Horny Toads

I'm not an expert on the life cycle of the toad but, based on what I'm experiencing on my slice of Inver Grove Heights, the toads were in a loving mood at some point after the spring thaw. 

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Since June every couple steps in my yard results in the scattering of infant and juvenile toads. Mowing the lawn has taken an extra 15-20 minutes as I pause to gently nudge toads on their journey away from the mower deck. 

It's great. 

No, really. It's great.

Besides the obvious benefit of delighting the four-year-old, it's a clear sign that my organic approach to lawn care is paying off in spades. I've never had such an influx of toads. Come to think of it, the only places I've noticed toads in the past were my garden boxes, where the toads would hang out and do toad stuff from time to time. Not coincidentally, my garden boxes were previously the only chemical free space on my property. 

Upon further research, it turns out that frogs and toads have very absorbent skin. Unfortunately, that means they can quickly absorb toxins from the environment, making them extremely sensitive to herbicides, pesticides and other sources of pollution. The fact that the neighborhood toads have chosen my organic lawn as their breeding ground is flattering. In fact, I hope they will choose to spend the rest of their lives here. 

Why? In a three month season, a single toad will consume nearly 10,000 insects. Between my toads and the bat(s) that chill out in my bat house, a fair bite is taken out of the mosquito population without me lifting a finger. Speaking of winged insects. I've also noticed an increase in the number of butterflies that choose to stop by for visits; another beautiful sign that I'm on the right track. 

 

 

New Adventures In Turf Management

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Last autumn (the best season by far, and those who think summer is better can suck it) I detailed a new approach to managing my third of an acre. 

I decided to leave the boulevard for the bees, doing nothing but tossing the occasional bushel of clover seeds at it and providing a regular mowing. No more water, chemicals, etc. wasted on an easement that routinely suffers salt damage during harsh Dakota County winters. 

The front yard would be the showcase, the beneficiary of the chemicals and potable water available to the modern homeowner. 

On the other side of the fence, the backyard would be managed with a hybrid approach, manually removing weeds and adding clover to the mix for its nitrogen fixation properties and drought tolerance. 

As most of my other plans do, this one went out the window early on this "spring". As the local readers of this blog know, we went from a 15 inch snowfall in late April to 90 degree weather by the end of May. The extremes were a shock to the yard as much as they were a shock to my system. 

The usual 4-step fertilizer program for the front yard was scrapped, as was my plan to do some additional overseeding in the front and back. It simply got too hot and too dry too quickly for that to be worth the effort. 

At the same time, I was doing additional research into the drawbacks and benefits of organic lawn care. It turned out there are no drawbacks unless you're the type of person who enjoys wasting time and money applying synthetic chemicals in an unwinnable battle. Let's face it: in the battle of man vs. nature, nature is undefeated. 

I decided to leave the Weed B Gon and Roundup in the shed. For weeds that pop up in my rock and mulch beds, I created my own weed killer out of white vinegar, salt, and dish soap. For extra stubborn weeds I can always turn to my trusty propane torch. For the dandelions and others that I choose to remove, I have a variety of manual tools at my disposal including a dandelion fork and a stand-up weed remover. I pulled a bucket full earlier in the "spring" and have let the occasional dandelion be since then. 

Mother Nature has been filling in some of the salt-damaged boulevard edge with a variety of plants, and the clover I seeded out there last autumn has greened up nicely as a companion to the fescue/bluegrass blend that also resides there. 

The clover in the backyard is in bloom and feels wonderful underfoot. I recently fertilized the entire yard with Milorganite, an organic slow-release fertilizer that is made from the heat-dried microbes that feed on wastewater in the Milwaukee sewer system (not kidding). 

My new plans include overseeding the front yard with microclover (a smaller variety of white clover that blooms less often and grows shorter) and adding additional white clover to the backyard and boulevard this fall.

Learn more about the benefits of clover.

The bottom line: Monocultures are unnatural; trying to maintain one is a waste of time and money. My new approach is healthier for my soil and, more importantly, my family. My one-year-old can put anything from my yard in his mouth without risk of ingesting toxic chemicals, and the cats are no longer put on house arrest after a dose of weed-and-feed. With that said, I'd still prefer that Bradley stop eating mulch. 

Adventures In Turf Management

I don't like summer. 

Specifically, I don't like: 

  • Heat
  • Humidity
  • Sweating
  • The aroma of hot garbage wafting from the trash receptacle in the garage
  • That feeling where you can tell you're about to break a sweat and it's really annoying because you just showered and got dressed

Did I mention I don't enjoy sweating?

Needless to say I've enjoyed the return of cooler weather this past week or so. I woke up this morning feeling refreshed physically, mentally, and spiritually as if I've awoken from summer dormancy. 

Speaking of awaking from a state of dormancy, this is the best time of year to plant a new lawn from seed, lay sod, or otherwise renovate your turf. 

2017 was hard on my lawn. During July's hottest and driest stretch, patches of grass in the front yard died and a south-facing slope in the backyard was hit particularly hard.  With a 3-year-old and infant in the house and a full-time job, I don't have the time or desire to spend my scarce free time dragging hoses and sprinklers around the yard. Given that reality it was time for me to take a varied approach to managing the large areas of turf on my suburban corner lot. 

