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Joseph Fearn

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  • Club/Course/Company
    Drury University
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    Springfield, Missouri
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    Reconciliation landscaping, ecological restoration, innovative landscape design, beautiful turf, healthy soil. Drury Panthers Athletics.

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  1. While working as branch manager for a large landscape contracting company one of the maxims I heard was “re-work kills us”. I agree with this completely, but also know there are other production related issues that kill (diminish) my team’s ability to successfully complete our work. For this blog post I am not focusing on equipment failures, budgetary shortfalls, non-professional meddling, or even the weather. I want to start a discussion around how my team stops itself. For some actions, or lack of actions as it were, are frequently and consistently among the biggest impediments to team success. Fortunately, it is one area that the team itself has immense leeway to identify (if honestly self-aware and openly discussed) and self-correct. Mindset Many factors influence the mindset of our team (individually and collectively). Worker’s diligence can be significantly influenced by peers but is also reliant on internal standards and self-expectations. Overall organizational strength plays a role. Mission/vision for the team/organization as well. Some other influences are motivation, on/off the job stressors, professional training, physical fitness, etc. All of these diverse and fluid factors come together to create a mindset for my team. Mindset ultimately manifests in three possible ways: Work-focused, non-work focused, or some combination thereof. The bad news about mindset is once formed it is powerful, persistent, and pervasive. The good news is it can be changed. It is amazing what a motivated team member can do when they want to. Why we stop working I’ve asked my crew to list the reasons we stop working (we also examine obstacles/bottlenecks in our work, which is a related but different issue). Some common procedural issues are preparing the wrong tools or unforeseen need for different tools, miscommunication in any/all possible forms, weather, change in schedule/priorities, supply chain issues, etc. These issues and myriad others are relatively black and white. Most are fixed by improved planning and communication. Human reasons for not working are (in no order) fatigue, frustration/resentment, apathy, jealousy, stress, team interpersonal dynamics, lack of motivation, motivation for non-production, etc. These factors are hugely impactful, can be easily misdiagnosed, and may be much harder to rectify. But, again, they can be fixed. We Achieve What We Want to Achieve This management maxim may seem obvious, but it isn’t widely applied. If a person sets their mind to an objective, it is usually achieved. Unfortunately, too often, we don’t set our minds to work, we don’t set our minds to anything, or we set our minds to something that takes us away from work. No one has to be reminded about lunch, or at least very rarely. Lunch is a prevalent goal and is ingrained into our body clocks (and not just because our stomachs are rumbling). The crew doesn’t even need to look at their clocks. Many tasks that distract from work are deemed important (by the team or individually), then prioritized over performing our actual work. Countless times I’ve asked my team for a production account only to hear that they fell short of expectations. Yet, they managed to keep tabs on coworkers across campus, submit vacation requests, check the tires on their car, etc. Clearly, they wanted to perform these tasks, and they did. But they didn’t want to perform the work, and therefore it wasn’t completed. Hopefully what they want to do is work. But that is not always the case. Cost/Benefits Another reason work isn’t performed appropriately is a poor understanding/reckoning of the costs and benefits of performing our work. The production of work costs us something. Time, energy, opportunity to do something else, are all payments. What we derive in return is the benefit. Money, accomplishment, pride, job security, etc. are what we earn; the benefits of performing our work. If the benefit is satisfactory, work is gladly paid. If the benefit is not seen as equitable, work is not paid, or is done so poorly/grudgingly. Cost/benefit friction is very common in the workplace. Personal feelings on what is fair varies by position, personal situation, career path, etc. and can vary by person and day-to-day. Having frank and honest discussions about cost/benefit can help a team understand why someone is/isn’t motivated, or why a job is/isn’t getting performed acceptably. Sometimes valid work can look unproductive. Only through open, honest discussion can the truth be found. (Side note: When I saw this happening I almost blew a gasket. Three workers, one mower. Fortunately I asked what was happening. Senior Groundskeeper Leroy was instructing on proper usage of new Stihl battery mower.) Much More to This Story This blog post is in no way meant to be exhaustive. For as many variables as there are for workers personalities there are as many variables for explaining why we do or don’t work. What I hope to demonstrate is usually subpar performance is not as easy as declaring someone lazy or incompetent (although this does occur). Getting to the real reasons behind less than stellar job performance can be trying and time consuming. It is usually beneficial, but not always as sometimes it demonstrates that the situation is irretrievable, and a parting of ways is the only solution. But, in the interest of improving job performance it is worthwhile. Coming Next… “Let’s get To Work.”
  2. Chicago, IL is fabulous city. Because my home in Springfield, MO is relatively close (8 hours drive, which in the Midwest US may as well be next door) and because I have a sister who lives there, I make the trip 2-3 times a year. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the city is the architecture, including that of the landscape. One of my favorite classic landscape architects, Frederick Law Olmsted, practiced there, and work of one of my favorite current garden designers, Piet Oudolf can be seen there (Lurie Garden). Chicago is truly a world class city. Studying its gardens and landscaping can allow anyone to see great garden attractions and some emerging directions of gardening influencers. During my most recent visit I spent time in the Morton Arboretum and self-guided touring of Oak Park /River Forest. In this blog and my next, I’d like to share some of what I took away from my visits. The Morton Arboretum The Morton Arboretum is a world-renowned public garden and tree research center in Lisle, IL, near Chicago. It was founded in 1922 by Joy Morton (of Morton Salt fame). The mission of the Morton Arboretum is to collect and study trees, shrubs and plants from around the world and display them for people to enjoy. Its goal is to encourage the planting and conservation of trees and plants for a greener, healthier, and more beautiful world. The arboretum covers 1,700 acres and has thousands of different species of plants. The Morton welcomes over 1 million visitors each year. Natural Plant Growth Is Upfront The bed you see below is at the very front entrance. What I loved about this was the lack of ornate arrangement and extensive floral color. I suggest this is a purposeful effort to demonstrate that the garden has more to offer than just annuals and showy flowers. The bed is well designed and focuses on plant texture/shape to create interest. The maintenance regime for this area also says something; plants are not sheared or manipulated into unnatural shapes. Natural growth is obvious and intentional, which results in the bed having a soft yet stylish feel, as opposed to the harsh and unnatural look of many sheared plants. Deeper in the garden, there are many examples of flowers and topiary, but their placement denotes horticultural significance, not the necessity for these approaches everywhere. This natural planting welcomes visitors to the Morton Arboretum. Go Big or Go Home The next aspect that impacted me was the scale of the garden. I’m not just talking about the 1700 acres. Not only are vistas and sightlines large scale, but many of the hardscape components are also. Scale in the garden shows an understanding of space and relationships through mass and void. The particular view shown below is of massive columns, a big lawn, and large paver walk. All of the components blend to create a sense of grandeur. This sense of grandeur is everywhere at the Morton. Scale is also present in the quality of materials used throughout the arboretum. My takeaway regarding scale was that the designers and builders had no hesitation in their work. The assuredness of the design success demonstrated by the scale (magnitude) of the entire garden was awe-inspiring. The scale of the Morton Arboretum demonstrates how size/space can beautify the landscape. Innovation Museums, even living museums, can sometimes feel stuffy or boring. Displays are old and running down, exhibits are static, and the artifacts are meant to be quietly observed without interaction. This is not the case at the Morton Arboretum. In the parking lot visitors are immediately met by sustainable design in the form of pervious pavement, curb cuts and swales to catch rainwater. While rain gardens are not particularly remarkable, the fact they are featured so so prominently is (rain gardens like this are still not commonplace despite widespread awareness of them). Innovation at the Morton Arboretum keeps the experience new and highlights what is coming in the landscaping world. Further into the park, an new and extensive display on urban forestry features a deadfall that is meant to show how roots really grow around a tree (90% of tree roots exist in the to 12” of soil). Also there are many interactive gardens coupled with the inherent growth of all the plants creates a new experience every time one visits. A deadfall demonstration of root mass. Perfectly Imperfect or Imperfectly Perfect The aspect I liked best about the Morton Arboretum was the subtle messiness of the place(perhaps even unnoticed except by professional Groundskeepers). Don’t get me wrong. This garden is meticulously maintained. However, it is impossible to keep everything trim and tidy all the time. Because of the diversity and extensiveness of the garden and plantings, there is an occasional weed, a few plantings creep into others, and some pruning is a touch unkempt. This simply adds to the magic of the place. I have worked at Class-A office building complexes where nothing is out of place (this is not an exaggeration!). I figure this perfection is supposed to reflect the perfection of the commercial enterprise residing in it. The result is that the landscape is cold and only passed through, not mingled with. The perfectly imperfect Morton brings expectation down to a human level where the imperfect feels right at home. A perfectly imperfect landscape bed where ground covers mingle into others. Aspiration My visit to the Morton Arboretum was fantastic. I saw plants that were stunning in their beauty, and planting arrangements that were the same. I saw execution of work that demonstrated expertise and also incredible devotion to the design and construction of the installations. I saw and met staff that beautifully blend authoritative knowledge with patient appreciation of gardeners who are not as advanced. Perhaps most importantly, I witnessed so many kids and young people being immersed in an experience that hopefully ignites a passion for nature and conservation to last a lifetime. If all our landscapes, whether course or campus, aspired to achieve the objectives the Morton does so well, we would all be so lucky.
