Mt. Cuba Center’s grassy lawns set the stage for our formal garden areas and Main House, as well as increase the drama for our iconic view of the Piedmont’s rolling hills. In 2016, we made a choice to turn away from chemical-based turf treatments and adopt truly sustainable practices. We are still in transition, though most of our turf management is now chemical-free from our new, sustainable management practices. These practices help make our lawn a place to picnic and relax, and a safe place for children to run, roll, and tumble. Our lawn areas stay velvety green with well-timed compost tea applications and the tireless monitoring of Peter Shotzberger, Mt. Cuba Center’s Chemicals and Compost Specialist, who recently participated in a Q+A with the Ecological Landscape Alliance called “Maximizing Soil Health with Compost.”
Maximize your enjoyment of our lawn by bringing your picnic to Mt. Cuba, or visiting us for Twilight on the Terrace, when we stay open until 8 p.m. and bring food trucks, live music, and lawn games to our terrace. Twilight on the Terrace occurs on the third Thursday of April, May, June, July and August. The next Twilight on the Terrace will occur on Thursday, May 17.
Read on for the Q+A. This interview has been edited for length. You can read the full post on the Ecological Landscaping Alliance’s site, here.
What types of compost are you using as soil amendments? With what success?
We use compost that we make here at Mt. Cuba Center. We mix our greens from the garden, wood chips from our chipper, and leaves. We monitor our temperatures while composting to ensure we get above 131 degrees and stay below 165 degrees, flipping the piles to keep them aerobic. We send samples out to Soil Foodweb and Penn State to see what quality compost we have. Our compost comes back with pretty good results.
How are you applying compost and in what quantities?
We have been applying most of our compost to our turf areas and some to the beds in the gardens. On the turf we are applying 0.5 cu. yd./1000 sq. ft. using a Eco lawn spreader and a compost spreader that looks a lot like a manure spreader but made for compost and other top dressings. Soil testing is important. You want between 3% to 6% organic matter in your turf soil and a 1:1 fungal to bacterial ratio. For your woody plants, you would want a higher fungal ratio depending on the type of garden.
We also have been using brewers to extract from our compost and brewing Compost Tea for the gardens and turf. Compost Teas are when you add things to your brewer while extracting to multiply what’s in your compost. If you don’t add foods to your brewer you are extracting from your compost. We find out through testing what we have in our compost and then can add different foods to increase what we need in our tea or extraction. We apply 100 gallons of tea per acre.
Do you have a soil management tip you’d like to share?
A good thing to keep in mind is you need to know what you have before you add things to your situation. Therefore soil tests are a critical part of doing anything to your soils so you know what is there and what needs to be changed for the appropriate situations.
Read the full post on ELA’s website for additional information about compost use and management here.