A Biosolids Test - Backyard Turf Site - March 2020
That right there is a five gallon bucket of biosolids. Yeah...biosolids. Courtesy of the Downers Grove Sanitary District. They have what they call a "Biosolids Distribution Program" that residents have a few ways of engaging with in terms of receiving the, ummm, biosolids.
First...you might be wondering: what the heck are biosolids? According to the DGSD:
Biosolids, a byproduct of the process of wastewater purification at the Wastewater Treatment Center, is highly recommended for use in flower beds, lawns, shrubs, hedges, and other landscaping. The biosolids are stockpiled for one to two years and then pulverized to provide a product that is easily incorporated into the soil.
The high organic content of biosolids enhances soil work-ability and water retention capacity. The substantial nutrient content will help supply plant needs for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.The lawn fertilizer that I've been using called Milorganite is a biosolid. But....if you read that description above and the phrase 'byproduct of the process of wastewater purification', you probably - like me - think that biosolids are turds. But, according to this OnMilwaukee column, biosolids - and Milorganite in particular - are not poop.
Number one, Milorganite is not made out of No. 2. Let's get that straight from the get-go.
Despite what you may have heard, this Milwaukee-made fertilizer does not contain human feces.
...These pools of churning water are murky, and tiny solids can be seen. But that's not human waste. It's bacteria – like aspidisca, arcella, vorticella and others – that breaks down the organic material in the water.
...So Milorganite is actually the dead bacteria, not poop (which is the bacteria's food).Bacteria. Not turds. Cool.
Now...back to the Downers Grove program. This story from Ed McMenamin in MySuburbanLife has some details in terms of how much of the stuff is made, where it goes and why you might want it: From the Downers Grove MySuburbanLife story:
The district produces about 4,000 cubic yards of the byproduct, called biosolid fertilizer, each year. And it manages to give away every ounce of the nutrient-rich material to residents, contractors and governmental bodies to fertilize landscaping projects. None of it ends up in landfills.
“It has a lot of micronutrients that you don’t typically get in your standard fertilizer that are really important for things like root growth and plant health,” Downers Grove Sanitary District General Manager Nick Menninga said. “So it gives you stuff other than common fertilizer does. It makes it a slightly different product than if you got a bag of stuff at the store.”To get what they call a "Class A" fertilizer product, there is a time element involved. Again...from MySuburbanLife:
...After the belt press, the mud-like substance is piled across several fields by sanitary district employees. The piles of Class B material are rotated from stack to stack over three years as it slowly dries.
“Once it’s gone through the freeze-thaw cycle for two or three winters, it’s very stable,” he said.And...that's where I suppose that I came into the picture. This week, I went over to the distribution site and brought along just one five gallon bucket. I filled it up with the stuff that you see at the very top of this post.
As part of my yard care program kicking off, I wanted to conduct a few experiments along the way - and one of them (or maybe more) include the use of some biosolids as soil and turf amendment.
If all the features are to be believed of biosolids: that they carry high fertilizer value, retain water and are full of micronutrients that encourage root growth and plant health...then, I'm thinking that they're something that we'd want to use, right?
The DGSD Biosolids program includes a free delivery option. The Sanitary District will deliver this stuff directly to your house. And, they'll pay you for it. Seriously. They'll give residents a $5 bill credit. But, there's a catch. You have to take 3 yards of the stuff. Here's a visualization of what three yards looks like. 11' wide. 2.5' tall. 7' deep. Like...the footprint of a car, but 2.5' tall. There are 27 cubic feet in a yard. 3 yards x 27 cubic feet = 81 cubic feet. I have this yard cart that is listed at 7.5 cubic feet in capacity. That's 11 yard carts/wheelbarrows full of biosolids in three yards.
Doesn't seem insurmountable, right? Especially in light of what I'm seeing for Milorganite availability in our area.
But...that's for a later date.
Back to my current experiment. Five gallons of the stuff doesn't go very far. I decided to see if I could try a test pilot of top dressing a portion of our yard with these five gallons. I selected a patch in the backyard and dumped out the biosolids. For reference, you can see at the top of the photo the three (weak) Gold Cone Junipers. I'll look back on this plot to see if there's any material changes in the turf vs the non-biosolid-treated sections.
I then took a leaf rake and spread the biosolids out across the grass. Here's what it looked like (below) after that top dressing was raked in a bit. We're expecting rain today, so I wanted to get it down before that arrived.
Some of the things I'm going to be watching for:
1. Smell. Does it smell bad. And for how long?
2. How long after the first rain is it still visible?
3. Green-up. Did this section green-up faster?
4. Health. Lushness, water absorption, etc.
I'm thinking that it might make sense to go get a few more 5 gallon buckets of the stuff. To test it for trees and flowers, too. As for the lawn...before putting the next batch down, I'm going to use my new thatch rake to dethatch a portion adjacent to this first test plot. To see if detaching BEFORE application changes anything. I'm thinking that one of the areas where I'd use this stuff is down on the parkway - which needs both a good detaching AND what I think might be some organic material to get some good turf growth this season.