My name is Kyle Johnson, and I’m the Landscape Maintenance Technician here at Joslyn Art Museum. I have a pretty broad background as far as landscaping and grounds maintenance goes, and this is my third season here at Joslyn. When people ask me what all I do here, I tell them, “If it’s green, I take care of it.” With that in mind, I’d like to share a bit about what’s going on behind the scenes.
Last year as I was throwing some of our landscape waste from spring cleanup into the dumpster I thought, “I’m throwing away landscape waste, and then I’m buying compost… This doesn’t make a lot of sense.” And, that’s how it started. Over the winter I began reading and doing research on composting, organic lawn and landscape care, and trying to gain a new perspective on effective, safe, and natural ways to care for our campus. Although it’s experimental for us and in its early stages, I’m excited about some of the new things we’re trying this season.
The goal with some of the new, more organic steps we’re taking is two-fold. The first is to make our grounds as safe as possible for children, pets, and everyone who enjoys the Museum’s gardens. The second is to improve the soil and growing conditions for our turf and landscape. Instead of using synthetic chemicals and fertilizers and heavy irrigation to force everything to “look” healthy, why not give the plants and turf what it wants so it can actually be healthy naturally? If bad soil is a problem (which it is), why not make it better?
My research quickly made it clear that a key element of any organic program is compost. So, with that in mind, I repurposed two, 250-gallon food grade chemical tanks, and built two large compost tumblers. Early this spring, with the help of chefs Adam and Dave, I started composting food waste from Joslyn’s own Café Durham. I’ve also added old mulch, grass clippings, floral waste from events, horse manure, and landscape waste to the mix. In the beginning, we had about half a cubic yard of compost cooking, and it pretty quickly reached a toasty 110° in the tumbler despite the cooler spring temperatures. Not bad for the first run! Since spring I’ve produced 2 batches of compost, with the temperature inside the tumblers maxing out at a toasty 140°.
Once I got into the groove of making good quality compost, it was time to start making compost tea. Last winter I built my own compost tea brewer/sprayer using a repurposed 55 gallon barrel, and old mower cart, and the necessary pumps and plumbing. This season I used it to brew and apply about 8 batches of compost tea to the turf, and it has never looked happier and healthier. The compost tea, in combination with corn gluten pre-emergent/fertilizer and granular, dehydrated compost topdressing, are the core elements of the new lawn and landscape care program I’m developing that is almost completely organic. So far, I’m very pleased with the results.
The growing season is winding down for this year. Next year will bring opportunities to apply what I’ve learned this season, as well as try other new organic products and practices. If any of these subjects interest you, please keep an eye on our blog. I’ll try to post updates and expound on what I’m working on, as well as what’s on the horizon. Delving deeper into the world of organic lawn and landscape care will definitely be an interesting and educational process.
This is new territory for me, and for Joslyn Art Museum, but the rewards of reducing waste, using less water, making our campus safer, and providing a healthier environment are worth pursuing.