Wednesday, 21 September 2011

My Lousy Sand

Well there goes another fall aeration! I wish I could say that it went off without a hitch but that just wouldn't be aeration at Pender Harbour.  Last year we purchased a back up aerator and it's a good thing we did because the old one tried to die a few times and the newer one wasn't much better.  Our topdresser also finally died and we could only finish spreading the sand thanks to the guys at the Porpoise Bay Golf Club in Sechelt for lending us their spreader.

Despite having one of the largest gravel and sand pits in the world only minutes away we have a very hard time getting a high quality sand.  They even advertise on their web site about how good their sand is for golf courses.  In order to get this sand though, you need to order an entire golf course's worth!

This is what the sand looks like shortly after being spread.
Blowing off the rock in the wet weather.
This is what we are left with after blowing.  We then shovel
the rock into the rough.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

How Turfgrass Pests Can Be Your Most Powerful Pesticide

For years we as turfgrass managers have been taught to make preventative pesticide applications. The logic behind this was that if you could prevent the problem you would in turn have to use less chemicals to control the pest. In some cases this is true. There are some pests out there that you just don't want to get. In the case of cool season turfgrass fungal diseases during the summer I think that you can afford to skip the preventatives and here's why.

Dollar spot is a fungus that can wreak havoc
on poorly maintained putting greens.
When we get sick it is often for a reason. You get a cold because you forgot to wash your hands or touched something that was infected. You get heart problems because you smoked for 20 years and had a poor diet and ate deep fried everything for lunch. You get diabetes because you ate too much sugars when you were young. Out turf is exactly the same. When it gets sick there is often a reason why. There are many things that can kill our grass but where I'm from (West Coast of Canada) our main threat to the health of our turfgrass comes from fungi.

Each fungal disease has a very specific range of environmental conditions that it requires to thrive. These conditions often aren't conductive to the growth of healthy turf. Shade, moisture or drought stress, compaction, lack of air in the soil, excess or lack of fertility, and otherwise unhealthy turf lead to disease. In the summer we have almost total control over all of these conditions.

If we are making preventative fungicide applications we aren't seeing the active disease. The poor growing conditions are still there but we are covering up our poor management with fungicides. This active disease tells us a lot about what our turf is experiencing.

Yellow patch usually doesn't harm the turf
but it can tell you what could be done better!
At first sign of Dollar spot I know that my greens are probably dry and that I should irrigate in the middle of the night to knock off the dew. When I see Anthracnose I know that my greens are over-watered or under-fertilized. Who needs fancy dancy electronic tools when you have fungi?

We need to change the way we think about pests on turfgrass. I see the disease on my turf as my most valuable tool for maintaining healthy turfgrass. By spraying preventatives I am basically throwing away my most valuable tool as a turf manager.

When I use less chemicals on my greens I have less surprises. Covering up the poor conditions of your turfgrass with chemicals will only make the infection worse and more severe when the chemicals wear off. If you have no chemicals on your turf the initial infection will be less sever because the environmental conditions on your turf don't change that rapidly. Compaction slowly builds, drought doesn't happen overnight, irrigation systems don't over-water, trees don't decide to shade your turf on a whim, thatch doesn't appear in a week, layering in your soil happens over years, etc.

Early sign of Fusarium on putting greens. This
particular infection took a month to cause
significant damage that would warrant a
corrective fugicide application
Now sometimes you will be hit with a particular disease and the only option would be to spray some pesticides. This usually happens when we cannot control the environment especially during the winter months.

Here's my challenge to everyone. Let the disease and pests on your course tell you what's wrong. Don't kill them, use them to make your grass better!

Shade and Its Relation to Turf Health

A few weeks ago I came across a really cool App for my iPhone.  It is called Sunseeker   and it allows you to see the path of the sun for any day of the year compared to what your phone "sees" through its camera.  This is a very powerful tool for superintendents.  Shade is a very big problem for most turf managers as it is very difficult to grow healthy turf if there isn't enough direct sunlight.  This tool can help you determine how much light your turf will get for any time of the year and also showcase which trees need to be removed to increase the available light on your grass.

