Ever wonder where those Yodels-like rolls of grass come from that you’ve seen stacked on pallets or laid out in front of a newly built home? From a sod farm, of course. Growing and harvesting sod is a practice that thrives mainly out of sight (and out of mind). But in Orange County, Andy and Audrey Hutchison at Somerset Seed & Sod have been a go-to source in the instant-lawn trade for decades.
“My wife has been involved in the turf grass industry for 35 years or so,” says Andy, explaining how he came to be in the business. When he and his brother bought a large piece of land in the early 2000s, they knew they couldn’t make it pay by growing corn or soy, so they decided to try sod. Mostly serving landscape contractors, the business grew by word of mouth. Today, the Hutchisons tend about 200 acres of sod, selling roughly half of that each year.
Growing sod is a 12- to 18-month process, beginning around the first of September, when the Hutchisons seed their acreage with a fescue-bluegrass mix. “We use a fair amount of organic fertilizer, and typically we’ll mow it four or five times before it goes into dormancy in the winter,” says Hutchison. The following summer, crews trim the sod frequently to keep it about three inches high, so that it’ll be ready to harvest when fall arrives.
An automatic sod harvester cuts the turf in 2-foot-by-5-foot strips and bundles it into rolls. To replace the soil that leaves the field with the product, Hutchison grows cover crops and tills them in, reintroducing organic matter.
As with any agricultural enterprise, there are environmental considerations. Hutchison prides himself on not installing plastic netting at the time of seeding, which some companies use to hold the sod rolls together. “It takes more time to grow the product,” he says, “because I’m relying on the root system and not on netting.” The method also keeps plastic from going into the ground at the point of installation.
Hutchison says his retail business usually picks up in the spring, but the best season to lay down sod is actually fall, at the time you’d normally quit mowing. “In the fall throughout the winter, sod will establish its root system with little to no irrigation,” he says. Prep the area like you would for a veggie garden: pull weeds, till, and add some compost. Next comes the sod, unfurled like green carpeting and as satisfying as a fresh coat of house paint.
9515 Jacksontown Rd., Somerset. 817-9679. somersetsod.com