How garden waste can conserve the levels of carbon in the soil and reduce water usage

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 21, 2011 16:21

Now is the time for greenkeepers to adopt methods that will support more effective water usage and, on a broader environmental theme, conserve levels of carbon in the soil. Compost made from recycled garden waste can play its part as a simple and effective defence against some of the challenges of climate change.

Quality compost can help tackle the effects of changing weather patterns and protect our natural environment.

Water conservation

Compost improves soil structure through the addition of organic matter, leaving soil better able to soak up and retain water and therefore reducing the frequency with which turf needs to be watered.

Taking steps to reduce water usage is a sensible business move and an important environmental consideration in today’s climate. When compared to expensive irrigation systems or time spent salvaging dried out and cracked pitches or fairways, the potential cost and labour savings are significant.

Keen golfers at Loughgall Country Park golf course in Armagh, Northern Ireland have BSI PAS 100 compost to thank for the improvement in the quality of the fairways and tees.

Opened in 2000, the municipal 18-hole golf course is set in the grounds of the magnificent Loughgall Country Park and was one of the first courses in Northern Ireland to specify the use of compost. The par 72 course is set in mature woodland and features strategically-placed bunkers, sloping terrain and water hazards which add to the character and excitement of play.

Previously the site of a Department of Agriculture research centre, the ground had been subjected to different levels of chemicals, such as fertilisers, and its condition made maintenance a challenging task.

In 2004, Loughgall Country Park manager, Greg Ferson, approved a trial of BSI PAS 100 compost after hearing about the success of a similar project at Epping Golf Course in Essex. Sourced from PAS100 certified producer Natural World Products, the compost was applied to three fairways and one sand-based fairway landing area.

Greg explained: “We selected four different areas of the course with varying soils so that we could establish the performance of the compost in different conditions. On two of the fairways chosen we had an issue with the grass growth and colour and hoped that the compost would rectify this. The fairways also suffered from uneven and unhealthy growth as well as low nutrient levels.”

Compost screened to a maximum particle size of 10mm was applied using a Dakota 412 spreader and within a couple of weeks the results were already visible. The areas which had been applied with BSI PAS 100 compost displayed a significant difference in both growth and colour of the grass when compared to the areas where no compost had been used.

Loughgall Country Park golf course manager, Greg Ferson, commented: “As we are a council-owned course, it is excellent that we can demonstrate our commitment to recycling by putting compost back into the course in a way which is improving its quality and playability.

“We’re delighted with the results of the trial, especially on the areas where there is a high clay content as the compost improves the soil structure by introducing more oxygen and improving growing conditions. We have already ordered another 100 tonnes for use around the course. We have also noted the water retention benefits of compost on very dry areas of the course and would definitely recommend its use to any greenkeeper experiencing problems with dry fairways.”

Flooding prevention

With longer and hotter summers, you might assume that water logging and flooding was an unlikely problem. However, the combination of sporadic high rainfall and overworked and compacted soil increases the likelihood of water logging.

Compost can be used to improve soil drainage and reduce the risk of the ground becoming water logged. Essentially, compost acts like a sponge by soaking up, absorbing and dispersing water rather than letting it sit on the surface and damage plants or turf.

Croham Hurst Golf Club is an 18-hole parkland course, two miles from Croydon. The course is planted on chalk and, for the past four years, greenkeeper Roger Tydeman has been ensuring good drainage for year-round playing by using a blend of sand and compost as a top dressing to ameliorate thatch build-up.

Produced by Midlands-based supplier Banks Amenity, the product – Fendress Greentop – is a mixture of quality compost produced from recycled garden material and lignite. Roger has found this easier to work with than the peat-based product he used before, since, unlike peat, the compost does not form small balls which can be difficult to work into the ground.

Roger has been very pleased with the results, which include a reduction in compaction and finer grass growth.

“Frequent use of compost as a top dressing has created a firm surface for our players. The compost allows any excess water to drain through more effectively, especially in clay soils. This means drier, frost-free fairways and keeps our members playing all year round.”

Soil erosion

Wind, rain, and pounding feet pose a significant threat to the condition of soil and these factors all increase the rate at which soil can erode.

Compost, however, contains the chemical building blocks which are the precursors to the creation of strong soil. Organic matter supports the creation of humic substances which bind soil particles into aggregates. These groups of particles bind to each other more strongly than to adjacent particles, keeping soil grounded and more resistant to erosion.

Compost not only reduces the impact of climate change, it can play a direct role in counteracting carbon emissions. Work carried out by Cranfield University indicates that soils in England and Wales have been losing carbon at a rate of four million tonnes per year over the last 25 years. Soil acts as a huge ‘sink’ for long-term storage and cycling of carbon. As organic matter levels fall, carbon is released into the environment. Compost can be used as part of a series of soil management activities to add organic matter to the soil and keep carbon locked in.

Professor Guy Kirk of Cranfield University said, “At least part of the losses we measured were due to climate change. With warmer conditions and changes in soil moisture, microbes in the soil turn over carbon faster, leading to more losses of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and this is a big contributor to global warming.”

A recent study from The Composting Association suggests that adding compost to the soil, and thereby significantly increasing the organic matter within it and helping retain carbon, has the potential to reduce the release of greenhouse gases in the UK by up to 1.4Mt per year. That’s equivalent to removing over a million cars from our roads each year.

Quality compost is now readily available and easy to specify thanks to a number of initiatives.

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick October 21, 2011 16:21
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