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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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Put a Bow on It...

Another year has come and (nearly) gone. Although we in the green industry are frequently regulated by seasons, the ending of the calendar year provides a significant point to take stock. It strikes me as unusual how I tend to be reflective and look back as December comes to a close. But then PING, it is January 1 and I begin totally looking forward again. On one level this is good because failures of the past year do not persist in bogging me down. On the other hand I may not be evaluating the past year sufficiently in assisting my preparation for the coming year. This year I want to look back on my year and ponder it. What did I experience last year?   Time Flies I once read a short story by Stephen King called My Pretty Pony. In this story, an old man on his deathbed attempts to warn his grandson about how time seems to accelerate as you get older, and how easy it is to let it slip away. Aside from considering I now have teenage kids, and dont jump off the pickup like I used to, I feel time fly. Simply put, there is more I want to do than time in the day allows. February's dormant pruning slides into preemergents, slides into color rotation, slides into irrigation repairs, slides into aerating/overseeding, slides into tree planting, slides into leaf mulching and then comes full circle. Not to mention the myriad chores that just pop up endlessly. We really accomplished a lot on campus, but I wanted to do so much more.   Simply put, there is more I want to do than time in the day allows...   Continuing the Expansion of Landscaping on Campus I came to Drury as a student in 2006 and only started working here in 2011. This dual connection with the University over the past decade has given me a unique perspective to cast judgment on the campus landscaping and to formulate a plan for getting it there. In 2011 Drury basically was trees and grass. Over the past year, Drury Grounds continued installation of new planting beds in several high visibility areas. These 2016 beds built upon a design concept and overall landscape plan that enhances the landscape appeal on campus. It is now more likely that patrons will encounter ornamental landscaping at Drury. Improving the ornamental function of campus helps convey our unique identity to our community. This steady expansion will continue next year too, but will likely slow so we can solidify maintenance improvements on campus also.   Adding new beds on campus add to landscaping appeal.   Tree Campus and ArborDay 2016 marked the second year Drury University was awarded Tree Campus status by the ArborDay Foundation. This was a big deal for us. While trees and golf courses may have a strained relationship, here at DU trees reign supreme. Achieving Tree Campus (1 of only 8 in Missouri) puts us in a special category of universities and demonstrates our commitment to the urban forest.   This certification also plays an important role in integrating Drury Grounds into the larger campus and gives us an opportunity to contribute. Tree Campus tangibly exhibits the ability of our landscape operation to determine a worthy goal and methodically achieve that goal. With all of the responsibilities any grounds crew has in a year, staying focused on the largest goals is rewarding.   MDC Urban Forester awards Tree Campus to Drury University on behalf of ArborDay Foundation   The Human Aspect One area that needed a lot of my attention in 2016 was the human resource aspect of my job. First, Drury Grounds continued to have some turnover in the crew. We were only fully staffed (six crew members) for about two months total. There were new external jobs, an internal transfer, and a graduation that all played a part. Our hiring process can take some time and that also had an impact. Currently we are seeking one new Groundsman, and my length of stay for the others is 2 weeks, 6 months, 9 months, 2 & 8 years respectively. This proved a challenging year in that there was/is ALOT of training that is taking place. These guys all mean well, but, as we all know, there is much knowledge/experience that goes into our jobs. A competent crew takes time.   The other human resource consideration was the arrival of a new DU president, Dr. Tim Cloyd, and his new administration. The arrival of a new president doesnt affect the day to day, but it does affect the big picture. Understandably, and appropriately, the new president has a vision for the University. Dr. Cloyd certainly does. This vision is then passed down channels and it is up to us (Grounds) to carry out our part. The last six months has proven to be exciting and challenging. But this is definitely a good thing because it helped us stay sharp.   I Still Get To Do the Job I Love My biggest reflection is my overall job satisfaction. I still love landscaping. The out of doors, physical work, changing conditions, and the overall pursuit of worthwhile work all come together to give my work purpose. This is no small benefit and certainly worth remembering, again. And last but not least   Happiest Holidays to the extended TurfNet family and thanks for the opportunity to participate! And of course, Happy New Year!   Joe Fearn   Groundskeeping is still a job that allows the crew to have fun while still working hard.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Going To See the Doctor...

