Dirt pellets—off the beaten path

By Abraham J. Miller

You are alone with your sweetheart on a romantic walk in the fields surrounding the campus when suddenly you get this squishy feeling under your toes. You look down to see small, dark, somewhat oblong, offensive-looking pellets—but don’t worry, it’s just dirt.

The sight of these dirt pellets has probably greeted the eyes and feet of several sidewalk-faring students.

A freshman computer science major, Victor Castro, said, “I didn’t know what it was at first, and I was scared to go out and find out.”

This view also was held by several students, some of whom thought, despite the lack of odor, the pellets were actually large sized fertilizer.

According to Tom Anderson, NIU superintendent of grounds, “Many campuses do this, it’s recommended (for good lawn care).”

However, Anderson said the pellets are not fertilizer, but actually caused by an aeration process.

Aeration has been going on for at least 25 years. In that time Anderson said the grounds office has never had any complaints concerning the unsightly cylinders of soil. He attributes this to the fact that by spring, the rain and snow have dissolved the cores back into the ground.

The process is done by an aerator, which is a rotary device with hollow tines, or spikes, that removes cores of soil from turf.

Anderson said they usually do this twice a year, once during the fall and again in the spring. The most frequent use for the process is for athletic fields which become compacted during mowing, games and foot traffic. The process relieves the compaction and allows the soil to breathe a little easier.

This year, because of the hospitable weather, the grounds caretakers have been able to cover more of the lawns before winter sets in.

Dawn Stephan, a junior elementary education major, said she is familiar with the process and notes its merits and downfalls.

“My family has it done every month and the summer after the first time we had it done, it really made the lawn look a lot greener. But I have to admit that it was a pain to deal with my friends who thought we were being really lazy with our dog.”