Adventures in Installing Sod for the First Time – Part 1

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By Michelle Sadowski, Customer Service Specialist, Red Hen Turf Farms

In the summer of 2018, I took on a D-I-Y project to sod my back yard.  Now that several months have passed, I can share my funny moments, achievements, and failures with all of you. It’s easy to give advice when you read from a script or manual on a daily basis,  but when you actually experience the complete prepare, install and care of sod, you get a better understanding what customers are going through first hand.

If I may start out by giving a bit of advice … if you have a smaller project like mine (1,800 Sq. Ft.), it’s manageable for the D-I-Y’er. If you’re working on a larger job, consider hiring a landscaper.  Landscapers have the equipment and manpower to get the job done easier and more efficiently. If you need a few leads on hiring a landscaper, just call Red Hen Turf Farm – 574-232-6811

I have a slight advantage over the typical residential homeowner.  I’ve been working for Red Hen Turf Farm for 2 seasons now, and I have been equipped with the knowledge of preparing, installing and caring for the sod day in and day out.  And if I really want advice or an answer I cannot find in my trusted sources (Purdue & Michigan State), I can easily just ask Jeremy, our Turf Operations Manager.  Although I am still very much learning the ropes, he knows pretty much everything there is to know about the turf industry, as well as other off topics I don’t need to know (but he tells me anyway).

When I expressed an interest in sodding my back yard, I wanted to make sure I chose the right type of (two) turf varieties Red Hen grows, harvests and sells, which are Kentucky Bluegrass sod and Rhizomatous Tall Fescue sod (also referred to as “RTF Sod” or simply “Tall Fescue Sod”). You can read a more in-depth article about our two turf varieties HERE – Red Hen’s 2 Choices for an INSTANT LAWN: Kentucky Bluegrass Sod vs. Rhizomatous Tall Fescue Sod.

Jeremy helped me choose the type of sod best suited for my project by asking me a few simple questions. These are some of the same questions we ask our customers to make sure their sod projects are successful, and include things like:

  1. Do you have irrigation in the area you are sodding? This is important because although both types need enough water to get established, fescue is drought tolerant and will bounce back better after a drought than Kentucky Bluegrass.
  2. What type of soil do you have? Is it closer to beach sand or hard clay? Again, this is important for the capacity to hold nutrients properly.  Sandy & clay soils need to be watered and fertilized a little differently as well. For more on SOILS, check out FROM THE RED HEN FAQ VAULT: Soils for Lawn – Considerations for Seeding and Sodding
  3. How many hours of direct sunlight does the area you want to sod actually get? Our fescue sod is not a “shade grass” like some people think.  Both turf grasses need direct sunlight to thrive.
  4. How much time and money do you realistically want to spend on maintenance?  Kentucky Bluegrass is a higher maintenance turf than fescue.  Fescue will need less water and fertilizer once it’s established than Kentucky Bluegrass.
Red Hen Turf Farm grows, harvests and sells 100% Kentucky Bluegrass AND Rhizomatous Tall Fescue. Kentucky Bluegrass makes up most of our sales, but the Fescue is another option for homeowners with little or no irrigation and/or want less maintenance.

The “BEFORE PHOTO” … We had a lot of work ahead of us including removing a fire-pit and walkway.

CHOOSING THE BEST-SUITED TURF TYPE

I knew that my backyard was not going to be the best fit for the Kentucky Bluegrass sod. There’s no in-ground irrigation, it’s got some shade and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time or money maintaining it.    I didn’t mind having an “imperfect” lawn, especially with our pesky squirrels and moles.  So I chose Rhizomatous Tall Fescue for the project. It was end of June when I decided it was time for my project to begin since I was planning a huge birthday party in August and I was on a time crunch.

Keep in mind that our Tall Fescue sod is not a shade grass – no grass likes shade.  However, in theory our Tall Fescue sod MAY do better in shaded areas than our KYB sod.