Let me start right off saying I am not talking about that kind of doctor (a physician). The doctor I am talking about is Dr. Brad Fresenburg, Assistant Extension Professor with University of Missouri Turfgrass Science. While Dr. Fresenburg works in Columbia, MO., he travels extensively as a turf/sports turf expert, Master Gardener lecturer, and pesticide applicator certification instructor.   Brad is a true turf devotee and approaches his job with a real-world perspective. He knows the minutiae of turf management but allows us regular folk to feel more at home with the science of turf management. I always feel more capable after hearing from him and that is the benchmark of a great teacher. He loves to share his knowledge, and that is how I managed to make a trip to see him on his home turf (lol). Visiting MU, I got to see many facets of grounds management at a big time university.   Dr. Brad Fresenburg   The Farm The first thing I saw when I got to the research farm was an incredible array of different grass stands. There was tall plots, short plots, dark green plots, browning plots, weedy plots, and all sorts of in-between plots. The Turfgrass Science program is experimenting with everything here. Once we started driving the area, order was explained. They have 32 K sq. ft. of putting greens built to PGA specs. On these they are testing 20 varieties of creeping bentgrass in 5 x 5 plots on the greens.   They also test wetting agents, chemicals, and fertilizers. In another stand they are testing Zoysia and Bermuda to determine what varieties have the best cold tolerance, and resistance to large patch and Spring Dead Spot, respectively. There is even a disease green that is especially built to exacerbate poor conditions including poor drainage and airflow. Beyond just putting greens many other plots are in National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) tests. Plots are regularly inspected and graded to assess how well these grasses perform in the Transition Zone.   Putting green test plots.   Dr. Miller with the Zoysia test plots.   Sports Fields on Campus As a groundskeeper for a university, I have the opportunity to participate in sports turf/field management. At Drury we manage an artificial grass multi use field, a NCAA compliant natural grass baseball field and several turf fields that are used for intramural sports/activities. Because of this aspect of my job I was very excited at the prospect of visiting the MU Tigers sports facilities. As a member of the SEC, MU has the highest standards for its athletic playing fields.   We started at Faurot Field (Memorial Stadium) which is an artificial turf field. I was struck by the visible crowning of the field (not easily discernible from stands or TV), and the quality of the field (3 years old, life expectancy of 5-6). From there we visited the soccer, softball and baseball fields, plus the FOUR practice fields (two used by football). All very impressive with very well maintained turf (Bermuda, newly overseeded with perennial rye). I must say I most enjoyed seeing the new construction of the softball field and the newly installed Barenbrug HGT sod.   Faurot Field   MU softball field construction with Barenbrug HGT sod.   Fresenburg Wisdom Perhaps the best part of the tour was hearing the stream of consciousness commentary from Dr. Fresenburg. Seeing turf through an experts eyes is enlightening. As we drove, I had a chance to ask Brad some questions.   My first was what he felt has had the biggest impact on turf maintenance? His response was all the improvements to turf selections. The improved cultivars we now have in the turf industry allow for improvements in turf quality beyond just what our current cultural practices could achieve.   Information is at our fingertips and sometimes that information comes without clarity or a sense of how to use it...   My next question was how had he changed over the years? His response was the steady increase in confidence due to an increase in knowledge and experiences. He is more confident in his ability to share information and provide guidance.   My last question was what he felt was to be the next big thing? Brad said the ability to share and obtain information rapidly (the internet). Information is at our fingertips and sometimes that information comes without clarity or a sense of how to use it. As experienced grounds managers, many of us can agree with this concern.   A Thoroughly Enjoyable Field Trip Sometimes even necessary field trips are mundane or uninspiring. This was a trip that left me enthused. Seeing the turf research facility, sports fields, main campus, but especially hearing from a renowned turf expert, motivated me. Our work as grounds managers, and the field we all participate in, is remarkable.   My personal favorite, though, was from a sustainability standpoint. I was encouraged when I saw the low input turf test plots. Many of these plots had clover seeded with them (old school approach) and several even had Yarrow. Another area was testing wildflowers and native grasses. Low input vegetation is something that will become more popular in the near future. Turf and Grounds management is a multifaceted craft that blends manual and mental labor in demanding, challenging ways. My visit to Mizzou reminded me of the professional skill and science our field requires.   Low-input turf test plots.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Establishing Objectives

