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About this blog

Joe Fearn is Head Groundskeeper at Drury University in Springfield, MO. We writes about reconciling economic, aesthetic, functional, and environmental needs in the landscape.

Entries in this blog

 

You Can't Play Baseball in a Tallgrass Prairie... and Killdeer Won't Nest on a Soccer Field

We are pleased to welcome Joe Fearn to TurfNet as a contributing blogger. Joe is the Grounds Supervisor at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, and is an ISA Certified Arborist/Municipal Specialist and PGMS Certified Grounds Manager.   Several years ago I was talking to a local member of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). I was asking about a quandary I was faced with and I wanted another perspective. I had recently taken note of a patch of neglected and disturbed ground in a linear park I oversaw. This area was construction debris, no maintenance, and was only weed whacked to keep woody plants out. Yet it had a uniform stand of Japanese Bromegrass that looked amazing.     What I wanted to know was what I could grow in my park to look as beautiful and uniform, with as little intervention? This person?s answer was Tallgrass prairie. That made a lot of sense based on environmental factors and the prevalent soil structure, but you can?t play baseball in a Tallgrass prairie. You lose the bases and balls. So I became a little more accepting of the turf type tall fescue I had, and started looking for ways to make it as environmentally compatible as possible. Mow higher, organic fertilizer, IPM, etc.   Now that I am managing the grounds of an urban university, I am often taken back to my initial question of what to grow? My belief is that landscapes are created too often with far too little assessment of what the purpose of the area is. Because just like baseball needs the proper sports field environment, a Killdeer needs the proper environment too. Killdeer won?t nest on a putting green. People need the right environment for their needs also.   The vast majority of our campus is turf. In many areas we do not need turf. It has simply come into being because no one argues with it. Don?t get me wrong, I love turf.     As a grounds manger, landscape designer, sports fan and golf course worker, a nice stand of turf is absolutely necessary to achieving many of our required results. My point is while turf is better than concrete, in terms of ecological services, it is short of a natural ecosystem in its potential. Environmental service and value is becoming increasingly important every year.   Thankfully and appropriately, many of the golf courses I read about on TurfNet are expanding the mix of plant systems on their courses. But just like I believe irrigation professionals (Golf Course Superintendents, PGMS Certified Grounds Mangers, etc.) are not who should be targeted with water conservation plans (we are aggressively conserving already), as an industry we should be pushing ourselves further, and setting an example for homeowners also in terms of evaluating the appropriate use of turf.      This area at a resident hall was underperforming turf. We struggled for several years to overcome compaction and foot traffic but it was always ugly turf. Rather than continue, we changed direction. Now we have an area that is aesthetically improving while also improving ecological services (water infiltration, pollinators, bird and insect food source/habitat). Several stone paths accommodate foot traffic without disruption. It is a case where turf was never the answer.   The use of turf is the default paradigm, the reasonable use of non-turf natural systems in the landscape needs more proponents. Landscapes should be more natural as a default, then turf introduced where it makes sense, rather than turf as default, and natural systems introduced where there is left over space. The many strongly pro-environment/pro ecology golf course and turf mangers give me hope this is happening. 

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

What’s Griping Me?

That's it. For this blog I am not going to take the high road. I am not going to say to myself "put yourself in their shoes". I am not going to look to understand the other perspective. I am not going to be a good soldier. This is going to be a vitriolic, hate-spewing, anger-filled, lament of many of the idiotic things I have to put up with as the head groundskeeper at a university. I am looking to vent, and vent big. So, to my fellow groundskeepers, sit back and see if you don't say "been there, done that" while you are reading. In actuality, this blog isn't really going to scorch your ears, but I think you will understand.   Who Is Most Qualified On Campus to Make Grounds Decisions? I know you golf course guys may not love trees, but here at Drury the campus forest is THE THING. It is what our community knows us for. As a diehard treehugger (smile when you say that) I am fine with that. What drives me crazy, though, is when people freak out that a tree needs to be removed. I'm not even sure sometimes how people find out about tree removal plans. Invariably someone will say "I love that tree and it doesn't need to be removed". Like I'm some chainsaw-happy psycho that wants to clear cut campus. If I can safely save a tree I will. And as an ISA Certified Arborist I am obligated to do what is culturally best for the tree. But what do I know?   Maybe this tree DIDN'T need to come down.   Contradictory Mandates All landscaping entails some level of financial investment. The more culture, the higher the price. So less culture should mean less price... but not always. Try eliminating all overseeding of turf and see what happens. You will save money in the short term, but turf quality will drop, and the recovery expense will be significant. The flip side of less resource investment is lower quality, but that isn't tolerable either. So what am I to do? My suggestion is to adapt the landscape quality expectations to financial expenditure expectations. But they rarely match up. Even though you may be a marketing expert, MBA, or perhaps golf pro, your guidance of "just do it" isn't particularly helpful... but what do I know?   Even though you may be a marketing expert, MBA, or perhaps golf pro, your guidance of "just do it" isn't particularly helpful... but what do I know?   Homeowner Supplies for a Commercial Campus When I first got to Drury, the equipment (and tools) left a lot to be desired. Almost everything we had was bent, repaired, missing parts, or just missing. My boss has been very supportive and now when I look around I see some quality names. Stihl power equipment, Bully shovels/rakes (100% Made in The USA, how often do you see that?), Ryan, Felco/Corona, etc. Having equipment that can put up with hard use is essential. Good equipment and systems cost a bit more money.Right now I am trying to supply irrigation to a soccer field with 1" poly and I can only run the system for 8 hours overnight. It is a question of supply and demand that just doesn't add up. Buy a 24" Mac or a custom office chair? Sure! But a booster pump and a commercial grade system (can you say Falcon Rotors?)? Thats too much. But what do I know?   It's Just Grass Many people on campus feel qualified to tell me how to do my job. I get advice from (I hope) well-meaning community members about fertilizer regimes, watering, mowing practices, etc. When the grass is growing rapidly in spring, there are emails about how tall the grass is getting. I try to explain the 1/3 rule, root-to-shoot ratio, the concern with mowing too wet soil, etc. all to no avail. Everyone is an expert. Hey, their grass looks great! I'll tell them that there are DOCTORS who ONLY study turfgrass, and that Ill listen to them (I do). I also suggest when they have mowed a 60 Scag Hydro walk behind, w/ 5 gallon gas tank, DRY in one apartment complex, well talk. Or, when they have green grass five weeks into a drought without irrigation, they can give me advice. But what do I know?   I guess we do need your advice, because we obviously can't grow turf.   My Crew Doesn't Get Off Free  My crew loves to point the finger at me when we don't achieve our objectives. You didn't tell me what to do, you didn't tell me when to finish, etc. Weve heard it all before. Yes, they have been mowing for five years, but they didn't know to check the mow height every time. At this point I ask them a question. When you want to screw off, do you ask my permission? "Hey Joe, after lunch I'm going to screw off for a couple of hours, okay?" No, you just do it. So why do you need me to tell you how to work? When their time sheets are wrong they are nuclear physicists, solving complex problems. But when they need to solve a problem in the field they are morons. (Remember, I'm venting).   I'm sure it's my fault they are not working...   A Trained Monkey Cannot Manage Grounds While based in fact, this post is a little tongue-in-cheek. I love my job. My organization values Grounds and supports us. But our task is not easy. We are, at the end of the day, well trained, high functioning experts. I think I'll walk into a surgery suite, push the doc aside and say "Hey, I think I can do this, I used to watch E.R." How would that go over? Let us pros worry about the grounds. We'll take good care of you.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

What I have learned from TurfNet...

Please do not think this blog is shameless pandering to a site I am a member of. I joined TurfNet first as a user also contribute now as a blogger. I found TurfNet while looking for resources on general turf maintenance and sports turf. While TurfNet is focused on the golf industry, there is much information applicable to these other fields.   One of my main interests is in an organic-based approach to turf management that focuses on natural processes over chemical intervention. Fortunately I found many people on TurfNet thought like me (or I was thinking like them), and were posting information about utilizing natural turf management.   What I also found on TurfNet, that I wasn't expecting, was insight that would not only help my grounds management, but help make me a better manager in general.   Focus on What's Most Important Much of TurfNet focuses on greens, irrigation, equipment, and culture, etc. This wide variety of topics shows me that at any one time, almost any aspect of our jobs can be most important. Understanding the biggest challenge one faces at a particular time allows one to deal with that problem appropriately. Will this problem pull resources from another task, is the job seasonally sensitive needing to be done at a particular time, or does it have to be done as a prelude to another important task? Reading all the conversation in the forum around one particular topic (greens), or respecting the authority of a contributor (Frank Rossi), also helps me to focus my efforts to learn new information... or maybe more importantly, question old assumptions.   ...helps me to focus my efforts to learn new information... or maybe more importantly, question old assumptions.   Take Advantage of Technology If you had told me years ago that much of my learning and research would have occurred online, I would have said it won't work (I thought that about zero turn mowers at one time too). Online interaction between peers, and online distance learning has become SOP in our industry. Contacts that would have once been limited to previous acquaintances, are now available to any member on TurfNet. I follow several blogs closely and also watch videos from experts that I have never met, nor talked to. I believe I put a better product in the field because of it. Now with the capabilities of smart phones or tablets, the entire knowledge base of TurfNet is at your fingertips, anytime, anyplace. For an old school groundsman like me, this is very beneficial.   Success Anywhere Promotes Success Everywhere Here at Drury University we do not have any golf greens. We do not have 6" discharge pumps to feed our irrigation, and we do not use Jacobsen fairway mowers. But we do get Brown Patch, our rotary blades still need sharpening, and our turf type tall fescue still needs essentially the same nutrients as your creeping bentgrass. When I read about someone's successful efforts to install drainage, or organize their maintenance shop, I get a window into someone's method of tackling a problem I might be facing. This sort of comparison lets me take advantage of someone else's efforts, and unfortunately also their failures, to improve my processes. Evaluating procedural or administrative steps that help achieve success can also lead to applying other people's success to your own situation.   Drury's Grounds Shop could use some organizing advice   Teaching Others Creates an Advantage, Not a Threat Many people see teaching or sharing information with others as a threat. They wrongly think that if someone else learns what you know, they might be able to replace you. I worked for a boss that had this perception. No matter what I tried to accomplish, he saw it as an attempt to usurp his authority rather than accurately seeing it as the attempt to achieve his goals. The people on TurfNet do not hold to this threatened school of thought. The eagerness with which members and contributors interact creates a positive exchange of ideas and is good for all users. Writing about a subject allows the author to evaluate his own ideas, and the reader then can contribute questions or knowledge that a particular author may not have considered. The information flow between academia and field users also helps spur on innovation and improvement for both segments.   Whether on a golf course or university grounds staff, each groundsman has an opinion that must be considered.   Differing Opinions Open To Criticism There are lots of ways to skin a cat. Reading on TurfNet reminds me that my way is only one way out of many. In any forum topic there are a number of different opinions than mine, and even within like opinions there is variation. This range of ideas helps me realize that I cannot assume any answers, and differing opinions should help me listen and seek to understand. These opinions are not about telling me I'm wrong, but about telling what has worked elsewhere. The whole benefit to TurfNet is improving my capabilities and performance in all of the many jobs we are asked to perform.   TurfNet continues to be a very valuable tool for me, particularly in areas in which I didn't expect it to be.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Water Conservation on Campus: A Tale of Irrigation and Slow, Spread, Soak

