Regenerative Lawn Care

What is regenerative lawn care? It’s lawn care that regenerates topsoil, increases biodiversity, enhances ecosystem services, deepens resilience to climate fluctuation, and strengthens the vitality of our community.  We practice regenerative lawn care by testing your soil’s biological function and either inoculating, feeding or doing both to get your soil microbiology functioning at full capacity.

The key to this program is biodiversity, both above and beneath the ground.  As much as we love a monoculture, nature abhors it. It is constantly trying to create diversity, and for some very good reasons!  A wide variety of plants on the surface helps to create a wider variety of microbes in the soil. This creates a healthier overall system; building more topsoil, storing more carbon, creating better soil aggregates, reducing compaction and allowing for increased groundwater recharge.

Regenerative techniques are nothing new. In fact, they are quite old.  It’s funny how big agrochemical companies call their current approaches conventional when they are actually experimental techniques.  In case you haven’t noticed, most of these experiments have gone terribly wrong. The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is as large as it has ever been.  Carbon has been stripped from our soils and is reaching dangerously high levels in the atmosphere. Plants are adapting to resist chemicals resulting in new and more dangerous chemicals being recklessly applied in ever larger amounts.  

Fortunately, regenerative techniques are part of the solution to these problems. All of us - as consumers - can help by embracing these time-proven, soil building techniques.


Here are two ways you can help.  One, make purchases that support farmers and ranchers who are embracing regenerative techniques.  Two, consider regenerative lawn care. Regenerative lawn care is a lower cost alternative for those wanting to go down a non-conventional path.  Your lawn may look a little more wild, a little more free, but isn’t that the Montana way? Feel free to embrace biodiversity. Your lawn doesn’t have to become a prickly thistle patch, but a little clover for free nitrogen or a long tap rooted flower for compaction relief can go a long way to improving your soil’s microbial health and your pocketbook. Plus, and most importantly, the world will thank you.

Best of Bozeman

We are beyond excited and thankful to have won the 2018 Bozeman's Choice Reader's Poll best "Business for Green Products/Services."  We greatly appreciation everyone in the Bozeman community who supported and believed in us last year.  This past fall and winter, I have been working my tail off to learn more about soil health and soil microbiology to make sure Organic Lawn stays on the cutting edge of the regenerative soil health movement.  It is going to be another great year!

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Banking on Fungi

Everyday we make choices that either build or destroy soil.  As consumers, we can choose to support companies that build soil through regenerative practices.  As land owners, aka tiny ranchers, we can do this by managing our land via holistic management practices that focus on soil microbial health.  But how do we do this?

That's an excellent question, one that I think about constantly.  I was lucky enough to escape Bozeman's arctic winter and help a grass-fed beef ranch in Pescadero, CA take one step closer to the answer.  Feel free to give this post a read if you would like to learn more.

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Regenerative Agriculture Meets Silicon Valley

Anyone from Southwest Montana knows the value of our shared water resources, whether they’re fly fishermen on our blue ribbon streams and rivers, ranchers and farmers who depend on it for their livelihood, or recreational whitewater enthusiasts who dream of spring runoff.  In wet years, when we have plenty to go around, we don’t worry about it too much.  Unfortunately, we have seen fewer of those than anyone would like.  Combine that with rapid growth and a changing climate and we are in for a dry rocky road if we don’t plan ahead.

The Yellowstone River holds a special place in our hearts and we’re well aware that increasing demand for its pristine undammed waters has taken its toll.  We were lucky to have slightly above average snow pack last winter. Unfortunately, last year we saw fish kills and river access closures.  Our local economy depends on keeping rivers like the Yellowstone open and flowing strong. 

It would seem that there would be a conflict between ranchers who pull water out of the Yellowstone and those who would like to see it left in the river.  That is not the case with Jeff Reed.  He runs a ranch on the banks of the Yellowstone and has been working with local businesses to find ways to use technology to decrease his water consumption while increasing his yield.  Smart watering -- with the help of reasonably priced sensors – have helped him decrease his water usage significantly.

We recently met with Liz Kearny from the Livingston Enterprise who wrote this article on how Paradise Valley residents put smart water technology to use. She briefly touched on soil and how it can increase crop nutrition, but a factor even more important for the health of our cherished Yellowstone River is presence of vibrant, living soil.  Healthier soils with increased organic matter, improved soil structure, and thriving microbiology hold more water, preventing runoff and slowing downward movement.  This results in less water usage, lower energy bills, and a healthier river system. 

We tested the microbiology of Jeff’s fields and found that he had low fungal activity.  If you’re curious about how, exactly, this affects his water usage, I highly recommend reading Jeff Lowenfels’ book Teaming With Fungi.  We added a low cost organic soil stimulant to half of his field in an attempt to jump-start that fungal activity.  Next year we will re-test that plot and compare it to his control side.  Our goal is to further increase Jeff’s water savings from the 30% he saw this first year.  We can do this by combining regenerative agriculture with technology.  Not only will it be good for our local river ecosystems, it will be good for farmers' and ranchers' bottom lines.

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Tiny Ranches

Ranching – taking care of the soil, growing grass and raising livestock – has been the heart of Southwest Montana since our state’s inception.  But as Gallatin and Park counties have grown, so has the diversity of economic opportunities.  Many kids who grew up on the ranch find it tempting to leave the family homestead and find a job in rapidly growing Bozeman.  It makes sense: a growing business scene powered by technology companies, outdoor clothing/gear companies, and a mind blowing number of non-profits provide fulfilling careers.  It would seem Montana’s longstanding ranching tradition is under threat of extinction.

I beg to differ.  I propose a new paradigm, one in which the number of ranchers in Southwest Montana is actually rapidly expanding.  There is no lack of ranchers; there is merely a misconception of what it means to be one.  I’ll explain --

Webster defines a ranch as “a farm or area devoted to a particular specialty”.  Before you get caught up in thinking there has to be cows or barbed wire fence, try to think about it more simply.  A ranch is an area devoted to a particular specialty.  This could be 2,000 acres in Paradise Valley or 2,000 square feet on South 3rd.  They are both doing the exact same thing: growing grass.  While one might feed it to cows, the other chops it up and feeds it to the microbes.  They are both in the business of ranching and their particular specialty is growing grass. It’s not that ranchers as a group are getting smaller. It’s that the size of the average ranch is getting smaller.

Now that every lawn owner knows they are also a rancher, it is time we started ranching as responsibly as possible.  Massive marketing campaigns sponsored by the chemical lawn care industry have sold us practices that are destroying our tiny ranches. Conventional fertilizer and chemical weed controls poison the beneficial bacteria, protozoa, nematodes and earthworms living in the soil.  Watering lightly and infrequently, such as every day or every other day, drowns those same creatures.  Mowing shorter than three inches stresses the turf and creates shallow roots.  The microbiology in our soil has a symbiotic relationship with grass roots and depends on them being deep and healthy.  The key to good ranching is good soil. The key to good soil is a well-informed and responsible rancher.

I would never blame anyone for ranching irresponsibly.  Up until you read this article, you probably didn’t even realize you were a rancher.  That said, now that you know, it’s time to get started down the path of responsible and holistic ranching.  Ranching is our way of life and it is time we all start taking care of our soil as best we can.  Your tiny ranch will thank you.

 

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