Douglas Wilder Middle School field gets ready for compost in 2010.

Douglas Wilder Middle School field gets ready for compost in 2010.

A few years back, Henrico County, Virginia, decided to start using compost on its fields and lawns.

Because of this decision, the county sees improved endurance to the wear and tear of their fields. They’ve also been able to save time and money in maintenance.

Two employees of the Recreation and Parks Department in Henrico spoke about the responsibilities of their jobs. Jason Melton, Turf Maintenance Superintendent, and Blake Phillips, Sports Field/Recreational District Foreman, have seen vast improvement. They credit the use of compost.

The men are responsible for all irrigated turf in the county. This includes about 130 acres consisting of the lawns of rec centers and historic homes, as well as athletic fields.

“Softball, baseball, soccer, multi-use fields, lacrosse, one croquet court, and one stadium baseball field where we host special events,” Melton listed. “In the past, we’ve hosted the Babe Ruth 13-year-old World Series and plan on hosting this event again in 2014. For the past several years, we have also been hosting the Triple Crown United States Baseball Championships.”

Henrico started using organics 4-5 years ago based on research conducted by Dr. Andrew McNitt at Penn State University.

“The first field renovated with compost, I think we used a 2- inch depth over the entire 70,000 sq. ft. soccer field, tilled to a depth of 5-6 inches, and that was SoilBuilder,” Melton recalled. “We sprigged this field and results were amazing. Since then, using compost has been standard for our renovations and new construction.”

Douglas Wilder Middle School field two years later after compost application.

Douglas Wilder Middle School field two years later after compost application.

Phillips explained the process. “Sprigging is the process of establishing warm season grasses using the stolons and rhizomes (the vegetative part of the plant).  We normally sprig at a rate of 600 – 800 bushels per acre.”

Melton spoke about the results they saw in soil organic matter (SOM) for one of the fields they tested. “Our native soils range anywhere from 3-5 percent.  After blending 2 inches of compost into the softball fields at Glen Allen, we saw an increase in organic matter ranging from 3 to 5 percent.”

Since many of the fields they oversee are used for recreation, the wear and tear can be tough.  But  through the use of compost, the field holds up, Henrico reports. The results go beyond improvement of the soil.

Prior to compost use, the County Youth Football Field required a fertilizer application four times a year.  It cost $520 each time for fertilizer. Now, thanks to compost use, the maintenance team says savings for this particular field  are $1,240 for material only.  That doesn’t count time, labor, and fuel.

Jason Melton is the Turf Maintenance Superintendent for Henrico County. He was graduated from Virginia Tech in 1998 with a degree in Forestry and Wildlife.

Blake Phillips is Henrico County’s Sports Field – Recreational District Foreman. He was graduated from Longwood University with a Business Management degree. His father is a sod farmer in Southampton County, VA.   Phillips worked for a turf company during his high school years and summers during college.