Ultimately, if your grass is thinning out due to shade, there are things you can do to improve your growing chances such as trim trees and create more airflow. Here’s a great link for those wondering about growing grass in shaded areas:  Red Hen’s Grass In Shade

INSPECTING THE SITE

I first wanted to make sure the soil was going to be fertile enough for my turf but I knew it would be fine because there was already grass growing in the area I was planning on sodding. The initial reason I wanted to sod is because I had large dirt patches everywhere. Seeding could have been an option but I am impatient. I didn’t want to wait a year to pass a “sock test” and who doesn’t want an beautiful, instant lawn?

We found out later (after closer inspection) the reason grass didn’t grow in certain areas was due to compaction and rocks under the soil. Grass doesn’t grow well on rocks or in compacted soils.  To learn how to correct compaction issues, Purdue has a great link here:  Mowing, Dethatching, Aerifying and Rolling Turf.

Rocks made grass impossible to grow next to our old driveway. It was a tough and long job to remove them to make way for turf.

My soil was on the sandy side, so I considered mixing topsoil in.  However, from what I have learned while working at Red Hen, I knew it was not necessary because I had success growing grass in that area before. Additionally, I knew our sod grew well in many types of soil as long as it was taken care of properly. I also learned that having sandy soil meant you may just have to water more frequently and in smaller amounts. Here’s a great Purdue article on sandy soils: Maintaining Lawns on Sandy Soil

When homeowners tell us they have new construction, we often suggest to mix topsoil in – just because (typically) with new construction the top layer of soil  (where a lot of the nutrients are) is often stripped out to make way for concrete, garages, homes and roads.  If you are unsure, always get a soil test before you seed or sod.
MEASURING

We recommend using a measuring wheel or other measuring tool designed for this purpose.  We have found that house plans/prints are not reliable enough when deciding how much sod to order.

Make sure you measure more than once and allow for any trimming.

Red Hen makes it easy to measure – just go here:  Measuring Tips  I measured a few times with a measuring wheel and after I got the same number twice, found 1,800 sq. ft. was the magic number.

You can also try using a website called Lawncrack to help you figure out the size of the area.  You simply type in your address into the Lawncrack Area Calculator, and an aerial view of your property pops up for you to draw the area you want to sod, while it calculates your square footage.  there are lots of trees on your property, it might not provide you a good enough aerial view.

You can use a measuring wheel like this for small projects, or a larger wheel for larger projects.

PREPPING THE SITE

We were finally ready to break ground.  I would suggest reading our instructions on Preparing, Patching and Installing sod.  It was end of June and it was very hot (90’s)  Jeremy did warn me about heat stresses on sod during these temps but I pushed forward with the project anyway.  I was able to hire a friend to scalp the remaining sod off the site. Using a sod cutter, it didn’t take any time for him to remove the upper layer of the lawn to get it down to bare dirt.  We removed the fire-pit and stone walkway, then we were ready for the tilling. Some landscapers suggest to use grass killer herbicide and till it up afterwards.  If you decide to go this route, ensure you pick a herbicide that allows you to replant grass or seed within the time frame you want to seed or sod.  (always read the label/instructions).  I had pets so I didn’t want to risk any harmful chemicals around them.

Renting a sod cutter is one way you can prepare your site for new sod.

Once the old grass was removed it was time for tilling and grading.  My husband rented a tiller and tilled the soil deep to about 4-6 inches.  We then took metal rakes and leveled the area into a smooth surface.

The final grade.

DELIVERY & INSTALLING

I made sure I planned ahead to order my sod, ensuring at least 4-5 days for scheduling.  It was July 5th.  My sod and enough starter fertilizer (12-12-12) to cover my area was set to arrive after lunch.

With a bit of planning and communication to the Red Hen Team about where the delivery semi would be parking and placing the pallets of sod, (HERE’s an article we recently wrote on that topic), our awesome Red Hen driver Bob, arrived promptly and set the pallets exactly where we needed them.

We were ready to start installing.

