Calvin's Blog

Organic turf strategies using white clover - long blog entry!

Sean and I need space to play, so we grow some very resilient turf using standard grass, "eco" grass, and white clover all mixed together.  We have very poor subsoil (mostly clay with construction debris mixed in), and the existing lawn only had 2 inches or less of topsoil when we took ownership.  We moved into this house 4 years ago, the house was built 18 years before that.  This entry documents our journey to organic & emissions free turf.

When we moved in, the previous owners had left a lot of fertilizing and pesticide equipment, and they were watering twice a week to keep it green.  And it looked great...except we were not allowed to play on it after they sprayed.  And we didn't have any butterflies visiting yet.

Being organic, we stopped all the extra effort just to "see what happens". We let the turf go dormant during that dry summer, and unfortunately, in the fall of the first year, the lawn developed a severe grub problem. The grass was 90% wiped out.

To control the grubs, we introduced beneficial nematodes (<-- click here for more detail). Nematodes are micro-dudes that go inside the grubs and multiply.  Yuk!  A healthy turf has nematodes already...but if pesticides have been recently applied, some of these good bugs get poisoned along with the bad bugs.  Once the poisoning stops, the grubs move much faster than the parasitic nematodes, so the grubs win the race to the grass roots.

You have to water the nemetodes into the soil for a good 3 days, so these micro-organisms can be washed down to the level of the grubs you are targeting. Seeing as we had to put water on the turf for the nemetodes anyway, we went all out and top-dressed and overseeded. For a new turf setup (like we had to do), Sean and I raked triple mix to a depth of 2" of new material before applying grass and white clover seeds. If you already have grass growing, Sean and I demonstrate in this video how to add a thinner layer of top dressing before seeding:

Sorry about the crazy music.  Sometimes Dad and Uncle Terry get carried away.

So in summary, here's the steps we went through to establish the turf in the video:
  1. Added nematodes (only the first year, the turf can now resist the occasional grub)
  2. Added top dressing (2" for poor lawns, 1" for established lawns)
  3. Overseeded (we used a mix of white clover and regular sun mix for this video turf)
  4. Watered it until the grass started

Hint:  We do our turf overseeding and topdressing during our fall rainy season, usually mid-October in our area.  Then we only turn on the hose if we really need it!

We love our white clover mixed in with the regular grass.  It has 4 main benefits for us:

  1. White clover will grow well in clay, which is our subsoil.  We have other friends who have planted it in sandy soil too, and we'll check in with them in July.  So far they say the clover has started strong as well.
  2. The clover helps smother the other weeds until the grass grows thick enough to start crowding the weeds on it's own.  After two years, the grass is starting to grow well enough to slow down the clover growth!  Be prepared though...the clover gets very thick in the first year until the grass starts to catch up.
  3. The clover and grass together is super-easy to cut with the manual push mower.  Sometimes regular grass "folds over" and doesn't get cut perfectly...but the clover keeps it standing straight so it gets cut off nicely!
  4. Clover fixes nitrogen in the soil, which really helps the grass grow.  Our neighbours ask dad "what fertilizer do you use...the turf is so thick!".  Dad doesn't add anything the opening video demonstrates.

Next we'll look at how clover works in suppressing weeds, and how we cut our turf with a manual push mower.

That's enough stuff for today...I have to go find dad and tell him to cut the turf...again.

See you soon!

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