As of February 28, 64% of the State of Missouri is in the moderate drought category according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. This is up from 50% the week before, and as of this writing the remainder of the state was in the abnormally dry category.   By contrast, California, which had been in a several years-long drought, is now declining in all drought categories. 75% of the state is not rated at all and even the stubborn droughty areas of Southern California are getting moisture. In fact, many areas are now concerned they will not be able to manage any more rain heading into the rainy season. This unpredictable variability regarding water, in an industry heavily reliant on water, demonstrates the need to wisely manage and conserve water at all times.       Irrigation Challenges When I arrived at Drury University the Grounds Department was faced with the following obstacles in our campus irrigation: Poorly designed, installed, maintained systems Poor communication of water needs for landscape health Lack of monitoring of natural rainfall timing and amounts Poor cycle planning and regular adjustments No desire for water conservation The main cause for this situation was a lack of adequate irrigation knowledge and responsibility by the in-house staff, and the contractors that installed systems. If either of these parties had fulfilled their professional duties, these challenges could have been avoided.   For most of the readers of TurfNet, the high level of understanding regarding irrigation theory and application decreases these difficulties, but they still do occur. Over the last five years Drury Grounds has taken many steps to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of our irrigation systems. Our approach has been: Appropriate cultural practices (mowing height/frequency, soil health, IPM) Understanding of appropriate irrigation to promote plant health (E/T) Retrofitting of systems to deliver adequate water (coverage, pressure, volume) Retrofitting of systems to maximize system efficiency (smart controllers, sensors, efficient heads & nozzles) Culture of conservation Willingness to eliminate irrigation if appropriate with organizational strategy We aren't doing anything amazing. But what we are doing is working. Our usage has continued to decline while our overall satisfaction with the landscape continues to increase. My point is that irrigation effectiveness is vital and will promote peripheral landscape benefits as a result. But the pursuit of landscape benefits does not necessarily lead to irrigation conservation. Stormwater on Campus Rainfall and stormwater on our campus (courses) is another issue we all face. While we don't have to push up sand in bunkers after a heavy rain, we are still faced with many challenges due to stormwater. These are: City of Springfield MS4 permit  (EPA term for stormwater runoff) Speed with which water moves off campus Erosion and damage Increase infiltration on campus Treatment of water on site (pollution prevention) Budget allotments, competing financial pressures Slow, Spread, Soak Existing water issues need functional correction that meshes with the landscape.   Managing stormwater in (on) the landscape is rarely a priority to an organization if consequences are contained in the landscape. But when the water damages infrastructure, there is increased organizational demand to correct it. But dealing with water before it causes damage is the best, and most cost effective, method of management. To do just this Drury Grounds has endeavored to use the following efforts: Go to where the problem is Take advantage of what water wants to do Keep water on campus Slow, Spread Soak Resource allocation Big Project/Small Project Permission? $$$$$$$$$ Water problems should be viewed as opportunities for increasing Slow, Spread, Soak. The answer here is a rain garden... not a drain.   Managing stormwater on campus is a win/win effort for our grounds operation. First, it demonstrates our commitment, in a very proactive way, to our University's infrastructure. Dealing with stormwater BEFORE it can create damage is financial stewardship at its best. Next, it is great public relations. Water conservation is always good press. Our efforts in this area show we are concerned with our organization and our community. For an industry that can sometimes be under environmental scrutiny, this goodwill pays dividends.   In conclusion Water is a valuable resource to both the Grounds manager and the community at large. If we compete for this commodity, then no one wins. Good water management creates allies. When Drury University keeps rainfall on campus it benefits our landscape, but also decreases the amount of water that goes into the sanitary sewers or stormwater system. Nothing written here should be new to grounds Managers. What this blog should do is support water conservation by our industry. When, not if, we face water shortages, it is in our best interest to be seen as a conservation partner, not simply consumers. The best time for water conservation is always.   (This is a strategic blog in support of water conservation. My next blog will be tactical, discussing how Drury University manages stormwater on campus)

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

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 we are functioning in our role. This rift usually stems from a communication breakdown resulting in different concepts of where we are, and where we are headed.  Getting to the bottom of it.
At the end of last year, our rift was why we were not being effective (we all agreed we could be better, the question was how). To find out why we had this gap in understanding, we undertook a meeting to have some discussion. I like to hear from my team because it gives them a voice and a stake in how we operate. Rather than ask why we weren’t effective, though, I chose to ask why we would accept mediocre performance? The answers were very interesting.  Lack of recognition – hard work is taken for granted by organization Serious days result in more of the same – maximum exertion just gets us more maximum exertion No finish line – perpetually behind No consistency – emergencies prevent a plan Appreciation not shown with meaningful currency – put it in the paycheck, take us to lunch, get good gloves, etc. Little cognizance of how hard the work is – This isn’t a chain gang, but we do work hard We tolerate it – self-explanatory Complacency – we are in a rut   Putting thoughts on a board makes sure everyone is seeing the same thing. We’d Gotten Soft
Every crew I’ve been in has had these issues at some point. But the best crews always find a way to overcome, or at least to manage and get by. My final summary of our situation was we were soft. I mean we lacked the toughness to put our heads down and perform. We didn’t lack knowledge, tools, or even the capability to work hard. We simply lacked the conviction to do what we knew needed to be done. We were at the point where mole hills became mountains, and small obstacles weren’t being overcome. Of course, no crew wants to be called soft. If I was going to help us overcome, I needed to figure a way to get them to see this issue from a different perspective rather than just “being soft”. Finding a way out
Communication within the team has many benefits. One positive is misunderstandings can be presented for open discussion. Instead of asking how our team could overcome “being soft”, I asked how we could improve our effectiveness. The team came up with several answers. What I think is remarkable about nearly every team I have worked with is we all know how to do a good job. By teasing out the thoughts of the crew, they answered the question of improvement on their own, with their own language. Acting as facilitator, all I had to do was summarize concisely what they said. Helping the team craft answers creates an attitude of shared commitment to problem solving. Seeing something in writing adds significance to what is shared. Our Key Response 
Overall, our crew performs pretty well on all these expectations. What we lacked most, at least in my opinion, was discipline. It is not that we had no discipline; it is just that we were demonstrating it inconsistently. Discipline allows a team to set a goal and pursue it to completion. Discipline also allows a team to manage problems that are potentially disruptive and overcome them. Discipline is the framework that underpins all other aspects of crew performance. At the end of last year, I told the crew we would set expectations and meet them. This commitment to discipline, first on my part, then on all our parts was to be the difference maker.  A Very Good Start
Crew dynamics fluctuate, but hopefully evolve. What seems to work for a period of time, sometimes does not work perpetually. This is to be expected. What must be sustained though is the discipline to set standards and goals, and then meet them. If the crew is committed to meeting high standards, those standards having been well explained and unanimously adopted, discipline becomes the catalyst for success. Apathy and inconsistency are the opposite of discipline. A lack of discipline becomes a consistent drag on all efforts to improve. So far this year our team has responded to the call to discipline and even they agree we are better for it. A disciplined crew is appreciated by the entire organization. You may even get cupcakes as a thank you.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Thinking on Quality...

To start, I want you to please imagine a car. Imagine a Toyota Camry, XLE package. For those of you that have a little bit more imagination, maybe even a Toyota Avalon XLE. This car has leather interior, power everything, a full touring package and even a Bose stereo. I think we all would agree this is a nice car. This isn't some trumped-up entry level car with plastic goodies on top trying to convince you it is nice. This is a NICE car. But it isn't a Mercedes. The Mercedes (go ahead and imagine a NICE Mercedes) is in a class by itself. The quality stands out. It is obvious at every turn. Even the cup holder is something people take note of. Quality in grounds management should be like the Mercedes.   Quality is Noticeable I am not an automotive engineer but I can discern a nice car. Most people who visit your campus, or play on your course, are not grounds professionals. But this does not mean that people don't notice things around them. Visitors to Drury University have expectations already built in to their mind. They are visiting other campuses. The average person sees a lot of landscaping in their day. This means that your landscape is being compared to all those others. This also happens to golfers that have visited other courses too. This comparison may not be overt, but it almost always happens on some level or many different levels. Groundskeepers and Supers compare constantly also. When comparative quality is visible, and noticed in the landscape, it is a great benefit to the organizations purpose.   Fountain Circle at Drury U: crisp edges, consistent plant maintenance and spacing, fresh mulch.   Compare to the best We have all heard the phrase "if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best". This is true for grounds management. Fortunately we don't have to "beat" anyone. My operation just has to reflect a pursuit of excellence that makes visitors and users bring to mind excellent comparisons. If someone looks at our campus and is reminded of some other prestigious or renowned university, that is a positive association. This in no way means you need to try to copy those other landscapes or grounds (courses), just the person's recollection is enough. The fact that my visitor is thinking of Ole Miss or Princeton while looking at Drury is just fine with me. After all, they are here right now, not there. And importantly, personalizing the landscape for visitors is valuable also.   Explaining Quality Explaining quality is sometimes difficult. People who excel in a field are expressing an internal drive, on their own, to strive for quality. This internal drive for quality isn't in everyone, but it can be brought out if quality is explained in terms people already exhibit elsewhere in their lives. I remember a guy I worked with once who I felt did not put quality into his job. The work was completed to just acceptable and none of that was because he was pursuing quality. One day he drove to work in a car he had restored. It was immaculate and a top notch collector's item. Obviously this guy understood what quality looked like. He simply needed to understand how to apply it to landscaping (training) or how to want to apply it (motivation). Explaining the "what and why" can help unlock a workers individual understanding of quality.     It's all in the details: Pavers out of alignment (above) and after straightening (below).     Quality Comes in Many Guises A team needs workers who can express quality in a wide variety of ways. Last week I was mowing on campus and was getting close to a group of three ladies that were attending a Drury function. When I got close, I stopped my machine and told them I would be mowing right past them but would only disturb them for 3 or 4 passes then move away (we have contained mowing decks as we run mulch kits year round). Treating visitors (customers) with respect is a manifestation of quality. This is in contrast to an experience just yesterday at a sports complex. The mower operator showed no concern for the visitors on the stands, nor a consideration of where the wind was blowing his duff. He could have shown visitors his concern, but he didn't, and we all got blown with grass and had to move while he passed us. I am not concerned as to why, just that it happened. Helping golfers find a ball, or quieting machines while a class is in session expresses quality as well.   Mower operator mowing with discharge chute up and too close to occupied bleachers.   Ultimately Quality Starts With Me High performing grounds professionals understand quality. They know that it is about details and completing the job. They also know it is cumulative (quality parts=quality whole), exponential (quality process=quality multiplier), and a continual process (Continual Quality Improvement). But I have found that my personal commitment to quality is the greatest indicator for my operations commitment to quality. So when I exhibit 110% commitment to quality, I will see an upward spiral of quality execution and expectations from both my crew and my organization.  

