I learned early in life the dangers of over-fertilization.
My Grandfather Portfors, “Papa” we called him, lived just a block from us on Brown Avenue in Orofino – right there in the heart of town, so to speak. Papa had a modest but neat home, as befitted his conservative nature, with a lovely yard. It was picturesque – and to my memory much larger than it really was. (I know this because when I go by there today, I can see it’s really not a big lot.)
It was a well-planned yard, the sort that reminds one of the ‘30s and ‘40s when people were knowledgeable gardeners, creating neat homes and outdoor living areas. Rainy springs and summer rains helped. Women worked at home, taking care of the house and grounds – or creating the time for a working husband to be a gardener.
Papa’s backyard included a vegetable garden, a patio with fireplace, a weeping willow, a grape arbor, and a clothesline. I remember the house surrounded by a lovely green lawn edged with rose bushes along the sidewalk. Yes, Papa took pride in his yard.
Well, I say it was a lovely green lawn, but suddenly – about 1960, I’ll say -- it developed ugly brown spots. Papa, by then 85 and a little forgetful, just couldn’t understand what was wrong. He had done everything right, he thought. He had fertilized as usual. He had watered – and watered and watered. And when the lawn didn’t appear to respond, he fertilized again. The condition of the lawn worsened.
At first my parents were stymied, too, but they began to suspect that too much fertilizer had burned the lawn. Papa was unconvinced. Fertilizer was a good thing – and necessary. He dug down into a brown spot and saw a few bugs. Maybe that was the problem. If so, no one else’s lawn was affected.
The next spring the lawn looked a little better, so Papa encouraged it by fertilizing. Naturally, it turned brown again with a vengeance.
Finally, Papa went to the county extension agent for help. The agent visited the lawn and advised that too much fertilizer had been applied. Only then did Papa concede that perhaps this was the case, though even I could sense his confusion on the issue. He just didn’t quite understand how too much of a good thing could be bad.
About that time, he became ill and unable to care for the lawn. Without fertilization, the lawn responded by greening up, eventually making a full recovery. KW
[The top photo is a picture of my grandfather, C.O. Portfors, standing in the midst of his vegetable garden on Brown Avenue in Orofino, about 1954, I think. This garden was not at his house (Brown and C Street), but at Brown and A Street where he owned a vacant lot. Eventually the Methodist parsonage was built on that lot.
The bottom photo is Papa's birthday, late 1950s. Brother Chuck is assisting. Nice profile of nephew L.J. at the bottom of the picture and the back of my head.]