Gainesville is working toward becoming a more environmentally friendly city through a joint project with the University of Florida.
City officials partnered with UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) to conduct a study meant to test the effectiveness of using organic compost on turfgrass at the Fred Cone Park multipurpose field, 2841 E. University Ave.
“Given the water quality issues we’ve experienced in the state in the past few years, we need to figure out a way to improve our management of all our lands,” AJ Reisinger, assistant professor at UF’s Soil and Water Sciences Department, said. “We’re interested in using compost as a potential way to reduce the loss of nutrients to sensitive downstream or below ground ecosystems.”
The research team has already completed an initial drone flyover to get a visual of the area being treated, plotted a grid, tested soil, sampled vegetation, applied herbicide and top dressed the field with compost. The next steps include applying fertilizer to a couple of the test plots to compare them to the plots with compost and see the differences on soil and vegetation quality.
Researchers hope to see if topdressing with organic compost, applying a thin layer over the turf surface, will reduce irrigation and fertilizer demands by improving soil condition.
Reducing irrigation is important because as the population continues to grow, water in aquifers may run out, Reisinger said. Reducing fertilizer usage can prevent issues such as algal blooms in surface waters throughout the state.
City officials visited several parks to determine which one would be used for the study. Fred Cone Park was chosen based on the size of the field and budget constraints, Liliana Kolluri, City of Gainesville Urban Forestry Inspector, said. The research team wanted to conduct the tests on a field that is used on a regular basis.
“Residents can still use the multipurpose field,” Kolluri said. “In fact, we want them to be able to, because that keeps conditions as normal as possible to see if the treatment is really going to be effective.”
UF, Life Soils Inc., the City of Gainesville Department of Doing, Parks Recreation and Cultural Affairs and Gainesville Regional Utilities are all funding the project. The total cost is approximately $26,000. UF and Life Soils Inc. are contributing about $18,500 in in-kind donations, and the remaining cost is being split between the different departments in the city, Kolluri said.
Since the project is still in its early stages, little is known about how topdressing may affect plant communities containing a mixture of plant species. The project will continue to be monitored throughout the summer and fall, and officials hope to finish any analysis and reporting by the end of the year.
While the project focuses on field management at city parks, Reisinger hopes the study’s findings can help local residents.
“The same things that we’re testing are relevant to people’s yards,” Reisinger said. “We’re really interested if compost can be used on your front or back yard, so we’re doing projects that are related to that as well.”
Ryan McMeekin, Gainesville native and manager of Life Soils Inc., decided to help with the project, because he is interested in seeing how his company’s COMAND compost product can help suppress diseases in growing plants and reduce the use of synthetics and runoff.
Life Soils Inc. completed the compost application at Fred Cone Park earlier this month.
“I’ve seen our springs go downhill, and I’ve seen our lakes dry up,” McMeekin said. “It’s something close to home, and I want to make a difference environmentally.”
Video: Compost material is applied to the field at Fred Cone Park. (Courtesy of Ryan McMeekin)