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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.

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Preparing for the Landscape of the Future

Recently I watched a video on TurfNet TV from Randy Wilson, called Ten Years from Now. It, of course, takes place ten years in the future and talks about the scarcity of fungicide, fertilizer and diesel fuel. Even effluent water is being bought by a bottled water company rather than being used for irrigation on their course. Buddy laments they should have gone half organic when they had the chance, but they were worried about being ridiculed by the "Dark Green Fairway Movement". It is truly a great parody video, but like all parody has a ring of truth to it. Now I don?t know where golf specifically is headed, but I have some thoughts on several possible environmentally-focused changes for the industry as a whole.   Chemical restrictions will continue, and increase There are a number of hort/ag chemicals that have been banned in the past decade or so. I haven't kept a list of them, but I know it happened. This trend will continue and even accelerate. Even the neonicotinoids, which were heralded as a safer chemical, are coming under intense fire for possibly damaging bee colonies. Industry mainstays like glyphosate are in the sights of many environmental groups, and the sheer quantity of glyphosate used by the industry makes this product a ripe target. I only use chemicals under the most urgent situations, but for high quality sports fields and golf, some chemical use is a necessity. If our industry helps guide restriction legislation, rather than fight it out of hand, we will get to use the safest, most effective chemicals in the future.   If our industry helps guide restriction legislation, rather than fight it out of hand, we will get to use the safest, most effective chemicals in the future...   Inorganic fertilizer restrictions will continue, and increase In parts of the U.S., most noticeably around the Chesapeake Bay, fertilizer can only be applied after a soil sample indicates the need, and then only using certain products. This is a wise step, especially for homeowners, but I imagine there is very little oversight or monitoring. Certification is already needed in most situations for pesticide applications, and certification of fertilizer applicators is ramping up too. The fertilizer industry is seeing that organic fertilizers have more impact across the spectrum of turf nutrition needs because they benefit not only the plant, but also all the organisms and soil around it, creating a much healthier grass ecosystem. As more companies produce more organic and hybrid fertilizers, costs will come down. Given the efficacy and broad spectrum benefit of organics and hybrids, they may already be a better value per dollar.   You will need a permit to run a chainsaw Power equipment in the green industry is loud and relatively polluting when compared to other combustion based engines. Even with CARB standards, mowers and blowers are resource intensive. They use a lot of gas, generate more emissions than a car, and are uniformly loud. While all industry equipment, i.e. weed eaters, chain saws, hedge trimmers, etc. are much improved and more efficient today than in the past, they still will face scrutiny in the future, especially at the local level. In many places there are already noise restrictions, and a number of locales have restricted blower use. As cities enlarge, and green space shrinks, air quality concerns will allow legislators to focus on power equipment and the restrictions will increase. Couple power equipment with urban forest oversight and chainsaw permitting is a distinct possibility.   I will not be allowed to irrigate... at all Irrigation restrictions are everywhere. In Nashville in the early 2000's we went on curtailment and could only water from 1am to 5am (4 million sq. ft. of total turf at 40 different sites, it couldn't be done). This effectively was a ban on commercial irrigation. During the 2012 Midwest drought, here in Springfield we could only water on odd/even days. Again, given the size of my campus, this was essentially a ban. I could water everything, but improperly and ineffectively. As water utilities need more water for drinking supplies and industry, horticulture irrigation will be the odd man out. Smart irrigation and increasingly efficient systems plus components will delay but not prevent the day when there is no water for irrigation.   Smart irrigation and increasingly efficient systems plus components will delay but not prevent the day when there is no water for irrigation...   The future is bright I know that these predictions are not particularly far out or insightful. If anyone in our profession is surprised by them, they haven't been paying attention. There are certainly other changes to come also. Thinking as a green industry professional, I support these measures whole-heartedly. Increasing restrictions and environmental pressure will be good for our industry. No more will just anyone get to call themselves a turf expert or groundskeeper. For professionals, the ability to provide a high quality product, aligned with and heavily relying on natural processes, will be a necessity. This expertise will allow those able professionals to command better pay and control.   As future development expands, golf courses and college campuses will become some of the most important green spaces, both sought after and supported by government and the private sector. The challenge for our industry is to understand where we are headed, whether we like it or not, and to help define what that future will be. If our industry resists, we will not be able to affect the result, even though we will have to work within it.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Build Your Brand to Build Your Value