#5 Green looking South East.  This green has high disease
pressure due to shade. 

This week the Fusarium returned to my putting greens.  During the warmer drier summer Fusarium usually isn't a problem as I usually have full control over the environmental conditions surrounding my putting greens.  This time of year I have almost no control over the conditions.  I cannot increase the air or soil temperatures nor can I stop the rain!  This makes it almost impossible to use cultural control methods to fight Fusarium this time of year (September).  So sadly my fungicide free summer had come to an end.

#6 Green looking South.  This green sees almost no
disease even in the winter months.
Now the Fusarium wasn't on all my greens and it also wasn't evenly spread across the greens that it infected.  It seemed to me that it was only infecting the parts of my greens that were in the shade.  It might also be important to note that I hadn't applied any fungicides in over 2 months on my course and I had at least 4 different fungal diseases on my greens.  These other diseases were Dollar Spot, Anthracnose, and Yellow spot.  Because my greens were chemical free for so long I could see the actual most susceptible areas on my greens.  I feel that if preventative fungicide applications are applied that the results could be skewed due to the control they provide.

  So I wondered how much shade were they getting versus the areas with no disease?  If I could reduce the shade during this time of the year on those highly susceptible areas I could potentially push my first fall fungicide app back a few weeks, or even a month.  So I set out with my new-found App in search of disease.

#4 Green looking South.  This green sees no direct sunlight
in the fall and has a very high disease pressure.
I decided to use the path that the sun travels during the Equinox.  This seemed like a good time of year to maximize the sunlight on my putting surfaces because  his time also matched the growing season on the West Coast of Canada quite nicely.  As each course is different it would make sense to adjust this date to suit the growing season that you observe.

  I divided each green into quadrants and measured how much direct sunlight potential each area had during the Equinox.  I recorded this along with the disease pressure that I had observed during that time period.  I was really only concerned with the Fusarium that was present and not the other "summer" diseases that I noticed.  I complied the data into a spreadsheet and organized the data according to the severity of disease.  This gave me a clear idea of how much sunlight I needed to reduce the severity of Fusarium this time of year!

Areas on my greens that received less than 3.5 hours of sunlight during the Equinox had the highest disease pressure from Fusarium.  Areas with 3.5-5.5 hours of sunlight had medium disease pressures and areas with over 6 hours of sunlight a day had no disease.

Fusarium on the back of #4 green.
With this information I now have a benchmark number of hours of sunlight that I can work towards.  Using the Sunseeker app I will now be able to remove trees around my greens that will maximize sunlight.  I also know that I only need 6 hours of sunlight to make a difference and don't need to remove trees if I already get 6 hours of light.  I will be able to use this tool to remove only trees that are absolutely necessary and I now have the data to back up the decision.

I highly recommend this app and I'm sure that it will more than pay for itself ($5.99) this next season.  In total it took me longer to type this blog out than it did to collect the data so you should have no excuse not to do this for every putting green on your course!


Monday, 5 September 2011

The Pesticide Ban and What Else We Need To Do

In British Columbia we are facing a cosmetic pesticide ban.  The NDP has introduced Bill M 203 before the legislature.  If this bill passes, we will no longer be able to use pesticides on putting greens after five years.  This would impact the golf industry in our province immensely.  Many courses would not be able to compete and many of us as turf managers will lose our jobs.

Currently our associations are working on our behalf to fight the bill.  A good article about the fight and what we can do can be found here.  Fighting the bill is only one thing that we as turf managers can do.

What will happen if the bill passes?  Will you be able to produce adequate conditions our your course?  Will your course be able to compete?  What will you do if pesticides were taken as one of your options for turfgrass pest control?  We cannot just sit idly and hope that the bill is defeated, doing would be irresponsible on our part.  We are the ones in the field who have the power to make change.

We need to be proactive.  We need to start experimenting with ways that we can reduce our dependence on pesticides.  Currently we have the option of using pesticides the same way we always have.  We can use them whenever we, as professionals, feel that they are necessary to protect the health of our turf.  Because of this I think it is essential that we experiment with ways of reducing our dependence now while we still have the "safety blanket" of pesticides at our disposal.

