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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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

My Dream Job...

This title might lead you to think I'll be writing about how I am filling a position that is all I ever expected out of a career. I am, but this blog is not referring to exactly that type of dream job. This post has to do with an actual dream I had recently.   In this dream I was touring a golf course as part of professional development for Drury University. During this dream trip, I heard about many interesting efforts and approaches to some grounds tasks. Once awake, I considered what struck me in this vivid dream. I realized I was using information from my own knowledge base. I was both the tourist, and tour guide. Some of this "tour" was to be relatively mundane, and some was to be insightful along new lines. As you read, please excuse any inconsistencies or seeming impossibilities. This was a dream.   Reaffirming Current Notions A couple points of my tour were clearly based in -- and affirming of -- my overarching notions towards grounds practices. I was shown a tee box with bentgrass recently plugged in (cup cutter size plugs, 3" tall and unmowed. Remember it was a dream). In reality, it looked more like Buffalograss, but it was lush, and healthy. My takeaway was the unusual mowing height on a tee box. Here on campus we are mowing our general purpose grass at 4". In my dream this taller height crowded weeds, drove roots deeper, and supported grass plant photosynthesis. Clearly a reaffirmation of our current approach. I was also struck by the willingness of the GC Superintendent (spirit guide?) to experiment in a new direction. I cannot imagine golfers ever teeing off in 3" grass, but experimentation is sometimes risky and uncertain.     I cannot imagine golfers ever teeing off in 3" grass, but experimentation is sometimes risky and uncertain...   Several other topic discussions were reminiscent of my current grounds philosophy. At one point I remarked on the lack of pests. The Spirit Super attributed this to diversity. He plants a wide variety of trees, shrubs and grasses to prevent any one pest from exploding in population. This is our approach on campus too. In turf selection, we include a cultivar even if not blending genus or species. Diversity is a well-known leg of IPM.   Another topic was decreasing chemical use. My Spirit Super said his course had been organic since 1944. He then winked and said that it was chemical free to the greatest extent possible, and only for the last four years. I empathized with his struggle to be chemical free. Drury will use the appropriate chemical product when we see fit and within proper guidelines. I realized later I have been at Drury four years. Coincidence?   Relearning Old Knowledge Several tour topics dealt with what I had learned in the past, but forgotten, or more succinctly have failed to practice. I noticed that the members of the Spirit Crew were motivated, participatory and knowledgeable. In real life I struggle with fostering a vibrant crew atmosphere. Here the crew was allowed to experiment (experimentation again) with methods that were unproven, but were likely to succeed because of research and forethought. The crew was also allowed to use the amenities of the course (dream weight room and golf privileges). This created in them a sense of belonging that then manifested in their work.   I also saw a cart path that was being relocated to the side of a slope. Upon first view I thought the slope was too steep to comfortably allow cart traffic. As I walked past, it wasn't too uneven and would allow easy use and avoid an obstacle. I am made aware that first impressions are occasionally wrong, and different perspectives are needed.   Two New Thoughts One is Strange, But it was a Dream My Spirit Course was named after a golf glove manufacturer I cant recall. It may not have been a real manufacturer. The point is, I started thinking of an application for sponsorship here at Drury Grounds. Drury Panther Baseball has won the DII Great Lakes Valley Conference three years running and qualified for NCAAII Regionals all three of those years. I contacted a supplier we use at our off-campus baseball field to start a discussion of marketing their products on our winning field. No money yet, but at the very least, it will help me polish my marketing efforts.     The other (slightly wacky) topic was organic grub control. On the aforementioned tee box, an employee was on all fours parting the grass with a claw hammer. I asked the Spirit Super what he was doing. Since it was a dream, I was immediately viewing his efforts from above. As the grass was parted to expose the soil/thatch, grubs were exposed. At that point the worker hit the grubs with the hammer. I know this is not practical. However it does speak to looking at alternatives to traditional (often knee-jerk) controls. It also sounds really satisfying in some way.   On the aforementioned tee box, an employee was on all fours parting the grass with a claw hammer. I asked the Spirit Super what he was doing...   Final Thought This is the second dream like this I can recall. I also talked with a Spirit Extension Agent once. He talked about fertilizing applications for sod. Again, I was forced to evaluate, consider and relearn. The subconscious can be a powerful force. Sometimes my prejudices can blind me to a new answer that could really help.   Norman Vincent Peale of "You Can If You Think You Can" fame, spoke of drawing on the subconscious to solve problems. I like that idea. My Spirit Super apparently liked it too. I hope to return to that course again soon.

