Harvard University’s Soil Restoration Project

What began as a one-acre pilot project has turned into a 25-acre initiative. Harvard University is now feeding its campus soils with compost and compost tea instead of pesticides and synthetic nitrogen. In comments to The New York Times, Wayne Carbone, Harvard’s landscape manager said: “Our goal is to be fully organic on the 80 acres that we maintain within the next two years.” 

Harvard’s president, Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s president has set the university’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction target — 30 percent by 2016. According to The New York Times, Faust was “intrigued” by the Harvard Yard Soils Restoration project, and thinks it’s a key part of the broader campus sustainability plans. Faust told The New York Times: “The lumps of soil showed how grass grew when treated with chemical fertilizers and how it looked when treated organically. You could really see the root systems and how different they were. And I saw the impact, I was really excited.” 

Harvard’s grass is literally greener due to the microbes now feeding the soil. Additionally, roots now reach eight inches into soil that “was once so compacted the trees planted in it were dying.” Harvard’s soil was compacted by the enormous amounts of foot traffic it receives from some 6,000 to 8,000 people daily. Microbial activity aerates soil, and trees are now thriving, writes The New York Times. The new organic soils may also yield water and cost savings. “The university has reduced the use of irrigation by 30 percent thus saving two million gallons of water a year.”

Eric T. Fleisher, the director of horticulture at the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy, worked with Harvard’s landscape team on the original pilot tests. Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, a professor at Harvard, also advised Dr. Faust and the landscape team.

Read the article and go to Harvard’s mini online tutorial on organic landscaping.

Image credit: Jodi Hilton, The New York Times

One thought on “Harvard University’s Soil Restoration Project

  1. ecotonelanddesign 09/30/2009 / 1:49 pm

    Great info for those who are maintaining the sites that landscape architects are planning. Hopefully, other studies will quickly reinforce these findings and we can move toward healthier soil structures to support life.

    We see they have improved a lawn (which is seldom native and irrigation free). I think it would be interesting to explore whether the compost tea has a postive impact on stands of native plants in a more natural environment. That is, can plant selection and low maintenance planning minimize the need for even the compost tea?
    Ecotone Land Design

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s