I ultimately decided on three different turf management approaches in order to let nature work for me and limit the investment of water, weed killer, fertilizer and, most importantly, my time. The first step was raking away the dead turf and having my lawn professionally aerated to reduce soil compaction and allow water and air to more easily reach the root zone. 

Then, I decided how each area of my property would be managed: 

1. The Front Yard Is For Show

If I'm going to spend money on fertilizer, water, and weed killer, it's going to be where people can see the investment pay off. I overseeded the front yard with a mix of Kentucky Bluegrass, Perennial Ryegrass, and turf-type Tall Fescue. I'll continue fertilizing this part of the yard 3-4 times per year and watering during particularly hot and dry stretches. 

2. The Backyard Is For Play

With two young boys and two not-quite-as-young cats, I decided that having a backyard that can be safely rolled on, chewed on, and played on was important. I overseeded the backyard with a mix of white clover, microclover (a smaller-leaved variety of white clover), creeping red fescue, ryegrass and some other low-maintenance and drought-tolerant turf grasses. The clover in the mix will spread and create a canopy over the soil that prevents the germination of less-desirable plants such as plantains, dandelions, and thistle. The occasional weed can be pulled by hand, eliminating the need for weed killer. Clover, like all members of the legume family, is nitrogen-fixating, taking nitrogen from the air and bringing it into the soil. Combined with the nitrogen from mulched grass clippings, this will eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers. 

3. The Boulevard Is For The Bees

In order to create a boulevard that can stay thick and green with no help from me I overseeded the boulevard with a mix of perennial ryegrass, creeping red fescue, and a large amount of white clover. When the other boulevards in the area are loaded with guackgrass, crabgrass, ground ivy and plantains, I look forward to the sound of bees buzzing and the fragrant scent of white clover flowers. 

Next Steps

If any thin areas remain I'll do some dormant seeding around Thanksgiving and then let the freeze/frost cycle of winter and the warmth of spring do its thing. Keep an eye out for updates in the future. Or, sit at home and watch your own grass grow as it's just as exciting as reading about mine. 

I'm Still Alive. Quiet, But Alive.

It's been over two months since I've contributed to this blog. 

Why? 

It's not laziness, indifference, or a lack of thoughts about the state of my industry or the world I live in; I've just been busy since the birth of my second son, Bradley, and have been trying to keep my head above water. 

Here are a few mini-snippets from that scary place otherwise known as my cranium: 

Sports

  • The Twins are off to a promising start that has them in first place, driven primarily by dependable starting pitching. It may be that 2016's 103 losses was the outlier and 2015's 80+ wins really was a sign of progress. Time will tell. 
  • I'm having a hard time getting too excited about the upcoming Vikings season but they could always surprise me. Bottom line: I'm glad Adrian Peterson is gone but I'm still not sold that they've significantly improved the line with this offseason's personnel moves. 

Politics

  • Trump. I mean...Good Lord...
  • My theory since the time of the 2016 GOP Convention has been that the party will simply swallow hard and look the other way at Trump's unfitness for office because they view controlling both house of Congress and the Presidency as their opportunity to finally achieve their legislative wish list. However, I think they would be better off pressuring him to resign or beginning impeachment proceedings now. Why? Besides the merits, they haven't moved any significant legislation to the president's desk as it is, so they are getting all the flack of his missteps without any of the benefits of having a GOP president. Surely a President Pence, President Ryan or President Hatch would sign their tax proposals, deregulation bills, and other "goodies" into law minus the nonstop drama of the Trump administration. 

Lawn and Garden

  • I'm pretty happy with how my lawn perked up this spring, especially the areas that I overseeded in the fall.
  • My elm trees are growing vigorously and look as good as they have since planting. 
  • My Royal Red Norway Maple is giving me some worry. I completed some structural pruning last spring which resulted in a new central leader taking over and growing very vigorously. Unfortunately, the top of that branch has yet to leaf out this year, leaving me wondering whether it's a problem or just taking its sweet time.

Until next time, remember to shit once and wipe twice. Adios!

I'll Take It

In a goal-driven world it can be difficult to find the next challenge when you've already accomplished everything you set out to do in life. I have a lovely wife, a healthy child, a steady job and a functional house. I'm a simple guy, so I'm all set. 

But there's one thing that has eluded me: The Inver Grove Heights Lawn of the Week award, bestowed upon the community's neatest yard on a rotating basis throughout the summer. Since its inception in 2015, they've managed to avoid doing the right thing - placing this sign on my lawn - despite the pounds of fertilizer, meticulous pruning cuts, gallons of fence stain, trailer loads of mulch and pallets of landscape brick that I've labored over. 

Last night, while hand-picking some weed trimmer byproducts, I was approached by a community member out for an evening stroll. Without my earbuds in I was forced to engage in conversation with this being, who began the chat with a simple "Hi." I responded in kind, pleased that I survived the initial encounter. 

She followed up with "Your lawn always looks so great." 

"Oh, thank you!" 

Take that City of Inver Grove Heights!