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

 

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

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

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

The Grounds as a Social Force

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

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

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

 

Sustainability Baby Steps...

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

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Keep America Beautiful

Recently I was asked by a teacher here at Drury University to speak to a class studying the psychology of sustainability. While considering what I would say, I began to question where I came up with my environmental perspective. Turning back the clock in my head my first environmental memory was the early 1970's "Crying Indian" campaign by the Keep America Beautiful Foundation. I can remember getting choked up by this public service announcement. The image of the American Indian broken-hearted by the litter and pollution our society generated touched me deeply. If you are in my age group, you may have been touched by this ad as well.     Earth Day 1990 In my teenage years and as a young adult, I didn't do anything especially environmentally focused. I didn't litter, but I also didn't recycle, or think about how I might be impacting the environment. It wasn't until getting into groundskeeping that my 'eco focus' was to reemerge. In 1990 I was living in Alexandria, VA and working at George Mason University. 1990 was the 20th anniversary of the first major organized Earth Day. Living a short distance from Washington D.C. allowed me to go "downtown" to the Mall several times over the years for rallies of different sorts. While the first Earth Day was in 1970, my first was Earth Day +20. It was very powerful to be on the Mall with a massive crowd of 350,000 to draw attention to environmental issues. 27 years removed, I am still struck by this day.   2017 So where am I today? The short answer is it is hard to say. By some measurements, one could say I am part of the problem. I work in an industry that is fueled, grown, and maintained overwhelmingly by petroleum based products (as every industry is). On the other hand, by some measurements I am part of the solution. Drury University has reduced chemical inputs significantly, utilizes almost all organic refuse on campus, and has planted hundreds of trees in urban Springfield, MO over the past five years. The real truth is my eco-impact is a mixed bag. Both personally and professionally I try to be (what I consider that to be) environmentally conscious but it is difficult. I recycle, keep my tires properly inflated, plant natives, and occasionally use public transportation. But is that all there is?   The real truth is my eco-impact is a mixed bag. Both personally and professionally I try to be (what I consider that to be) environmentally conscious but it is difficult...   It's Complicated When you ask someone a difficult question, one that if answered honestly may indicate that someone might not have taken the smartest, or most ethical route, that person may attempt to muddy the water by saying "it's complicated". That's how I feel about my approach to sustainability. From a strictly environmental/sustainability standpoint, a typical modern landscape provides nowhere near the ecologic services that a natural ecosystem does (oak/hickory forest, savanna, wetland, etc.). But from a commercial or organizational standpoint, most people don't want to do business, or go to school, in a tallgrass prairie. So what the grounds manager ends up with is two opposing, and competing, imperatives. Introducing all the subtleties of stakeholders between these two ends adds to the complication.   Organizations will dictate conditions that result in drastically different landscapes. The landscape must meet those demands in "the greenest way possible" Above, Sunderland Intramural Sports Field. Below, Parking Lot 7 detention basin.   Eyes on the Prize Reconciling environmentalism and acceptable landscaping can take many different guises. The proper answer for some sites may very well look like a wholly natural site. For other places it may look like just an average yard. The particular landscape isn't as important as the underlying objective of being as "green" as possible, in as many parts of your landscape operation as your organization allows. The key here is that becoming more environmentally compatible -- the context work processes are evaluated by -- can be the ultimate objective. When an operation removes the rigid demand of pursuing environmentalism and replaces it with a gentler yet still prevalent environmental outlook, voluntary compliance in many possible forms flourishes. This 'eyes on the prize' approach works better because a green attitude becomes woven into all aspects of the job.   Pragmatic, Not Dogmatic I understand, and share, the passion of environmental movement. I firmly believe that by pursuing the greenest approach to all of our grounds management tasks we are being good stewards of the earth, and good stewards of our organization's objectives. What I don't agree with is the knee-jerk beliefs from the extremes on both sides of these issues as to how to move forward. It is better to incorporate the best ideas from everywhere in order to achieve the best results for our landscapes as a whole.   Smith Residence Hall naturalizing project. The greenest approach would be to reintroduce meadow. However, we wouldn't try that in front of administrative buildings.