Branding is the effort to create a distinct and significant positive awareness of your organization in the mind of your customer or stakeholders. This recognition of your capabilities and contributions can be important to whether or not your operation is seen as benefiting the organization as a whole. Branding is a way that you can you can help to affect the way your image is perceived by the people you work with every day. While your work output/quality is the most important factor to organizational value, it never hurts to work some public relations. And who is better to tell your story than your team itself?   Architecture to Advertising In 2010 two old buildings on the Drury Campus were razed to create a greenspace. Most of the old construction debris was removed, but some decorative architectural accents were saved. No one had an idea of why they were saved, only that the craftsmanship would be wasted in a landfill. While dreaming what they could be used for on campus, Grounds considered that they could be cut into slabs and used as plaques of some sort. The pieces were cut at a local quarry into 1-inch thick pieces. These pieces have the distinctive shape of the parent piece, and the cutting allows the character of the stone to come through. Several designs have been stenciled into these stones with a sand blaster. Some were too detailed and could not be acceptably produced. We finally settled on a simple design that does the job. These pieces are currently being evaluated by Alumni Development as bonuses for significant donations, amongst other possible uses.     Architectural stone from old building gets new life as branding.     Flags on the Lane Drury University was founded in 1873. In an effort to pay homage to our longevity and celebrate our history, we every year have a class flag manufactured. These flags are used as backdrops for the stage at events, and are used to line our main thoroughfare (Drury Lane) for graduation processions. Several years ago Grounds decided to put the flags out for other special events on campus. Putting the flags out demonstrates that a particular event is a big deal and that we want to make an occasion of it. We will now put out the flags for Freshmen First Day, our largest sporting events, and special Alumni happenings. This extra effort is well appreciated and never fails to get noticed by attendees. Since someone influential to Grounds is usually in attendance at these events, it is also good press for our crew.     Placing flags around campus for significant events demonstrates commitment to the organization and enhances the brand   Share Your Knowledge Any Grounds operation has a wealth of knowledge at its disposal regarding any and all facets of landscaping and grounds management. What better way to provide value to stakeholders than by holding a seminar and using in-house experts to teach on a subject. Providing a class not only helps you meet your stakeholders, it also allows them to understand in a meaningful way how professional you are, and the extensive knowledge you have on your subject. We know how specialized we are, but some of our patrons may not. I have never held a seminar where attendees did not leave with added appreciation of the capabilities our crew has, and the knowledge we use on a daily basis. Having professional peers and industry experts present is also a way to demonstrate influence plus professional respect for your team.   I have never held a seminar where attendees did not leave with added appreciation of the capabilities our crew has, and the knowledge we use on a daily basis...   Drury Crimson Crape Myrtle A couple years back, a well-known and respected employee was leaving Drury to pursue a career elsewhere. I was interested in doing something to thank this employee and wanted it to be an action that would remind him of the Grounds crew. Of course I landed on some sort of plant, especially one that would evoke our campus. I have a professional acquaintance at a local nursery who develops plants for copyrighting and production. He informed me that he had a Crape Myrtle he was developing that would emulate Drury perfectly. My boss acted decisively supporting Drury Grounds by investing in bringing this plant to market. We have since partnered with Greenleaf Nursery and have the Drury Crimson Crape Myrtle in production. Distribution will take place in Spring 2018 and we are hoping it will bring the Drury name to the nation.   Distribution of the Drury Crimson Crapemyrtle is a significant step towards expanding awareness of our brand.   Strong Branding Helps Everyone This may seem like self-promotion to some. It is to an extent, but what is wrong with that? In my experience, a grounds crew, whether at a golf course or a university, rarely gets acknowledged adequately for what they do. We have to tell our own story. But, be inclusive with your efforts and make sure you really try to benefit more than just the Grounds Crew. Help sell your entire organization. By demonstrating your pride and capabilities in reasonable yet sometimes innovative ways, you will help increase the value grounds has to your organization. More importantly maybe, you will help others value your organization.   Tell Your Story So let's hear your best branding efforts. Please respond to this blog and share what interesting branding/promotion efforts your group has done. Your suggestions may help your peers on TurfNet. I know Im looking forward to reading them. Thanks!  

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Being the New Guy...

Being the "new guy" can be difficult. When entering a new position or situation it is only normal to feel some uncertainty and to try to come up with strategies that make transition easier. Having been a kid in a military family and having switched positions several times in my green career, I have learned several tips for making the best of a new situation. Now as a new TurfNet blogger, I am in the new guy ranks again.

Don't come on too strong.

The team that you are entering into has a history. Just because you weren't there doesn't mean they weren't working hard and trying to get the job done. While the experience and knowledge you may bring to the situation is something they may benefit from, take it slow and evaluate what is currently in place.

Seek a shared story or experience.