One of the most common concepts that contributes to a team's success is to have clear objectives. Clear objectives provide direction and framework for how to proceed in your work. These objectives can be precise, such as increasing the tree canopy or completing your mowing route in "x" number of days. Or they can be broad so as to create context for where your grounds operation will move toward. Here at Drury we have come up with five objectives to guide our work as we strive to fulfill our organizational duties.   Functional Functional in this context means we come alongside the strategic imperatives for Drury University. This primarily means our campus landscaping, and the Grounds team, supports the academics on campus. We have designed several outdoor class areas that students can use instead of staying inside. Students are included in our DU Landscape Advisory Committee, as are faculty. In order to obtain recertification each year as an ArborDay Foundation Tree Campus, we must include students in a program to educate our campus about trees. Our functional objective also includes grounds integrating into the strategic efforts of the university such as enrollment, community involvement, and staff morale.   Aesthetic The aesthetic of the campus has to do with the way the landscape looks to our community. Perhaps more importantly, aesthetics also strongly influences how our community feels when they are here. The aesthetic of a place leaves a lasting impression. On one hand, landscape design is a hugely diverse arena, with as many preferences as there are people. But fortunately there is also a center design perspective which the majority of people resonate with in a positive way. Most of our campus reflects this center. A visitor will not be shocked by most of what they see, but will understand and appreciate our look. A smaller facet that we also want to appeal to is the outlying perspectives. Drury Grounds seeks to create many spaces, however small, that anyone who visits campus might call their own.       Financial Of course no discussion of organizational objectives would be complete with discussing finances. Taking care of a college campus, even a small to midsize one (Drury is 100 acres m/l) can cost a lot of money. There is also usually a clear relationship between budget and quality. While it can make sense to try to get more money for our landscaping, it is not simply a question of funding. Drury Grounds seeks to manage its budget through value, flexibility and cost containment. Value means that we are constantly looking to make wise purchases, protecting long term assets, and expanding in-house capabilities. Flexibility means that we seek to bring our money alongside other departments and efforts in order to achieve a multiplier effect. Cost containment means we shop competitively, only purchase what is necessary, and monitor our budget closely. We also understand that some other areas of campus warrant bigger budget and support these areas efforts too.   Sustainability and Environmentalism The landscaping paradigm is changing. I have seen it firsthand in the nearly 30 years I have been involved in it. Here at Drury this means taking a sustainable approach. We look to improve the ecologic/environmental services our campus contributes for our on campus population, and the Springfield community. As green space diminishes, green areas left become ever more important. Pervious surfaces contribute to water quality. Plants and trees support pollution control and habitat. Increasing species diversity of all organisms delivers ecosystem stability. These sustainability efforts provide a matrix which weaves around our other objectives. The amazing thing about sustainability is that it can underpin and support any landscape objective and can multiply their effects in positive ways.   Native plant rain garden on campus captures all much roof water from low volume rain events.   Outreach and Marketing Our organizations are highly competitive both externally (customers, competitors) and internally (other departments, alternative strategic priorities). Not everyone in our organizations thinks the Grounds is vitally important. Through implementing our first 4 strategic objectives we seek to justify our existence. But we must also share news of our contributions eagerly. Sometimes people may not be aware of all we do, or they simply never get to certain parts of campus to see for themselves. Drury Grounds enthusiastically participates in many campus efforts from Freshmen First Day, Commencement, to Staff Advisory Council. We seek to support efforts throughout campus based on what our community needs rather than on only what is best for us. We utilize communication, including social media, to get our word out. This is not bragging, but simply sharing the good word. It is crucially important that we be good ambassadors for ourselves.   https://www.facebook.com/DruryGrounds/   https://twitter.com/DruryGrounds   https://www.instagram.com/drury_grounds/   Taking Action Creating objectives isn't the only step to successfully managing your grounds. Objectives give you the destination, but not the road map to get there. But you can have a map and no destination. Neither alone will get you where you are going. These objectives are also not etched in stone either. Our grounds organizations must be flexible enough to be influenced by legitimate outside considerations. We don't work on an island. The next step is likely to create benchmarks and criteria that will allow us to determine our achievements. And achievement is what the objectives are all about.