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

 

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

 

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

 

Don't Call It Sustainability (the "S" word)

I don't know if it is me, or if there really is a hesitancy by people to adopt sustainable landscaping practices. It could be me, because I preach sustainability, and honestly my message can be fire and brimstone at times. But I also wonder if there isn't a weird kind of sustainability reluctance (sustainability overload perhaps) that turns people away from any landscape called sustainable'. In my 25 years of landscaping, sustainable has meant saving time, money and staff, resources I never had enough of. But even 10 years ago I wouldn't have used the word sustainable. I was just trying to supply value. You see sustainable landscaping is really more about value, rather than anything tree-huggy or save-the-world effort. Let me explain.   Defining Value If you define value as a noun, it means "the importance, worth or usefulness of something". If you define it as a verb, it means "to consider something to be important or beneficial". For the landscape or golf course, both of these definitions fit. Our organizations value the landscape. This is because we play on them, work in them, study in them, and even use the landscape to market our organizations. Landscapes also provide ecological services such as rain water diversion, pollution scrubbing, temperature moderation, and carbon sequestration. Clearly there is a lot to "value" in the landscape. The beauty of these attributes are that they are not mutually exclusive, but are mutually supportive. Kind of an upwards benefit cycle. A landscape that provides value can be sustained. A landscape that does not create value is not sustainable.   Clearly there is a lot to "value" in the landscape. The beauty of these attributes are that they are not mutually exclusive, but are mutually supportive...   Aesthetic Value Landscapes are frequently valued on how they look. A college campus should appear well-kept. This means the landscape contains no overgrown plants, few weeds and no dead bushes. The landscape should also have some plant variety (color) and the design should adhere to accepted landscaping principles (open to broad perspective, a blog in itself!). Likewise, a sports field or course should have uniform turf, be relatively weed free and demonstrate aesthetic maintenance practices. These practices may be limiting pest sign/symptoms and artistic stripe mowing. The aesthetics of the landscape goes a long way in creating value in a patron's minds, and in the perspective of an organizations management. Aesthetic value is the most obvious means by which a landscapes value can be measured, but is also highly subjective to the eye, and requirements, of the beholder.   The aesthetics of the landscape goes a long way in creating value in a patron's minds, and in the perspective of an organizations management...   Functional Value Value can also be found in how the landscapes supports/enhances the organizations goals. On a golf course this is quality golf experience for club members and patrons. It is also a pleasing experience for visitors who possibly come to a course for peripheral offerings such as dining or swimming. Here at Drury our main objective is providing a high quality education for our students. The landscape must create an atmosphere that is pleasing and safe for our community, plus is complementary to the learning environment. Another important function is enhancing the environment/ecology of our campus. The functional landscape markets the organization. It helps create the perception (reality) that solidifies the image the organization seeks to portray.   Financial Value Frequently, financial value trumps all others. Financial value is largely about matching available resources with the desired landscape output. While this value can be measured in dollars, one must also see beyond direct grounds costs. Money spent on grounds cannot be spent elsewhere, and vice versa. I have found that money will flow to areas that create value (not always, but without value, I guarantee the money will dry up eventually). In some instances, revenue can be used to evaluate value, but there is not always a clear relationship between the landscape and its costs/benefits. Financial value may be seen from different perspectives by the Grounds Professional and the organization, but adopting a shared understanding of financial value can be established.   Properly designed beds require less maintenance, but still return value in the right location. This bed could not be placed at the entrance to the Visitors Center.   Sustainable Value In my experience, "sustainable" conjures up an image of wildness, letting the landscape go, or if I am fortunate, a tallgrass prairie. But none of these areas is appropriate for the majority of organizations. Sustainable to me is asking "will the landscape do what I need organizationally if I walk away?" This proposition is significantly more complicated than simply good horticulture, or liquid propane mowers. Sustainability can be hard to sell, but everyone wants value. My task as a Grounds Manager is to acceptably unite the sustainable landscape with organizational value. Because if the organization doesn't value me, I won't have an opportunity to be sustainable.   Landscaping can unite many metrics of value: Aesthetic, Functional and Financial. Even the bike rack and signage convey understanding of sustainable value.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

What’s Griping Me?