For the most part, people get along with people like themselves. While diverse backgrounds and talents can ultimately strengthen a team, shared experience can be a foot in the door. Look for ways that the current crew is working like you do, or look for accomplishments they have that you have experienced also. Talking about struggles or success you guys have had doing the same job can build understanding.

Speak the same language at their level.

Using the terminology and trade jargon of your crew can show you understand the job. But not everyone needs to understand genus and species when common names will do and vice versa. Try to talk with your audience/crew, not at them.

Be true to yourself.

This is a big one. Regardless if the new job is a promotion from within, or you came from another operation three states away, your core traits have gotten you there. The most accomplished and respected people are not pretending to be someone. The best people in a field at any level are reflecting and practicing what they truly believe. Being honest, and staying true to your values and convictions is important.

Be Patient

Rome wasn't built in a day, nor will your operation become what you want it to be overnight. Many people get a say in what will take shape. Navigating and managing problems, developing key relationships, and establishing a positive team culture takes time. Enjoy the slow progress and small steps of consistent improvement.

These strategies have helped me over the years in a variety of situations. I hope to remember these points as I establish the direction of my TurfNet blog. They have worked well at times and not so well at others. I have also not had to use all of them together. Each situation has its own peculiarities.   Quite honestly sometimes in the thick of things I'll forget some of the lessons I have learned. This is only normal. The key thing really is to keep trying to learn and do your best. Most people see that and appreciate it.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

OK, so what is Third Way Green?

Simply put, Third Way Green is my philosophy on landscape management (while GC Superintendents are very specialized for their task, they are certainly landscape managers). I call it 'Third Way' because there are currently two dominant landscape management approaches (an intended simplification), neither of which adequately fulfills the desired landscape potential. So there needs to be a 'Third Way' that fulfills all the benefits we are seeking from our landscapes. 'Green' comes from a focus on environmental compatibility which underpins all our landscape management.   Two Paradigms We are presented with a cornucopia of products ranging from pesticides, to fertilizers, to every possible power tool and a host of other products for your 'landscape'... be it a golf course, college campus or athletic field. As landscape professionals, we have a huge range of products at our disposal for intervening in the landscape. This product-based management is one paradigm. Anything 'wrong' with our grounds/course can be rectified with a product.     The other paradigm is that the landscape should be left alone and nature should dictate what happens in it. All of the natural processes that affect a landscape need to be respected. These influences (environment, native flora and fauna, geology, etc.) are the truest form of intervention and the product they create is the necessary culmination of the landscape. Nothing can be 'wrong' if it is natural.   The Problem Both of these approaches fail to take into account the diverse objectives of the modern landscape. Regardless of your position on man's influence (good or bad) on the environment, man is here to stay. To attempt to manage the commercial/recreational/educational landscape utilizing only natural processes is not useful or realistic. But to intervene in the landscape without seeking harmony with the environment is unnecessary and destructive. The Third Way seeks harmony and reconciliation between these two seemingly antagonistic needs. The Third Way seeks harmony and reconciliation between these two seemingly antagonistic needs... Application Here at Drury University we are taking a Third Way approach. First we determined what the University is expecting from the landscape. We listed four objectives: functionally supportive of Drury's Mission, aesthetically pleasing to a diverse population, environmentally compatible, and financially feasible. Nothing earth shattering or innovative there. The Third Way approach comes in during implementation of these objectives. In most landscape projects I have been a part of, a prioritization of needs is created. Some of the needs are underserved, or forgone completely. Our approach requires all facets to be maximized.   Sustainability The current way we manage our landscapes is unsustainable. I don't mean this in an environmental, tree hugging, save-the-earth way, but in a way that asks "if I were to stop intervening, would this landscape perpetuate?" I may be sounding 'out there', but what I am seeking right now is not the nuts and bolts process of landscaping, but the aspiration, the destination, of my landscaping approach. Sustainability for me does not necessarily mean 'eco-friendly', but can it be sustained, and what combination of approaches achieves that?   Conclusion Third Way Green is a management theory that seeks to maximize, and more importantly, optimize the reconciliation of man's wants (golf) with nature's needs. It looks at the landscape from the system level rather than the component level. It is about removing frictions and diminishing inputs while increasing output and benefit. It seeks to reinforce natural systems in that everything that happens benefits the landscape and all its components. The altered landscape required by man is maintained in the most self-perpetuating way possible.   Man alters his landscape. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Nature also alters its landscape. This is not necessarily a bad thing either.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A Long and Proud Family Tree

