Farming is tricky business. Specialty farming is even more so. Sod farming is a specialty that I know a thing or two about, but not much more.
As far as I know, Lambton County is home to only one sod farm, that of Williams Landscaping, just south of Corunna. For a large sod farm, you would need to visit Jamie and his team at Strathroy Turf Farms.
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Good sod won’t grow just anywhere. In order for a field to be suited to grow sod, it needs to be level, have good drainage and be fertile.
Before a plot of land becomes a sod farm, the farmer needs to improve drainage by installing a tight network of field tile. Sod will not have consistent green colour if there are low spots where water collects or high spots where soil dries out too quickly.
Soil needs a good layer of organic matter before it is ready for seed. That means adding compost, manure and fertilizer to be mixed with the top layer of topsoil. But beware, because too much organic matter may result in fungus or disease.
Sod growers sow their seed at the end of August or early September. A professional sod farmer once told me that his aim was to sow seed on Aug. 20 before lunchtime. Cool fall evenings and heavy morning dew are the best recipe for success in growing grass seed.
Sod farmers are picky about the seed they choose. Most sod growers will select a blend of certified varieties of Kentucky Bluegrass. Some will add a small percentage of perennial ryegrass to aid in quick seed germination.
With luck, seed will begin to show green growth in about three weeks. Kentucky bluegrass becomes fine turf, but is a slow germinator, with some seed finally sprouting after winter.
Once seed has sprouted, it needs to be nurtured, fed and watered with precision. Nitrogen is the fertilizer of choice, resulting in quick, dense, dark green growth. Phosphorous is added for root growth and potassium is added to build strength and disease resistance.
Sod farmers cut their young sod often, to increase density and to turn their grass clippings into valuable fertilizer. Water is added in the hot, dry months of July and August.
Sod growers would love to grow their sod without the use of pesticides and herbicides, but they know their clients will have zero tolerance for weeds.
After 20 months, sod should be ready for harvest.
Harvesters get up early in the morning, around 5 a.m., at the crack of dawn. If it has rained through the night, workers might as well stay in bed for a few more hours. Machines are used to slice the grass, along with about an inch and a half of soil with roots. Sod is cut into rolls of 10 square feet, stacked on pallets and loaded on trucks and driven off to their clients.
Sod does not have a long shelf life. Ideally it should be unrolled on harvest day and if that’s not possible, sod should be kept in the cool shade and used on day two. By the third summer day, unless installed, sod will likely have steamed up, turned yellow, and dried up.