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

These Geese Were Cooked… Literally

About midway through my green career, I spent a year working on a golf course here in Springfield, Mo. While this length of time doesn't warrant me any position of golf management authority, it did give me some appreciation for my brethren in golf, and some empathy for what golf course workers of any capacity might face. I know that there is almost nothing that compares to the intricacy of managing a green. I loved mowing greens, even double cutting in the dark before an early tee time. I did not like pushing bunker sand after a thunderstorm. But what I hated the most was mowing goose poop.   I loved mowing greens, even double cutting in the dark before an early tee time. I did not like pushing bunker sand after a thunderstorm. But what I hated the most was mowing goose poop...   Big Winged Rats I did a search in the TurfNet Forum and saw that geese can frequently be a problem. They can definitely be a problem for any grounds managers. Before coming to Drury, I managed the grounds at an urban Springfield park. This municipal park was centrally located, presented a pleasing surrounding, and had a water feature that patrons could wade in. All of these amenities were not wasted on several pairs of Canada Geese that nested nearby, but sometimes fed in my park. Apparently well managed Tall Fescue is a delicacy, and since it was organically managed, probably a health food to boot. I couldn't dislocate the geese, but did vent my frustration by chasing them in my Carryall, with my ZTR, and could also be seen running at them screaming. In many grounds situations, geese (nuisance fowl) are no better than vermin.   Nuisance Geese could ruin this setting if allowed to remain.   If You Want To Learn About Geese, Go To a Tree Meeting As an ISA Certified Arborist, monthly I attend a meeting of the Missouri Community Forestry Council . Normally these meetings go as expected, with discussions about tree planting events and methods, insect & disease updates and continuing education. But at this meeting there was a special guest to discuss a Missouri Department of Conservation grant opportunity. The Southwest Missouri Urban Wildlife Biologist gave info on this program, then somehow the discussion turned to problem geese at a local park. What I heard in this discussion immediately made me think of my troubled memories of geese at golf courses.   MDC Conducts a Goose Roundup The MDC Biologist told us about a situation in Ozark, Missouri (just south of Springfield). Residents had complained about the goose poop and other nuisance goose aspects, and had employed a variety of approaches to displace or control this flock. None of them were successful. After consultations with stakeholders, a roundup would euthanize the geese and then the processed meat would be sent to an area food pantry for distribution to deserving families. This story provides details and some further information and pictures.   Highly Appropriate Solution to a Difficult Problem I think this solution is very wise and appropriate. While a round up may not be right in every goose/human conflict, always leaving the birds alone is not right either. Given the amount of evaluation and preparation that had to be performed to carry out this process, many may not pursue a roundup. I do not suggest this is the only, nor best, method. What I do suggest is that sometimes some level of forcible removal is justified and logical. Nuisance geese should be dealt with following an IPM regime. Once a treatment threshold is reached, utilize the most effective and least toxic means to effect control. This method simply provides grounds and course managers another treatment option for dealing with this particular nuisance.  More>>

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

The Grounds as a Social Force

Most people are already well aware of several areas that landscaping is used for the common good. Most landscapes are interested in planting trees, shrubs and flowers in order to support their surrounding ecosystems. Landscaped areas, certainly including golf courses and sports fields, are well known for their ability to decrease pollution and other environmental benefits. The mental well-being of visitors and patrons can be much improved by exposure to the natural environment we all work in and support. But what is less discussed, and maybe even less considered is how the landscape can be used for social good.   Providing Stable Employment and Community Benefits I recently came across an article from the Chicago Tribune that discussed the landscape crew that maintains the public medians in downtown Chicago. This landscape crew works for A Safe Haven. This is a company that provides housing, counseling, addiction treatment and job training to people that are homeless or in crisis. The two men in this story have troubled pasts that they have overcome thanks to having stable employment, a marketable skill, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of appreciation for their work and the satisfaction it offers. There is frequently a strong sense of self-pride in maintaining the landscape and this emotion can be a powerful social factor towards gainful employment.   Supporting Education Opportunities One might think the landscape on a university is inherently supportive of education. In a broad sense that is true. But here at Drury University we want to take that relationship further, creating direct opportunities for supporting education. DU recently opened the L.E. Meador Center for Politics & Citizenship. In support of this effort, Drury Grounds renovated the L.E. Meador Garden on campus. The design concept was built around the important dates in Dr. Meadors career at Drury. This project underscores the relationship between the academic mission of DU and its landscape     We also are a learning lab for our neighbor, Ozarks Technical College. OTC has a landscaping program offering a landscape classes and a 2 year degree in landscaping agriculture. Due to our age (Est. 1873) and our plant diversity, we are a regular stop for several plant ID classes. We also have a predominantly organic turf maintenance regime so we provide OTC students an image of alternative turf maintenance. Our role as both a residential school and commuter school also provides some diversity into landscape design principles.     Honoring Our Veterans Drury University is ranked a Military Friendly School. Veterans are supported, assimilated, and benefited through a variety of academic programs. We have an Armed Forces Plaza that is dedicated to the specific goal of honoring our Veterans. Recently the DU Grounds Crew began looking at how we might upgrade and highlight this area to make it truly a reverential area. Our first step was to purchase bronze plaques of the U.S. Military insignias for mounting in this plaza. We approached the Drury University Student Veterans Group and they were able to incorporate the plaques into their Veterans Day celebration this November. We are looking at future landscaping improvements (trees, dedicated gardens, lighting, etc.) to maintain an active appreciation for their valuable service.     Reaching into the Community Drury Grounds is also very active on several fronts in our neighborhood, greater Springfield, and the state. In our neighborhood we have several members of the neighborhood association on our Landscape Committee, and have held trainings for neighbors. We have partnered with the City of Springfield Public Works to plant more than 75 trees in the right of ways around campus, and we are active members of the Missouri Community Forestry Council. All of these efforts allow us to build relationships that are good for the community, and good for Drury. These mutual benefit efforts create good will and a sense of ownership that cements Drurys place in the community. An upcoming effort is collecting community Christmas trees which we will chip and use as mulch on campus.   More Than Just Mowers Drury Grounds seeks to be critical to success of Drury University. By looking at diverse and imaginative ways we can integrate Grounds into the campus we assure our own success and competitiveness. No idea seems too outlandish even though many dont actually come to pass. Every university has green grass and pretty flowers. How will Drury Grounds be special? Seeking differentiation, or creating a signature is what we are after. Adding value through social efforts makes great sense.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

The Budget/Quality/Sustainability Paradox in Grounds Management

Grounds managers make a living balancing components in the landscape that can have undesirable effects if not maintained in the right doses or at the right time. For instance, irrigation is needed in the correct amount, but too much can result in disease, drowning, or shallow rooting. Plants need nutrients in the proper amounts, but availability can fluctuate by leaching, soil pH, timing, etc. Most of the cultural practices necessary to create a high quality product require the right efforts, in the right amount, at the right time. If any of these criteria are off, then efficacy is diminished or voided. But we understand the rules and rationale of these decisions. The same cannot be said for the budget/quality/sustainability paradox.   Budget - The financial cost of landscape operations both explicit (labor, supplies, equipment) and implicit (quality, aesthetics, functionality).   Quality - How well a landscape is maintained to meet organizational and operational expectations.   Sustainability -The amount of resources (financial, human, environmental, etc.) needed to achieve quality in harmony with the natural local ecosystem. Also, diminishing tension and conflict between the needs of man and those of nature.   Budget versus Quality All grounds managers have a budget we must work within. Some managers are fortunate that the financial reigns are looser, and some are unfortunately faced by significant fiscal pressures. My budget here at Drury University is reasonable. I am fortunate in this regard. But there are a range of expenditures that I would love to be able to make that would improve the quality of my landscape. These unperformed operations are apparent in the product I deliver, but are rarely understood or forgiven by the people who seek to dictate what the landscape should look like.   Certainly money does not always ensure a high quality product... but it doesn't hurt. The paradox of budget versus quality exists in that the expectation for weed-free turf, lots of seasonal color and tight maintenance never changes, even as budgets stagnate or shrink.     Quality versus Sustainability Many of the practices needed to install and maintain a high quality landscape are not sustainable. Sustainability exists in inverse proportion to maintenance expectations and needs. I don't care if you use organic fertilizer, there is an environmental and financial cost. The majority of landscape cultural practices require fossil fuels in either production, or in application, or more likely both.   The higher the expectation of quality (defined above) the more likely you will need to spend more money. Even the LEED or Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) approved "sustainable" landscapes I have seen have required a lot of money and resources to install, and future maintenance needs are glossed over or given rosy projections. The paradox of quality versus sustainability exists because of the inflexible and often unrealistic mandate of a too narrow quality metric.     Budget versus Quality versus Sustainability There appears to be no clear predictive rationale linking the three items. As efficiency and effectiveness improve, so can quality and sustainability, which may drive budgets down. But these could also drive budgets up as expectations of quality increase. As sustainability increases, quality could go up and drive budgets down also. Or all three can go up together.   The key to all of these constraints interrelating effectively and successfully, is clarifying expectations, then adhering to them. I have been thinking a lot about how these interact. I am told to be fiscally sound, deliver high quality, all the while pursuing sustainability. This is not easy to reconcile. I imagine I am not telling anyone anything they do not already know.     The Solution I suggest that sustainability needs to drive and prearrange the other two constraints. When I pursue sustainability, I will seek to drive my own budgets down. Sometimes the best way to be sustainable is to not spend your dollars. Decreasing budgets will be determined, and voluntarily complied with because quality expectations are realistic and based on operational capability, not some fantasy of comparison to another site.   When I pursue sustainability I seek to even my quality at an acceptable level over the long term. This improves quality level awareness which again can drive costs down. No one on a campus or course wants to manage these components successfully more than the Grounds/Course Manager. No one else than that manager is better suited for that task either. But that is another paradox entirely.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

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 tongue. The ordering represents a hierarchy of benefit whereby reducing resource consumption is most beneficial, reusing resources is next, and recycling is the benefit offering the lowest ranking return when seeking to decrease resource consumption. Recycling is important, but only one piece of the 3Rs approach. Drury Reduces & Recycles
Reducing our resource consumption upfront will be our greatest step towards sustainability. In the past several years we have taken the same steps many operations have by reducing water consumption for irrigation and decreasing the amount of chemicals we apply to the landscape. A step that is a little more painful is reducing the frequency of purchasing major new equipment (trucks, mowers, UTVs). We also have changed our maintenance practices and zone expectations to diminish the intensity of operations without decreasing takeaway quality. Here at Drury University we have a fair recycling operation. In 2006 I was in an Environmental Science class with a fellow student that was single-handedly pushing recycling for our campus. Through her efforts, each building received several receptacles for the recycling of paper, aluminum, and plastic. Until recently Drury partnered with a number of organizations to host a recycling center for the use of the downtown Springfield area. In addition to many single stream dumpsters on campus, Drury also takes recyclables to an enhanced City of Springfield recycling center nearby our campus. We are in the process of evaluating our recycling, so we can increase participation and waste diversion. A Drury student uses the 3 bin composting near Smith Hall. Photo credit Taylor Stanton, DU student. Drury Reuses
Reusing materials is another leg of the 3 Rs that Drury University incorporates into our maintenance. Drury Grounds has several composting bins throughout campus that are used by us and students. These three-bin systems are not only effective for household and yard gleanings but are also good looking enough to place unobtrusively on campus. I have blogged elsewhere about how we use obsolete architectural stone from razed buildings in our gardens. One other way that Drury reuses materials is by using our limb chip as mulch on campus. Because large trees are the signature of our campus grounds, we generate large amounts of chip in just normal tree care operations, not to mention during removals. This limb chip allows us to close our organic waste stream, but also provides “heritage mulch” for us.  Tree Failure Results in Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Opportunity
In July 2018, Drury lost a large oak tree from the heart of our campus. This tree was blown over in a thunderstorm having peak straight-line winds of 74 MPH. In an interesting aside, a post failure autopsy revealed the likely cause of failure was due to damage sustained by the tree during the 2007 Ozarks ice storm. A large wound (see photo below) allowed a column of decay to travel into the root flare where it impacted enough of the buttress roots resulting in instability. Tree physics requires all forces acted upon the tree to ultimately travel to the roots where they are dispersed into the ground. In this case, the torque on the tree caused root failure and the tree toppled.      Despite being greatly saddened by the loss of this tree, we immediately realized we had an opportunity to sustainability efforts into practice. First, we would reduce (to zero) the amount of tree refuse that would leave our campus. All tree branches and major branches would be passed through a chipper to create mulch. Next, we contacted a saw-milling business we had used before to take the large trunk sections and mill them into lumber that we could reuse/recycle. This is a very sustainable step and also generated nearly 1200 board feet of excellent oak lumber. The trunk base/root flare was placed in a native area on campus where it will be allowed to fulfill its life cycle through decomposition. Instead of being hauled off, large logs from fallen tree were milled and will be reused on campus. Sustainability Pays
Reduce/reuse/recycle doesn’t solve all our grounds management problems. But it does provide an additional avenue for pursuing a more environmentally compatible operation. It also demonstrates to Drury University associates we take our sustainability charge seriously and are constantly seeking ways to deepen our resource conservation practices. The 3 R’s are a well-known approach to conservation and waste diversion. By practicing these steps in our campus landscape management, Drury Grounds provides leadership and hope to our community and hopefully spur others to greater 3 Rs commitment.