  3. Groundskeeping is a challenging profession. We are impacted and affected by horticultural limitations, weather and environment, organizational imperatives, laws and regulations, budgetary constraints, seasonal influences, etc. We are in a constant battle of managing inputs, stressors and outcomes. In all of this grind, we must occasionally factor in a crisis of the now, where we focus on where our operation currently is and what lay immediately before us. Recently I had an opportunity to step out of my job as Head Groundskeeper/Manager and step into a role as instructor. I was contacted by Dr. Kris Wiley (former Drury professor) to speak about the campus landscape to a group of gifted middle schoolers in a program called SummerScape. I wanted to articulate to these students that my job, the role of the grounds crew, and our work, was incredibly complex, rich with fulfillment and purpose, and touched every person who came on campus. I didn’t have an outline and being prone to train of thought/tangential thinking, I just jumped, in letting the tour take its own direction. What follows below is simply a stream-of-consciousness recounting of the topics we touched on. They are in no order but based on recall several weeks after the fact. If anyone thinks grounds departments don’t do it all, read this list. These SummerScape kids were very generous and patient while being toured around our campus. Head Groundskeeper. Grounds Crew. Make the campus beautiful for our community. Education. Support the organizational goals. Ecology. Environmentalism. Outreach. Cost effective. Sky to subsoil. Air. Water. Land. Trees. Shrubs. Flowers. Grass. Drury Fusion program. Jordan Valley Park. Palace at Versailles. Florence, Italy. Central park. Lurie Garden. Biltmore estate. My backyard. Community. TreeCampusUSA. Garden visitor. Landscape design. Landscape Architecture. National Arboretum. Morton Arboretum. St. Louis Botanic Gardens. Strategic Plan. Weekly schedule. Have fun. Lots of different personalities. Teamwork. Friends. Thanks. Criticism. Climate change. Genetically modified organisms. Photosynthesis. Senescence. Organic matter. How fallen twigs as mulch may replicate a natural process. Red-tail hawks. Keystone species. Cambium. Ecology. Natural gas and alternative powered equipment. Missouri Department of Conservation restoration project and grant. N-P-K. 16 elements required for plant growth. "C Hopkins café managed by mine cuzn mo cl" (a mnemonic device using the elemental symbols to help memorize the 17 essential plant nutrients). Most nutrients for plant growth supplied by air and water. Irrigation. Water conservation. Honey bees. Honeybee decline. Decomposition. The Great Plains. Land disturbance. Grazing. Fire. Mt. Saint Helens. Succession. Pollinators. Tree growth. Pollution, Reduce, reuse, recycle. Social media. Ants. Electron transport chain. Hydrogen ions. Cation exchange. Potential of Hydrogen. Cars. Monarch migration. Rabbits. Hollow trees. Tree retrenchment. Adventitious growth. Working with a fraternity service project to plant 20 Missouri native shrubs. Rain gardens. Soil structure. Infiltration rate. Use a coffee can hammered halfway into the ground, fill with water and time how long for it to soak in. Commemorative trees. Urban forest. International Society of Arborists (ISA). Certified arborist. N-P-K. Board Certified Master Arborist. Retired MU turf expert Dr. Brad Fresenburg. Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS). Certified Grounds Manager (CGM). Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA). Golf Course Superintendent Association of America (GCSAA). Restoration gardens. Heirloom seed. Planned sterility to prevent seed formation. Plant patents. Organic fertilizer. Decreasing chemical use. FRAC codes. Corn gluten. Pelletized alfalfa. Fertilizer analysis. The front and back of our team shirt says it all about our Grounds Crew. Botanist. American beaver. American Indians. The Great Spirit. What happens to soil that has been under a building for more than 100 years. Fallen logs. Placing logs to create insect habitat. Insect hotels. Architecture. Student volunteers. Entomology. Hydrology. Irrigation association. Smart Irrigation. Smart irrigation month. Certified irrigation auditor. Precipitation rate. Rain sensor. Adjusting irrigation programming. Evapo-transpiration (ET). Certified pesticide applicator. Missouri Department of Agriculture. Pesticide inspectors. Round up. Glyphosate. Acetic acid. Citric acid. Smell of Oranges. Organic materials Review Institute (OMRI). USDA certified organic program. National Audubon society. Eastern Bluebirds. Skunks. Snakes. Nothing cuter than a baby skunk. After several sessions with these kids, in an informal and unstructured setting, and without a script, what resulted was essentially a recounting of the work that has taken place at Drury since 2012 (much homage has to go to my groundskeeper predecessors because none of us usually walk into a blank slate landscape). Behind each topic is a story which represents the heart, mind, and muscle of the Grounds Crew that allowed it to come to be. What I found most fulfilling was a comment from one of the students at the end of a tour: “Wow, you’ve done a lot here”. Yes, we have. The 2019 DU Summer Grounds Crew proudly upheld the standards of Grounds Crews everywhere. L-R Joe, Andre, Dave, Andrew (DU Student), Leroy, Matt (DUS), Conner, Riley (DUS), Cole
  4. On June 27 this year I turned 55. Now this isn’t a defining age as much as say 21 or 65, but is significant. I am not a person who puts all my stock in chronological age. I definitely think there can be an old 30 or a young 70, but again I say 55 is significant. I am now seriously contemplating retirement although I can’t see how I won’t have to work until 70 (or longer) if anyone will have me. I have been in commercial grounds management since I was 23. I know there are many people who have more experience, more talent, more training or just more of something than I. But, I say with humility, I’ve earned a seat at the table. So, it is in the desire to prevent some unnecessary bumps and bruises for my newer-to-the-game brethren (and sisters) that I’d like to share some insights I wish I’d known long ago. Turning 55 and still very much in the game. Enjoy the ride; You may end up where you SHOULD be... I distinctly remember one day at work when I was in the early stages of a landscape bed renovation. I was working alone removing old shrubs and installing new shrubs/perennials. I was working fast because I was so eager to see the finished product. Problem was the weather was hot, the work was hard, and my progress wasn’t what I expected. I found myself frustrated until I viewed each step as an accomplishment in itself. A career can feel like this sometimes too. The job we have isn’t fulfilling, myriad organizational roadblocks get in the way, or sometimes significant weather events can disrupt work for long periods of time. The key I’ve found is to look for success where you are and find positives that may add to your competency and potential. Plans and careers are a lot alike. Sometimes when they change, there are great results. Get certified and be a lifelong learner... I am a Certified Arborist/Municipal Specialist with ISA and a Certified Grounds Manager (CGM) with PGMS. I wholeheartedly believe these are reputable credentials that demonstrate an understanding of, and commitment to, superior grounds management. Although I have held these both for many years, I did not pursue them until I was well into my career. While I am very satisfied where I am now professionally, establishing these certifications earlier could have expanded my opportunities for career paths and development. Credentials enter one into professional circles (TurfNet) that are invaluable. Grounds Managers hear fresh ideas, question old ones, and establish professional relationships that can be references for employment or improve current performance. Ongoing CEU requirements force us to be lifelong learners. For us time challenged grounds professionals, sometimes being forced to do something is the only way it gets done. Relationships are key to success. Protect them. As a young man I