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Dave Wilber: Turfgrass Zealot


The Telegraphic Dynamics of a Successful Summer

  Posted in Agronomy 13 April 2010 · 759 views

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Here is Spring and that means Summer has the throttle twisted in a pre-run burnout and is headed our way. Summer means all kinds of things to turfgrass managers. Long days, different grass types and their needs, kids out of school and their needs, long days, golfers, irrigation issues, long days and of course, long days. For almost all of us, it is make or break time.

 

Why am I talking about this now? I have seen clearly that successful summer survivors are always months ahead of the game as it comes to preparing. One superintendent who was always way ahead of the curve explained that if he didn't start sending his turf telegrams way before the dog days, then the turf would never get the message. Brilliant. Think about it, when the environmental stress of the Spring is low, you have control of how and what kind of pre-stress conditioning to implement. The need for accuracy isn't as great. It's a great time to experiment a little and see how far you can take things. It's an important time to plan and be real about what your current situation is.

 

Water. Here is where I have seen more sins committed than almost any area of springtime agronomy. Too much, too soon and too often can put a total top to any kind of pre-stress conditioning for the plant. "Oh, it needs a little bit of water" is a warning sound for trouble to come. Don't give in to the temptation to do this and you'll see that not babying turf in cool weather pays off in spades later. Now, there are always exceptions, but they are rare. I've written about this before, here, if you want to know more.

 

Nitrogen Fertility. Spring Springs and so do then the Lelys and Vicons like big-mouth tulips anxious to pollinate the world. It's true, after a long and rainy (or snowy) winter we turfheads are always anxious to get our grow on. Yet, so often application timing too early leads to issues. Yes, nutrient management often dictates some growth being needed, but remember, as soil temps are coming up, biological activity is getting on the next train. So for many, that overzealous fert application is soon followed with a cry for help to keep up with the mowing. Easy does it' always works.

 

Mineral Fertility. On the other side of the coin is the fact that pre-stress conditioning can mean a need to fix or enhance soil nutrients in need of re-stocking. Your energies in getting materials out before summer are totally worth it. Be it Potassium or Calcium (or lots of Calcium for those monks wearing that robe), Phosphorous, Iron (or lots of Iron for the members of the other church) or whatever other corrective treatments, doing it now is never a bad idea.

Who is in your support network? How is your Faith? When is the last time you really laughed? All of these things are important. When we talk about pre-stress conditioning, this has to be an area of critical factor.

Plant Protection. Call me crazy, but I think the days of application of any kind of plant protection "Just Because We Always Do" are long over. Careful consideration of the dollars available, the total program possible, the real stress that you have at your property is necessary. If indeed you battled Anthracnose or other Spring/ Early Summer Disease last year there is no guarantee that things will be the same. A watchful eye? Yes. Proper timing of applications? Of course. Fear, because you might end up like the course down the road did last year? Absurd. Expecting a material to suddenly work when it should have been applied earlier. Just as Dumb. Confused? Seek help. It's all around.

 

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Growth Regulation. I love the many options we have with Growth Regulation these days. Specific, targeted materials and programs that make our efforts to grow grass a whole lot of fun when the growth needs to slow down or the seedhead just has to go. But like anything else, these materials need proper application timing, correct selection and an understanding of what they will and will not do. Again, "just because" can't be the way to approach the use of tools that are amazing in their ability to help us move into summer stress periods. If you are confused"¦ help is out there in many forms. There are no dumb questions.

 

 

You. Spring can be a great time for you to look in the mirror. Are you OK? Is your family OK? What health things can you address before the Dog Days come? Where are your priorities? Who is in your support network? How is your Faith? When is the last time you really laughed? All of these things are important. When we talk about pre-stress conditioning, this has to be an area of critical factor.

 

Preparation for anything is key. Take a moment and map out your world a bit. Look deep and see what the possibilities are for doing things better and different. Don't procrastinate. It won't help you when the heat is really on.