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

 

i-Tree Canopy and Drury University Cover Assessment

Drury University covers right at 100 acres in midtown Springfield, Missouri. If I had to summarize what Drury looks like, I would say it is a traditional landscape with primarily traditional architecture. When our community is asked to describe the campus landscape, most people remark on our many trees, and the park-like setting we reside in. Without a doubt, Drury University presents an image of a vibrant landscape that is in harmony with the built environment it resides in. In an effort to truly understand what the cover matrix of our footprint is, we decided to dig deeper than outward appearances.   What is i-Tree Canopy? i-Tree is a suite of software that was developed by the USDA Forest Service. These tools provide state of the art means to analyze the urban/rural forest and assess the benefits these areas provide. There are several tools for planning and monitoring the forest, and they all provide accurate scientific data. For this application we chose i-Tree Canopy. According to i-Tree, Canopy allows users to estimate tree cover and tree benefits for a given area with a random sampling process that lets you easily classify ground cover types. I suggest golf courses could also use canopy to measure greens, fairways, roughs, trees, etc. to determine ratios of those covers.   Canopy allows users to estimate tree cover and tree benefits for a given area with a random sampling process that lets you easily classify ground cover types...   How Does i-Tree Work? To use Canopy, a user determines the area to be assessed and defines a sampling area. This software uses Google Maps and it is very easy to create boundaries in which the sampling will occur. For our plot, we outlined the entire footprint of our campus, even though our property lines can be irregular. One difficulty that may be experienced if your area is large is how close you are able to zoom the interface screen. But this was a minor concern. Once the boundaries are set the user determines cover classes (trees, buildings, etc.) and uploads these into the i-Tree file. Random points are generated and a simple drop down menu allows the user to assign each point a cover class. The more points you sample, the more accurate your assessment becomes.   The heart of Drury campus represents 60% of its footprint and clearly illustrates its different cover classes.   Cover Classes In our assessment I created nine different cover classes. These were: Tree Over Pervious, Tree Over Impervious, Turf, Planting Beds, Roads & Parking Lots, Sidewalks & Plazas, Buildings, Pervious Other, and Impervious Other. These are reasonably self-explanatory but were defined because of our particular campus matrix. Any user can create a self-defined list, or use the standard one provided in Canopy.   Data As of this writing I have plotted 500 points. This quantity gives me a range of statistical error from +/- 0.76 to +/- 1.98. I intend to plot 1000 points total and all of my statistical error should be under one. This may not satisfy MIT researchers, but will definitely suffice for my purposes.      Interpretation As you can see, our largest cover class is roads and lots, representing 26.7% of our campus. Our impervious area is 57.13% when the impervious areas (roads/lots, buildings, sidewalks, impervious other, tree over impervious) are added together. Our tree canopy totals 14.81% and our turf area is 20.6% (this doesn't include turf under trees which is classified as Tree Over Pervious). Planting Bed areas represent only a fraction of the overall campus and significantly less than turf.   Implications I don't have comparative institutions to measure Drury against, but when our biggest component is roads & lots, I don't think that is good. Granted, we are an urban campus, but Drury uses its landscape to sell itself as an aesthetic and sustainable campus. Drury cover matrix is significantly better than the typical mall or shopping center, but likely not as good as the matrix of a golf course, or recreational parks complex. Another benefit of this data is it gives us a point in time as a baseline that we can use to understand future changes. As we continue to develop our campus it will be vital that we determine what we want our mix of cover types to be. 

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Create market differentiation with the landscape...