spent five years working in a paper mill in Connecticut. It was smelly, loud, repetitive, and ultimately mind-numbing. I hated it. When I left at 23 to make my way in the world, I made sure to let everyone know I was getting out. Well, after three months guess who came back to look for a job. The boss wouldn’t hire me because he knew that I hadn’t changed (matured) and that the negativity I brought to the job (rarely is a bad situation completely one-sided) was still in me. 21 years old and so much to learn. Would I have taken a chance on me? This impacted me in two ways. One, try to be at least a little positive. Two, remember that the people you are with now may have an impact on you at some point down road. If you can cultivate positive relationships and help others in some meaningful way, it will likely come back to you. Since those early days, I have been rewarded many times by someone I have maintained good relations with. Even better, you may have chance to return the favor! Put people first. I, like most of you, am challenged every day to accomplish more with less. This creates pressure which can sometimes force our teams into blunt force operation. There may also be a belief that results are all that matters and work trumps fulfillment. Both of these can drive performance but will usually come at a steep cost (conflict, absenteeism, turnover, etc.). Running a grounds team where the personal lives and personalities of the team are appropriately meshed with the organizational goals just makes sense. By demonstrating an authentic appreciation of your team's unique personalities (Oh, the personalities!) and motivations you create the desire to participate in the team's success. You diminish the antagonism between individual and organization. If you put your work and accomplishments first, your team may find fulfillment, but, if you put fulfilling your team first, you will work better and accomplish much. Allowing your team's personalities to add to your efforts creates great results. A career should be a continuum, but not necessarily linear. Over a career, all of us evolve. This is the career continuum. But not all evolution results in success. I have learned, applied and discarded, many managerial/occupational practices over the years. I have also, fortuitously, found some that have helped me run a productive and fulfilling grounds operation. But this learning has not been linear. I am still actively succeeding and failing. What I really hope to impart, especially to younger managers, is to be your best where you are at the moment. Know that you will evolve. But be very open to learning from anyone/situations around you. Especially the ones that challenge you to look at things differently than your status quo. Hopefully it won’t take you 30 years to learn some valuable lessons.
  5. Mr. Wilson, So happy to see some of these old shorts again (cant even remember if I watched them back then). You haven't lost anything and you certainly had back then too. Perhaps the truest takes on golf maintenance ever. Joe Fearn
  6. I love my job. I don’t love it the way I love my wife and kids, or even my dog, nor do I love it all the time, but on a whole, I love it. Being able to say this puts me in a significant minority in the workplace. A 2017 Gallup poll found that 70% of workers in the U.S. hate their job (hate may have a spectrum of intensity, but I am splitting hairs). There are many strategies we all know to combat job-hate, and any job-hating individual must shoulder some responsibility, yet job-hate continues. Love is an antidote to job-hate. I can’t say if love makes the job, or vice-versa. I can say unequivocally that putting some love into your job produces some great side-effects. Your Community Will See It Our jobs in the green industry are all inherently visible and bring us into contact with people (customers/clients) regularly. This means all of us frequently have the chance to share love with the people who are influencers to our success (or failure). Regardless of the specific circumstances, most normal people prefer to be served by people who share their happiness in that service. One can get service which is acceptable, but when you receive something extra in that service, it impacts you. You remember, and value, the interaction a little more. If the little extra is authentic rather than merely duty, than even more so. Exhibiting honest enthusiasm in performing our jobs is felt by those we work for, and that is a valuable contribution. Putting passion into your work is a marketable contribution and will be recognized by your community Your Team Can Feel It Many organizations state that passion is usually an indicator of a top-flight team. I believe this is true. Having an enthusiasm for your work can help provide the drive necessary for achievement. If someone doesn’t have that excitement about their profession, then what? Even if someone isn’t in their dream job, love can help them find the motivation to excel. If most team members feel some sort of love in their work, it becomes infectious. Our crew exhibits love by sharing camaraderie and a sense of accomplishment with their coworkers when performing the task at hand. This team energy frequently becomes a feedback loop. Success brings success and even though setbacks break our momentum, it becomes easier the next time to restart a positive cycle. When your crew works with love, they are eager to share it with coworkers and the community Love Is Infinite Our jobs are both physically and mentally demanding. Trying to perform consistently without love leaves me depleted and defeated. My moods get dark and nothing is easy. The truth however is that these moods are fleeting because they require a lot of (negative) energy to keep them going. The simple truth we all recognize is that no one wants to be around an unhappy person. Fortunately, love is infinite. Think about it. No one gets tired of being happy. When things are going well, conversations are easier, people forgive minor issues, and team members willingly help others carry the load. None of this work requires momentous action, long winded speeches, or threats of punishment. Workers work because it makes them feel good, a lot. Plants Sense the Energy To this point, nothing in this blog is likely new to you. But here is where you may think I’ve left planet Earth. The plants (and yes, turfgrass is a plant) at your site will feel the energy and respond in kind. Plants can communicate in many ways. Some stressed trees release chemicals that signal insects to attack them rather than healthy trees. Some plants can communicate via roots. I believe that the plants at my campus pick up on our crews love and enthusiasm and grow just a little nicer for it. Our crew always knows when one of us is in a bad mood, so maybe plants can sense moods too. Bad energy comes off and can’t be disguised. If one’s mood is good, the plants get bathed in it. And a plant love-bathing is a happy healthy plant. (For further discussion please read… https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/12/23/the-intelligent-plant) This Blue Fescue never drew attention until this year. It was divided last fall. Coincidence, sound horticulture, or the love of a Groundskeeper? Get Love into YOUR job. NOW. Performing your job with love is worth it. The benefit to your spirit, performance, and satisfaction will far outweigh the cost of doing it. As a matter of fact, the energy required to perform your work with love actually doesn’t feel a burden at all. It flows naturally from a well spring within. Be mindful though that love in a workplace setting should be a two-way transaction. Your organization must return love within an equitable ratio. This ratio will fluctuate in that sometimes either will be giving more. Putting love into your work must be authentic also. I’ve never seen anyone be able to pretend to like their work for very long. And not being able to put some modicum of spirit into your efforts will eventually cause frustration or resentment. So, do yourself a favor, and find some way to put a little love into your work. Your team's loving work will create positive energy for your organization. But flowers never hurt too.