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 into concrete/measurable plan of action. What I do know beyond a doubt is that for all the ideas we come up with, the ones that are most likely to stick are the ones the crew come up with themselves. It’s About Having a Voice I have yet to meet a person in groundskeeping that is hesitant to share their opinion. However, this does not mean that all the talk we hear or participate in is always beneficial. Beyond the daily chatter, important talk sometimes reaches a point where the crew needs to share their voice to gain some beneficial result. It goes without saying, but is also worth repeating, that talk can’t initiate change without getting to the ears of someone who can influence the situation. Having a voice means providing feedback and viewpoints to decision makers in your organization. Don’t let good discussions end at the crew level. However, it is vital to remember that in some capacity we are all decision makers, and that we must all share our thoughts. Inviting the crew to regular campus meetings makes them feel included, thereby more likely to speak out. No One Has a Voice if No One Listens On the surface, this seems obvious. Listening (more accurately hearing) is the essential step necessary to create a voice. “If a tree falls in the forest, does anyone hear it?” truly does apply here. When my crew expresses thoughts on any subject affecting them, it is imperative to understand what they are really getting at. It may be exactly what they say, or there may be some other message wrapped up in it. When I listen to hear (more accurately understand), I share in giving my crew a voice. We cannot stop here though. The crew must listen and give you a voice. Managers must be sure that the crews voice be heard, and understood, by our bosses too. Our bosses play a significant role in creating the world Grounds Crews work in and pushing the words of the crew up the chain of command adds to their voice. More Than Venting Talking with the crew is about much more than just giving them a safe space to blow off steam. Yes, letting team members get thoughts off their chests is valuable, but effective team communication provides more. If it sounds like a crew is just complaining, who wants to listen to that? Grousing and griping gets the organization nowhere because it isn’t meant to build up or generate useful discussion. Far too often, complaining is just negative noise, and sometimes is intended to hurt or create negative outcomes. I heard a good phrase the other day, “complaining with a purpose”. Making the team aware of undesirable circumstances to shine light on them thereby promoting analysis of these conditions is very useful. The negativity of complaining can become a habit and should be discouraged. Presentation style speaking is good for sharing information, but not for fostering dialogue. Change Requires Speaking Out All too often team members are dissatisfied with something that is occurring in their job but feel they are powerless to do anything about it. This sense of resignation may be an understandable conclusion based on the organization. On the other hand, feeling powerless may be more about the individuals own predisposition. Making improvements rarely happens without energized and willing participants. Change for changes sake is not smart, but perpetually doing things the same is not always smart either. When I talk with my crew, I am always impressed with the good ideas that they share. Even their bad ideas (there is usually a few of those too) reflect an energy and intention of trying to improve our work process and atmosphere. Creating an environment where ideas can be shared openly without fear of negative consequences is essential to a high functioning grounds operation. Keep Talking It Out I define myself as a “long-talker”. This means I can take a seemingly long time to say something. My reason is I have a crystal-clear image of what is in my head, and it is challenging to use just a few words to be sure to convey my thought accurately to another. Fortunately, not all conversations require deep thoughts of great importance. We are all familiar with tailgate meetings comprising just a few sentences to refresh awareness on a topic. Listening to new voices is also a good way to generate conversation. Regardless of how you structure your talks, keep talking to the crew. It will pay off, and all of you will appreciate the conversation. If this is how your crew responds to your meetings, it's time to try a new approach.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Sustainable Landscaping Withstands Scrutiny...

Sustainable landscaping isnt about mowers that burn liquid propane, efficient irrigation systems, compost teas, or even native plants. While all of these efforts, and others like them, are steps along a continuum moving towards sustainability, they will all ultimately fall short of the goal of real sustainability. Sustainability is not a superficial strategy that can be implemented by taking a few small steps. Sustainability is a complex web of interactions that reflect the ability of man and nature to coexist in harmony.    True sustainability is a zero sum game. This is the truth with all functional (sustainable) systems (ecosystems). Inputs must balance outputs. One could say the quantity of resources invested in a landscape (cost) can be balanced against what we get out of it (benefit). Too frequently the modern landscape defines cost and benefit too narrowly. Money is the predominant metric the landscape is measured by. Sustainable landscapes take an expansive view of cost/benefit terms. The desired attributes of a landscape force us to look more broadly at the landscape. When we ask for more from our landscape is when sustainability really begins to meet our needs.   Too frequently the modern landscape defines cost and benefit too narrowly. Money is the predominant metric the landscape is measured by...   Sustainable landscapes must be aesthetically pleasing, supportive of organizational objectives, environmentally compatible, financially feasible, horticulturally achievable, and self-perpetuating to the greatest extent possible. Blending these aspirations is challenging for the landscape. Pursuing one or two of these at a time is difficult enough, but to create a sustainable landscaping matrix these objectives must all be pursued equally. Diversity of landscaping goals provides resiliency. If any one area is struggling, the other benefits carry the load until all facets recover. This is a hallmark of sustainability.   Sustainable landscapes come in many forms but must fit the organization's image   Sustainable landscaping is about a systems change, not about implementing a particular policy or landscaping process. Sustainable landscapes are not "wild" but parts of them may appear that way. Why is there resistance to a landscape that moves in a new design direction? Our current landscape paradigm is not etched in stone. What is in vogue at one time may be out of favor soon enough. The sustainable landscape responds to determinant conditions appropriately. Natural factors like geology, indigenous plants/animals/insects, climate, must mesh with non-natural factors such as organizational purpose, financial investment, image, municipal codes, etc. The typical modern landscape does not respond to all of these factors.   DU President's House: Sustainable landscapes do not have to look "wild" or "weedy"   I want to stress that I do not equate sustainable with "out-of-control". I also do not only equate sustainable with "natural". These mistaken concepts of sustainable landscaping are some of the reasons true sustainability isnt more common. Landscaping is inherently based in living organisms where the consequences of life, pro and con, are sometimes chaotic. Sustainable landscaping uses a deliberate planning methodology to respond to that chaos. The sustainable landscape is in synchronicity with the complex factors listed earlier to the fullest extent. The landscape must be conceived, installed, and maintained in cooperation with organizational and ecosystem needs. Sustainable landscaping reconciles the diverse needs of man and nature, cost and benefit, in a broadly functional creation.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Sustainability, Budget, and the Landscape Design Concept

Writing a recent blog about the future of grounds and landscaping got me thinking about how potential future changes could alter what my grounds management looks like. It then lead me to wonder about sustainability (what in the world does that mean?), and how that could change my grounds management too. The possible changes stem from the pursuit of sustainability that is being advocated by both those in our industry and those outside of it. But which pursuit the right one?   Sustainability... yet another definition One of the main definitions of sustainability I have heard is managing resources so that you do not limit subsequent people's ability to manage those same resources. Basically I would say that translates to leaving the resources to later managers in the same condition you found them. It can also mean not using more than your fair share. All of these sound good, but I don't think they get to the root of the problem.   My definition of sustainability focuses on the sustain root of the word. I ask myself the question, if I walk away, will my landscape sustain? This is to say, will it keep doing what I want it to do without intervention or resource consumption? I imagine that there are a number of people saying that is impossible. I very nearly agree that it is impossible. But even if impossible, pursuing a landscape that can sustain leads me to pursue a landscape that is as sustainable as possible.   High maintenance landscapes, like this area near the President's House, are resource intensive.   The contradiction There is contradiction between the landscape grounds managers are tasked with pursuing and the pursuit of a landscape that can be sustained. These landscape objectives are too frequently created by people with no horticultural understanding if they are actually obtainable. In spite of recent efforts at sustainability, the paradigm of the modern landscape is still resource intensive. Irrigation, chemicals, plant material, organic matter, fertilizers, fuel for machines are all needed to maintain the current iteration of the landscape. For golf courses and sports fields, this is easily rationalized due to what the purpose of those landscapes is. But for a college campus, why are we trying to design, install and maintain a landscape that requires significant resources, all the while trying to figure out how to diminish resource consumption (save money)?   Stylized native plantings require fewer resources   The budget contradiction I want everyone to try an exercise. Go to whomever sets and approves your landscape maintenance budget and tell them you need more money to do your job. See what they say. After they tell you that there is no new money forthcoming, and 18 reasons why your budget has been the same for the last four years, leave and go to work. The next day, go to the same person and tell them you want to decrease the mowing frequency for certain logically determined low maintenance areas to every two weeks and see what they say. After they tell you to hold the line on quality in these areas, and urge increasing mowing frequency at the high visibility areas, leave and go back to work, this time shaking your head (or fists). Because what the people who dictate landscape expectations want from the landscape is very seldom what they budget for.   ...what the people who dictate landscape expectations want from the landscape is very seldom what they budget for."   If you want sustainability, cut the budget Spending money will not achieve sustainability. Buying efficient blowers and mowers that run on natural gas allows us to believe that we are being sustainable. But this is postpone-ability, not sustainability. We are still being forced to participate in the resource intensive maintenance regime of mowing, blowing and irrigating. We still cannot walk away from the landscape and have it do what we want it to. If my mowing budget was slashed, I would have to focus mowing on high visibility areas and athletic fields, thereby saving a lot of resources. This would then require everyone adjusting to taller grass, more off-target plant percentage, and require that we change the plant mix to shrubs and perennials. Changing our landscaping goals to those that are sustainable, and away from those that are not, would make a lot of financial sense.   Secondary areas can be minimally maintained.   The goal (desired landscape image) never changes Ecosystems are inherently dynamic and ever changing. Any number of environmental impacts can change the influences that dictate what can thrive in an area. Landscaping interventions usually attempt to freeze a system in an artificially maintainable state. That is why we mow grass and prune shrubs. As stated before, this unchanging state (predictability) is rational for golf and baseball, but is difficult to rationalize (given sustainability goals), and even harder to maintain, on a campus (or peripheral areas). Barring recreational areas, how does the ornamental landscape educate students? Sustainable landscaping must be diverse and based on a diverse set of customer needs, not based on budgetary decisions, or tradition.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