We can't rely on scientists to come up with solutions.  Everyone needs to be involved in the solutions that we seek.  Formal research is expensive and time consuming.  I believe that turfgrass professionals are capable of obtaining good solid data to help reduce our pesticide dependence.

We need to document and share our findings.  We need to be organized and work together as an industry.  Everyone needs to know what you are trying, what works and what doesn't.  Sharing this information with others will allow them to build on your findings and move this issue along much faster.

Moving forward and finding new ways to manage without pesticides is just as important as fighting the ban.  Our associations need to know this and need to fund not just formal research, but the individual turf manager in our efforts to find what works and what doesn't.  We need tools that help us communicate our findings, we need direction from those who know what best to try.  We need to be unified as one unit with a common goal.

In the age of social media and hand held computers we should be able to come up with some way of working together.  Whether it is an app for your phone that allows you to share you pest monitoring observations with other turf managers in your region or an online forum where we can gather and share, we need to come up with some tools fast.

To start the discussion I have a few questions and comments for people to think over in no particular order.

  • We need to find ways of surviving the winter without the use of pesticides.  Are higher cutting heights the answer?
  • How long can we expect spring recovery to take? Which turf species is the quickest to recover and the most economical.
  • What levels of turfgrass death are acceptable?
  • Is maintaining non-native turf species sustainable?  Is constant re-seeding sustainable or should we grow to rely on the native turf species seed bank for regeneration?
  • How do we maintain competitive conditions without the use of pesticides.
  • Can we maintain the same standards without the use of pesticides? I believe we can.
I have started to publish my findings on my blog.  I am actively working to find solutions to this challenge that we will eventually have to face, are you?  I do not support the pesticide ban because I feel that they (pesticides) have a place in our toolbox.  I do think though that we need to be more responsible with their use.  Preventative action to me isn't a preventative spray, it is doing whatever you can to prevent having to spray.  Preparing for the pesticide ban isn't just hoping that it doesn't come, it is finding ways that we can survive if it does come.  

Please comment and join the discussion.  Share this with your colleagues and membership.  They need to be receptive with your attempts to find a solution.  They need to be willing to potentially make some small sacrifices or face the reality that golf as it is played today, might not exist in the next decade.

I believe that we can find a solution if we work together.  I hope that the associations will support our efforts as much as they support the efforts of those fighting the ban.

To close I'll share a nice picture of a sea of mycelium.  This fusarium outbreak in November was never treated with chemicals.  I knew that as my fairways were predominately Poa annua, they would regrow naturally without any help from me....and they did!  Who cares if a little grass dies in the winter?  Who is crazy enough to golf this time of year anyway?
no that's not snow or frost.  It's just a little Fusarium...yum:)

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Stimp Meter Reader for your Smartphone

Ok so here is another Google Docs Spreadsheet that I made that will calculate your stimp meter readings and will display them in a spreadsheet.  This isn't that wimpy iStimp app that is out there.  This is for the real "big boy" Stimp meter readings.  It is simply a way that you can input data on your phone into a spreadsheet that automatically sorts, calculates and visually shows you the consistency of your putting greens.  .  You can find the file here.
  1. Open the file
  2. Go to File, Make a Copy and rename the file whatever you want
Now if you don't already have a google sites maintenance website you need to make one.  Make a google site and embed the form from the spreadsheet into it somewhere.  If you want to know how to do it;)

Now you can open the website on your smartphone and enter data directly from your smartphone in the field and automatically have it entered into your spreadsheet.  Cool!  The spreadsheet only calculates the most current data input for each hole.  I might make one where you can select the day but I haven't either make it yourself or wait.

I have made the Spreadsheet to determine if you greens are consistent or not.  You can enter a number of how far off of the average green speed you find acceptable ( I use 0.5 feet) on the top of the spreadsheet in cell C1.