  7. If any TurfNet reader were asked what is the most important aspect of your job, I imagine there would be a wide variety of responses. This variety would stand to reason because although TurfNet followers gravitate towards Golf Course Management, they actually represent a variety of green industry segments. I am a Groundskeeper for a university which is different than a golf course superintendent, which is different again from a landscape contractor (I won’t even get into irrigation people who are different altogether). But, one thing that unites us all to some extent is grass mowing. As a hopeful blogger some years back, I submitted the following blog (in somewhat different form) as a test run. In a wise move, TurfNet Guru Peter McCormick said it wasn’t quite what he was looking for and asked for a different submittal to introduce myself to readers. I complied, and this particular article was relegated to the dustbin for a while. I have returned to it time and again usually trying to prove to my crew my vast knowledge on the subject (joking!). I’m not kidding, though, when I say I am serious about mowing. I believe cutting greens to be the pinnacle of mowing (apologies to my sports field brethren) yet I am very proud of all my experience. So, see if any of these experiences evoke a memory of your own, and of course, happy mowing. First Mower That Made Me Feel Like I Wasn’t Mowing a Yard: Yazoo 26” Big Wheel mower circa 1988, built by Yazoo Manufacturing of Jackson, Mississippi. First mower I used as a part-time Groundsman at George Mason University. Bigger than a 21” and was self-propelled by a friction gear against the pneumatic large tires. Boy, I felt cool. First Mower That Made Me Feel Like A Professional: John Deere 52” Commercial Walk behind, belt drive, circa 1989, pistol grips, squeeze to turn. I had moved up to a mower with THREE blades! Man could that thing cut some grass. Such an old mower it didn’t even have operator presence control handles on the grips. I’d love to get one to restore. Just imagine the custom paint job I’d put on it. Favorite Mower of All Time: John Deere 755 w/60-inch belly deck, circa 1990. Again, I felt like a professional. ZTRs weren’t even on the scene. When I left GMU for my first supervisory job at Alexandria Hospital, a 755 was my first purchase. Nice mow quality and very productive if mowing big areas (straight lines only). Deck took about 20-30 minutes on/off to add a range of implements to tractor. What a beauty! Most Impressive Mower (Pros Only!) Toro Groundsmaster 3500-D Sidewinder, circa 2004. Surely anyone who has driven a Sidewinder can speak to what a joy it is to mow with. Quality cut even with rotary blades, great traction, the sliding front decks, smooth diesel power and of course the unbelievable comfort. When I say pros only, there are lots of homeowners now that have experience with fairly nice ZTRs, but only professional turf people know about the Sidewinder. On the Job Today… Now in my job at Drury University we have a John Deere ZTR and a Grasshopper ZTR, both with 60” decks. We mow 35 acres a week, but have lots of smaller areas and obstacles, so the smaller deck is really nice. Both of these were someone else’s choice though. If I had to pick on my own I would definitely go Exmark or Scag. I think you can’t beat them for durability and quality for ZTRs in utility turf. But as my boss says, what are the best mowers you currently have? Given some of the mowers I have used in the past, these two are wonderful. Some of the runners-up from my career have to be given their due: Best Cut Quality with a Walk Behind: Toro 52” with floating deck. The suction on the deck had great lift and the floating configuration managed uneven areas beautifully. I have not seen this quality (close, but no cigar) in any other configuration. However I never really liked the “T” handle steering on my particular mower. Definitely prefer pistol grip. Looks Good Even Sitting Still: Any Scag Tiger, especially 72”. With Brickman Group in Nashville, we used these to cut 4MM sq. ft. of turf every week. Power, spectacular engineering, production. Be sure you can handle a mower before you use one of these. Not for the faint of heart. If you want to mow for real. Got Leaves on the Course: Toro Groundsmaster 4000. I had to mow rough that had several inches of leaves. This mower ate them up and mulched as good as anything I’ve ever used. Being able to lift decks independently allowed impressive maneuverability. Mow over an area two times and it looks more like spring than fall. Mowing at a Whole Different Level: Greens mowing. Enough said. No matter the specific mower, walk behind or triplex, mowing greens is in a class by its own. Seeing your diamond pattern when double cutting, headlights on for an early start, correcting a banana pass, and of course the teardrop turn without stopping the drive mechanism. Nothing else in mowing can compare. A good greens mowing by the best crew member is something to see and requires unique talent. The Hall of Fame of the mowing world. Mower Manufacturers Used: Billy Goat, Bobcat, Bolens, Bunton, Dynamow, Exmark, Grasshopper, Gravely, Honda, Hustler, Jacobsen, John Deere, Kubota, Lawn Boy, MTD, Scag, Snapper, Toro, Yazoo. Some I liked, some I hated. Same can be said of cut quality. I imagine there are some others I can’t remember. What Is Your History? I know better than to think this history is unique. I’d love to hear some of the stories from our valued readers. What was your favorite mower? What stories do you have to share? Please respond and share some of your recollections. Thanks, JF.
  8. I believe wholeheartedly in sustainable landscaping. Despite the definition of sustainable landscaping being subject to many interpretations, for me it simply rests on several key premises. Does the management of the landscape seek to decrease resource consumption? Will the landscape continue to grow as we (the organization) need if we decrease intervention? Lastly, does the particular iteration of grounds management meet the long-term goals/needs of the parent entity? If these questions are answered positively, I am at a loss as to why a person or organization would not want to pursue sustainable landscaping. In an effort to see this issue from another perspective, I would like to put forth some reasons I believe cause sustainability reluctance. Sustainable Landscapes are Messy This may be the biggest misconception about sustainable landscapes. Most people will equate sustainable with wild and this is not always so. Sustainable landscapes need not be rambling plantings run amok. I suggest this misconception arises due to a confusion of objectives. Often when seeking to restore or support an ecosystem, gardeners will utilize native plants which co-exist well within a given ecosystem. In these habitat and organism-focused applications, “wild” plants provide shelter, food, and ecosystem services when left to grow “naturally”. Many restorative plantings are sustainable when left alone, but not all sustainable landscapes need be maintained in this manner. Landscapes exhibiting traditional design/maintenance attributes can be sustainable as long as they seek to meet the aforementioned criteria. Sustainable Landscapes can adhere to traditional design and are not necessarily "wild". Sustainable Landscapes are for Eco-Crazies Evaluation of anything new or different frequently results in assumptions and stereotyping. A conclusion is reached about an idea before it is even given a hearing of objective evaluation. This can be the case with sustainable landscaping. People may conjure up images of long hair, Birkenstock wearing grounds people sabotaging mowers and growing corn in the front yard. This isn’t the case. Nor is it accurate to think that all the landscape will look like tallgrass prairie, or if a tree falls, it will be left lay to decompose to enrich the spirit of the earth. Sustainable landscaping is a management philosophy that draws on the same organizational and operational imperatives as any other landscaping. Funny I rarely (never?) hear people question the underlying assumptions about the dominant unsustainable landscaping methods. Some sustainable landscapes follow the stereotype, but may still accomplish organizational goals. Sustainable Landscape Changes Everything If an organization chooses to pursue sustainable landscaping, it should be the overarching principle determining grounds management, but not necessarily in a prescriptive manner. Sustainability is about seeking to diminish resources consumption (time, money, materials, etc.) but this aspiration will not result in identical results for every organization. Consider chemical use in the landscape. One organization may seek to diminish chemical use as a way to contain costs, and market an environmentally conscious landscape approach. Another may choose to continue utilizing chemical interventions but explore ways to decrease frequency. A third may need to hold the line on current chemical use, knowing there is not organizational support for a changed approach, but seek to slowly introduce alternative groundcovers/designs that will not need chemical intervention. Being appropriate in how and where you pursue or initiate a more sustainable approach sustains progress. Everything need not change to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. Sustainable Landscaping Doesn’t Matter to Our Organization If you have, or are an organization, sustainable landscaping should matter to you. Sustainable landscapes contribute many benefits more than just a pretty, environmentally focused campus. Consider these questions when evaluating sustainability. Do I want my organization to sustain? Do I want my assets/resources to sustain? Do I want my position/livelihood to sustain? Do I want my company’s reputation to sustain? Likely, the answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes. Sustainable landscaping has a positive effect on all facets of an organization. In addition, taking a cue from natural ecosystems, a sustainable Grounds Manager balances the individual needs against the collective, always understating that the success of the whole is paramount. Sustainability Is the Way of the Future Rarely does sustainability reluctance debate on the science and vocational merits of sustainable landscaping. Prejudices and stereotypes come to the fore when naysayer’s pushback against a sustainable landscape. This does our organization’s a great disservice. Evaluation of the value of landscaping should weigh the positives it brings to its parent, and at what ROI. This is a harsh truth, but a good grounds operation does not flinch from close inspection. Delivering expectations while staying within resource limits is the bottom line premise of sustainability. Drawing a straight line between these two aspects requires accurately defining, and agreement of, what constitutes a sustainable landscape. Sustainable landscaping can be adapted to any application and is greatly beneficial when it is. Truly sustainable landscapes blend organizational goals and landscaping while also seeking to decrease resource consumption.