I love being the Head Groundskeeper at Drury University. This job is invigorating, challenging, thought provoking, and even most usually, exhausting. Grounds maintenance (and of course golf superintending!) challenges us both mentally and physically.   One of the aspects of my job, and our larger profession, I find fulfilling is the idea that I am participating in a time-honored human endeavor. Much of our work in the green industry has to do with fulfilling some kind of commercial purpose. In addition, though, many of us feel deeply connected to something greater that has to do with ecology, environment, spirituality, and service to our fellow man. A deeper aspect of this redemptive meaning to my job is the idea I am part of a longer continuum. I am not the first DU Groundskeeper, nor am I the last. I am merely the current one.   ...many of us feel deeply connected to something greater that has to do with ecology, environment, spirituality, and service to our fellow man.   Someone Prepared the Way for Me Drury has been at this site since its founding in 1873. There are certainly older campuses around, but we can be proud of our 144 years. The town of Springfield only incorporated in 1838. While 144 years is not a long time in some reckoning, it is still several lifetimes.   I often wonder what the original caretakers for Drury thought when it was first founded. What were they trying to create and maintain? Were they thinking about stewarding the land? Were they wondering what a groundskeeper in 2017 was going to be wondering about them?   I am not the first DU Groundskeeper, nor am I the last. I am merely the current one...   Groundskeeping is a profession that enables us to impact the lives of the people around us. When someone admires the trees on campus that were planted nearly 100 years ago, they become part of this continuum. Someone was caring for these trees when they were young; I owe it to them to do the same for our entire landscape.   I have it easy The photo of the groundsman with a saw in his hand tells me a lot. First, think of the tools our predecessors had to work with. This man isnt holding a chainsaw. Even if there were chainsaws at the time, they would not have looked like a Stihl trim saw, nor started on the first pull of the recoil starter.     I have watched videos of the loggers working in the Pacific Northwest at the turn of the century. They were definitely the real deal. Could I have measured up? The fellow in the photo also has a Jacob's ladder to climb the tree. No bucket truck or climbing harnesses for this gentleman. I imagine him literally climbing the tree like a kid would do. It is also remarkable that the campus looks more like a woodland/forest glen than our modern campus. The density of planting is unheard of today. I do not necessarily think we are always doing better than these trailblazers did.   Some Things Never Change; Some Do The photo below shows a groundsman swinging a pick to dig a hole. We don't know the reason for the hole, but it must surely be something important based on the number of people watching him (several are in academic regalia... a sure sign of a big event on a college campus). What has not changed from then until now is how much people like to watch a grounds crew work. I am not going to speculate why they are watching. People love gardening and will watch and chat frequently. Others are curious and watch in order to try to find out what is going on, or learn some tricks of the trade. However, what I find very interesting is the work is being performed while the event is occurring. Nowadays a grounds crew would perform preparations behind the scenes, then the occasion would unfold, followed by the grounds crew breaking down the area. It might speak to how important the role of the grounds crew is that all these dignitaries were watching the work being done.     Brethren. Before and After. These last photos show two different groundskeepers from Drury University. The first is Dan Fetter, circa 1911. The next is yours truly. Mr. Fetter was known as 'Campus Dan', which certainly sounds like the DU community, cherished him. I like to wonder what he was thinking of at this time in his career, not to mention the Springfield community and the nation. This man had a huge impact on my career as well. I imagine none of the specific plants he tended are still here, but some of our trees are descendants of those he tended. More importantly, his stewardship for the campus has continued to this day. Tending the campus landscape for the future is deeply ingrained in Drury Grounds.     Our job is not fleeting. Nor is the impact we can make on our landscape. We groundskeepers have a long history, playing a vital role for our communities and organizations. By understanding and honoring the past groundskeepers and fulfilling our obligation to those who will follow us, we can become a part of something enduring long after we have left our jobs. This is perhaps the best aspect of what it means to be a groundskeeper.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Orbiting the Giant Hairball...