Driving through midtown Springfield recently I was struck by how devoid of unique landscaping much of my city is. I was also struck by landscaping that was uniformly boring and in many cases, virtually nonexistent. Yet there was remarkable variety to the architecture of the buildings, and the marquis street signs/billboards were also very unique. These observations made me wonder about how any organization uses the landscape to first support its business, and then how it might help differentiate it from competitors.   Nice building, nice signage, non-descript landscape. This site could look better at no additional cost (redirect maintenance $) and stand out from its competitors.   In sports turf (golf included) it is pretty obvious how the landscape supports the organization. The layout, playability, and maintenance quality all mesh together to make a ball field (course) that people will want to (pay to) play on. But when people can choose from two arenas that are essentially the same on these criteria, differentiation along other metrics can make a difference. But how does this occur?   Support the Brand Branding is a multi-faceted way of telling your customer who and what your business is. Here at Drury University we want to portray our school as having top flight academics, excellent value for the money, and a comprehensive campus life experience that enriches our students. This strategy influences how we manage the landscape on campus. Our landscape manifests a commitment to the brand through the landscape design, reasonable expenditure of funds, integration into education, and providing a safe and pleasing landscape for our community. The way the campus looks reinforces the message that admissions, faculty, and student life seek to portray. An organization that wants to prosper cannot have lack of continuity between stated brand and the actual appearance of the physical site it occupies.   Enhance the Experience No matter why people come to our university, they get the landscape. This is always a risk/reward proposition, because of exposure. Whether a patron comes to your club for dinner or swimming, they see the landscape on the course and at the clubhouse. They see your carts and your crew. How well these highly visible aspects of the landscape mesh with the desired customer experience will either help or harm your organization, and maybe more importantly, your landscaping/maintenance operation. As a service entity within a service entity, the Grounds Department can assist in creating a memorable experience, or at the very least, not help to create a bad experience. Grounds is frequently the first staff encountered by visitors to your site, is frequently asked for directions, and sometimes are even asked to assist carrying packages. If you can help create a meaningful experience for your patrons, they will remember it.   Build Cross Function with other Efforts & Events Closely related to the previous point is supporting the functions that other departments hold on your campus. Drury University has student visits, sports events, alumni homecoming, etc. We regularly will host larger events from local, regional and even national entities. If the Grounds Department can figure a way to make these events special for the patron or department, it will be beneficial to you and your organization. During the lead up to a recent debate tournament attended by people from all over the U.S., Drury Grounds began Tweeting our preparations and that we were glad this group was coming. Prior to a recent wedding on campus, we toured the area with the wedding party to determine what we could provide to be sure they were satisfied with their wedding on campus. These were small steps that likely would have occurred anyway, but including other participants make them feel special and valued.   The entry to Drury Lane projects a different feel than anything else in our area. It also builds upon what will be seen in parts of campus.   Create Something Uniquely Your Own Drury University is in competition with other universities for a customer that is steadily decreasing its population in the U.S., the High School senior. We strive to entice prospective students by showing all that our school has to offer. Invariably, a student compares what they see at Drury with what may be obtained elsewhere, and then chooses which school to attend. In order to compete, DU could invest more resource in its campus Grounds and improve their appearance to be more like Ole Miss, George Mason or Wash. U. But we would still be a pale comparison, because we do not have the cache or prestige of these schools. It is only logical that we create a paradigm that is unique to Drury that students will not find elsewhere. To get people thinking about a unique campus I jokingly say I want to reintroduce Timber Wolves on campus. Drury Grounds is striving to be an aggressively ecologic campus even while maintain traditional landscape areas.   The landscape at Bay Hall is beautiful but likely doesnt create significant differentiation from competitors. even with additional resource investment.   It All Adds Up to Competitive Advantage I know someone is not coming to Drury simply because of the Grounds. If someone wants to go to Vanderbilt, nothing Drury has will likely convince them to come here. But if someone is not strongly attached to a particular choice (golf course) there are factors that can tilt the field in your favor. When certain factors (price, location, availability) are equal, other factors (course quality, friendliness, uniqueness, and customer service) could be the deciding factor. Here at Drury, and more than likely at your site, these are the management factors we can improve on to create a desirable, differentiated product.  