  9. Most people will recognize the title of this blog as a cornerstone approach to pursuing sustainability. Reduce, reuse, or recycle represents three different approaches for resource management that if instituted wisely diminish resource consumption in an operation or household. In my experience, recycle is the step that seems to get the most attention and is also practiced (considered) more frequently than the other practices. But these “3 Rs” are not just arbitrarily ordered so they roll off the tongue. The ordering represents a hierarchy of benefit whereby reducing resource consumption is most beneficial, reusing resources is next, and recycling is the benefit offering the lowest ranking return when seeking to decrease resource consumption. Recycling is important, but only one piece of the 3Rs approach. Drury Reduces & Recycles Reducing our resource consumption upfront will be our greatest step towards sustainability. In the past several years we have taken the same steps many operations have by reducing water consumption for irrigation and decreasing the amount of chemicals we apply to the landscape. A step that is a little more painful is reducing the frequency of purchasing major new equipment (trucks, mowers, UTVs). We also have changed our maintenance practices and zone expectations to diminish the intensity of operations without decreasing takeaway quality. Here at Drury University we have a fair recycling operation. In 2006 I was in an Environmental Science class with a fellow student that was single-handedly pushing recycling for our campus. Through her efforts, each building received several receptacles for the recycling of paper, aluminum, and plastic. Until recently Drury partnered with a number of organizations to host a recycling center for the use of the downtown Springfield area. In addition to many single stream dumpsters on campus, Drury also takes recyclables to an enhanced City of Springfield recycling center nearby our campus. We are in the process of evaluating our recycling, so we can increase participation and waste diversion. A Drury student uses the 3 bin composting near Smith Hall. Photo credit Taylor Stanton, DU student. Drury Reuses Reusing materials is another leg of the 3 Rs that Drury University incorporates into our maintenance. Drury Grounds has several composting bins throughout campus that are used by us and students. These three-bin systems are not only effective for household and yard gleanings but are also good looking enough to place unobtrusively on campus. I have blogged elsewhere about how we use obsolete architectural stone from razed buildings in our gardens. One other way that Drury reuses materials is by using our limb chip as mulch on campus. Because large trees are the signature of our campus grounds, we generate large amounts of chip in just normal tree care operations, not to mention during removals. This limb chip allows us to close our organic waste stream, but also provides “heritage mulch” for us. Tree Failure Results in Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Opportunity In July 2018, Drury lost a large oak tree from the heart of our campus. This tree was blown over in a thunderstorm having peak straight-line winds of 74 MPH. In an interesting aside, a post failure autopsy revealed the likely cause of failure was due to damage sustained by the tree during the 2007 Ozarks ice storm. A large wound (see photo below) allowed a column of decay to travel into the root flare where it impacted enough of the buttress roots resulting in instability. Tree physics requires all forces acted upon the tree to ultimately travel to the roots where they are dispersed into the ground. In this case, the torque on the tree caused root failure and the tree toppled. Despite being greatly saddened by the loss of this tree, we immediately realized we had an opportunity to sustainability efforts into practice. First, we would reduce (to zero) the amount of tree refuse that would leave our campus. All tree branches and major branches would be passed through a chipper to create mulch. Next, we contacted a saw-milling business we had used before to take the large trunk sections and mill them into lumber that we could reuse/recycle. This is a very sustainable step and also generated nearly 1200 board feet of excellent oak lumber. The trunk base/root flare was placed in a native area on campus where it will be allowed to fulfill its life cycle through decomposition. Instead of being hauled off, large logs from fallen tree were milled and will be reused on campus. Sustainability Pays Reduce/reuse/recycle doesn’t solve all our grounds management problems. But it does provide an additional avenue for pursuing a more environmentally compatible operation. It also demonstrates to Drury University associates we take our sustainability charge seriously and are constantly seeking ways to deepen our resource conservation practices. The 3 R’s are a well-known approach to conservation and waste diversion. By practicing these steps in our campus landscape management, Drury Grounds provides leadership and hope to our community and hopefully spur others to greater 3 Rs commitment.
