Hayes, who began his career 22 years ago, says his focus as a landscaper has shifted from what he calls a “playbook” of universal fertilization and watering instructions to looking at how best to replace what plants take out of the soil.
“If I was to put a crappy foundation under a building, it would fall down. It’s the same thing with soil. If you build up your soil, you build the strength of your plant,” Hayes says. “Compost is the effort to regenerate and replace the soil.”
In 2008, Hayes began working at UT as a groundskeeper.
“I worked my way up to a crew leader for zone 3, the main campus district. We won best grass in Texas for all the grass that’s in front of the AT&T Center in 2012,” Hayes says. “That was the first thing on campus, landscapingwise, that we did organically.”
Hayes also converted the South Mall lawn to stronger organic grass. The lawn previously had to be replaced every year in time for graduation, he said, costing the university $50,000 annually. It’s now been seven years since it needed to be replaced.
With his team of six and Markus Hogue, program coordinator of irrigation and water conservation, Hayes helped achieve SITES gold certification — a sustainability initiative for landscape architects — for the Dell Medical District in November 2017 by implementing a compost program, using organic and native plants, avoiding synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and conserving water.
The tea-making began when Hayes was put in charge of shifting compost production from a third-party source to UT’s Facilities Complex. He is now an advocate for the sweet amber liquid — for plant consumption only. In addition to using the tea as fertilizer for landscaping around campus, Hayes brings water bottles filled with the mixture to sustainability fairs to hand out to staff members, faculty members and students. Some fans now request to pick up bottles to feed their office plants or home gardens.
The product is not for sale. Instead, Hayes’ mission is to show people that they can use free waste resources to feed and improve the vitality of their plants.
Hayes’ vision is to convert the entire Forty Acres into a robust, self-sustained environment that exemplifies organic practices and resource conservation.
“It’s not that it’s no-maintenance because there is no such thing as a no-maintenance landscape,” Hayes says. “But you want to be able to eventually step back and (say), this area is good for two years. We don’t have to come back here.”