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About this blog

Joe Fearn is a professional groundskeeper. We writes about reconciling economic, aesthetic, functional, and environmental needs in the landscape.

Entries in this blog

Getting Back In The Saddle...

Getting Back In The Saddle...

Parting ways with a job is something that will happen to nearly everyone over the arc of a career. Sometimes this occurs in some predictable or desirable way such as promotion, relocation, or retirement. In these cases, parting is usually manageable and follows a transition by both the employee and employer (notice period, job posting, training a replacement, etc.). But in other situations, the severing is a surprise and does not allow for transition planning. One or the other parties is prepare

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

When job loss hits home...

When job loss hits home...

This week I lost my job as a result of the COVID19 pandemic. It was not directly due to the disease (no one in my family/acquaintance circle has tested positive) but because like many others, the education sector has been severely affected by the Coronavirus. Clearly the COVID19 pandemic is still with us. Reports of the devastation take many different tragic forms and continue every day. For me, these stories were always somewhat removed. I knew they were real, and I sympathized in my mind,

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Organizational Value is the Key to Sustainability

Organizational Value is the Key to Sustainability

Sustainability has always seemed to me like something an operation must work toward. Meaning sustainability requires actions or steps that must be invested in, or operational adaptations that require the addition of some step, or equipment, or something. For a long time, I pursued sustainability by adhering to this approach of altering my operation to achieve sustainability objectives. I am now coming to believe that sustainability is more about a dynamic atmosphere surrounding and pervading the
From Concrete to Conservation: Difficulties in Landscape (Soils) Restoration

From Concrete to Conservation: Difficulties in Landscape (Soils) Restoration

Landscape restoration is a situation us Groundskeepers regularly find ourselves in. While some may hear this term and think native prairie or landfill recovery, it also applies to much of our everyday work too. Landscape restoration is about big ticket projects, but it is also about fostering the multitude of natural processes that take place in the living environments we manage every day. For the last 18 months I have been participating in two restoration projects. One is seeking to transform a
Good AND Fast...

Good AND Fast...

Recently while making the rounds to check on my crew’s progress I came upon a groundskeeper who was clearly working but wasn’t making the progress necessary. This situation presented me with a dilemma. Critiquing a worker who is clearly trying but not achieving adequate results (quality, scope, pace, etc.) can be awkward. I wanted to correct this teammate without discouraging him. I gave him some tips like understand what you want accomplished when the job is done and consider the steps necessar

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Spring Will Be Online This Year...

Spring Will Be Online This Year...

A Note on COVID19 The Coronavirus is impacting all of us in different ways and on a massive scale. Our deepest condolences go out to any and all that are struggling with this virus and the heart wrenching consequences of it. We appreciate the incredible dedication of the healthcare workers and others doing their best to provide for our communities. As members of the Facilities Department at Drury University the Grounds Crew qualifies as essential personnel. We will continue to work during this

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Feathered Friends...

Feathered Friends...

Organism diversity is a hallmark of a healthy landscape. Microorganisms, fungi, plants, animals, etc. all relate together to create an ecosystem. Diversity creates the stability that allows the ecosystem to be a self-sufficient loop, where all parts mesh together for the benefit of all parts. While there are fluctuations due to a variety of factors (weather, disease, pollution, etc.) adjustments to the system are always sought to bring back balance. Monitoring the indicator species (species that

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Appreciate the Winter Landscape...

Appreciate the Winter Landscape...

For many of us in the green industry, our landscapes experience four seasons every year. The flush of spring gives way to the deep lushness of summer, which gives way to the fall colors as the seasons follow their inexorable progression. Yet as fall slips into winter we are presented with the starkest of seasons we face for our grounds. Winter weather and cold temps challenge grounds people while performing cool season duties such as dormant pruning, snow removal, and even construction projects.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Let’s Get to Work

Let’s Get to Work

It should go without saying that accomplishing work is why our teams have jobs. It should also go without saying that while at work we should all be working. In this post some of the atmospheric factors that may encourage more work will be discussed. I say some because improving the desire to work is not cookie cutter. Every team is unique and comes with their own dynamics, motivations and deterrents for work. And, even when everything seems to be coming together, it is challenging to maintain t

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Aren’t We Supposed to Be Working?

Aren’t We Supposed to Be Working?

While working as branch manager for a large landscape contracting company one of the maxims I heard was “re-work kills us”.  I agree with this completely, but also know there are other production related issues that kill (diminish) my team’s ability to successfully complete our work. For this blog post I am not focusing on equipment failures, budgetary shortfalls, non-professional meddling, or even the weather. I want to start a discussion around how my team stops itself. For some actions, or la

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

The Morton Arboretum: World Class

The Morton Arboretum: World Class

Chicago, IL is fabulous city. Because my home in Springfield, MO is relatively close (8 hours drive, which in the Midwest US may as well be next door) and because I have a sister who lives there, I make the trip 2-3 times a year. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the city is the architecture, including that of the landscape. One of my favorite classic landscape architects, Frederick Law Olmsted, practiced there, and work of one of my favorite current garden designers, Piet Oudolf can be seen there (

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Wow, You’ve Done A Lot Here...

Wow, You’ve Done A Lot Here...

Groundskeeping is a challenging profession. We are impacted and affected by horticultural limitations, weather and environment, organizational imperatives, laws and regulations, budgetary constraints, seasonal influences, etc. We are in a constant battle of managing inputs, stressors and outcomes. In all of this grind, we must occasionally factor in a crisis of the now, where we focus on where our operation currently is and what lay immediately before us. Recently I had an opportunity to st

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now...

Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now...