  10. My official title here at Drury University is Assistant Director of Facilities – Grounds. I much prefer to call myself the Head Groundskeeper. I believe this job title says something about my philosophy of grounds management. Including 'Groundskeeper' in my title reminds me, and more importantly my crew, that I am to some extent like my team. We are all focused on “keeping the grounds”. Unfortunately, sometimes a rift can develop between us. The crew and I can have differing opinions on how well we are functioning in our role. This rift usually stems from a communication breakdown resulting in different concepts of where we are, and where we are headed. Getting to the bottom of it. At the end of last year, our rift was why we were not being effective (we all agreed we could be better, the question was how). To find out why we had this gap in understanding, we undertook a meeting to have some discussion. I like to hear from my team because it gives them a voice and a stake in how we operate. Rather than ask why we weren’t effective, though, I chose to ask why we would accept mediocre performance? The answers were very interesting. Lack of recognition – hard work is taken for granted by organization Serious days result in more of the same – maximum exertion just gets us more maximum exertion No finish line – perpetually behind No consistency – emergencies prevent a plan Appreciation not shown with meaningful currency – put it in the paycheck, take us to lunch, get good gloves, etc. Little cognizance of how hard the work is – This isn’t a chain gang, but we do work hard We tolerate it – self-explanatory Complacency – we are in a rut Putting thoughts on a board makes sure everyone is seeing the same thing. We’d Gotten Soft Every crew I’ve been in has had these issues at some point. But the best crews always find a way to overcome, or at least to manage and get by. My final summary of our situation was we were soft. I mean we lacked the toughness to put our heads down and perform. We didn’t lack knowledge, tools, or even the capability to work hard. We simply lacked the conviction to do what we knew needed to be done. We were at the point where mole hills became mountains, and small obstacles weren’t being overcome. Of course, no crew wants to be called soft. If I was going to help us overcome, I needed to figure a way to get them to see this issue from a different perspective rather than just “being soft”. Finding a way out Communication within the team has many benefits. One positive is misunderstandings can be presented for open discussion. Instead of asking how our team could overcome “being soft”, I asked how we could improve our effectiveness. The team came up with several answers. What I think is remarkable about nearly every team I have worked with is we all know how to do a good job. By teasing out the thoughts of the crew, they answered the question of improvement on their own, with their own language. Acting as facilitator, all I had to do was summarize concisely what they said. Helping the team craft answers creates an attitude of shared commitment to problem solving. Seeing something in writing adds significance to what is shared. Our Key Response Overall, our crew performs pretty well on all these expectations. What we lacked most, at least in my opinion, was discipline. It is not that we had no discipline; it is just that we were demonstrating it inconsistently. Discipline allows a team to set a goal and pursue it to completion. Discipline also allows a team to manage problems that are potentially disruptive and overcome them. Discipline is the framework that underpins all other aspects of crew performance. At the end of last year, I told the crew we would set expectations and meet them. This commitment to discipline, first on my part, then on all our parts was to be the difference maker. A Very Good Start Crew dynamics fluctuate, but hopefully evolve. What seems to work for a period of time, sometimes does not work perpetually. This is to be expected. What must be sustained though is the discipline to set standards and goals, and then meet them. If the crew is committed to meeting high standards, those standards having been well explained and unanimously adopted, discipline becomes the catalyst for success. Apathy and inconsistency are the opposite of discipline. A lack of discipline becomes a consistent drag on all efforts to improve. So far this year our team has responded to the call to discipline and even they agree we are better for it. A disciplined crew is appreciated by the entire organization. You may even get cupcakes as a thank you.
  11. Most grounds managers (including golf course superintendents) understand the important role that trees play in a landscape. Trees supply beautification, shade, pollution mitigation, etc. and on a golf course can add to the challenge of play. Show me a landscape devoid of trees and I will show you a landscape that is not even close to fulfilling its potential. The culture and maintenance of trees is a critical skill for a grounds crew and the amount of money spent on arboriculture emphasizes this importance. However, the life cycle of a tree continues long after it dies, and it can continue to play a significant role during decline, and even when dead in the landscape. Habitat trees are a reasonable part of a sustainable grounds management plan. How We View Death in the Landscape The modern landscape is devoid of dying or dead plants. As soon as any plant begins to decline, or is out and out dead, it is immediately removed from the landscape and replaced ASAP. Nothing dead can be tolerated in our gardens. This exclusion of dead tissue is actually counterproductive to maintaining a healthy ecosystem. By not allowing the life/death cycle to follow its course to fulfillment, we lop off a segment of this cycle even as the benefits of this process are starting to be released. Decline and Death is Only the Beginning All living organisms follow an arc as they go through their lives. Decline (senescence, if you will) is a stage that is marked by slower growth, isolated or widespread tissue death, and increased susceptibility to pests and disease. In trees, this decline corresponds with a marked increase of the tree to provide habitat. Nesting increases in newly appearing cavities. Insects begin to feed on wood and leaves that are no longer able to fend them-off (production of defensive compounds is slowed in stressed plants). In turn, birds feed on the insects that are hastening decline further. The truth is, there is far more wildlife and ecosystem benefit living in the cycle of dead trees than living ones. The importance of dead in a living landscape Our landscapes are comprised of a multitude of organisms and cycles. Removing, or diminishing the diversity of organisms can damage the ecosystem and disrupt the continuation of cycles supporting our landscapes. The landscape carbon cycle requires dead plant material to return nutrients to the soil for turf and plants to use again. The organisms (micro and macro) that enhance the breakdown of organic material into carbon (and other essential nutrients) also require dead organic matter for survival. If we diminish the quantity of one, we diminish the quantity of the other. For this reason, our insistence on removing anything dead could be detrimental. Pests frequently invade trees that are stressed and declining. This attraction to these trees may draw pests away from other healthier trees, almost acting as trap plants. Regardless, dead plants are essential for any ecosystem. Wildlife trees support and enhance the ecology of a landscape. Incorporating Habitat Trees on Campus Our campus has about 20% crown cover based on iTree Canopy assessment. This means we have many trees to grow and manage. Our tree demographics reflect a tree age span range of 1-100+ years. This is a good thing. But it means that every year trees die. Big dead trees are obvious in the landscape. In Victorian Europe, dead trees were considered beautiful. Dead trees were frequently left in the landscape to accentuate, draw attention, and provide contrast. But I digress. Our grounds crew usually removes these trees promptly, but occasionally the circumstances around the tree allow us to suggest the creation of a habitat tree. However, creating habitat trees is not appropriate in all cases, but can be a vital part of a sustainable grounds management program. When and How Habitat Trees Make Sense Habitat tree candidates (dead/dying), especially large trees, can be left untouched (if in wooded setting), or in our case, cut back to form posts or reduced trees. Since our entire campus is exposed to foot or vehicle traffic in some extent, any dead trees must first be mitigated for stability and safety. We do not want dead limbs dropping constantly. As a Certified Arborist, and in consultation with our tree Contractor, we determine if the location, species, stability, existing landscape context, etc. is right for a habitat tree. Next, we will cut the tree back to stable and durable structure that should remain intact for 5-10 years. Because the prime directive of dead trees is decomposition, habitat trees are regularly monitored to assess their safety and to screen for the time when complete removal is justified. After a thorough assessment, this dead black walnut tree will be trimmed to form a wildlife tree. Dead/Dying Trees Are Alive Dead and dying trees ARE actually full of life. Large dead/dying trees especially, provide shelter, food, and even beauty in the landscape. Habitat trees can be used to highlight the science of landscape management, embody ecologic cycles, and demonstrate a sustainable maintenance approach. Managing habitat trees is not about simply leaving a dead tree to save money or time. It is about guiding the landscape by letting nature run its full course, because it pays benefits to our landscapes and organizations. Wildlife trees can take on many different shapes and sizes. More information on wildlife snags.