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 ability to achieve sustainability. Note: I am not attempting to define sustainability here. Suffice that we all have a generally similar idea of what it is. If you want more clarification, please peruse some previous TWG blogs. Speaking About Geology I suggest that the main geologic factor influencing sustainability is bedrock. Any grounds professional will attest to the importance of soil towards supporting a healthy and functional landscape. But what makes soil? The bedrock of an area creates the soil we work in. Here in Springfield, MO, our bedrock is Burlington limestone. As a result, our default pH is alkaline. If I want to create a landscape that prefers an acidic environment, I must undertake significant interventions. And those interventions will necessarily be temporary, requiring repeated amendments to be sustainable. It is much easier to take cues from the indigenous flora and plant a landscape that can tolerate higher pH, or plant adapted plants if a nonnative palette is suitable. The limestone for this church on Drury Campus was cut from local bedrock. Climate Springfield, MO. can be a volatile climate. In this respect, we are no different from most places. Our historic extremes are -29F and 113F. However, our average temperatures range from 22F to 90F. Based on these numbers our normal weather is stable, but we can get fluctuations. I tell people that the droughty periods we experience (2012, 2018) and the heat (May 2018 hottest on record) is unusual, but not unheard of. Fortunately, our plants, animals and insects are wonderfully adapted to the Missouri climate. Growing the plants that are adapted to a region doesn’t mean plant it and forget it. Planting with an eye to sustainability means that the plants we grow will require less intervention (resources) based on the prevailing climate of our site. It doesn’t mean that everything will always grow. Nor should we seek to overcome too many impediments to accommodate a landscape. Hydrology The water cycle is yet another monolithic influence on sustainability. Water is one of the essential requirements for plant growth. It is also essential for human life. The aspects of water that are the most challenging to cope with is regularity and scarcity. Regularity means can we obtain water when we need it. Scarcity is asking is there enough water supply to meet all our demands for it. We could start discussing water priority (drinking versus irrigation) but I digress. The main obstacle facing a sustainable water situation is living, or should I say growing, within the natural water budget. Every time an operation uses water that does not fall from the sky or generated on site (springs, catchments, etc.) the goal of sustainability recedes. The sustainable landscape should not receive non-natural water. Succession and Change In nature, every niche is exploited, and change is constant. No matter what condition a landscape is in at a given moment, that landscape is transitioning (growing) something else. Turf must be mowed to maintain it within a narrow tolerance because if eft unmaintained tall fescue will grow to 12 or so inches and then go to seed. Planting beds must be pruned, mulched, weeded and replanted otherwise they become unruly, escape boundaries or change their planting mix. Maintenance all takes place to prevent the landscape from growing into something that is deemed unacceptable. In Springfield, over the course of history, our landscapes were an Oak/Hickory forest dappled by savannah. This matrix of plants and animals is what our ecosystem strives for. If left alone, succession will drive towards this destination despite the disturbed aspect of the urban setting. If left undisturbed, Springfield might revert to savannah like the Union Ridge Conservation Area. Pic credit: nature.mdc.mo.gov Implications Sustainability in the landscape is about aligning what the landscape is, with our maintenance regimes. To the extent that these two objectives differ, is the extent to which we have to invest resources to overcome macro-influences. On a golf course or sports field, the distinct purpose of the field is largely unnatural. Thus, it will be harder to align sustainable operations with the objective of the landscape (many golf courses/sports fields, etc. are successfully pursuing sustainable operations despite the inherent challenge of doing so). On a college campus however, the landscape has more variability in what is expected of it. In this setting the sustainable management of the landscape can be furthered by designing, installing, and maintaining a more natural landscape. The key will be a landscape that pays homage to sustainability tectonics, not persists in opposition to it. Naturalizing plantings unify function and sustainability, but are not suitable to all locations.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

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 answered positively, I am at a loss as to why a person or organization would not want to pursue sustainable landscaping. In an effort to see this issue from another perspective, I would like to put forth some reasons I believe cause sustainability reluctance. Sustainable Landscapes are Messy
This may be the biggest misconception about sustainable landscapes. Most people will equate sustainable with wild and this is not always so. Sustainable landscapes need not be rambling plantings run amok. I suggest this misconception arises due to a confusion of objectives. Often when seeking to restore or support an ecosystem, gardeners will utilize native plants which co-exist well within a given ecosystem. In these habitat and organism-focused applications, “wild” plants provide shelter, food, and ecosystem services when left to grow “naturally”. Many restorative plantings are sustainable when left alone, but not all sustainable landscapes need be maintained in this manner. Landscapes exhibiting traditional design/maintenance attributes can be sustainable as long as they seek to meet the aforementioned criteria. Sustainable Landscapes can adhere to traditional design and are not necessarily "wild". Sustainable Landscapes are for Eco-Crazies
Evaluation of anything new or different frequently results in assumptions and stereotyping. A conclusion is reached about an idea before it is even given a hearing of objective evaluation. This can be the case with sustainable landscaping. People may conjure up images of long hair, Birkenstock wearing grounds people sabotaging mowers and growing corn in the front yard. This isn’t the case. Nor is it accurate to think that all the landscape will look like tallgrass prairie, or if a tree falls, it will be left lay to decompose to enrich the spirit of the earth. Sustainable landscaping is a management philosophy that draws on the same organizational and operational imperatives as any other landscaping. Funny I rarely (never?) hear people question the underlying assumptions about the dominant unsustainable landscaping methods. Some sustainable landscapes follow the stereotype, but may still accomplish organizational goals. Sustainable Landscape Changes Everything
If an organization chooses to pursue sustainable landscaping, it should be the overarching principle determining grounds management, but not necessarily in a prescriptive manner. Sustainability is about seeking to diminish resources consumption (time, money, materials, etc.) but this aspiration will not result in identical results for every organization. Consider chemical use in the landscape. One organization may seek to diminish chemical use as a way to contain costs, and market an environmentally conscious landscape approach. Another may choose to continue utilizing chemical interventions but explore ways to decrease frequency. A third may need to hold the line on current chemical use, knowing there is not organizational support for a changed approach, but seek to slowly introduce alternative groundcovers/designs that will not need chemical intervention. Being appropriate in how and where you pursue or initiate a more sustainable approach sustains progress. Everything need not change to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. Sustainable Landscaping Doesn’t Matter to Our Organization
If you have, or are an organization, sustainable landscaping should matter to you. Sustainable landscapes contribute many benefits more than just a pretty, environmentally focused campus. Consider these questions when evaluating sustainability. Do I want my organization to sustain? Do I want my assets/resources to sustain? Do I want my position/livelihood to sustain? Do I want my company’s reputation to sustain? Likely, the answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes. Sustainable landscaping has a positive effect on all facets of an organization. In addition, taking a cue from natural ecosystems, a sustainable Grounds Manager balances the individual needs against the collective, always understating that the success of the whole is paramount. Sustainability Is the Way of the Future
Rarely does sustainability reluctance debate on the science and vocational merits of sustainable landscaping. Prejudices and stereotypes come to the fore when naysayer’s pushback against a sustainable landscape. This does our organization’s a great disservice. Evaluation of the value of landscaping should weigh the positives it brings to its parent, and at what ROI. This is a harsh truth, but a good grounds operation does not flinch from close inspection. Delivering expectations while staying within resource limits is the bottom line premise of sustainability. Drawing a straight line between these two aspects requires accurately defining, and agreement of, what constitutes a sustainable landscape. Sustainable landscaping can be adapted to any application and is greatly beneficial when it is. Truly sustainable landscapes blend organizational goals and landscaping while also seeking to decrease resource consumption.
 

Sustainability Baby Steps...

Sustainability continues to be a hot topic in the Green Industry and here at Drury University. Every aspect of how we manage and maintain our landscapes is affected. I read about amazing things happening all the time and wonder what I can do? How can I share in all these amazing steps taking place on college campuses, golf courses, parks, businesses, etc.? I sometimes feel I am getting left behind. But sustainability is not only about liquid propane mowers, compost tea, and native plants. As I study the sustainability efforts around me, I begin to see that there is an aspect of sustainability that can easily do more and doesn't get a lot of attention. Sustainability needs to influence every decision, not just some decisions. Not everyone incorporates sustainability consistently, yet small steps add up.   It Takes a Lot to Turn the Titanic If you follow sustainable landscaping at almost any level, you know about the innovations and beautiful landscapes that have been designed and installed all over the world. One of my criticisms is that these efforts frequently require a significant alteration to what is in the landscape right now. While the sustainability impact of these new designs may be sizable, the resources needed to install them are often sizable as well. I suggest that rather than making a 180o turn, reworking or recreating projects, we rather simply make a turn in a new direction from exactly where we are. A direction that immediately begins paying sustainability dividends without a significant alteration of effort, maintenance practices, or perhaps most importantly, increased expenditure. Providing a low entry point to sustainability will increase the range of it, and overcome much resistance by those who oppose (misunderstand) it.   Providing a low entry point to sustainability will increase the range of it, and overcome much resistance by those who oppose (misunderstand) it...   Play Small Ball I suggest operations start with the small measures that are easily attainable. On Drury campus we have raised our mowing heights and slowed our mowing cycle. By doing this we increase the amount of campus leaf mass and have eliminated two complete mowing cycles. This decreases resource consumption and increases ecological benefits. Importantly, these steps have not promoted any blowback. We also have a lot of sticks on campus due to the density of our campus trees. These are routinely chopped when mowing, but many require collection. They then are added to our organic waste stream to either be chipped, or taken to a mulch facility off campus. We now have identified several areas where sticks can be deposited in central areas. These collected sticks act as mulch, and add a novel texture/dimension to an area. While we don't do this in high maintenance areas, we have again experienced no resistance from the campus community. Stick mulch can be used in small areas as a ring, or as large areas as a precursor to bed installation.   Using collected sticks as a tree ring.   Early stages of using sticks as mulch.   Compost Bins The use of compost bins is nothing new. But here at Drury we have begun placing them at strategic points, in plain community view. This placement benefits us by providing central dumping locations for small amounts of organic waste. By discarding, then reusing the waste, we are dramatizing to campus that sustainable steps are achievable. More importantly perhaps is the awareness that these bins generate. The campus community sees the steps Drury Grounds is taking and understand that sustainability is not a secondary effort. Until sustainability takes a prominent position in the grounds management, we will always be behind the curve.   Compost bins are showing up on main campus.   Rain ponds There are several areas on campus that pose a problem in terms of drainage and repetitive damage from storm water runoff. In order to manage this water, we adhere to the Slow/Spread/Soak approach. We identify where the water wants to run, which is pretty easy to determine due to erosion. We then will excavate out a wide area and several depressions in this runway. Boulders and rip-rap armor the stream and also provide interest in dry periods. Native plantings are also incorporated to create a natural look, plus additional stabilization of soil. The depressions will easily handle small amounts of water (most rainfalls are smaller amounts) and allow for infiltration. Larger amounts are allowed to pass over and through the system without causing damage. The advantage of these projects is they are easily constructed primarily with hand tools and inexpensive materials.   Rain pond works even while under construction   It Works When You Work It This list is not a prescription for what every site should be doing to pursue sustainability. It is more about tailoring what you need, and understanding what the landscape has to offer, then doing it. Another great benefit of starting small is that it promotes awareness in your organization of your sustainable efforts. This can make it easier for you to sell larger scale efforts. Small exposures will ease naysayers to your side. These steps may not be what we continue. My point is they are sustainable steps, nonetheless.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Stem Girdling Roots (SGRs)