 




The Sandpaper Washcloth

  Posted in Balance 27 March 2010 · 847 views

(this was published in the Sierra Nevada GCSA Chapter Newsletter this February. In light of some of the current discussions on the TurfNET Forum, I thought it might be good to port over here. Many thanks to Jim Alwine, the Sierra Nevadas superior newsletter editor for asking me to write something for the chapterDW)

 

Go ahead. Wash up. Just make sure you use that 80 grit sandpaper to get all the dirt off. That's how a lot of us feel, when we talk about finances as it comes to the business of growing grasslike we've been scrubbed by sandpaper to be left with no dirt, or skin.

 

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In my family, growing up, we didn't talk about money much. My parents were kids of the Great Depression and to them, money wasn't a subject that they wanted to engage in because they had been steeped and tea stained in an era of constant conversation about saving. They were frugal, not in debt and never did anything beyond their means. It was, actually, a pretty simple formula. So now that I find myself in the clutches of the Great Recession (not my term, I read it on Yahoo News), I don't like it. And as I travel and visit with Turfheads, they don't like it either. But, not liking something or being uncomfortable about something is no reason not to talk about it. I wish my parents would have understood this... but that's the Personal Therapy article and I doubt I'll write it for Turfheads alone.

 

Here's the deal. If all of us are going through something, then it can't be a bad thing to join hands and sing Kumbaya about it. Right? Seriously, there isn't anyone that I come in contact right now that isn't saying something, in some way about the economy and the current economic crisis. It's everywhere. It can't be avoided. And for those of us in the recreation oriented business of Golf, there has been a dramatic impact. Let's not get into Golf's mistakesSupply and Demand. The National Golf Foundation's Storytelling. Revenue Projections Made up by Promotional Monkeys.  That stuff is just the used playdough of the blame game. Let's spend a minute talking about the moment.

If I look at the reality of agriculture and horticultureoutspending hasn't always meant better. My favorite organic strawberries are grown for very little. The best wines, come from poverty grapes.  My favorite golf courses in the USA and the World, spend less per acre than their numbered competition.

Reality of the current moment dictates one thing. That all of us do more with less. Really. That's what it comes down to. And if you look at that through the lapping compound of grinding it down to our level, it means that we are right in the middle of a version of Turfgrass SurvivorOutwit. Outplay and Outlast. This might be a better tactic than the previous strategy of Outspend, Outdo and Outbrag. If I look at the reality of agriculture and horticultureoutspending hasn't always meant better. My favorite organic strawberries are grown for very little. The best wines, come from poverty grapes.  My favorite golf courses in the USA and the World, spend less per acre than their numbered competition. I visited a named and numbered "Top 10" facility once and the volume of the waste I was seeing was so distracting that it was hard for me to really see anything else. So we are fortunate, that growing things, doesn't always stack exactly with the amount of money being spent.

 

Here's what will happen to true Turfhead Survivors:

  • They will learn to separate "wants" from "needs".
  • They will learn that when a need arises that some non-turfhead doesn't understand, it's time to educate and even use "the S word"... .Sell.
  • They will do cost/benefit analysis on every single thing that they do. Everything.
  • They will learn and understand that Cost is a function of Price versus Value. Paying a low price for something and getting less from that purchase in return means that your cost just went up. And paying a little extra and getting a great result means something may not have cost as much. You can apply this to Labor, Consumables and even... Your Time.
  • Survivors will, have a great product. A super I worked for as a young Turf Turk, always said that not having the basics done was no excuse. "Mow, Mow and Mow some More", was but one of his mantras of not forgetting the basics.
  • Necessity is the mother of invention. Find a way. If the price isn't right, negotiate. If the job needs to be done quicker, find the right tool or person for that speed. If you can't convince the powers that be to spend a little to protect their asset, get some help with your presentation. Be creative.

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Would I choose a different economic climate? Sure. But would I miss the opportunity to learn, grow, invest and be stronger at the end of this? Never. The sandpaper hurts, but man, do I feel clean. And the skin will eventually grow back. And we will all be in better shape for it.

 




Laying Down That First Water: Please Do Not!

  Posted in Irrigation, Water 22 March 2010 · 1,166 views

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I'm gonna keep this short. Don't. That's right. Don't. Keep this word and all of its negative connotations in your head. When you are all excited, sitting at the central controller, ready to hit whatever form of on switch you have, remember my wordDon't.