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Dog Run Sustainability

Everyone is reasonably familiar with the concept of a dog run. Dog runs can be a fenced area, usually rectangular, or a leash of sorts on a length of cable. Both configurations are meant to give the dog the maximum freedom of movement without giving the dog so much leeway that he can escape the yard, or be a nuisance to neighbors. The dog has some space, but is still held securely in a specific area.   I often think that green industry sustainability is like a dog run. Freedom to move within a specified and seemingly large range, but always securely tethered to some confining limitation.   Consider This Several years ago I was reading a grounds industry journal that was heralded as the 'sustainability issue'. The cover showed a picture of a worker shoveling compost out of the back of a utility vehicle, in some landscape application, over a caption paraphrased as The New Face of Sustainability. The message, with which I agree, was that using compost is a sustainable practice. My problem was the use of the UTV as a means to deliver the compost. A combustion driven vehicle costing many thousands of dollars does not create a situation in which true sustainability will be reached. For me, as soon as I saw the UTV, I knew that this wasn't the new face of sustainability, but just makeup on an old face. Here at Drury University we've used UTVs for a long time, but we don't call them sustainable.   ...as soon as I saw the UTV, I knew that this wasn't the new face of sustainability, but just makeup on an old face.   Pursue Sustainability, But Not Too Much This explains a frustration Id like to point out as result of the limited pursuit of sustainability I see in our industry. Sustainability is using smart irrigation controllers and moisture sensors, but it is rarely questioning the need for irrigation. Sustainability is frequently about IPM, but it is rarely about questioning the role that pesticides may have in promoting the very pests they control. Sustainability is about alternative materials for landscape construction, but is rarely about reusing existing structures and materials. Sustainability projects are also frequently expensive, and seldom about limiting dollars spent in the first place, or wondering what the role of the landscape really should be. Landscape decision makers (very rarely landscape professionals) in many organizations support sustainability as long as it looks like traditional landscaping, even when made aware of the wide ranging benefits (lower resource consumption, lower cost, social/environmental capital) of more sustainable alternatives.   Slow-Mow areas enhance sustainability, environmental service and ecologic diversity. But they are challenged because we are "not mowing the grass".   Realistic Reconciliation Here at Drury, and most certainly at golf courses and sports fields, the main purpose of the landscape is to support a rational human-based need. These legitimate services are education, golf, and other sports (there are more reasons we landscape, but these are sufficient to illustrate my point). I am in no way suggesting we push these goals aside in a dogmatic pursuit of some tree hugging agenda. I do suggest that we evaluate our reconciliation of goals and needs to include other perspectives so we can create landscapes that serve broader benefits. Too often there is need confusion in the modern landscape. The component of landscaping that has the largest footprint at Drury is general turf which includes our sports turf. But the portion of the landscape that creates the most interest and satisfaction for our community/students is the trees and shrub/flower beds. This inversion typifies the all too common problem of poor reconciliation of needs and goals for the modern landscape.   I am in no way suggesting we push these goals aside in a dogmatic pursuit of some tree hugging agenda. I do suggest that we evaluate our reconciliation of goals and needs to include other perspectives..."    Different Approaches to the Same Problem Last year Drury university facilities partnered with a local water advocacy group in a grant program to improve handling of MS4 Stormwater. MS4 is the storm water that is carried by sewers, ditches, drains etc. then discharged into streams and waterways without treatment. While this project was and is very beneficial to improving the detention and pretreatment of stormwater (from an adjacent parking lot), it was also fairly expensive. Alternatively, Drury Grounds in cooperation with ThinkGreen, a student environmental group, also created a rain garden, at very little cost, that handled downspout runoff from a large roof. In Springfield, like most places, the majority of our rainfalls are smaller quantities, which are handled very effectively by both of these projects. The difference is one cost many times more, was more disruptive, and handles less water as a percentage of total runoff volume. But the biggest problem is very few businesses, residences, or campuses have the funds to spend tens of thousands of dollars, but many would gladly spend hundreds, to improve natural water quality.   Large scale sustainability (like this storm water project) may be beneficial, but is expensive, disruptive under construction, and requires large scale community/organizational support.   Smaller scale sustainability (like this rainwater garden) is low resource, inexpensive, easily accommodated an easily achievable.   Unhook the Leash and Let It Run I support management of the landscape using any appropriate tools and resources, based on the designated use of the particular landscape, course, or field. But high resource maintenance or installation is not sustainable and should not be billed as so. This greenwashing has a negative impact from two directions. First, landscapes that could truly be seen as sustainable are not allowed to pursue innovative, or experimental practices because they may stray too far from accepted sustainability. Next, landscape operations that are more utility/function based are inappropriately underfunded by financial administrators using the landscapes pursuit of sustainability as justification for budget cutting. Both schools of grounds management, (sustainability focused, service/needs focused) should be allowed to run free into the cultural areas that achieve the results they are after. Let the dog off the leash.

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

It Pays To Belong...