I have planted hundreds of trees in my career. Actually I think there is a real possibility I have planted in the thousands. Not multiple thousands mind you, but more than one thousand. I have also had to take care of those trees for many years after installation, and have had an opportunity to track many successes and some failures. My survival rate for the trees I have installed is very good, over 95%. Also as an ISA Certified Arborist, I have to study about tree culture, and am ethically bound to do industry best for them. What I have found over the years is that there are several surefire ways to plant a tree to die, one of which is stem girdling roots, or SGRs.   SGR Defined An SGR is a root that has been deflected and is now growing in a circle around the tree trunk. Healthy roots should grow like a spoke away from the tree and into the surrounding soil. One of the main causes of SGRs is container-grown stock. The root hits a plastic wall, turns, then continues to grow in a circle. These roots will continue to grow like this even when removed from the container. As the tree trunk and roots grow occupying the same space, the roots constrict the enlargement of the trunk and begin girdling the vascular tissue of the trunk (directly below the outer bark). Many people think the trunk will grow to snap the root, however the roots are enlarging simultaneously.   Obvious SGRs that require pruning/removal.   The result The result of a significant SGR is the trunk and root flare below the girdling does not enlarge. The trunk above the girdling does. This imbalance disrupts the normal taper and ultimately the tree either dies from insufficient water and food movement, or breaks at the point of girdling when under load. At the very least, the tree is stressed even under good conditions and is susceptible to secondary problems like disease or insect. The aesthetic appearance of the tree will suffer. Girdled trees will appear stunted, have sparse growth, poor coloration and flagging. Frequently, premature death of the tree occurs just when it should be coming into young maturity, and the death leaves a significant and noticeable void in the landscape.   Control There are a number of steps to prevent or repair SGR that are easy to accomplish. Like many horticulture problems, prevention is frequently easier than repair.   Purchase good stock Purchasing tree (and large shrub) stock without SGRs is your best defense. It is also the easiest since someone else is doing the work. Unfortunately most large scale, economical production methods used by nurseries can create SGRs. Inspect stock before accepting and be sure to examine root structure before you buy. This goes for container grown, balled & burlapped, or even spaded trees (trees may have SGRs prior to moving).   Address SGRs before you plant The time to perform preventative pruning is before the tree goes in the hole. Examine the roots when you take the tree out to plant. Look for the root flare zone. The flare zone is where the primary buttress roots will widen quickly. Trace these roots away from the trunk and look for roots that cross them. If there are any cut the crossers with pruners. Be careful to prune small crossing roots and not the primary roots themselves. Aggressively tear open the roots by hand or with a pick. Try to separate the tangles of roots to guide them out from the trunk. Slicing the root bound area can be a last resort, but the roots should still be significantly pulled apart.   Plant at the right depth and do not over-mulch The root flare zone should be obvious and should be planted above the soil level. A larger tree, greater than 4-6 inch caliper, should have a flare zone 2-3 times the width of the trunk. Do not mulch close to the tree, nor too thickly. Adventitious roots can grow aggressively in the mulch.   Curative Existing trees in the landscape should be evaluated for SGRs. Smaller trees should be inspected first. Excavation of the root flare at ground level will quickly show if SGRs are present. Undesirable, inferior roots should be pruned. It is only necessary to remove a piece to prevent regrafting. A hand pick or bull trowel should suffice. This is examination, not major excavation. If you have high value trees the use of an air spade to blow soil from the root zone may be justifiable.   SGRs after root pruning.   A tailgate full of SGRs after removal.   Putting SGRs behind you SGRs are a common problem. Yet I only learned about them in the last 10 years. The many trees I planted prior to this awareness survived because I aggressively separated roots to prevent circling. Preventing circling roots and preventing SGRs are two sides of the same coin. With a large dose of preventative effort, and a small dose of cure, SGRs can be overcome.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Spring Fever...

I admit it, I have Spring Fever. Just this past week on January 28, here in Springfield, Missouri we hit 67 degrees. The Drury University Grounds Crew was out doing a number of jobs that were more about preparing for spring, and less about killing time in winter. We mulched leaves, cut back perennials, spread some mulch, and even continued work on a stone patio that had been idle for more than a month due to conditions. I even started determining quantities of seed and fertilizer for some early spring overseeding on several athletic fields. But reality, and several more weeks of winter, have got me thinking about how I measure time from fall to spring.   Shortest Day I have several benchmarks I use to mark the beginning of, and the passing of winter. The first is December 21st. Most of you will recognize this as the shortest day of the year. Sunrise was at 7:23 a.m. and sunset was at 4:59 p.m. Like many others, I came to work in the dark, and returned home in the dark. This truly is a low point of the year. Winter has officially started, temperatures are dropping, and the landscape seems very dreary. But even with all that, I know that day length has nowhere to go but up. Within several days, sunset gets later by a minute a day, each day. This slow change always gives me a lift, even though for several weeks, we won't pick up time in the morning. Days are getting longer equals more sunshine, means warmer temps are coming. Winter has officially started, temperatures are dropping, and the landscape seems very dreary. But even with all that, I know that day length has nowhere to go but up... Average Temperature Bottoms Out My next benchmark occurs in mid-January. From January 21st to January 18th, Springfield's average temperatures are 21 degrees low and 41 degrees high. Before you cold weather guys start scoffing at these mild temps, remember that these are averages, not actual (we do get cold), and I would gladly trade cold temps for tornadoes, ice-storms, and golf ball size hail (all of which are fairly common in the Ozarks). On January 19th our average low temp climbs to 22 degrees. Once again, we have reached the bottom and have nowhere to go but up. We now have the beneficial double whammy of longer and also warmer days. Historical Coldest Day The last benchmark that is almanac based is the coldest day on record for Springfield. This occurred February 12th, 1899. The low temperature that day was MINUS 29. That is cold in anyone's book, and that is not wind chill. I have to admit I find this temperature remarkable. In our line of work, all of us can expect some level of cold weather exposure. Some tolerate it better than others. The truth is it takes one week to get used to 20 degrees, but only one day to get used to 50 degrees. That being said, I remind my crew, and anyone else who says "it sure is cold today" that when the temp is 19 degrees, imagine how cold it would be if it was 50 degrees colder! From here on there are no days where the historic low is even anywhere near minus 29, so again, we are going in the right direction. Daylight Savings Time Begins The last benchmark I use for measuring winter is Daylight Savings Time (DST). In 2015 DST starts on March 8th. 'Spring forward, fall back' as the saying goes. On March 9th sunset occurs at after 7pm. Spring is here as far as I'm concerned. With almost twelve hours of daylight, photoperiod response is in full swing. At this stage, even cold weather is usually short lived, but we don't tolerate it well because we are already used to 50 degree days. A day that doesn't get above freezing is rough at this point. Even if we get snow (I remember an 11 inch snow here in April) it doesn't stay around long. We all tolerate things better, and snow melts faster, when the sun shines until 7:00. Getting Through It Winter is a challenge for us in the green industry. Winter cold is truly the opposite of summer warmth and it affects the psyche as well as the joints. Grass is brown, trees are bare, recreation changes and usually slows, as does the excitement of the hard work we perform in the other three seasons. Not that we don't work in the winter, but it is different. People always ask me "what do you do in the winter?" Hard to say sometimes, but we always stay busy. But I find comfort and hope in thinking about the beauty of spring and I use my benchmarks to remind me it is coming.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Riding with the boss...

I recently toured campus here at Drury University with my boss. The touring was nothing unusual as I try to see the whole campus on a regular basis. What was different this time was what I learned on the tour. I saw the campus through another person's eyes, and an important person's eyes at that. I came away with a conclusion that I didn't particularly like. Campus never looks as bad as when I tour with my boss. He saw things that I had seen, but had put a different priority on. He also saw things that were important to his reckoning but hadn't been as important to mine. While I was moderately distressed and disappointed by this tour, I saw it as one of several opportunities for rethinking my working relationship with my boss.   Campus never looks as bad as when I tour with my boss. He saw things that I had seen, but had put a different priority on...   When Seeing Something Bad is Good Our tour resulted in seeing some situations on campus that were not up to snuff. My initial reaction was to be disappointed with my performance, and to be frustrated with my crew's lack of attention to detail. But what I realized was my boss wasn't assigning blame, he was simply bringing issues he had noticed to my attention. This is a good thing. He didn't go to my crew, or to his boss, but came to me. This shows he has confidence in my ability to correct these issues. It also shows me that he is paying attention to what the grounds crew is doing on campus. My boss?s awareness of our work is good for us. The old adage of 'when there is silence you should be worried' applies here.     When Seeing Something Good is Good In my professional experience, most grounds managers (including golf course superintendents, of course) notice the good works our crews perform. We make a point of recognizing our teams for hard work, and accomplishing goals. But we almost never seek affirmation for our own works, or direct acknowledgement by others for our own part in achieving success. When I ride with my boss, the vast majority of what he sees and takes note of is positive. Our time together allows him to express appreciation of our team's hard work, and my contribution to that success. Another aspect of seeing successful efforts in the field is it builds common knowledge of the job that is being performed. My boss is not a grounds professional, but he does have comprehension of what work and resources must go into our job. His awareness of our work is beneficial.   When I ride with my boss, the vast majority of what he sees and takes note of is positive. Our time together allows him to express appreciation of our team?s hard work...
Looking Through Someone Else's Eyes One of my greatest challenges in performing my job is to avoid trap thinking. Another way to say this is to avoid predetermination of methods and goals. Because over my career, my efforts and plans have achieved desired results, I think I have some proven answers to achieve results. However, continually using my answers to problems excites and validates me, but may not be as exciting or satisfying to my team (and my boss is on my team). Touring the campus allows my boss to contribute, even if it is usually only in non-physical ways. He has a track record of success and a wealth of knowledge about grounds work in relation to Drury's organizational goals. He has seen other methods achieve results. This knowledge helps strengthen our job processes, plus allows him to contribute, thereby giving him some belonging also.     A Chance to Communicate My days are very full. My boss is busy too. Being able to get one hour per month touring with my boss is about all I can expect. This lack of time to communicate has potential for undesirable results. I could be putting effort into a job that is not where my boss thinks we should be focused. Even if it is what he wants us working on, the results may not be close enough to what he wants. Another concern could be working on a project that may have been made unnecessary or obsolete by a decision made higher up the organizational ladder. Without my boss acting as an information conduit, I may not have access to all the facts. Plus the opportunity to have some personal interaction is positive. Many personnel management experts say that some level of personal relationship helps bond employees. I may not hang with my boss, but I want him to see me as a unique individual, and me him also. I also communicate with my boss in other ways at other times, but touring the campus grounds puts us in my element.     At The End of the Day My immediate team goes in two directions organizationally. My crew, and my boss. Too often employees fail to recognize that their actions can influence their boss. By keeping problems off his desk, I keep them off mine, because we all know how problems usually roll. I also believe that by pursuing my boss's goals, I can expect, and should expect him to pursue mine, even though he is the boss. While it can be unpleasant at times, riding with my boss has benefitted me more than it has hurt me.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Rethinking Restoration

