An alternate route to greener grasses
In the dry, brown landscape of Northern Nevada, large expanses of green grass are often one of the most environmentally unfriendly of environments, requiring herbicides, chemical fertilizers and large amounts of water to maintain a lush appearance. At the University of Nevada, Reno, facilities staff are working with a Minden company called Full Circle Compost on a more eco-friendly alternative—growing healthy lawns by developing healthy soils.
Full Circle Compost, run by the father/son team of Craig and Cody Witt, develops soil blends, mulches, soil amendments and liquid fertilizer products suited to the needs of Nevada growers. They use naturally occurring ingredients, many of which are collected locally—including pine needles and other green waste from the Lake Tahoe basin, and manure from mustangs housed at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City. For larger projects such as the UNR campus, they develop custom compost blends.
In 2010, the Full Circle team was given the opportunity to put their methods to the test on UNR’s quad—a heavily trafficked grass area where spring graduation ceremonies are held each year. They began by taking soil samples to assess conditions.
“A soil sample is like getting your own blood taken,” explained Cody Witt. “When you go to the doctor, the only way to know what’s going on is to go get a blood panel, and they tell you if you’re healthy or not. We’re doing the same thing for the soils.”
Soil samples were sent to a lab to determine nutrient deficiencies, excesses, and what the grasses really needed to be healthy. On the quad, results showed that previous use of chemical fertilizers had left behind high levels of iron. The soil was also highly compacted, leading to poor water uptake and bare patches.
The Witts created a compost blend, balancing the mineral and biological needs of the treatment area. Bringing things “full circle,” UNR’s custom blend reduces landfill waste by incorporating composted remains of grass clippings, leaves and other green waste collected from around campus.
“What we’ve seen over five years is that we’ve dramatically decreased the compaction problem,” Cody Witt said. “UNR now uses less water because it’s absorbing efficiently into the soil, and then the soil is holding more water because we’re putting more organic matter into it. The turf gets greener and grows faster. The turf is extremely resilient.”
UNR is now expanding this treatment to other areas of campus. On an overcast morning in March, a grounds crew began treating the area outside of the Fitzgerald Student Services building, first re-seeding then sprinkling the area with Full Circle’s compost blend. The product, which looks like a fine, powdery brown soil, doesn’t carry a noticeable smell and can be sprinkled on top of existing turf to give the grass and nearby trees a boost.
“This is the second year that we’ve treated this area,” said Marty Sillito, assistant director of grounds services, as he looked over the lawn. “Soils on the quad keep turning darker and richer, more spongy. We’re hoping to see the same here.”