 

One of the biggest mistakes I see springtime turfgrass managers make is watering too much, too early. Here we are, spring springing all around us and it just seems like the thing to do, water a little bit. Just a little because it just feels better. I don't know if it is a rite of passage, a trial of some sort or some kind of application of Tin Foil Mentality that says you'll never get a dry spot if you water early. If I thought it was just some kind of occasional thing, I wouldn't write about it, but it is almost universal. In fact, just to make it seem right, I did it too. I remember. That one windy spring day in Denver, where things started to turn a bit and after harassing my pump station, irrigation tech, computer setup and all the rest, we watered. Looking back, I can't figure out why. As it turns out, a couple of isolation valves were closed and a couple holes didn't get water for a few more days and guess what? That's right. They didn't die.

 

Are there exceptions? Yes. They are rare. Emerging Bermuda needs not to dry out as it gets going. I think most Bermuda Jockeys know this on some level. And one of things that USGA greens appreciate is a decent early season flush. That's more to do with air in the rootzone.

 

As Spring springs, plant energies go into full swing. As does soil biological activity. Cool nights and warm days are just that. And in many parts of the country, some kind of rainfall is around the corner. It's a great time to let roots go looking for water. It's a great time not to impede natural evaporative cooling. It's a great time to condition the plant that it is going to have to toughen up. Pre-Stress Conditioning is one of those highly overlooked things that great Turfheads do well.

For many places, Irrigation Water Quality is a challenge and so being in a hurry to add more salt to your soils just lacks common sense. There again, Don't becomes the operative word.

To prove this point, I had one of my more irrigation trigger-happy friends purchase a soil moisture meter. He was astounded at the degree of change from morning to afternoon. Yet even more astounded at how much moisture was back after the overnight rise in relative humidity (the ratio of the amount of water vapor in the air at a specific temperature to the maximum amount that the air could hold at that temperature, expressed as a percentage). So at dawn, when the rH is at it's highest, there was plenty of soil moisture and he didn't have to add a drop of water. ET? Sure. It's a factor, but when ET's are low, it isn't always the best idea to just trickle out some water.

 

Posted ImageFor many places, Irrigation Water Quality is a challenge and so being in a hurry to add more salt to your soils just lacks common sense. There again, Don't becomes the operative word.

 

So just a tip. When you think you want to water this spring. Think. Think hard. Don't just make an easy choice. But at the same time, when it is time, it is time and that's part of the Art of what we do. Everyone knows you have sprinklers under there. Don't rush to use them.




On Getting Well: Something I Know Nothing About

  Posted in Health 12 March 2010 · 928 views

Posted ImageOne hit on the inhaler. Nothing. Second hit. Nothing. I can't catch my breath, can't stop coughing. I feel my knees getting weak. Mouth open. Hit number three. Nothing. This is it. I'm gonna freaking be the only human monkey capable of being stupid enough to die at the medical clinic. Thinking. I really don't want to do this in public.

 

I duck into the mens restroom. Stall is open. Grab a big hunk of wall. Hit number four on the Albuterol. And I finally sort of get a breath. One more. Then another. I stumble/shuffle out of the building, looking, I'm sure, like a large unshowered coughing spitting Sasquach. In my car and all I can think to do is drive the 10 min. home and never ever visit a medical facility again. It didn't seem so bad, going in for a chest Xray and 15 min. later, it seemed like I wasn't going to make it home. Ever.

Couldn't sleep Friday night because I coughed the cough of the Howling Monkey. Didn't sleep much Saturday night because the Howler was joined by his relative the Wheezer.

For weeks, I've been fighting what I call the post-GIS Flu. You know, the one you get because you've shaken hands and shared air with a zillion of your Turfhead friends. What seemed like a little cold turned into a bit more and then a day of not feeling so good turns into many. Not really sick enough to miss any work. But not feeling good. I've talked to people saying they have been sick since Christmas, so I must not be so bad. I really should have gone home on Friday night, but just one more thing to do and Saturday, the day to do it. I was going downhill fast on Friday, but thought that a good meal and a beer and some sleep would put me right with the world. Couldn't sleep Friday night because I coughed the cough of the Howling Monkey. Didn't sleep much Saturday night because the Howler was joined by his relative the Wheezer. And by Sunday, I was in trouble. A trip to the Urgent Care, and it took the Doctor all of 2.2 seconds with the stethoscope on my back to declare that I had Pneumonia to go along with my 102 degree temperature. Great. An Xray confirms and I'm sent home with an antibiotic and some instructions. I'm pretty sick, so I'm not listening. But I did hear Dr. Sunday tell me that if my fever didn't go down by Monday night, to call my regular Doc.

