The Hammans’ straw blankets are easily installed with an unrolling attachment.
An Ohio farm family uses a novel technique to keep rain from eroding grassed waterways: They cover them with blankets. These are not ordinary blankets, to be sure, but 16'-wide straw blankets specifically designed to protect newly seeded waterways. They are called Nancy’s Blankets.
Carl and Nancy Hamman manage the 3,000-acre Lower Gwynne Farm in Mount Sterling, Ohio. After years of dealing with difficult soil conservation issues, they branched out into the grassed waterway management business 18 years ago.
“Nancy’s Blankets developed out of necessity,” says the namesake. “The rains kept washing away the straw mulch in our newly installed grassed waterways. We guarantee our waterways and it was becoming a financial burden.
“We found a company in Oakwood, Ohio, that made a blanket of wheat straw blown between two biodegradable nets,” Nancy continues. “We tried it and found that it worked. We contracted with the company [Enviroscape] to manufacture the blankets for us exclusively under the Nancy’s Blankets label.”
To complete the package, Carl designed a nonmechanical pin pounder for fastening the blanket to the ground. The Pounder drives a 6"-long, 11-gauge pin with a 2"-diameter top.
“We have sold several thousand Pounders and have a patent pending,” Nancy says. “It looks like a hockey puck on a broom handle. It is simple and inexpensive, but makes pinning the blanket so easy. You just walk along and insert a pin with every step, one pin per square yard of blanket.”
The blankets are thick enough to keep rain from beating up the seed, hold moisture and prevent soil erosion, yet thin enough to let the seed germinate and grass grow through it.
“Tests show a 441% improvement in seed germination under the blanket,” Nancy says. “The blankets last about one year, long enough for the grass to establish. So far, we’ve had one or two repairs to our blankets out of the millions of square yards installed.”
Family affair. The grassed waterways management business is very much a family operation. Sons Robert, 25, and Scott, 23, who are students at Ohio State, are deeply involved. Robert, an engineering major, works closely with Carl on surveying and designing. He has developed GPS systems for the 8' ditchers so the operator never has to get off the machine to form perfectly shaped waterways. Scott, a senior, assists with marketing and installation.
In addition, the Hammans employ up to seven full-time and part-time workers, including a former employee of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and an engineer to assist with design work. The business is listed by NRCS as a Technical Service Provider.
“We design, shape and seed grassed waterways in 10 counties in central Ohio,” Nancy says. “We also have ditchers in Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri. A number of other contractors use our blankets. North American Green, the inventor of the straw blanket, exclusively sells our Pounder and circle-top pins.”
Total protection. “In the past five years, we have sold more than 1 million square yards of Nancy’s Blankets per year. Of that, we install roughly one-half ourselves,” Nancy says.
“When we do a job, we try to get all the farmers in a watershed involved. It doesn’t make sense to install a grassed waterway for one farmer in a watershed and leave the areas above and below him unprotected,” she adds.
Nancy’s Blankets come 8' or 16' wide and in 112½'- and 562½'-long rolls. A 16'x562½' roll covers 1,000 sq. yd. Blankets are installed using a four-wheeler with an unrolling attachment.
The blankets cost 4¢ to 5¢ per square foot. Installation can double or triple that cost, depending on the size of the job and the number of people involved.
For more product information, visit www.nancyblankets.com.
Although the Hammans are the managers of the Lower Gwynne farm, they have let other farmers cash-rent it for the past 10 years.
“We are still involved in decisions of what to plant, but with our increasing involvement in the watershed management business and getting Nancy’s Blankets off an running, we needed to step back,” Nancy says.
- November 2010