Several years ago at a previous job, I became mired in a funk. This funk had to do with the politics of my organization, and with how those politics frequently seemed to force me to work in ways that I did not support. This was not a new situation for me. Many people who strive for continual improvement are frustrated by business as usual, and the lack of a team being open to new ways of doing things.   I talked this issue over with a mentor (my brother-in-law, Kevin), and he said he had just the thing I needed to help me see this situation with a fresh perspective. He suggested a book that had helped him over the years when dealing with just this issue. He recommended Orbiting the Giant Hairball; A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie.   Gordon Mackenzie's Hairball Gordon MacKenzie, author of Orbiting the Giant Hairball, worked in the creative department of Hallmark Cards for 30 years. He compares the organization and processes at Hallmark Cards to a giant hairball. When employees participate in this work environment, they become entangled in the hairball.   The problem with a hairball is despite good ideas and excellent effort, any forward momentum is exhausted by the confusion and inertia of this indecipherable tangle ("Corporate Gravity", MacKenzie's term).   The paradox of the hairball is despite your best efforts at untangling it; one far too often is stuck. This is especially true for people who do not fear change, as the hairball is like quicksand as well. The more you fight, the deeper you sink. Even if you do not fight, you are still stuck. One must escape the hairball.   Orbit, Not Entanglement However, not all aspects of our organizations (hairballs) are detrimental. Our organizations can provide important benefits such as stability, resources, direction and camaraderie.  The key, according to MacKenzie, is to stay close enough to the hairball so you can take advantage of these benefits, but not so close you succumb to its pull and become entangled. Hence the title, and main thrust of the book, Orbiting the Hairball.   Creativity is a vital part of our work processes, but is frequently not valued in the finished product.   Being in orbit is about balancing the pursuit for innovation and being open to change, yet honoring the practices and theories that got our team where we are in the first place. Orbit also has the unique benefit of being a form of sustainability. One can stay in orbit without using a lot of energy. Maintaining the proper orbit requires we resist going too far in either direction where we risk being pulled out of orbit.   Why I Want to Orbit One of the main satisfactions of my work is the ability to put some of my identity into my job. In fact, one of the greatest motivators for employees in any role is the opportunity to contribute their talents to an effort. But these contributions are too frequently suppressed or hindered by workplaces that don't value ideas from all levels of the organization.   ...one of the greatest motivators for employees in any role is the opportunity to contribute their talents to an effort.   In one of the first chapters, MacKenzie visits a school and asks the kids who of them is an artist? The kindergarteners and first graders are all artists, but as the grade level increases, the number of self-professed artists decreases. It seems that our schools, organizations, and places of employment value conformity, rather than "Creative Genius" (Mackenzies term). Orbiting is about exercising enough creativity to stay in orbit, and to resist the pull of Corporate Gravity.   My Favorite Chapter Chapter 21 in Orbiting is titled A Conference of Angels. In this story, MacKenzie recounts a sales team conference that he attended to help create a new approach. What he observed was a team going through the motions and arriving at the same tired results. After confronting the meeting coordinator, he got permission to intervene in a novel way. Using gongs and candles he had participants relax in a darkened room, centering themselves internally. Using meditative mantra, attendees cleared their minds and entered an open state with infinite possibility. When Mackenzie "awoke" them back into participation, the result was an outpouring of new and provocative ideas on how to improve sales efforts. His approach unlocked the creativity of the team because it displaced the preconceptions and "Corporate Normalcy" that consistently limits inventive consideration. The lesson learned? Looking at problems in new ways and with new parameters can create amazing possibilities.   Who wouldn't like to attend A Conference of Angels?   Takeaway Orbiting is not about flying beneath the radar, or about being in some netherworld of mediocrity, floating between anarchy and apathy. Orbiting is about finding a location in the organization that allows for maximum creativity and personal investment by team members while still honoring the organizational imperatives required of us as employees. When employees are allowed to contribute authentically, to the greatest extent possible, within particular circumstances, they are more satisfied and productive. We should all be Orbiting the Giant Hairball.   Many of us see ourselves as a Rembrandt and simply need a canvas to paint on.

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.
 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Market your trees to market your course...

