned to Crossway Fields in late September, this time opting for a strategy called “Core Aeration.” Essentially core aeration creates hundreds of thousands of tiny holes in the soil, which allows for an increased flow of oxygen, water and nutrients to the soil. This in turn produces a healthier lawn as the improved soil environment provides more resources to the plants.

Almstead also treated the fields with an organic blend of insoluble fertilizer containing a “9-0-4” percent blend of Nitrogen, Phosphate and Potassium, respectively. Insoluble fertilizer releases more slowly over time, thereby staying in the soil longer and providing more nutrients to the grass. Additionally, such fertilizers don’t produce Nitrate runoff, which is an environmental concern surrounding traditional Nitrogen fertilizers. Nutrients in this organic blend were derived from feather meal, soybean meal, cottonseed meal, alfalfa meal and vegetable ash.

Equally important, Almstead conducted tests to check on the biology of the soil, discovering that the fields had a low active beneficial fungi count. This required that the team conduct a humate application, an organic source of food for these microorganisms, to correct the issue naturally. Active beneficial fungi help with disease suppression and nutrient retention in the soil.

“When I pull up grass here I find tons of earthworms, whereas on a primarily chemically treated lawn you really don’t find any earthworms at all,” Michael Almstead said while checking on the fields recently. “That is exactly what you want to see. Not only are the earthworms helping to aerate soil and increase root growth, but they are also near the top of the soil food-chain and their presence is a great indicator that the rest of the soil ecosystem is functioning well. The Village of Scarsdale has a real commitment to going organic, and this is proof their success.”