Here at Drury University we have several tracts of land that we want to restore. When I say restore some may say restore to what? Many people conjure up images of native meadows or woodlands. Our campus project has the meadow option in mind. In our work, restore also generally means to return an area to some previous state of vegetation, and to repopulate with some various native plant material. Restoration can be carried out for several reasons and is widely recognized as a viable option in grounds management. That is to say, stakeholders in the specific patch usually won't freak out when restoration is considered.   Restoration Benefits There are several benefits that can be realized via a restoration project. First, restoration can be supportive of, and integrated into, sustainability efforts. By reducing the maintenance requirements of an area, you save resources. Restoration can add to the aesthetics of an area by contrasting other areas, introducing rotation of bloom or textures, and the inherent beauty of "amber waves of grain". Function of the area can be improved. Meadows can also play an important role in ecology by supporting pollinators, songbirds, catching rainwater, and simply by increasing biomass. There are also other benefits that may be site specific to be determined by the participants.   Some Considerations Restoration is not a magic bullet. Sometimes a grounds manager will consider restoration but factors align to eliminate this as an option. Typical installation practice involves eradicating existing vegetation, which might create an erosion problem. Establishment is, at best, a several-season process, during which the site can look different than its ultimate desired appearance. The blend of seed for desirable plant mix is critical, but many excellent sources and mixes are available. Proximity to high value areas generally discourage restoration projects. Proximity to residential areas can also have an impact. Both of these can originate from concerns of aesthetics, security, or even wildlife encroachment. Local conservation or Extension services, as well as professional colleagues, can be a great source of technical advice, which can increase the likelihood of a successful restoration.   Attempting to introduce meadow appearance too close to high value area (DU President's House)   Start Where You Are As previously stated, the usual restoration process begins with eradication of existing vegetation. Here is where I think a different, more gradual approach can be incorporated. I suggest simply to begin managing the area as a meadow while you oversee a transition from the previous state to a restored state. In particular areas, simply by decreasing mowing frequency, raising mowing height, or stopping altogether, a meadow appearance can quickly be created. I suggest that while many people with some plant/nature knowledge will know that it is not truly a meadow yet, the average person will still take in the area as a meadow. Many areas stay in a turf configuration due to constant management, the discontinuance of which will allow a natural succession to begin to restore the area to something else. This approach is less disruptive and uses less resources also.   Mowing adjustments allow for restorative appearance and riparian protection.   Inescapable Environmental Influences While for some return to native or predevelopment condition is the objective, I suggest a less predetermined goal. In any area, there are inescapable environmental influences that have for thousands of years determined what organisms survive in each region. Weather patterns are made up of temperature range, natural rainfall, prevailing winds, etc. The specific geology of an area is set in the bedrock, which unlike topsoil disturbance, does not change over time. Native organisms have evolved over millennia, in coexistence with everything in the area, not simply adaptable because of some few similarities. Certainly these influences fluctuate because of many factors (disturbance, development, exotics, etc.), but they create a broad, yet inescapable limit to what can inhabit an area when allowed to be the dominant determinant factors.   Incorporate Reasonable management practices I am not suggesting simply to stop mowing and you will restore an area to exactly what you want. I am suggesting using low intensity management to influence what thrives in an area. Mowing/brushhogging height and frequency is a significant management tool. Another is overseeding the affected area with whatever seed blend you desire. As with turf, overseeding can change the plant mix in a stand in a desirable direction. Spot spraying to eliminate noxious invasives (Johnsongrass) is also very beneficial.   Lastly the consideration for controlled burn can be included although this may not be considered low intensity. I include public education in management. Some well-placed signs can explain the exact what and why of a restoration project, and helps prevent concerns about the changing landscape.   Minor cultural management could improve this area and create restored appearance   This should work/shifting expectations When I look at these photos, I do not see neglect. I see a reasonable and appropriate management approach that can be utilized where appropriate. I also see an area in transition, but acceptable nonetheless. The underlying desire I have in suggesting this approach is to not have to go backwards to then go forward in restoring an area. I simply suggest starting where you are, defining where you want to go, and begin immediately moving there.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Rest in Peace, Beaver

Here at Drury University we are very interested in supporting the ecology of our area. This effort is challenging in our urban setting. Regardless, it is an effort we see as critical. We install native plants and trees that appeal to pollinators, and act as food sources to the local insects, birds and animals. We evaluate the surrounding neighborhoods and see where we might build larger sections of habitat by creating green corridors. Over the five years I have been here I have seen the results of our efforts. We now see increasing diversity and populations of pollinators, birds and animals.   But I never expected to see a beaver (unfortunately, a dead one) on campus.   A Beaver? Really? Tuesday, February 7, I was contacted on Drury Grounds Twitter about a dead beaver near campus. The Tweet asked if I had seen this animal and included a picture of the dead beaver. I replied I hadn't, but asked where it was. The response said in a road that runs directly adjacent to campus. What was a beaver carcass doing in downtown Springfield? While working at a nearby park for Springfield/Greene County Parkboard I had seen one beaver in a boxed-in creek. But that was seven years ago and nearly half a mile away. Our closest running water to where this beaver was found is ¼ mile as the crow flies. I don't know how beavers forage, but ¼ mile doesn't seem too far, if the setting is natural. Our setting is not heavy urban, but it doesn't scream beaver habitat either. Regardless, there was a dead beaver in the road.   Strange roadkill for downtown Springfield, Missouri.   We Did What We Always Do In the Grounds Management field dead animals are a regular, if infrequent occurrence. I hadn't thought about the carcass again until Wednesday morning. Central facilities got a call concerning the dead animal. I dispatched our Trash Steward to pick it up and discard it in a dumpster. While this unusual incident made some buzz in the Facilities department, the story could have ended there... but it didn't.   Central facilities got a call concerning the dead animal. I dispatched our Trash Steward to pick it up and discard it in a dumpster...   Spirit of the Bear I must honestly say that I hold spheres of knowledge I believe is factual but that I don't really know is accurate. My beliefs regarding Native American culture is one of those spheres. I believe Native American Indians lived in harmony with nature. They took what they needed, wasted little to no resources as they used them, and didn't disrupt their environment too heavily. In total, they stepped lightly on the land. They also held nature in high regard. So the teeth and claws of a Grizzly Bear would be an honored and cherished talisman for an Indian and would be passed through generations. When animals gave of themselves for the tribe, they would be appreciated and their spirits revered. The tribe honored the spirit of the bear. I believe this is true without exactly knowing where this knowledge came from.   Spirit of the Beaver, Honorable Burial I also believe in the mysticism of nature. There is a power to it. I don't define it too rigidly for myself, so I will not argue how any of you readers choose to define it, or not define it. Nature indicates some higher power. I also believe all living things have inherent importance. I was therefore not surprised when I woke up Thursday morning at 4:40 am with the clear conviction that we should have buried the beaver on campus. My fear as I headed to work was that the dumpster holding the beaver had already been tipped. It hadn't. There was a layer of new trash over the bagged carcass, but it was still there. I wondered about a force at work? We began looking for a place to perform the burial.   Nature indicates some higher power. I also believe all living things have inherent importance.    There is an area on campus where we have begun a tree planting effort we call saturation-planting. Our goal is to confront our community with a density of young trees that draws attention to lack of small trees elsewhere on our campus, and in our community. We are talking a lot of trees in a smallish space. This area, we figured, would be the most like what a natural beaver habitat would be. We dug deep, lined the hole with wood chips and buried the beaver body. We did not wrap it as we want the soil system to reclaim what it should. As in all of nature, death will support life.     Eulogy Nature and Man don't always coexist in harmony. I am under no illusion that man's needs will sometimes (frequently) not supersede natures. Often I agree with this one sidedness. But I also believe deeply in the idea that opportunities for co-existence and co-habitation abound. Many opportunities for mutuality are discounted out of hand, diminished by competing priorities, or simply never dreamed of in the first place.   Posting about this story on Facebook got 2,884 views as of this writing. All the comments were positive. I think it is safe to say that there is a sentiment in our area (nation?) that values animals and nature. Many people see that by helping people, and other living creatures, we are also helping ourselves. Nearly all Groundskeepers I have met have a strong nature-supporting ethic. Burying this beaver was our way of demonstrating that.  

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Remember When You Enjoyed Your Job? (!)

Here at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri, we are in the middle of a spring droughty period. While 13 days without rain is not too hard to manage, I am beginning to feel the initial twinges of water concern. Knowing that we will be experiencing a normal hot/dry spell in summer, I count on spring rains. I am sure everyone understands what I mean.   While we have started our irrigation on our high value turf (the native plants are just fine), much of our mowing and blowing is still dusty work. In the midst of a throat choking mower pass, I happened to look up and actually notice a glimpse of the campus landscape that made me stop mowing and just soak it in. It was nothing spectacular, but the way the plants and turf mixed with shadows and background, really struck me. Suddenly, I remembered, I really love my job.   Eye-catching campus landscape   Looking for What's Wrong, not What's Right I seem to spend a lot of time looking for the things I need to fix. I think my role as grounds manager is to see problems two weeks before my boss does. Since my boss's job is to see problems two weeks before the general public does, I need to be seeing problems a month before anyone else. This means I need to be looking at what is wrong, and also looking for what is becoming wrong. This focus on correction leaves little time for sitting back and appreciating the beauty and success around me. Not only do I not look for positives, but when I do see them, I do not dwell long on them. Fortunately, and possibly counter-intuitively, I do focus on what my crew is doing right versus wrong. Thank goodness for that, as focusing on the negatives could really burn you out, and your crew.   This focus on correction leaves little time for sitting back and appreciating the beauty and success around me...   Stop Setting Your Standards Too High I have personally visited some of the most renowned gardens in the world. Seeing Versailles, Buckingham Palace, the Biltmore Estate, and the National Arboretum amongst others, changes your perspective. No longer is 'just good enough' good enough, and reading in TurfNet about golf course management does not lower expectations. But I have to be realistic. At Drury, no one besides me thinks the campus landscape is the most important aspect of the university. Given the adequate, but not extravagant, support we get, we are doing a great job. Pursuing greatness in a good situation can be approached as a welcome challenge rather than a day after day grind.   Focus On Something Enjoyable I believe good supervisors most often put their crew's needs before their own. Even when it is not acknowledged, sacrificing the easy for the harder jobs shows you still have something to offer, and that you don't see yourself as divorced from the guys in the trenches. Much of the manager's job is administrative, or even political if you will. Building and maintaining support from your organization is not only about plants and grass. Even though not physically demanding, this aspect of the job can take a toll on you also.   Many of us managers are field oriented. Sometimes getting on a mower is exactly what I need to get out of a rut. Striping some nice grass with a sharp set of blades can refresh you and restore perspective. This is what it is all about isn't it?   Take pleasure in even small accomplishments...   Inventory Your Accomplishments Grounds managers are a competitive bunch. This makes reflecting on accomplishments difficult, or short lived. No sooner do we succeed at something, then we are chasing the next objective. We also can compete against ourselves, and that is an even harder competition to win. If we allow ourselves to enjoy our victories a little bit longer, they can prove to be satisfying and can record a timeline of our success both personally and as an operation. Drury recently received a significant certification (most grounds managers are certification-driven) being named only the seventh ArborDay Tree Campus in Missouri. Awards like this are testimony to the effectiveness and accomplishments of a grounds operation and should provide satisfaction whenever it is needed.   Keep It In Perspective I have it pretty good. Even when considering dry spells, budget and personnel worries, and maybe even some vandalism thrown in, I've got it pretty good. My crew has a great if twisted sense of humor, I have four seasons of weather, and my boss listens to most of my ideas. Only based on my experience, and without being judgmental, I think roofers have it a lot harder than I do. So do small operation farmers. So do nurses in the children's wings at hospitals (likely nurses anywhere for that matter). My oldest brother Bill spent 37 years in the U.S. Marines. I know he had it harder than me. Simply put, the glass is definitely half (3/4?) full. I just need to remember that.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Realities, Or Just More Dreams... Part Two