I recently read a summary of the Property Profile and Environmental Stewardship of Golf Courses, published by the Environmental Institute for Golf, an offshoot of GCSAA. This document puts golf courses in a deservedly positive environmental light, particularly with regard to non-turf areas -- which many golf courses have increased in size (44% of surveyed courses since 1996).   Forest and woodlands and something more In this profile summary, forest and woodlands represent 137,768 acres. While this number is impressive, what actual value do these areas bring to a golf course in the eyes of golfers or the general public? There must be a way to articulate the value that these non-turf areas, and trees in general, give to a course. By defining value for course stakeholders, the superintendent and staff define their contribution to the courses success, and their influence in the management of the course.   Creating value As an ISA Certified Arborist and self-avowed tree hugger, I believe trees and woodland have significant value. Previously as a golf course worker, I knew that trees and woodland affect play, add to the aesthetic of the course, and provide environmental/ecologic benefits. They can also influence the maintenance needs of the course. It is clear that in most cases trees add value to a course. How do you assess how much value?   Assessing Value When discussing value it is important to measure it in terms that are appreciated by your stakeholders. Treehuggers appreciate birds and leaves, nature lovers appreciate beauty, golfers appreciate a well-placed obstacle, but budget people appreciate dollars. This is where we have had a hard time assessing value. If you want to demonstrate the ability of trees and woodlands to further the financial objectives of your course, you have to talk in dollars. And, not in terms of installation or maintenance costs, but in what financial benefit they bring to your course monetarily.   Treehuggers appreciate birds and leaves, nature lovers appreciate beauty, golfers appreciate a well-placed obstacle, but budget people appreciate dollars.   i-Tree Here at Drury University we recently completed a sample inventory of 29 trees (Burnham Circle - a clearly defined circle drive on campus). We ID'd genus and species, took diameter breast height (dbh) measurements, assessed the leaf canopy and general health, and then downloaded this information into i-Tree Streets.   i-Tree is an analysis program created by the USDA Forest Service with significant input from field experts and Davey Tree. I was able to do all this data entry from my Android phone in the field, then upload that information to my desktop computer. The data is crunched by the software using factual, unbiased information from your geographic area and accepted industry information. I-Tree also offers several variations that are tailored to different tree analysis needs.  It is free to download.   Burnham Circle on the Drury University campus   Results and Benefit The results proved quite noteworthy. These 29 trees ranged from newly planted 1? to 41? dbh, and included 13 different genus/species. In aggregate these trees provide $1,815 in annual benefits broken down into the following categories by increasing dollar amount: CO2 sequestration-$29, air quality improvement- $66, energy savings- $200, stormwater mitigation- $628, property value increase- $891. The replacement value for these trees was determined to be $40,582 (undervalued, in my opinion, because a 38"dbh American Basswood is priceless!). I estimate that these trees represent roughly 1/30th of the trees on campus. Do the math and it adds up to a lot of money.   The replacement value for these trees was determined to be $40,582 (undervalued, in my opinion, because a 38"dbh American Basswood is priceless!).   With this quantitative information in hand, I hope to increase my bargaining power for establishing the Grounds budget on campus. At the very least I can objectively articulate the value that Grounds brings to the University. This information could also be conveyed to affiliated organizations or local government for crediting the ecological and property value benefit golf courses can bring to an area.   There is something for every stakeholder in analyzing the value of your trees.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Grounds Forensic Pathology

From time to time in grounds maintenance things don't go according to plans. At these times it is common to hear the following sentiments: "What happened?" "What is it?" or one of my favorites, "I don't know what happened." When everyone is looking at you for an answer, the good supervisor becomes a forensic pathologist and detective, seeking evidence to solve a riddle. Through inquiry, experience, and logic, you can normally build a case and answer these questions to everyone's satisfaction.   Problems Problems in a landscape come in many guises and many situations. Disease and insects, breakage and damage, and even improper procedure can all cause a lot of trouble. Sometimes we will be called upon to determine what is happening, why it is happening, and how it happened.  Understanding the forensic process will go a long way to minimizing what could otherwise become bigger problems and headaches, taking valuable time and resources away from more productive activities.   Is There a Problem? Determining the presence of a problem is usually pretty easy. A plant is dying or doesn't look right. A piece of equipment is not mowing properly or sounds rough. Water is bubbling up from the ground in area that is normally dry. All of these are sure signs something is amiss. For disease and insects, IPM dictates that a threshold must be crossed in order to necessitate treatment. Thresholds affecting equipment and irrigation problems are usually more straight-forward. They either work properly or they don't. Regardless of how obvious a problem seems, there may be something deeper at play.   Regardless of how obvious a problem seems, there may be something deeper at play...   Dig Deeper Problems manifesting in the landscape may obscure what really caused the issue in the first place. One of the first turf diseases I ever faced was Brown Patch. This is a common problem that almost all turf managers have had to deal with. Unfortunately, the obvious yellowing, dying turf looked like any one of a number of common turf problems. Digging deeper for clues, I found the telltale mycelia and necrosis patterns on the grass blade. To be sure though, I contacted my Extension Agent and sent samples to Missouri University Crime (Turf) Lab. My diagnosis was confirmed and treatment was commenced. Digging deeper still, I determined some of my cultural practices could be modified to diminish recurrence.   Things may not be as they appear on the surface...   Uncover Evidence Irrigation is an issue that commonly requires looking for evidence to locate the problem. First inspection can be misleading because water can travel in unusual ways. And if there are no accurate as-builts, you can really be lost. I recently was starting a system I had taken over for the first time. I had a wet spot that seemed to be coming from a pipe break. As I dug out the area, I still couldn't locate the break or the pipe, but there was a lot of mud and water. I felt the eroded hole underground and probed for the break with my hand, feeling strong water flow on and off. To my surprise I found a buried rotor that was running properly, only 18" too deep. My assumption of a break was not correct. Uncovering evidence gets to the root of the problem.   Digging into the situation may yield surprising results.   Accident Reconstruction One of my all-time favorites was an accident reconstruction involving a worker. It started when I needed to use our push mower. Upon starting the mower, it shook so bad I couldn't use it. I called the worker who had used it last and asked him what was wrong with it and he said it was fine when he was using it. The blade was mounted correctly and was not bent, however pulling the recoil showed the shaft was bent. Again I asked the worker if anything had happened and he said he hadn't hit anything. I knew the area he had mowed so I went to inspect it. A scalped area near a small tree stump showed exactly where he had hit the stump and scalped when he restarted the stalled mower. Many other mower problems manifest in scalped, scalloped, or poorly mowed grass. By reconstructing what happened in the field, problems can be identified.   Put It All Together Grounds managers are experts at determining problems with properly gathered evidence and clues. Taking the extra step to verify your findings can be greatly beneficial. Your first guess may be right, but might also be made without an essential piece of the puzzle. Keep digging until you find the right answer. Solving grounds mysteries is very satisfying.  