I fertilized the graded ground with starter fertilizer (12-12-12) at 8 pounds per 1,000 sq. ft so I used just about 15 pounds total for my 1,800 sq. ft. area.

An easy way to calculate how much fertilizer you need:  Take your total square footage divide it by 1,000 (sq.ft) then multiply it by the rate of the fertilizer.  IE: 1,800 sq. ft divided by 1,000 = 1.8 multiplied by the rate of the starter fert of 8 lbs per thousand sq. ft  equals 14.4 lbs needed for the entire area.

Not sure if your spreader is set to the right setting?  Click HERE for Red Hen’s Guide, Fer tilizing Tips & How to Calibrate that Darn Spreader.    I always tell our customers if you are unsure on the amount of fertilizer to use, go lighter to start.  Don’t go too heavy … you will see why in Part 2 of my story … 

And the work begins…

With help from a wheelbarrow, we hauled our sod to the opposite side of the yard to start our first long straight line of sod.  I made sure as the sod was put down, it was constantly soaked with water using my hose and sprinklers.

Since neither of us had installed sod before, it took us about 2 hours to install each of our three 600 Sq. Ft. pallets, whereas the average professional landscaper could probably do it in half of the time.    My husband hauled the sod and set each piece down, while I firmed up the seams and made sure each piece was deeply soaked with water, just like it says in Red Hen’s Early and Long-Term Care Guide.

We laid the sod making sure each seam was tight with the next until we had a completely installed lawn.   I was extra proud of the fact that I ended up being spot on with the measurements!  It took us about 7 hours total for the entire installation.  This included a few much needed water breaks. We were racing against a thunderstorm that was heading our way and we just made it in time for mother nature to help us with some watering.

Our project was coming along nicely!

WATERING, WATERING, WATERING

We kept the freshly installed sod deeply soaked for the first 5 days, then continued to monitor it everyday for any additional waterings.  As you might remember, July 2018 was extremely hot and dry, and during basically doughty weather, you will need to water your freshly installed sod more often so it does not dry out.

I made sure I watered early in the morning – between 4-6am because according to Purdue’s Irrigation Practices for Homelawns – “at this time water pressure
is usually the highest, there is little distortion of the watering pattern by wind, and the
amount of water lost to evaporation is negligible.”  On the other hand, if I was unable to water early in the day, I knew that watering at a less-ideal time was much better than skipping it altogether.

Although my new yard was Tall Fescue sod and, once fully established in a year or so, will be drought tolerant, all new sod (until it’s established) will need to be soaked with water for the first week to root properly, and even more so in the hotter temperatures like we were dealing with.  If you are unsure if your sod is getting enough water, lift up on a corner, see if the soil underneath is getting soaked through.  If it is not, water more. Here’s a great link on properly watering your lawn from Purdue: Irrigating Home Lawns

The finished project!

Throughout the hot month of July with no rain for several weeks,  it seemed no matter how much I watered, it just wasn’t enough. After all, my hose and sprinklers did not put out as much water compared to in-ground irrigation.  I was determined to keep my new sod green, but it had been a few weeks and the sod hadn’t even rooted in places. I started seeing a few brown spots so I took some pictures and showed Jeremy.  Just as I suspected, I still was not putting down enough water.  I had my watering cut out for me!

A few heat stressed areas were visible after a few weeks.

In the meantime,  at The Red Hen Office we were getting calls from customers who were having similar issues, even with irrigation systems on timers, we we knew it was the perfect time to write our blog, Irrigation, droughts – and strange weather … HOT, DRY SUMMER TURF TIPS from Red Hen Turf Farm.

It was difficult watching my sod turn brown during the hot weather. But just when I was losing hope, in early August cooler weather came around and Mother Nature graced us with some much needed rain, and guess what?  My fescue started repairing itself.  I was relieved and excited to see it come back to life.  I decided it was a good time to boost it with another round of starter fertilizer before my August party … and THAT’S WHERE MY NEXT ADVENTURE BEGINS in Part 2!