 

Bet you can't guess what didn't happenthat's right. Drug didn't work. Fever still high(103-104) and so, as our story began, I found my self in deep trouble on Tuesday after taking myself in for a second Xray. I'm sure, had I not had the inhaler, that far worse would have happened. Far worse. Results of the second Xray, far worse and a new big gun antibiotic was prescribed. Why the medical drama? What in the world does that have to do with Zealotry or Turfheadism. Some of you know the answer. Everything. Because it has to do with life.

 

Posted ImageLike many of you, I don't know when to quit. I love what I do so much that in many ways, on most days, it consumes me. Know what I'm talking about? The alarm goes off at 4 something and off and running we TurfHeads go, only to put our heads down at 8 or 9 or 10 and get up and do it againAmen. What happens in between is often a blur and often based on dragging hose and putting out fires and attending the meetings and doing the job and worry about other's needs. I've never been one of those people that do Balance. I do Immersion. I do Challenge. I do Squeaky Wheel Oiling. I don't do Balance. At least that's not something I think I am any good at.

 

This last little episode for me was a bit more than a wake up call. I've had a few health things knock me about over the last few years, but this was different. It was painful, more so than other things I've dealt with. It was sudden. It made me very afraid. And it seemed out of my control. Those things are enough. As I type this, I'm still weak. Still coughing. The antibiotic has the fever in check, but I'm still fighting. It was hard to make the calls and write the emails and tell everyone that I wouldn't be talking on the phone, wouldn't be working. I handled a few things, but mostly, I put it all off. My vision, still pretty blurry has kept me from writing much more than Twitter updates and Facebook quips. It's far from over and as much as I'm not good at letting go, I have to. In a couple weeks, I'd like to turn 44.

Might be true, but I beg you to take another look. From my vantage point, I see way more Turfheads who don't get it, than who do. Way way way more.

All of this down time has had me looking at some key areas of life. And health, one of those things that has never really been in balance for me, has got to come into a clearer focus. Now, I'll bet Daconil to Doughnuts that a few of you are reading this and in one way or another, you can relate. And I'll bet a few more of you are reading it and saying, That's not me or I'm tougher than that, I'm not fat like he is or whatever. Might be true, but I beg you to take another look. From my vantage point, I see way more Turfheads who don't get it, than who do. Way way way more. And maybe your challenge isn't exactly like mine, but I'll bet there's something. Sacrifice is fine. We all have to do it. But somehow, there has to be a way to return to center.

 

I was looking around the Web and found a little checklist (Dr. Oz, I think) and it's going to be my starting place:

  • Eat Only The Good Stuff (and you know what good is)
  • Walk Every Day 30-45 min. at minimum (when I feel like it, doesn't count)
  • See The Doctor and Follow Preventative Healthcare (meaning see the Doctor when I'm not in need of rescue)
  • Relax and Cope With Stress (spiritual and emotional wellbeing doesn't come last)

Now, for me, these 4 steps represent a clear path. I can do this. But only if I hold myself accountable. I don't need or want anyone else managing this for me, nagging at me or making me feel like I've failed because I didn't do what they did. It has to be me, for me. Something I'm not good at, so the steps are simple. They have to be.

The best six doctors anywhere
And no one can deny it
Are sunshine, water, rest, and air
Exercise and diet.
These six will gladly you attend
If only you are willing
Your mind they'll ease
Your will they'll mend
And charge you not a shilling.
~Old English Nursery Rhyme




The Killer Application

  Posted in Communication 01 March 2010 · 834 views

Last week, Sierra Pacific had our Spring Symposium. Just over 100 people showed up for a couple days of education and perhaps a little golf. The weather controlled the golf down to about 4-5 holes. The education was the real show.