  12. Recently our crew got together for what is a regular but somewhat infrequent occurrence. We came together to discuss how we might improve our operation, and foster an atmosphere where the crew can freely speak their minds. As I am sure most Grounds Managers can attest to, the crew loves to talk and express their ideas. Groundskeepers are rarely shrinking violets with their opinions. What is difficult is not getting them to talk, but channeling that talk first into positive contribution, and then into concrete/measurable plan of action. What I do know beyond a doubt is that for all the ideas we come up with, the ones that are most likely to stick are the ones the crew come up with themselves. It’s About Having a Voice I have yet to meet a person in groundskeeping that is hesitant to share their opinion. However, this does not mean that all the talk we hear or participate in is always beneficial. Beyond the daily chatter, important talk sometimes reaches a point where the crew needs to share their voice to gain some beneficial result. It goes without saying, but is also worth repeating, that talk can’t initiate change without getting to the ears of someone who can influence the situation. Having a voice means providing feedback and viewpoints to decision makers in your organization. Don’t let good discussions end at the crew level. However, it is vital to remember that in some capacity we are all decision makers, and that we must all share our thoughts. Inviting the crew to regular campus meetings makes them feel included, thereby more likely to speak out. No One Has a Voice if No One Listens On the surface, this seems obvious. Listening (more accurately hearing) is the essential step necessary to create a voice. “If a tree falls in the forest, does anyone hear it?” truly does apply here. When my crew expresses thoughts on any subject affecting them, it is imperative to understand what they are really getting at. It may be exactly what they say, or there may be some other message wrapped up in it. When I listen to hear (more accurately understand), I share in giving my crew a voice. We cannot stop here though. The crew must listen and give you a voice. Managers must be sure that the crews voice be heard, and understood, by our bosses too. Our bosses play a significant role in creating the world Grounds Crews work in and pushing the words of the crew up the chain of command adds to their voice. More Than Venting Talking with the crew is about much more than just giving them a safe space to blow off steam. Yes, letting team members get thoughts off their chests is valuable, but effective team communication provides more. If it sounds like a crew is just complaining, who wants to listen to that? Grousing and griping gets the organization nowhere because it isn’t meant to build up or generate useful discussion. Far too often, complaining is just negative noise, and sometimes is intended to hurt or create negative outcomes. I heard a good phrase the other day, “complaining with a purpose”. Making the team aware of undesirable circumstances to shine light on them thereby promoting analysis of these conditions is very useful. The negativity of complaining can become a habit and should be discouraged. Presentation style speaking is good for sharing information, but not for fostering dialogue. Change Requires Speaking Out All too often team members are dissatisfied with something that is occurring in their job but feel they are powerless to do anything about it. This sense of resignation may be an understandable conclusion based on the organization. On the other hand, feeling powerless may be more about the individuals own predisposition. Making improvements rarely happens without energized and willing participants. Change for changes sake is not smart, but perpetually doing things the same is not always smart either. When I talk with my crew, I am always impressed with the good ideas that they share. Even their bad ideas (there is usually a few of those too) reflect an energy and intention of trying to improve our work process and atmosphere. Creating an environment where ideas can be shared openly without fear of negative consequences is essential to a high functioning grounds operation. Keep Talking It Out I define myself as a “long-talker”. This means I can take a seemingly long time to say something. My reason is I have a crystal-clear image of what is in my head, and it is challenging to use just a few words to be sure to convey my thought accurately to another. Fortunately, not all conversations require deep thoughts of great importance. We are all familiar with tailgate meetings comprising just a few sentences to refresh awareness on a topic. Listening to new voices is also a good way to generate conversation. Regardless of how you structure your talks, keep talking to the crew. It will pay off, and all of you will appreciate the conversation. If this is how your crew responds to your meetings, it's time to try a new approach.
  13. For any geologists reading this blog, I am not speaking about tectonics from the geology standpoint. I am not going to discuss whether the continents derived from the supercontinent Pangaea, or how plates thrust together to form mountains. For my purposes here, tectonics refers to the widespread impact of something and speaks to the pervasive influence of some factor or affect. Sustainability tectonics (my term) are those inescapable factors that influence an operation or landscape and its ability to achieve sustainability. Note: I am not attempting to define sustainability here. Suffice that we all have a generally similar idea of what it is. If you want more clarification, please peruse some previous TWG blogs. Speaking About Geology I suggest that the main geologic factor influencing sustainability is bedrock. Any grounds professional will attest to the importance of soil towards supporting a healthy and functional landscape. But what makes soil? The bedrock of an area creates the soil we work in. Here in Springfield, MO, our bedrock is Burlington limestone. As a result, our default pH is alkaline. If I want to create a landscape that prefers an acidic environment, I must undertake significant interventions. And those interventions will necessarily be temporary, requiring repeated amendments to be sustainable. It is much easier to take cues from the indigenous flora and plant a landscape that can tolerate higher pH, or plant adapted plants if a nonnative palette is suitable. The limestone for this church on Drury Campus was cut from local bedrock. Climate Springfield, MO. can be a volatile climate. In this respect, we are no different from most places. Our historic extremes are -29F and 113F. However, our average temperatures range from 22F to 90F. Based on these numbers our normal weather is stable, but we can get fluctuations. I tell people that the droughty periods we experience (2012, 2018) and the heat (May 2018 hottest on record) is unusual, but not unheard of. Fortunately, our plants, animals and insects are wonderfully adapted to the Missouri climate. Growing the plants that are adapted to a region doesn’t mean plant it and forget it. Planting with an eye to sustainability means that the plants we grow will require less intervention (resources) based on the prevailing climate of our site. It doesn’t mean that everything will always grow. Nor should we seek to overcome too many impediments to accommodate a landscape. Hydrology The water cycle is yet another monolithic influence on sustainability. Water is one of the essential requirements for plant growth. It is also essential for human life. The aspects of water that are the most challenging to cope with is regularity and scarcity. Regularity means can we obtain water when we need it. Scarcity is asking is there enough water supply to meet all our demands for it. We could start discussing water priority (drinking versus irrigation) but I digress. The main obstacle facing a sustainable water situation is living, or should I say growing, within the natural water budget. Every time an operation uses water that does not fall from the sky or generated on site (springs, catchments, etc.) the goal of sustainability recedes. The sustainable landscape should not receive non-natural water. Succession and Change In nature, every niche is exploited, and change is constant. No matter what condition a landscape is in at a given moment, that landscape is transitioning (growing) something else. Turf must be mowed to maintain it within a narrow tolerance because if eft unmaintained tall fescue will grow to 12 or so inches and then go to seed. Planting beds must be pruned, mulched, weeded and replanted otherwise they become unruly, escape boundaries or change their planting mix. Maintenance all takes place to prevent the landscape from growing into something that is deemed unacceptable. In Springfield, over the course of history, our landscapes were an Oak/Hickory forest dappled by savannah. This matrix of plants and animals is what our ecosystem strives for. If left alone, succession will drive towards this destination despite the disturbed aspect of the urban setting. If left undisturbed, Springfield might revert to savannah like the Union Ridge Conservation Area. Pic credit: nature.mdc.mo.gov Implications Sustainability in the landscape is about aligning what the landscape is, with our maintenance regimes. To the extent that these two objectives differ, is the extent to which we have to invest resources to overcome macro-influences. On a golf course or sports field, the distinct purpose of the field is largely unnatural. Thus, it will be harder to align sustainable operations with the objective of the landscape (many golf courses/sports fields, etc. are successfully pursuing sustainable operations despite the inherent challenge of doing so). On a college campus however, the landscape has more variability in what is expected of it. In this setting the sustainable management of the landscape can be furthered by designing, installing, and maintaining a more natural landscape. The key will be a landscape that pays homage to sustainability tectonics, not persists in opposition to it. Naturalizing plantings unify function and sustainability, but are not suitable to all locations.