Look for Part 2 soon!  Until then,

~Michelle & The Red Hen Crew!

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I HAVE THE BEST CUSTOMERS!

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I know … everyone says they have THE BEST CUSTOMERS, and I truly mean it!

And, I have some of the funniest customers around.

For instance … Let’s talk about Landscapers!  Landscapers in general must have a good sense of humor just for the industry they are in. Mother Nature tends to throw a monkey wrench into a landscaper’s job plans weekly if not sometimes daily.  They might be trying to lay sod, but it rains two inches that night. Or they might be going to plant trees, and it snows two inches. Then they need to get the salters in the trucks and a day later take them back out. Yes every job and business has its challenges. But Landscaping in the Michiana area is a unique one.

I have been on some fun trips, events, conferences, lunches and dinners with my customers. I learn something new and always have a good time. I am amazed at how many of my customers have become a friend over the years. I am very lucky to be in the industry I am in, and to have met so many great men and women.

There are more days than I can count that a customer has called or texted me and made me laugh. Including today. Laughing makes for a great day!   Thank you!

Until next time, Jeremy and The Red Hen Turf Farm Crew

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What Does a Marketing Intern DO at a Sod Farm Anyhow?

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021I really didn’t know what to expect of a marketing internship at a turf farm. I also didn’t come into this with any specific expectations other than to harness some concrete skills that would set me apart from the competition as I entered the work force. I took the Red Hen internship because I knew I would be working with quality people, within a community I am passionate about and farming/ small business is in my roots. My intuition was — this would be fantastic place to learn and grow.

In the beginning, I spent time touring the farm, shadowing staff, taking a lot of notes, listening to a few stories (some fact, some fiction) and really taking it all in. Before long, I was getting my feet wet.

Five Tower Lane

Some of the projects I ended up working on were designing new business cards (utilizing photographs I took), postcard advertising mailers, Facebook cover art, hats, as well as dabbling in website design. I enjoyed the design projects; they allotted me independent creativity while teaching me those concrete skills I was hoping for.

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Organization is the key to success.

I also researched and wrote up social media policy for employees as well as researched social media management tools and their effectiveness for this particular small business. Along the lines of social media, I also worked diligently to beef up the farm’s Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts. My goal was to utilize Twitter to update cutting status, Instagram to entertain and thus gain followers and Facebook to inform and entertain, all of which would ultimately lead to followers and thus sales.

A cluttered desk just means you’re working diligently on many projects, right?

Writing up articles for submission to Turf Producers International (TPI) newsletter and magazine, the farm blog and other newsletters, was another big undertaking.  When writing about Red Hen’s involvement in the SB 150 birthday party, I had the privilege to speak with planning committee members Johnathon Geels, Landscape architect with the Troyer Group and Drew Elegante, owner of South Bend Brew Werks. Both were a pleasure to interview and gave notable insight and quotes that ultimately helped me deliver a great article.

I sat in on an irrigation event the farm hosted, presented by Purdue and MSU county extension offices. Attending, writing a blog about that event, and taking pictures for it was a definite highlight.

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Lyndon Kelley of MSU and Purdue extension offices speaks on irrigation tactics.

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Irrigation event field trip.

I went out on a limb when researching the TPI media packet. I noticed an upcoming issue would be touching on product diversification, which is significant to the Red Hen operation. I quickly jumped on the opportunity to write about this and got it approved by management.

lawn big roll 001

A substantial amount of time was also spent working one-on-one with customers. I would place their orders, talk to them about their lawns and more often than not, listen to the solutions Jeremy Cooper (Turf Operations Manager), the sod expert of the office, had for them. It was refreshing to work with a business that understands how to treat customers well and works hard at it every single day.

Customer service 101: You never know what you’re gonna get!

Among all these projects, my favorite was shooting video and pictures. I was able to
deliver a bank of quality pictures to the farm in thousands. Getting up at the crack of dawn to capture the sunrise on the farm, laying on the sod and venturing through 10 foot tall corn, all in the name of unique shots, contributed to an overall amazing experience.

