Managing Healthy Sports Fields: A Guide to Using Organic Materials for Low-Maintenance and Chemical-Free Playing Fields / Edition 1

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The huge chemical arsenal once available to turf managers for pest, weed and disease control has slowly but surely been restricted or regulated. As a result alternative methods have had to be sought. This text aims to liberate the modern turf manager from dependency on chemical treatments through suggestions you can adapt to specific field types, climatic zones, and desired appearance. Author Paul Sachs offers safety for people and animals, as well as longevity for the land, without sacrificing the quality of the turf itself.

  • Written for turf managers who need to reduce or eliminate chemical pesticides and fertilisers in their turfgrass management processes.
  • Offers advice and practical steps to earth-conscious turf managers, and those who are responding to the growing chorus of concerns about fertilisers and pesticides.
  • Covers the basics of soil fertility, composting, methods of soil analysis, cultural practices and pests.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471472698
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 1/22/2004
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 9.21 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

PAUL SACHS is the founder of North Country Organics, a Vermont-based supplier of natural land care products, and Ecological Turf Consultants, a consulting firm that provides solutions for clients who want to reduce or eliminate chemical applications on golf courses, sports fields, or other expanses of turf. One of the foremost authorities on organic land care, he has authored four books and hundreds of articles, and speaks regularly at association conferences for professionals involved in both agriculture and horticulture.

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Table of Contents

About the Author
Ch. 1 The Soil Ecosystem 1
Ch. 2 Fertility 25
Ch. 3 Compost 45
Ch. 4 Analysis 70
Ch. 5 Pests 107
Ch. 6 Cultural Practices 172
Ch. 7 Simplicity Versus Stability 215
Sources and Resources 219
Glossary 236
Index 240
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First Chapter

Managing Healthy Sports Fields

A Guide to Using Organic Materials for Low-Maintenance and Chemical-Free Playing Fields
By Paul D. Sachs

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-471-47269-7

Chapter One


If one were to imagine the soil ecosystem as a machine, it would have billions of functioning parts. It would be such a complex mechanism that, were it to break, no repairman on earth would be capable of fixing it. Fortunately, in its exquisite design, the soil also contains its own repair mechanism and, even in cases of extreme damage, it can almost always repair itself. The time it takes to recover, however, depends on both the extent of the damage and the conditions that regulate the renewal of life, as it is the soil's biological component that facilitates its ability to heal.

In 1980, the volcano Mount Saint Helens exploded and destroyed the surrounding 234-square-mile area. The soil disappeared under a thick blanket of volcanic ash and rock. Soil life-all life-was annihilated. The devastation from extremely hot ash, pyroclastic flows, blowdowns, and mudflows was severe and seemingly irreparable-but slowly, over the decades, life has begun to reestablish itself. The repair is an ongoing and joint effort of teams of plants, soil organisms, insects and other arthropods, amphibians, birds, and mammals, some of whom work around the clock, 365 days a year.

Restoration probably began by photosynthesizing (autotrophic) bacteria thatextracted energy from the sun, combined it with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and terrestrial minerals, and produced the organic materials necessary for proliferation. As these pioneers of life grew in number, some predator organisms were able to subsist and they, in turn, fed others on the next link of the food chain. Eventually, more and more kinds of organisms began to colonize the devastated area, and organic residues from their activities and expired bodies began to accumulate. Before long, plants were able to acquire the necessities for life. Wildflowers, especially prairie lupines and fireweed, were probably the first to reappear. (The prairie lupine survives and thrives in nutrient-poor soils and, because it's a legume, it works with rhizobacteria to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere for itself and to share with other organisms.) As more and more plants appeared, wildlife began to graze again. Gophers and mice were among the first mammals to migrate into the devastation, and their burrowing activities, through the ash to the soil below, began mixing the horizons. The spread and proliferation of life begun by autotrophic bacteria have brought significant change to an area that, a relatively short time ago, resembled the surface of the moon more than anything on this planet. As more and more life inhabits the devastated soil, it becomes more inhabitable for other organisms, including forest plants. The essential interdependence of life in a functioning ecosystem is an important lesson to learn from Mount Saint Helens, and one that applies everywhere (see Figure 1-1).

The chemical, biological, and physical reactions that make soil functional need air, water, minerals, energy from the sun, and time. The scenic beauty of natural landscapes was not created from a grand plan engineered by a landscape architect and constructed by people in a single season. It evolved over thousands of millennia from organisms in stiff competition that nevertheless created symbiotic alliances. It is that competition and those alliances that must be better understood to engage the soil ecosystem in the creation of a sustainable recreational landscape.