I can hear it now, the collective mass groan of the TurfHeads as they brace themselves for more of my Californiacated Spench of Touch and Feel.

In planning this event, my friend, colleague, mentor and crime partner Dean Kinney and I made sure that we didn't fill the schedule with so much that it would be too much. Why? Simple. Love. That's right, Love. I can hear it now, the collective mass groan of the TurfHeads as they brace themselves for more of my Californiacated Spench of Touch and Feel.

 

But I'm serious. Because in the case of leaving time for people to get to interact with people, you knowNetwork, we are upholding the intangible. We can't charge for it. We can't bottle it in a 2.5 gallon container, we can't print it out as data. Networking is an intangible thing. Any yet, we all know it brings amazing value. So in planning our event, networking time was just as important as having myself or one of the invited PhDs banging out zillions of Powerpoint slides.

 

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I don't always do well reading business books. You know, the whole genre of books designed to make me a better business person. It's laughable. I simply get bored with the content and wonder, as I read, if the writer would ever last in my business. But someone gave me an audio book of Tim Sanders' Love is the Killer App and it became my favorite listen and later, my favorite read and still makes my Top 10 list.

 

Posted ImageSanders, had or has some crazy title at Yahoo. Chief Solutions Officer. Nice. Sounds like something along the lines of Chief of Mayonnaise to the Sandwich Maker. But once I got past the Yahooisms. it became clear to me that Sanders was onto something. In Sanders' mind, we all need to practice love business the act of intelligently and sensibly sharing what he calls our Intangibles (our knowledge, our network and our compassion) with our business partners.

 

Our Intangibles? Wilber please. Keep smoking the Labrador Sativa, you must be saying. But the truth is, this little bit of info turns out to be one of the greatest concepts of growing grass that I have ever tripped across. It fits us so well. It explains why so many of us do what we do. And it turn, it explains why so many of us hate it so much when down to the knuckles spreadsheet grinding business takes over our world ofthat's right Intangibles. Even though Sanders was once a Reggae musician, The Feather Bed Bubba Kush has not gone all wrong to make him all monkey brain. This book and his explanation of the concept is spot on.

 

Think about it to we TurfHeads, the network is of supreme importance. I see it on the road every day. Even the grass growers who don't get out, don't go to meetings, don't talk to others, want to know what's going on and they ask me for news. The network is alive and well. We thrive on hearing from each other and what others are doing. It's intangible, alright. But priceless as well.

Were my ideas, that I once charged for, the product or is the product now the stuff in the bag? I didn't understand what had come of my world and it showed. But it also meant that I didn't understand what my product really was in the past, either.

So let me askwhen was the last time you gave some Love? When? When was the last time you did something for someone, helped someone, gave info to someone or just plain said a good word to someone and didn't expect a single thing in return? I know for me, as I first read this book, I was making the transition from independent consultant to technical agronomist. It was a time when I was unsure of what my real value was. Were my ideas, that I once charged for, the product or is the product now the stuff in the bag? I didn't understand what had come of my world and it showed. But it also meant that I didn't understand what my product really was in the past, either.

 

Sanders lays out a critical path of making sure that you understand that the overarching theme is that open sharing of your knowledge with your coworkers, superiors and other firms (or people) you are partnered with and working to help them to improve, works out for you much more than hoarding what you know and trodding others down on the way up the ladder. This is love in the workplace, and I was glad to have it defined for me.

 

I just got done reading (listening to, actually) this book again. I've done it every spring, just as I have read a couple other key books that serve as compass headings for me. I'm astounded at the way that our world economy has even made this into more of a guiding principle. At our Spring Symposium, there was some buzz about this blog and about my blogging. A few people who were either close to me or just plain stupid (kiddingnot really) asked me how much I was being paid for the work put in. And imagine their faces when I said, that I didn't know and that I'm not sure it will pay anything and if it does it doesn't matter. I often get looks of disbelief, so this isn't new and I just laughed. See, it's not important. My intangible here is that anyone would even talk to me about reading something I had written. I never in a million years dreamed I'd write for fun or for a living and I'll explain why in a future blog post.

 

Love is the Killer App. I am sure that in our crazy world, this is more than just a small truth. It's a Goodyear Blimp of a fact.

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