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Lisa Courtney, my internship manager, was a wealth of information. She is a google extraordinaire and at times, I feel she is a living and walking encyclopedia.  If you need answers, she’s got them and if she doesn’t, give her 10 minutes and search engine and she will!  She has taught me so much in terms of technology, I.T. tips, website knowledge, design strategy, etc…  I can’t begin to explain all the nuggets she’s thrown at me during the course of the internship, but I can say I’m very thankful to her and I’m so honored to have had the opportunity to work next to her.

All the staff at Red Hen has been pleasant to work with. I appreciate the laid back yet professional atmosphere. There is a real sense of community and common sense work ethic within the organization which I think greatly adds to their effectiveness and overall success.

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Sod crew inked

Red Hen Sod Crew

I must say this internship was a wonderful experience.  It was a goal of mine to “wow” them.  Well, I’m not  sure I can say I’ve met my goal but they have definitely “wow’d” me!

Tomatoes inked

Leslie signature

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Jeremy Reflects on the Small Business Mentality – and it’s National Small Business Week

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It’s National Small Business Week – May 4-8, 2015

Do you know what I miss when I shop, especially at the box stores?  It’s a small business mentality.

When I was young my parents started a video store in Elkhart, Indiana. I learned early on what customer service meant to my parents and their customers. I highly enjoyed working at the South Bend location. In fact, I did not start getting paid untiI was 14, so it must of been the free movies that kept me working there – RIGHT?

But now, looking back, it was the customers that kept me coming back. I know this might sound cheesy but it’s true.

I had one customer who took me on my first plane ride. I even got to fly the plane for a while.

I had customers bring me food, desserts and even invite me to dinner. At one of the dinners I went to they showed me a board game that I have since taught to my sons.

At that time, our customers could have gone to at least 3 different video stores — but they choose us. They wanted to rent a movie – sure – but more importantly they wanted a recommendation they could trust.

So sitting here at home on my iPad reading about how it is National Small Business Week, I thought about where I shopped tonight. Let’s just say that when we all walk in a big chain store, we are no more than a number.

But, as customers and small business owners and employees, we often can make a different choice and that choice can make a difference in our lives that goes beyond buying a product or a service.

Thank you for supporting small business.

Jeremy and the Crew from Red Hen Turf Farm

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Red Hen is seeking Testimonials and Feedback … Would you help us out?

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First, to all of our customers, we wanted to say THANK YOU AGAIN for choosing Red Hen Turf Farm.  As many of you know, we greatly value our relationships with our customers.

We strive to provide high quality and very reasonably priced turf grass sod, grass seed, fertilizer, soil test kits, erosion control products, and more.

We also strive to make DIY lawncare DO-able by providing complementary (in other words, no-cost) services such as assisting with trouble-shooting your lawn problems and designing customized fertilizer programs based on your goals, budget, and soil analysis.  We truly enjoy EDUCATING our customers!

So, we were wondering — do you read online reviews? In today’s market of big companies overshadowing the little guys like us, online reviews are very important. They provide us with the information we need to continue to improve, but they also help us to get the word out about our product or service. That’s why we need your help.

On that note, would you take a few moments of your time to jot down 1-2 sentences about our products and services?   

It’s a fast, simple way for you to make a difference in a company that’s providing you great products/services. Here are some choices for providing your testimony:

  • via our Google Business pageCLICK HERE (if you need some tips or help with this, check out THIS LINK)
  • via Email – send your email to Jeremy & the Red Hen Team at turf(AT SYMBOL)redhenturf.com
  • via our Contact Us webpageCLICK HERE
  • via the mail … we’re at Red Hen Turf Farm, 2935 Darden Road, New Carlisle, IN 46552

Last but not least, please give us a call today if you need immediate help or feedback. We want to hear from you and are here to answer your questions.

Until next time,

Jeremy and the Crew from Red Hen Turf Farm

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