The soil machine can be nudged perhaps, but it cannot be controlled, which is fortunate, because no one really understands the complexities of the soil system well enough to govern it. When control is attempted, a part of the machine may be altered or damaged and cease to function properly. In a simple machine, like an automobile engine, malfunctioning parts are noticed almost immediately. But in a complex system, like the soil, dysfunction can go unnoticed for years, decades, or perhaps even centuries. Because the machine is so complex, the cause of a symptom can easily be misunderstood.


To get a sense of how the soil functions-and it will be a superficial sense at best-let's first take a look at how the soil, as we know it, was formed.

Before there was soil, there was rock-perhaps one extremely large chunk called Earth. Eventually, tectonic movement, volcanoes, and other natural forces created pieces of rock, some of which were large and some mere particles of dust (see Figure 1-2). This process of rock size reduction is called weathering, and many forces contribute to it. The typical analysis of a well-developed loam (see Figure 1-6) shows that half of the soil's volume is pore space that is (ideally) filled with equal parts of air and water. Most soil solids are minerals derived from rock.

Water, especially when it freezes, is a bull in a china shop when it comes to weathering. In a river, stream, or brook, water constantly washes away surface particles from rocks in its path as it cascades over, under, around, and sometimes through the parent material (see Figures 1-3a and 1-3b). What may seem gentle to the observer is an unrelenting torrent of force to particles clinging to rock surfaces. Those particles snatched by the water's will become unwitting accomplices in tasks downstream, abrasively betraying brethren particles. When gravity's assistance wanes, the water slows, and many of the suspended particles settle to the bottom. Over time, the bottom is built up from these deposits and the water finds a new path, leaving behind beds of sediment-the foundation of a riparian soil.

When the temperature drops below freezing, water changes from liquid to solid and expands with a force few natural materials can contain (see Figure 1-4). One hundred fifty tons of expansive force per square foot can compromise the structure of nearly any rock that allows moisture to enter through cracks, fissures, or pores. If the force of frost separates a boulder from its mother mountain, gravity can assist in the process of weathering as the accelerating rock smashes itself and the surface against which it falls into smaller and smaller pieces.

Wind is another persuasive natural force that not only can coax small particles of rock away from the parent surface but also spread it to areas far and wide. As these pieces ride the wind, they too become unwitting accomplices, blasting free other particles with which they collide. Glaciers, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions are other forces that produce weathered rock particles.

As powerful and persuasive as these physical forces can be, yet another type of weathering also makes significant contributions to the formation of soil. Surprisingly, the largest facility on earth where chemical reactions occur is the natural environment. Naturally occurring elements react with each other regularly to form compounds, many of which then react with other compounds or elements. This constant manufacture and disintegration of chemicals in nature is an integral part of terrestrial functions. One of the effects of this natural chemical activity is an advanced stage of weathering rock into soil.

Water is chemically expressed as [H.sub.2]O. Its two constituent elements (hydrogen and oxygen) can react chemically with many other elements in nature. The entire water molecule can react in a process called hydration. Rock minerals that bond with one or more water molecules become hydrated and are more easily dissolved into a soil system. Hydrolysis occurs when a hydrogen atom in water bonds with natural elements, often forming acids that contribute to weathering rock surfaces. Chemical chain reactions, initiated by either the hydrogen or the oxygen in water, can change the original composition of rock; the resulting mineral compounds can have completely different structures and reactive characteristics within the soil.

The formation of inorganic acids, such as sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid, occurs naturally through reactions between soil chemicals. These acids are extremely effective at separating and dissolving rock components. Carbonic acid, a powerful weathering agent, is formed from the combination of carbon dioxide and water, two relatively abundant substances in the soil.

The different types of parent material determine the rate at which rock is weathered and, to a large extent, the size of the resulting particles found in the soil. Limestone, for example, is a rock that is easily weathered and can eventually dissolve so completely that few particles can be found. Quartz, on the other hand, weathers slowly; because of its structure, it is difficult for nature to completely weather it into its molecular components.

Another factor that influences weathering is surface area. The greater the surface area exposed to soil acids, the faster rock particles can be dissolved. A fist-sized stone may have several square inches of surface area when intact, but when it is ground into a fine powder, the overall surface area increases to several acres. The amount of time it takes for nature to weather the material is measured in years for the powder, compared to centuries for the intact stone.