  14. For all the years I have been the head Groundskeeper at Drury University there has been a honeybee hive in one hollow Mulberry tree in a section of our campus called College Park. The tree happens to be right along a main sidewalk, one that is used by essentially all the 200 or so students that live in those dorms. Several times over the years, the Facilities Department has fielded calls about the bees being a nuisance, or even a safety concern. However, once we have educated the caller, they usually are accepting of staying a little farther from the tree, and once again the beehive becomes inconspicuous. Bee Coexistence Any Groundskeeper knows that honeybees are about as harmless as any insect can be. Drury University has added hundreds/thousands of native trees, shrubs and flowers over the last 6 years. Despite this density of bee-friendly plants, I can’t think of the last time any of the grounds crew was stung by a bee, and we are constantly IN the plants. The one adjustment we configured on the “Bee Tree” was to cover the original entry point with heavy mesh and drill a hole higher up in the hollow. This arrangement has suited the bees fine. Their entry/exit is about 10’ off the ground. Most of their traffic is now high above the walkway. Drury Grounds also uses its social media to share info about Bees (pollinators in general) and educate people about their benefits plus how to be safe around them. Honeybees are harmless and generally do not sting unless provoked. Entering a New Phase I have always thought about having a functional bee hive on campus, but it never seemed to gain traction. There are so many projects and tasks that are higher priority which meant that beekeeping was low on the list of priorities. That changed about a year ago when Drury’s newest Groundskeeper came to the job as a real-world beekeeper in his own time. Groundsman Leroy has about 10 hives at his house and is able to harvest and sell some delicious honey. Finally, his knowledge, the will of our Grounds Crew, and a donation of bee boxes from a faculty member (DU economist Steve Mullins) came together this spring. Capturing a Swarm Obtaining bees is not easy. Apparently native bees, caught naturally, are more durable and are more likely to be successful as a hive. This is because they have proven tough and adaptable in the environments they live in. Bees are also available for purchase, but our fledgling effort did not have funding. Therefore, we set out to capture a swarm. This April, the Bee Tree split a swarm. We were able to catch the basketball size ball o’ bees and tried several times to settle them into our bee box. Initially, the queen left the hive and settled nearby. It was only later that evening that we found the box empty and the bee-basketball under a nearby bench. Before sunrise the next morning we recaptured the swarm (AND the queen). This time we sealed the hive for 24 hours and used old frames with wax residue on them. Apparently, this helped make the bees feel more inclined to make this box their new home. Finding a natural swarm of honeybees is very exciting for any beekeeper. Despite our best efforts, this swarm resisted going into our new box. Eventually they were relocated. Quite a Success Story The Drury beehive is a little over 2 months old now. In early July we opened the hive to assess its status and see how things were progressing. We found a healthy, vibrant colony that was doing just what we (and they) wanted. The Queen was laying eggs and filling frames with brood. Some of the brood frames had an arch of honey over them which is exactly what we want to see. The honey super was almost full too. In fact, the honey storage was going so well, we could harvest our first 3 frames of honey. The full frames were replaced with empty ones which will spur the bees to get busy again. The afore-mentioned Dr. Mullins has recently donated another brood box and honey super which we plan to install soon. The health of #DUbees is obvious through the hive itself, and the HONEY! Plans for the Future Our goal for the bee program at Drury University is still being developed. For us on the Grounds Crew our plan is to build the size of this colony this year, and hopefully have enough of a population that we can split the colony next spring. Of course, if the colony naturally sends out a swarm, we will be prepared and hopefully catch it to add to our program. Grounds will also be watching the “bee tree” to see if it will swarm again also. We also plan on having several capture boxes placed around campus in the hope we will catch a random swarm from nearby. Drury Administration has signed off on the bee program and has given preliminary approval to Drury pursuing “Bee Campus” certification. This program is sponsored by BeeCityUSA organization. The BEE Campus program seeks partner universities to raise awareness of pollinators, enhance habitat, and share success stories. Drury is “Bee”-eautiful Drury University has been pushing habitat improvement for several years to increase species diversity (birds, plants, insects, etc.) and improve the ecologic services our campus can provide (stormwater management, carbon sequestration, air quality improvement, soil protection, etc.). We have pursed these goals through diversification of the planting regime, repopulating the urban forest, managing water use, and decreasing chemical interventions. Our efforts have resulted in improved habitat for a range of organisms both small and large. The humble honeybee is just one of many organisms that are thriving on our campus. Creating a campus that is appealing to bees will ensure that Drury will be appealing to our human visitors as well. Hopefully Drury will be a “sweet” destination also.
  15. Several years ago, when I started as the Head Groundskeeper at Drury University, I came into a campus that was one dimensional and lacked meaningful diversity in any terms. The campus was comprised mostly of shade trees and turfgrass. Having recently worked at a municipal Springfield park that was abundantly planted and had been growing in for seven years (post installation), I was taken aback by the stark appearance of the campus. This is not to say it didn't look well-tended or thoughtfully laid out. It just looked plain. While I did note that there was a dearth of flowers and smaller trees, I didn't think of it in terms of diversity. Now, after several years of hard work, I see how beneficial the pursuit of increasing diversity is to a landscape. Diversity Stabilizes the landscape Diversity (biodiversity, design diversity, management diversity) is an important objective for the landscape. Increasing biodiversity improves the ability of the landscape to respond to environmental changes. If our landscape consists of only one plant, and we get an unusual weather event, an entire population could be wiped out. Biodiversity also prevents one organism from dominating the landscape to the detriment of others. If a pest outbreak occurs, the susceptible target could be decimated, but unsusceptible organisms will not be. Design and maintenance diversity also prevents our landscapes from becoming monotonous. Design diversity could be as simple as adding native plants to a landscape. Maintenance variation could be changing mow patterns or employing FRAC codes to prevent resistance. Planting variety helps improve more than just plant biodiversity. Even in the relatively homogenous landscape (strategically homogenous, (think golf course or sports field) diversity is sought after. Turfgrass blends/mixes are SOP, and aesthetically designed roughs and landscaping amenities are common management principles. Stratified planting Here at Drury University a means to increasing both biodiversity and design diversity is through stratified planting. Stratified planting means blending large trees, small trees, shrubs, perennial plants/flowers and turf. Within these plant types a mix of deciduous/evergreen is also beneficial. This increase in plant diversity adds habitat for organisms. There are birds that nest closer to the ground and there are others that prefer elevated tree cavities. Stratified plantings also help to provide a variety of food sources for animals and birds. Providing a range of foods promotes biodiversity. Stratified plant arrangements also capture rainfall which benefits the environment by decreasing runoff and cleaning pollutants. Stratified planting provides layered habitats for different animals and insects. Plants, plants, and more plants A wide variety of plant diversity is important for maximizing the health and benefits of the landscape. An obvious benefit of plant diversity is a rotation of bloom. The aesthetics of a rotation of bloom is a highly desirable aesthetic feature in the landscape. Perennial plants have lower maintenance impact because they are planted once, and can potentially be divided in the future to be planted elsewhere. Early blooming plants are vital forage when insects and animals are coming out of the winter period to replace spent reserves. Some native plants also have a mutualistic relationship with other organisms (Milkweed/Monarchs is one such widely known relationship). Some plants can also be used to help restore the ecosystem (legumes fix Nitrogen) and a matrix of plants can help decrease water runoff and soil erosion. Dandelions are an important early-season food source for bees. Birds and Beasts An indicator of ecosystem health is the prevalence of birds and animals in the landscapes we manage. This is not to say that every landscape must strive to have a menagerie of animals roaming the grounds, but some diversity of animal residents shows you have a healthy ecosystem. On our campus we have groundhogs, skunks, squirrels and rabbits (nothing extraordinary here). We also have a healthy range of birds including a nesting pair of Red-Tail Hawks, nesting Eastern Bluebirds, Kingbirds, Killdeers and Scissortail Flycatchers (again the usual suspects). What is remarkable, though, is that none of these animals and birds were present six years ago. If they were seen on campus, they were only passing through, not calling it home. This is strong diversity for an urban setting. Just this year I saw my first Black Snake on campus and I couldn't be happier. The Next Steps Improving the ecological health of the Drury University campus is a worthy goal. A landscape that demonstrates diversity in different forms is pleasing to patrons, plus can help support the organizational goal of demonstrating sustainability and environmental commitment. As green-space dwindles, and development changes the appearance of the landscape, managing our grounds as refuge for plants, animals, birds and insects is increasingly vital. Biodiversity is a key component of nature, and should be a key component for Grounds Managers also. Diversity is essential in the landscape. Who can really say what is the most important species?
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