Many, if not most of us Green Industry professionals belong to professional associations or groups, and maintain professional certifications in those groups. In my case I am a Certified Arborist, Municipal Specialist with International Society of Arborists (ISA), and a Certified Grounds Manager with Professional Grounds Managers Society (PGMS). I also participate in the Missouri Community Forestry Council (MCFC). We are also usually required to maintain licenses that give us credentials. Here in Missouri, as in other states, I must maintain a Public Operators License for Turf & Ornamentals, plus Right of Way, through the Mo. Department of Agriculture, to apply pesticides. As a head groundskeeper at a university, I frequent several other organizations (civic, academic, etc.) at some level. And of course my participation in TurfNet qualifies as professional involvement.   Benefits of Belonging Several benefits come along with professional affiliation or certification. The first is credibility. Being certified allows the people you deal with to understand you have authority and expertise. The most reputable credentialing is not easy to attain. Thresholds for experience plus education, measured by written exams and vocational case studies, illustrate that we know what we are practicing. Another aspect to certification is ongoing education. Most green industry certification requires continuing education units (CEUs). These CEUs can be earned at seminars, classes, training events, etc. but require participants to stay in tune with what is current in their industry. In my experience, CEU requirements have definitely made me a better-rounded groundskeeper by opening my eyes to new ways of looking at my practices. CEUs have also given me new found information I wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise.   Expert Advice The next certification I am pursuing is a Certified Sports Field Manager (CSFM) through Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA). To this end I have joined STMA and attend regular meetings/training events through the local Ozarks group. Recently we had a training event at Hammons Field here in Springfield, home of the Double-A Springfield Cardinals, a St. Louis farm team. At this event we heard from Dr. Brad Fresenburg, University of Missouri Turf, and Tom Burns, Ewing Irrigation Sports field expert (former MLB groundskeeper). The knowledge that these two professionals shared is simply unavailable in any other way. Hearing from them takes us directly to hard earned information thereby shortening the learning process.   Dr. Brad Fresenburg (left), MU Turf, & Tom Burns, Ewing Irrigation sports field expert and former MLB groundskeeper   Dr. Fresenburg talked about various cultural means of turf management and a trend toward artificial turf (synthetic grass is even showing up on golf courses). Tom Burns talked about baseball field maintenance. He also recounted several of the subtleties that a groundskeeper can tweak such as soft dirt in front of home for knuckleball pitchers or pitching mound adjustments. But he also stressed that a fair field for both teams is the goal. Much information was shared and when you hear these pros, you know you can trust their knowledge and take it back to your operation.   Bringing The Benefit To Life At this STMA seminar they gave away door prizes to those in attendance. The grand prize was a complete, all-expense paid, pitchers mound rebuild. When the emcee asked who needed a new mound I was the only one who raised a hand (I don't know why no one else wanted one). This saved us from having to draw for the prize, and I was the happy, if not lucky, winner. Since we had recently rebuilt the mound at Meador Stadium, where the D-II Drury University Panthers play, I donated the rebuild to Glendale High School, where my freshman son plays baseball.   The mound rebuild was overseen by Springfield Cardinals Head Groundskeeper Brock Phipps and Assistant Derrick Edwards. The process was straightforward, but included many steps that most people might not be aware of. The mound was swept to get to clay, the drop towards home established with a template as was the table (a 3x5 flat area around the rubber), then over a ton of mound clay was spread, formed and tamped to solidify it (this was the most physically demanding part). While not quite a golf green in terms of overall intensity of culture, it was still intense.  It was eye-opening to consider the expertise and effort that would be required to meet the expectations of a college or pro pitcher's mound. Mounds require attention after every game too.   Establishing the drop towards home with leveling template and clay.   Forming the "table" and surround slope.   Finished product and satisfied customer- L-R Springfield Cardinal Asst Derrick E., Springfield Cardinal Head Groundskeeper Brock P., and Glendale HS head Coach Mike S.     Keep Learning I think most people are surprised to discover how much green industry professionals are required to know. Putting a successful course or ball field together requires more than mow, blow and go and a little weed 'n feed. Certification, professional discussion with experts or peers, plus a healthy dose of CEUs will always benefit us. They may also get you a new pitchers mound.

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

 

Realities, Or Just More Dreams... Part Two

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

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

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

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

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Thinking on Quality...

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

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

Pursue Sustainability Where You Find It

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

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

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

 

The Budget/Quality/Sustainability Paradox in Grounds Management

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

Joseph Fearn

Joseph Fearn

 

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

 

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

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