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Sunday, July 4, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Home Clinic

Turn That Irksome Sod Into Compost With A Little Effort

Energy Extension Service

HOME CLINIC: I want to enlarge my vegetable garden and there is grass to remove. I heard my curbside yard debris collection program won't take sod. What can I do with the sod I dig up? - R.B., Algona

DEAR R.B.: You have several choices - use the sod yourself building a sod compost pile, check to see if a neighbor could use the sod, or take it to Iddings, Inc. Iddings charges $15 a yard. Generally two yards will fill up a pick-up truck.

You can put the removed sod to good use yourself if you build a sod pile. Then, between six months and one year later, you'll have healthy compost to use in your garden.

Sod can be removed by using a flat-edge shovel or a sod cutter. If you plan to strip a large area, you will probably want to rent a sod cutter which costs about $35 for a half day. According to Howard Stenn, of Stenn Design, you can cut (no lift) around 3,000 square feet in that time.

If you choose to use your own shovel, it's important to first take a flat edge spade and cut a pattern of straight lines. Careful use of a sod cutter will also provide nice straight pieces. Then when you cut and lift with the flat-edge shovel, the sod will come out in square chunks, which are easy to stack in a neat, solid pile.

To build the sod pile, wet down each layer as it is added to the pile (or cut the sod while it's wet). It's important that each layer of the pile is wet. You can't build up the sod pile and then water it down - the water won't penetrate through the layers.

Pile the chunks of sod, grass-side down or face-to-face. If your grass was brown or had a lot of thatch, add a nitrogen fertilizer between each layer. Cottonseed meal is an inexpensive organic source of nitrogen. Cover the entire pile with black plastic, and secure the plastic down. It's critical to keep out all sunlight.

For the next six months you can ignore it (just keep it covered) and let nature do the work. Next spring, add the finished compost to your garden and reap the benefits.

The quality of your turf will also determine how easy it will be - or not be - to remove the sod. Quack grass is harder to remove then good grass. You will have to dig quack-grass rooms (rhizomes) out with a fork or shovel to prevent them from overgrowing your new garden.

While a sod pile is a good way to kill quack grass and some perennial weeds like buttercup, it will not kill off dandelions or other weeds that have gone to seed. Weed seed heads should be placed in your curbside yard debris bin where a hot composting system will destroy them.

Thanks to Lee Benner of the Energy Extension Service, a division of the Washington State Energy Office. TTD users: To receive this information in alternative format, call the Washington State Energy Office toll-free at 1-800-962-9731 (Voice & TDD).

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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