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

A Deeper Look at Diversity

All of us in the green industry are likely familiar with the concept of diversity. Diversity is the principle that tells us the more variation we have in our landscape, the better we are able to maintain the health and function of that landscape. Normally diversity applies to different plants from different genus and species thereby avoiding monoculture and taking advantage of the variation of plant attributes. It also applies to pesticides (e.g. fungicide FRAC codes) to avoid creating pest resistance. We use diverse machinery and irrigation delivery systems too. As I have considered diversity over the years, I have come to realize diversity is far more important than I first thought, and is vital in many other areas of landscape management.   Diversity of Nutrient Cycling Plants need a number of elemental nutrients to sustain healthy growth. These can come from the atmosphere, the soil, or supplemented with fertilizers and are taken up by the plant in various ways. One of the most critical nutrients is Nitrogen (N). In a healthy system, N is supplied by decomposition of organic matter, deposition of atmospheric N by precipitation, fixation of atmospheric N by some plants, and some N is processed by organisms in the soil. Some cultural practices such as irrigation and chemical fertilizer affect the chemistry of the soil and can disrupt these natural nutrient cycling and availability processes. By employing cultural methods that support these natural processes, or at the least, not using cultural means that can suppress these processes, the manager can take advantage of diverse nutrient cycling systems thereby ensuring even and healthy plant growth.     A comprehensive look at the nitrogen cycle. (University of Missouri graphic)   Diversity of Organisms in the Soil Healthy soil contains many, many organisms in it. Bacteria, fungi, viruses, insects, worms, etc. all live in the soil. The vast majority of these organisms are beneficial, with only a very few being potentially damaging to turf and plants. These organisms are workhorses in the soil. They decompose organic matter, process nutrients, improve soil texture, exist in symbiosis with plant roots, and feed on and suppress pathogens. Diversity in this realm helps the soil processes functioning in balance. No one organism dominates and therefore all are kept in check. Regardless of our best efforts, many cultural practices such as pesticides, compaction, and chemical fertilizers can stress these organisms resulting in imbalances. When an imbalance creates a vacuum, something potentially unwanted may be there to fill that void. Maintaining diversity protects against imbalance.   (USDA graphic)   Diversity in Life Cycles The environment and ecosystems that any landscape grows in has many components that all interrelate to each other in various ways. To remove any one, or several individual components, is to risk stressing the whole. This stressing can result in pest outbreaks, disease or invasive plant growth. Diversity plays a key role in filling niches that then cannot be exploited by undesirable plants or insects, or can help suppress pest populations. In a functional system, even dead plants and dead plant parts, insects, and animals play an important role in keeping the whole functioning.   In a functional system, even dead plants and dead plant parts, insects, and animals play an important role in keeping the whole functioning...   Yet in the modern landscape, as soon as something dies, we remove it. I can?t help but wonder that we are lopping of an entire segment of our systems that could provide benefit in possibly unseen ways. I am not suggesting that we leave fallen trees, or road kill sitting around. I am thinking that there may be opportunity for either replacing the function by other means (compost topdressing) or possibly inoculating some wilder areas with deadfalls, leaving tree posts, brush piling, and the like. The keystone species theory says that there is likely one or two species in a system that keeps everything in balance. Enhancing diversity in life processes helps improve the odds that our landscapes will perpetuate the keystones species.   Diversity in the Workforce I have a way of approaching my work that is largely predictable. This is not to say that I don?t get results. But my way is not always the most effective for engaging my crew. By hiring people with various strengths and thought processes, I supplement my weaknesses. The melting pot approach helps us to build camaraderie, commitment, and occasionally shared suffering. I have found that when I do things only my way, I do not maximize the results I can achieve.   The Holland Career Model illustrates workplace diversity   Diversity in a landscape in many forms is essential. Variation provides buffering against many possible negative consequences and situations. Through diversity we create attractive, healthy, and most importantly functional systems. This stability allows us to decrease maintenance and intervention, gives some predictability, and diminishes monotony. Promoting diversity is important.  