You can even embed this spreadsheet in your webpage so that you can see it update as soon as you enter the data.  It does take a while longer to update if it is on your webpage I just view it directly through Google Docs on another page in my browser.

Friday, 2 September 2011

IPM Disease Monitoring on your Smartphone

For years I have been trying to monitor the turfgrass diseases at my golf course.  Despite good intentions of writing all of my observations down, I rarely put my observations on paper.  I had a great sheet made up that I could take around the course and record any disease observations I would make.  In reality this never happened.  I think I used the paper record once( the day I made it).  The problem was that most of the time I noticed the disease I was either on a machine or didn't have my record book handy.  I come from a small golf course where I do not have the luxury of spending hours a day making observations.

The problem with this system was that it was too time consuming to make the observation.  Furthermore the data that I would have collected would have been too difficult to interpret.  All of this information would have to be manually entered into a spreadsheet so that it could be easily graphed.  Therefore I made the observation in my head, and often forgot what had happened on the course months or years prior.   My only record for disease was my pesticide application records.

There have been many attempts at making a system that makes it easy to record disease monitoring data but most have fell short of my expectations.  They either cost too much or were too difficult to use.

Enter Google Documents.  Google documents is an online office suite similar to Microsoft's Office.  Check out the wiki for more info.  One of the functions that makes Google Docs so powerful (other than the fact that it's free) is the form feature that allows users to enter data from a form directly into a spreadsheet.  These forms can be embedded into a website or shared via email.

I have used this feature to allow me to enter data for all aspects of my golf course maintenance operation specifically turf disease monitoring.  I have created a Google Site (also free) for my maintenance operation where I have embedded my Disease Monitoring Input Form.  I can load this website and form on my smartphone (I have an iPhone) and enter data into my spreadsheet from anywhere I have cell service!

I highly recommend that you sign up for google docs and sites and check out what they have to offer.

Now on to my Disease Monitoring system.  After you have signed up for Google sites load this sheet.  Now go to File and select the Make a Copy option.  Rename the spreadsheet with your golf course name and click OK.

Now you have my system!  All you have to do now is embed the form into a Google site.  In the Google docs menu select the "Form" menu and then select the "embed form in a webpage" option.  Cope the link provided and past it into your Google site.  You need to select the "edit html" option before you copy the form into your site.  After you update your html click on the spreadsheet form and select "properties".  Delete the Width field and add about 50 pixels onto the height (this makes it look better on smart phones in my opinion).  Select "save" then "save" again at the top of the page.

Now you can load up this page on your smartphone and add data directly into the database wherever you are.  On my iphone I have saved this page to my home screen to make it easy to load.  I have tried to keep the form simple in an attempt to make it easy to use (so that you'll actually use it).  The only information it asks for are where, on what, which disease, and how bad it is.

Now that you are adding data to the database you need to know how to use this info.  Load up the spreadsheet.  The only pages you need to be worried about are the Generaldata and Chart pages.

The generaldata page allows you to sort the database according to what part of which holes has disease.  You can also select a date range to show data from.  After these selections are made you can visualize the data on the Chart page.  It is important to know that only the maximum infection rates per day are shown on the chart.  This is because we usually base our decision to spray on the worst area.  The following chart is my actual chart for the Pender Harbour Golf Club.  It automatically updates when data is entered into the database.

If you don't want to have all of the disease options in the form you can delete them from the Form: edit form menu.  You can easily add or delete any of the information recorded in the form.  I work at a 9 hole course so I have removed the options of holes-10-18 from the form.  I also have 2 practice areas that I have distinguished on my form.

So there you go, a free, easy way of recording your disease data on the fly!

Let me know of any problems you may encounter with this.  I hope this helps you as much as it helps me!

Addition Sept 03 2011,

This spreadsheet does have a few limitations and I will list them here when I discover them so check back often.

  1. If you notice more than one turf disease on a green you need to add each one separately into the form.  If you omit a disease the spreadsheet will assume that that disease is no longer present.  This is only a problem if you add info from a specific green.  If no data is added for a green then the spreadsheet won't assume that there is zero disease.  Make sense??