One of the comments I hear from my grounds crew is that I jump around on projects too frequently. While I see some truth to this observation, there is a reasonable and desired effect from this job-jumping. Having lots of tasks -- especially broad efforts -- lined up, allows for at least one to always be practical. If factors outside my control (weather, budget, and organizational objectives) or factors within my control (scheduling, training, crew morale, etc.) put a damper on one, I have another ready. It is a Pareto chart of objectives that to a certain degree, let us frequently be working on what is easier, more exciting, or seasonally necessary.   This is most definitely not to say that we only work on what is easy, but sometimes a difficult job postponed becomes an easy job later. I also never see my job as finished. There is always something else that should be done, and time is never on my side.   This is most definitely not to say that we only work on what is easy, but sometimes a difficult job postponed becomes an easy job later...   Training I do not do a good job training my crew. I give instructions, and specifications about how the work should be accomplished, but this isn't training per se. Training is instilling knowledge and skill that is durable in the employee, and imparting information that can be drawn upon from within the employee. A key component however to successful training is the desire by the individual to be trained. My own training has predominantly been motivated by my desire to learn and improve.   Overall, my crew is not concerned with pursuit of mastery. Without internal motivation, training sometimes turns into "killing time". This is an area where TurfNet has been valuable for me. Using webinars, superintendent blogs, and expert resources has taken the training out of a me/them relationship and allows learning from an outside source. I realize that continual training is vital and will continue to seek beneficial ways for it to occur.   Naturalized Areas When I first came to Drury University in 2011, one of the biology professors asked me How will people know that Drury is a "Green" campus? This question has stuck with me through my time here. My thought is that visitors will need to see something here that is obvious (noticeable) and can be determined to be green (understandable). The way I suggest is to renovate several strategically valid areas as meadow/native areas.   Along one of our main drives is a turf area that serves no functional purpose (passive). In fall of 2015 we began planting spring bulbs in this area (inspired by the massive turf/bulb beds on the Mt. Vernon Bike Trail in Alexandria, VA). The bulbs will provide beauty, and transitional validation for not mowing the turf, culturally transforming the area into meadow. Once people get used to other than 3.5 turf in this area, it will be less shocking to them to see a meadow emerging. This spring we plan on installing a quantity of 1 gallon native perennials, grasses and small shrubs to continue the transition.   Planting bulbs in a future meadow area.   Sports Turf Drury has two turf areas on campus used for intramural sports, and one off campus baseball field where the Division II Drury University Panthers play. Until recently, other grounds priorities have kept us from really managing the two on-campus fields as closely as we should have, and the baseball field was managed by the Panthers themselves with support from the City Parks Department. This year Drury Grounds wants to step up the intensity with which all of these areas are managed. This should result in more effective culture and an improvement in playing surface quality. Since, much like golf, sports turf requires specialization, we are taking steps to improve our sports turf capabilities.   Gut Check! Semis on the infield show a COMMITMENT TO QUALITY!   Panther Baseball Head Coach Scott Nasby (2nd from L) and staff are happy with the progress.   New infield at Meador Park, October 2015.   The first step is improved knowledge. While I have a good understanding of turf maintenance and culture, last year I took an online course, Baseball Field Management, through the Turf Department at Ohio State. While this was not hands on per se, it did give a good overview by using expertise of OSU and sports turf professionals.   Drury Grounds is also taking advantage of local knowledge by renewing our membership in Ozarks Sports Turf Managers Association, our local STMA affiliate. This participation allows us to take advantage of people capable to give advice, and eager to do it. Lastly is simply determining new quality expectations and commitments which then drive additional cultural steps toward field improvement.   Running Out of Time, and Money Most accomplished grounds managers I have met always easily determine more that needs to be done. To-do lists seem to move in one direction only. Grounds operations never have enough time to do all of these tasks either. The job seems consistently like Tetris, and we are trying to keep from seeing Game Over. Prioritizing (based foremost on grounds manager expertise), sharing priorities, and effectively carrying them out through efficient resource utilization keeps you playing.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Realities -- or just more dreams -- for 2016 (Part One)

When I was a new Grounds Supervisor working at Alexandria Hospital in Virginia, I would take a monthly walk through campus and generate quite a lengthy punch list of ALL the work I needed to do. Truth be told, most of that work never got done. It rolled over, or simply fell out of my sphere of concern. I dont need to tell any of you how many concerns/problems we Grounds Managers see whether we are looking or not.   I don't need a list for what needs to be done NOW, or when someone important thinks it is IMPORTANT. What I do need a list for are the "big picture" things I want to accomplish each year.   Landscape Master Plan I have worked at Drury University for four years now. During that time I have learned much about how grounds management is tied to enrollment, student life, facilities management, environmental/ecological performance, the greater Springfield community, etc. All of these aspects are considered and rearranged in my mind as I manage the campus grounds in an effort to maximize their performance in support of Drurys goals. I have a very clear image in my mind about what I want this campus to look like, and how it needs to be managed.     If I want this plan to be reviewed and adopted by campus decision makers, I need to get it out of my head and onto paper (so to speak). This will provide for the long-term stability that is essential to a sustainable landscape. Because Drury was founded in 1873, I will only play a part in the landscape, but my efforts could have long term implications. A ratified Landscape Master Plan would assure I am not redirecting, restarting, my landscape efforts unnecessarily. Adopting a Landscape Master Plan is a goal of mine for 2016.   SketchUp One aspect of sustainability that I dont hear discussed much is making our positions and employment sustainable. I want my job to stick around. With shrinking personnel budgets, downsizing and outsourcing, our jobs are constantly under pressure to be justified. One way you show your worth is expanding your capabilities. One way I am eager to expand my capabilities is by creating marketable images for conveying design and renovations on campus. When undertaking a significant renovation, and especially when seeking funding for those renovations, a hand rendered image wont work. Our bosses and supporters can be strongly influenced by attractive, understandable graphics. SketchUp is one way that can be done, in-house, saving money and avoiding confusion.   SketchUp (freeware) or SketchUp Pro (for purchase) is a CAD type software program that allows you to draw a three dimension landscape site plan. While it is not specifically for landscape design (does not contain preloaded images and information for specific plants) it does allow for construction quality plans and design images that can be rendered to closely resemble the finished product. It also has the benefit of being electronic information and is therefore easily shared with stakeholders. DU Grounds has the ability to create high quality design, and we should have the ability to create high quality design graphics.   Social Media Reach Although grounds accomplishments provide high visibility, it is still in a team's best interest to advertise their achievements and support of the organization. One of the ways to do this is through a social media program. Drury Grounds has had Twitter and Facebook accounts for just over a year now. Social media allows us to present an image that is, to a degree, what we want people to see. Not everyone who visits our campus sees all we do.   Social media lets us keep people up to date on our efforts even when our work is not in their immediate sphere. It also helps us expand our support base since people that are no longer in our geographic area can still keep up with happenings. As the year goes by, we want to continue our efforts and even consider new outlets. We are also constantly looking for ways to share social media efforts with allies and other DU entities.   (Hey, how about a follow on Twitter @DruryGrounds or Facebook.com/DruryGrounds?)   First Things First I find that I actually keep sight of the little things very well. I rarely let the grass get too tall before I mow. I rarely let weeds get out of hand. It is the large/strategic items that I tend to lose focus of.  It gets me thinking of a quote I have heard attributed to President (and General) Dwight Eisenhower.   "What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important." - Dwight D. Eisenhower   What I need to consider more often is the efforts that shape the overall direction I want for Drury Grounds. If I have a destination, I can keep driving toward it relentlessly, without getting bogged down in the details.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Random thoughts on sustainability

Writing my last blog about the future of grounds and landscape management got me thinking about how potential changes could alter my current programs. It then lead me to wonder about sustainability (what in the world does that mean?), and how that could change my grounds management too. As I pondered these questions, I began to wonder what steps are to achieve the sustainability goals I believe in and support. In no particular order, and without saying that these are the absolute answers, here are some of the steps I am taking to improve my sustainability.   First, define 'sustainability' Sustainability is everywhere these days and everybody says they and their products are sustainable. The most common definition is based on Norwegian Prime Minister Bruntland's statement of "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future". As I have pursued what I think sustainability is, I have come to a definition that I think gets to a better heart of the matter. I use the sustain root of the word and ask myself this question: If I walk away (stop managing my landscape) will it sustain, or keep doing what I want it to? This question pursues a zero-resource approach rather than the low resource approach of sustainability (postpone-ability). A self-perpetuating landscape? Impossible, maybe. Pursuable, definitely.   I use the sustain root of the word and ask myself this question: If I walk away (stop managing my landscape) will it sustain, or keep doing what I want it to?   Higher mowing heights I imagine this is nothing new to most of you. Generally speaking, raising the height of cut helps durability, decreases weed pressure, and shades the soil. But if you go by the rule of thirds (removing no more than 1/3 of blade each mowing), it also decreases frequency of mowing. Here at Drury University we cut most of our turf (TT Tall Fescue) at 3.5 inches. We have a couple of areas that we mow at 4". If we add ¼ to ½ inch height, we can potentially eliminate 2-3 mowings per year.     Mowing higher also increases leaf mass which increases the ability of the turf to filter pollutants and moderate the flow of heavy precipitation. If we add leaf mass for the 35 acres we mow, that adds a lot of benefit for our campus.   Another aspect I wonder about is the ability to first drive roots deeper, then as the roots senesce, they add organic matter and leave channels in the soil, thus improving soil quality. I may experiment with cutting some areas at 6 inches or higher, and see what happens.   Promote plant and insect diversity I have been in grounds management for almost 25 years and have never treated, in any way at all, for grubs in my turf. I think this is significant. Grub control and the associated concern about Japanese Beetles is very common. I believe that my cultural practices of almost no chemicals, and organic fertilizer go a long way in diminishing grub pressure. I suggest that the array of harsh fertilizers and pesticides we use on our turf creates an environment that grubs thrive in. All the additives cannot help but have some collateral effect on beneficial organisms. When this occurs, there is less competition and fewer predators. Opportunistic insects such as grubs can get out of hand when this occurs and pass treatment thresholds. I certainly have grubs. I see them when I plant or dig through the sod. But I know I do not have enough to worry about. The proof is in the turf that I cultivate. It looks fine and is healthy enough.   I suggest that the array of harsh fertilizers and pesticides we use on our turf creates an environment that grubs thrive in. All the additives cannot help but have some collateral effect on beneficial organisms.   Promote all life cycles As soon as something dies in the landscape, we remove it. This does not occur in any natural ecosystems. Dead organisms and organic matter are consumed in one way or another, either decomposed or eaten. How many organisms in our landscapes could benefit from decayed logs, or leaf litter?     There is an entire set of organisms that require dead matter to live. By incorporating small pockets of a variety of dead and decaying plant material, I may be supporting a keystone species in terms of landscape health. Considering that the vast majority of microorganisms in the soil are beneficial, I may actually be enhancing a critical microorganism also.   Support products that support a new paradigm The green industry has rolled out a lot of products in recent years promising sustainability. Many of these have proven to be "greenwashing" and no more sustainable than any other product. If I believe in some goal of sustainability, it is my responsibility to run my operation that way, and to utilize products I think support that goal.   In recent years I have purchased and used horticultural vinegar and citric acid products as weed killer, new rotating heads and evapotranspiration monitors for irrigation, corn gluten and pelletized alfalfa as fertilizer and battery powered mowers/weed eaters. Not all of these products are as effective as their industrial strength cousins, but they have proven to be serviceable in many applications. By purchasing these, I am helping fund exploratory and experimental products, thereby helping fund improvement of the products. If no one buys them, they will stop moving in new directions.   Many possible answers I don't have all the answers. I don't even have new answers. The situations individual managers find themselves in vary. What works for us at Drury University may not work at another operation, and all of us must have wiggle room in our programs.   Although I support low input turf maintenance, this spring I put down Tupersan with overseeding on our athletic fields and an event-focused turf space. Ultra high quality or special-application turf needs an entirely different regime. But with the changes that will be forthcoming, I try to do as much of what I want to do, so no one tells me what I have to do.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

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