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

 

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

 

Pursue Sustainability Where You Find It

Several weeks ago Drury Grounds was asked to collaborate on the installation of several raised beds to be planted with vegetables and herbs. The produce from these beds would be used in the dining halls and by individual students. Local produce (also native plants) grown as organically as possible (applies for turf also) is a great nod toward a sustainable system. My problem was that the project itself did not maximize sustainability in both its concept and its construction. This made me realize that sustainability cannot just be a destination, nor can it be approached only in part.   Sustainability at every turn When I weedeat or edge in our mowing operation, I feel like a hypocrite. I can't help but imagine that all the environmental benefit from planting trees and reducing our mowing frequency is being lost in the manufacturing and the emissions of my weedeater. But I shouldn't think like this at all. I have to operate within the system I am employed in.   My predecessor didn't concern himself with emissions. The weedeaters Drury used three years ago were outdated and ran poorly. Our current fleet of 2-stroke equipment is all as efficient and clean running as available. All new landscaping projects are evaluated for mowability, and choke points are designed out so we can increase large mower areas. Our bigger mowers are our cleanest burning equipment so this also helps in the big picture. The point is we have to weedeat, so we do it as sustainably as possible.   Bed consolidation to minimize weedeating and improve mowing efficiency.   Sustainability is where you find it Part of my turf maintenance regime is to fertilize high value turf areas with corn gluten (CG). Reputable research is available espousing CG as an effective fertilizer (http://extension.missouri.edu/p/G6749). *As a resident of Missouri I try to stay with the Extension guides from University of Missouri in Columbia, MO*.   Using organic fertilizers in themselves is a great step towards sustainability, but it can be taken even farther. I contacted the Missouri corn producers (http://www.mocorn.org/) to try to learn about using local corn. To my recollection they said that it would be very difficult to determine where my CG came from because of the massive quantities produced in the region, and the centralized nature of processing and shipping. But I am thinking about local sourcing and production in all my purchasing because of the sustainable benefits.   I have found that buying feed grade CG is effective. It is not sold as a fertilizer, and has not been processed for turf application. Feed grade CG resembles the pellets you feed animals at the zoo, not the granular shape of turf fertilizers. But the Andersons 2000 and Frontier 3 pt. hitch spreaders we use handle it no problem. The greatest benefit is that the price is less than what I would pay for processed granular fertilizer and the analysis is the same.   Very often, the greatest sustainability is not spending your dollars in the first place, so this program and product is very effective as a sustainability component. Since the CG is not pulverized to process, I think it has soil building capabilities (think labile humus), although this is an empirical theory at this point.   Creating Sustainable Alternatives My point to the raised gardens project was if someone wants a raised garden, but has no money to buy supplies, what do they do? A student group wanted to install a rain garden to capture roof runoff. We located an area that channeled a lot of runoff where we could install an experimental project. Traditional rain gardens use swales to retain and infiltrate rain water. We could not dig due to underground utilities so swales were out of the question. We needed to install berms instead, but didn't want to destroy the area with skidsteers, nor work with (or pay for) large quantities of topsoil.   Our solution was to use hay bales as 'forms' to build berms and cover them with topsoil so we could plant native marsh plants to hold the berms together. The hay bales offered several advantages. They are cheap, locally sourced, easy to move and arrange, can resist erosion while the plant roots knit, have volume to diminish imported soil need, and decompose so we can leave them in place (erosion socks need to be removed). The problem we did not foresee was they shrink as they decompose. But this is the process in pursuing sustainability -- live and learn.   Rain garden created with hay bales   Worth the Effort Ultimately the greatest benefit of all our sustainability efforts (many others are underway), is the awareness and shared goals they create. We are able to support other stakeholder's goals, thereby creating the goodwill that makes them supportive of our (Grounds) goals. And that is the most sustainable objective of all.

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

 

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

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