On June 27 this year I turned 55. Now this isn’t a defining age as much as say 21 or 65, but is significant. I am not a person who puts all my stock in chronological age. I definitely think there can be an old 30 or a young 70, but again I say 55 is significant. I am now seriously contemplating retirement although I can’t see how I won’t have to work until 70 (or longer) if anyone will have me. I have been in commercial grounds management since I was 23. I know there are many people who have mor

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Put a Little Love in It...

Put a Little Love in It...

I love my job. I don’t love it the way I love my wife and kids, or even my dog, nor do I love it all the time, but on a whole, I love it. Being able to say this puts me in a significant minority in the workplace. A 2017 Gallup poll found that 70% of workers in the U.S. hate their job (hate may have a spectrum of intensity, but I am splitting hairs). There are many strategies we all know to combat job-hate, and any job-hating individual must shoulder some responsibility, yet job-hate continues. L

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

A Career Told Through Mowing...

A Career Told Through Mowing...

If any TurfNet reader were asked what is the most important aspect of your job, I imagine there would be a wide variety of responses. This variety would stand to reason because although TurfNet followers gravitate towards Golf Course Management, they actually represent a variety of green industry segments. I am a Groundskeeper for a university which is different than a golf course superintendent, which is different again from a landscape contractor (I won’t even get into irrigation people who ar

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Sustainability Reluctance 

Sustainability Reluctance 

I believe wholeheartedly in sustainable landscaping. Despite the definition of sustainable landscaping being subject to many interpretations, for me it simply rests on several key premises. Does the management of the landscape seek to decrease resource consumption? Will the landscape continue to grow as we (the organization) need if we decrease intervention? Lastly, does the particular iteration of grounds management meet the long-term goals/needs of the parent entity? If these questions are ans

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

The 3 Rs of Sustainability

The 3 Rs of Sustainability

Most people will recognize the title of this blog as a cornerstone approach to pursuing sustainability. Reduce, reuse, or recycle represents three different approaches for resource management that if instituted wisely diminish resource consumption in an operation or household. In my experience, recycle is the step that seems to get the most attention and is also practiced (considered) more frequently than the other practices. But these “3 Rs” are not just arbitrarily ordered so they roll off the

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Turning Over a New Leaf

Turning Over a New Leaf

My official title here at Drury University is Assistant Director of Facilities – Grounds. I much prefer to call myself the Head Groundskeeper. I believe this job title says something about my philosophy of grounds management. Including 'Groundskeeper' in my title reminds me, and more importantly my crew, that I am to some extent like my team. We are all focused on “keeping the grounds”. Unfortunately, sometimes a rift can develop between us. The crew and I can have differing opinions on how well

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Our Campus is Alive… With Dead Trees

Our Campus is Alive… With Dead Trees

Most grounds managers (including golf course superintendents) understand the important role that trees play in a landscape. Trees supply beautification, shade, pollution mitigation, etc. and on a golf course can add to the challenge of play. Show me a landscape devoid of trees and I will show you a landscape that is not even close to fulfilling its potential. The culture and maintenance of trees is a critical skill for a grounds crew and the amount of money spent on arboriculture emphasizes this

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Talking to The Crew

Talking to The Crew

Recently our crew got together for what is a regular but somewhat infrequent occurrence. We came together to discuss how we might improve our operation, and foster an atmosphere where the crew can freely speak their minds. As I am sure most Grounds Managers can attest to, the crew loves to talk and express their ideas. Groundskeepers are rarely shrinking violets with their opinions. What is difficult is not getting them to talk, but channeling that talk first into positive contribution, and then

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Sustainability Tectonics

Sustainability Tectonics

For any geologists reading this blog, I am not speaking about tectonics from the geology standpoint. I am not going to discuss whether the continents derived from the supercontinent Pangaea, or how plates thrust together to form mountains. For my purposes here, tectonics refers to the widespread impact of something and speaks to the pervasive influence of some factor or affect. Sustainability tectonics (my term) are those inescapable factors that influence an operation or landscape and its abili

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Bees provide educational opportunities as well as honey

Bees provide educational opportunities as well as honey

For all the years I have been the head Groundskeeper at Drury University there has been a honeybee hive in one hollow Mulberry tree in a section of our campus called College Park. The tree happens to be right along a main sidewalk, one that is used by essentially all the 200 or so students that live in those dorms. Several times over the years, the Facilities Department has fielded calls about the bees being a nuisance, or even a safety concern. However, once we have educated the caller, they us

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

Diversity Abounds...

Diversity Abounds...

Several years ago, when I started as the Head Groundskeeper at Drury University, I came into a campus that was one dimensional and lacked meaningful diversity in any terms. The campus was comprised mostly of shade trees and turfgrass. Having recently worked at a municipal Springfield park that was abundantly planted and had been growing in for seven years (post installation), I was taken aback by the stark appearance of the campus. This is not to say it didn't look well-tended or thoughtfully la

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

It’s My Baby

It’s My Baby

There is an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry takes his car to his mechanic for a knocking noise. After the mechanic determines the problem with the car, he tells Jerry the adjustments the car needs in order to operate at its maximum level. Jerry thinks these repairs are overkill and tells the mechanic that he will take the car elsewhere. At this point the mechanic steals the car rather than let it continue to be operated by an owner who does not value it adequately. He rebukes Jerry, "You don't e

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Amoeba tree rings create interest of their own...

Drury University is known to our community and visitors for our many large shade trees. We have been a Tree Campus since 2014 and take appropriate steps to maintain our campus canopy. This hasn't always been the case however. By assessing the appearance of the trees (cultural signs & symptoms) and evaluating tree age/diversity it is clear that for a period of time our precious trees were somewhat ignored -- and possibly impaired -- by less than optimal management.   One of the most impor

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn


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