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

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Magnificent Monarchs

Last year, my 7 year old son found a Monarch caterpillar and brought it home. We put it in a jar with some leaves and sticks, then looked up how to care for it. We found out that Monarchs only eat plants in the Milkweed genus (Asclepias). I have been a longtime fan of Common Milkweed since I first smelled its blossom in Virginia. I found some on a roadside, and also would harvest it from a patch on campus. Over the next week or so, that caterpillar ate and ate and grew and grew. Knowing little about the life cycle of a Monarch, and having never seen it first hand, I didn't know the miracle I would witness.   A Monarch Migration In fall 2003, here in Springfield, Missouri, I was one day working on a landscape install at a commercial site. As I worked into the morning, a northerly breeze began to pick up making it a very pleasant day. At some point I noticed a Monarch butterfly go by. For all of us in grounds, wildlife is just a part of the job. Shortly I noticed another. Then another. At some point there were enough going by that it finally settled in my brain I was witnessing the Monarch migration. I had heard about this phenomenon somewhere, and only this endless parade of orange and black had jogged my memory and made me aware. It was amazing.   Young Monarch (1/2 long) and eggs on Milkweed leaf.   First Visitors Since summer 2012, Drury University has been planting several hundred native perennials each year. These native plants are meant to be durable, beautiful, and supportive of the native ecosystem. We see birds and pollinators enjoying these various plants, but we had never seen Monarchs. This spring we installed a new native planting in a residential area, and as part of the planting palette installed 25 marsh Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, even though I don't recall expressly trying to entice Monarchs. Later, while touring this area with my boss, he asked if we had any caterpillars on the plants. At first I only saw one, but as my eyes realized what they were seeing, I saw about 15 on one plant. This was one of the most satisfying moments of my time here on campus. Our efforts were paying off.   At first I only saw one, but as my eyes realized what they were seeing, I saw about 15 on one plant. This was one of the most satisfying moments of my time here on campus.   Monarchs and the Campus Landscape Drury Grounds seeks to be ecologically appropriate while landscaping the campus. The Monarch Butterfly provides a great opportunity for furthering this effort. Most people that will visit us at Drury are acquainted with the Monarch. I cannot imagine anyone who would not support installing plants and habitat to support Monarchs. This is not the case for most of the organisms that play a vital role in the health of our landscapes. In a recent TurfNet webinar, Dr. Dan Potter, UKY, called the Monarch the Bald Eagle of butterflies. This sums up the image and broad appeal of this insect. Making the Monarch the poster child for your restoration efforts almost assures improved support for them. The great synergy is that many other benefits are accomplished by improving Monarch habitat including utilizing natives, providing pollinator foods, improving aesthetics and maybe even creating a venue for community education.   Mature Monarch Caterpillar (2) nearing pupation.   Challenges to the Monarch The Monarch faces several challenges to its population. Winter habitat in Mexico is being logged. Development and pollution in the U.S. and Canada are stressing the Monarch. In our industry, the use of landscape chemicals is perceived by many as having a significant negative impact on the Monarch among other beneficial insects.   I recently watched an excellent webinar on TurfNet titled Bees, Pesticides and Politics: Challenges and Opportunities for the Green Industry by the aforementioned Dr. Potter. My first takeaway from this webinar was the correct and appropriate use of landscape chemicals diminishes the possibility of non-target impacts, and also helps prevent the paranoia that sometimes surrounds landscape chemical use. The other takeaway is that by voluntarily employing a strategy to accommodate and even support pollinators (support of the Monarch comes along for free), the Grounds Crew can be seen (correctly) as an advocate for the environment rather than a potential threat.   Truly a Miracle After a short time in its chrysalis, my son's Monarch emerged. To see a newly transformed Monarch is to see a miracle. I can think of nothing man has ever made that can utterly and entirely changes itself into as beautiful a creature. Yet all of us in landscaping have the chance to see such wonder almost every day since we always deal with nature. Seeing this year's Monarch caterpillars on campus gave me much the same fulfillment. Wonderful.   * * *   In addition to viewing Dr. Dan Potter's TurfNet Webinar, I recommend viewing this PBS/Nova documentary: The Incredible Journey of the Butterflies.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Sustainable Landscaping Withstands Scrutiny...

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

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

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