Rocks composed predominately of aluminum, potassium, or magnesium silicates (generally insoluble compounds) are commonly weathered into tiny (<0.002-inch diameter) platelike particles classified as clay. Because of complex substitutions of elements within their molecular structure, many clay particles inherently have a negative electromagnetic (anionic) charge that enables them to adsorb positively charged ions (cations) such as potassium (K), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg) (see Figure 1-5). This magnetic ability is described as colloidal (from the Greek koll, meaning "glue," and oid, meaning "like") and is inherent in humus particles as well. Colloidal particles play a crucial role in the soil system. Soil environments devoid of either clay or humus-like pure sand fields-have a greatly diminished capacity to hold plant nutrients and, consequently, do not naturally support an abundance of plants or other biological life.

Soils formed from rock are called mineral soils; this is the most common type of soil on earth. An analysis of a well-developed mineral soil might reveal around 90 percent rock particles on a dry basis (see Figure 1-6). Volumetrically, 50 percent of this type of soil is made up of air and water. In a rich, healthy soil, an average of only 5 percent is organic matter. Natural levels of organic matter vary considerably.

There are about 90 naturally occurring elements on earth; most are found, at least in trace amounts, nearly everywhere. The most common elements found in the mineral component of soil, however, are oxygen, silicon, aluminum, calcium, sodium, iron, potassium, and magnesium (see Figure 1-7). The oxygen that exists in soil minerals is part of the chemical structure and is not in a gaseous state. Many elements exist in a naturally formed molecule with oxygen.

All of these weathering forces, both physical and chemical, combine to form soil particles from rock that are better known as sand, silt, and clay. These particles are defined by size, as shown in Table 1-1. Most soils have a combination of all three sizes of particles and are classified depending on the percentage of each (see Chapter 4, under "Texture Analysis").

The concept of weathering isn't difficult to grasp and seems to give a clear picture of how soil is formed, but the result is not soil yet-just dirt. Weathering simply provides a picture of how soil texture is formed.


Dirt needs something else before it can become soil, and that is life-and also death. Life and death in the soil are vital phenomena of an ecosystem that perpetually generates energy for the biosphere. Here is where the soil and its system of cycles become more complex. Magdoff and van Es (2000) classify the organic fraction of the soil into three categories: the living, the dead, and the very dead. The soil's living component includes the biomass-that group of organisms from the single-celled bacillus to macro-organisms such as earthworms, arthropods, and mammals that live in the soil. But all organisms, including plants and humans, are connected to the soil in many ways. They are affected by and have effects on the soil. So all terrestrial life should be included in this category.

Leaves that fall from trees, grass clippings, animals that burrow into or just trespass on the soil leave residues that contribute to the system of cycles (see Figure 1-8). Most of these residues fall into the dead category. They not only provide energy and sustenance for numerous organisms but also contribute to the development of humus-the very dead.


Humus is a byproduct and end product manufactured by organisms during decay processes. Humus is a dark, inconsistently shaped substance that is biologically resistant to decay and makes up the major portion of organic matter in most soils. A vital component of soil, humus provides a cornucopia of benefits.

Humus may be crucial to the existence of every living thing on earth, but it is not a sexy topic of discussion. It constantly contributes to the mechanisms of life but can't carry on an engaging conversation or take out the garbage (but it has some friends that can break down food waste into a soil-like substance). It can't keep you warm at night unless you belong to a family of thermophilic or mesophilic bacteria, and, although all material wealth in the world is linked either directly or indirectly to humus, it can't buy you a new car or anything else. It is important, however, to understand the role humus plays in the soil ecosystem. So put the kids to bed, grab a cup of strong coffee, and turn off the TV. This section may be as boring as the Department of Motor Vehicles driver education booklet, but you needed to get your driver's license and you need to know this too. This information is, without a doubt, more interesting than the stuff one has to read to get (and keep) a pesticide applicator's license.

The following discussion covers two distinct forms of humus. The first is young or labile humus, and the second is stable humus. Labile humus is like compost; it has a wealth of resources available for soil organisms but is fragile and relatively ephemeral (see Figure 1-9). Labile humus is still undergoing humification, and very little of it may ever become stable humus; its future depends on the chemical structures of its organic contents and environmental conditions. Stable humus, compared with labile humus, has fewer available resources for soil organisms but makes greater contributions to soil structure and cation exchange capacity (CEC).


Excerpted from Managing Healthy Sports Fields by Paul D. Sachs Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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