Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Moss Study

Late last year I made an interesting observation about how moss grew in relation to traffic patterns on putting greens. More about that can be read here.

Shade makes it hard to grow healthy dense turf that
can compete with moss.
I have decided to study the effects of traffic and wear on moss populations on our practice chipping green this year. I have divided the putting green into plots that will be rolled daily the number of times indicated on each plot. We are using this green because in the past it has always had a problem with moss infestation due to the challenging growing conditions, namely shade, that are present on this site.

The results from this study will hopefully help golf course superintendents better understand moss on putting greens and will hopefully help them manage their turf to control or prevent moss without the need for chemical pesticides.

Thank you for your patients and understanding during this study.  Please continue to use this green as you normally would.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Zerotol Evaluation Update Feb 15 2012

Well 2 days have passed since I applied the Zerotol (H2O2) to my putting greens that were infected with Fusarium Patch.  Well not enough control was achieved so I was forced to apply Iprodione today to halt the spread of the disease.  I did, however, leave an area untreated from the iprodione so I will be able to see the long term effects of the Zerotol (if any).

The plugs that I took as samples and incubated in my office showed no difference in the disease progression after 2 days.  The control plugs had just as much mycelium (unscientific) as the treated plugs. Unfortunately it is impossible to see this with the pictures my crappy camera takes.  Maybe in a few days the difference will be more pronounced.

Perhaps the temperatures weren't right or a higher rate was needed.  More research needs to be done to really know how best to use Hydrogen Peroxide to control turfgrass diseases.

Rethinking Sand Trap Maintenance

Today I had a very interesting conversation about "minimalist" sand trap maintenance with a few fellow Superintendents on Twitter. Many golf clubs these days spend as much if not more on their sand traps as they do their putting greens. I decided to stop and think about each aspect of sand trap maintenance and ask why we currently do what we do, what alternatives there are, and what is best for my golf club.

Sand trap raked with Sandpro. Edges done by hand with a rake.
The first and most obvious maintenance practice is raking the traps.  The purpose of raking the traps is to smooth and loosen the sand to try and provide consistently soft but firm sand. Good luck with this! 

Most courses these days use motorized bunker rakes due to the speed and economics they provide. Simply put they are many times faster than raking traps by hand. They do require a large sand trap though so the smaller traps will still need to be raked by hand. Personally I do not see the advantage of hand raking sand traps especially when are looking to save money on maintaining your sand traps. The biggest part of most budgets is labor and hand raking traps is many times more labor intensive than using the motorized trap rake.

Even with the efficiency of the motorized trap rakes we are still faced with having to rake the edges of the sand traps. Most courses that I have been to use rakes to pull the sand from the bottom of the edges up towards the sand trap lip. I can't remember where I saw it first but sometime last year I saw a video clip of greenkeepers using brooms to push the sand up the slopes on the edges of the sand traps. At first I thought nothing of it but after talking with those Superintendents on Twitter this morning it hit me! 

It all boils down to what we as greenkeepers and everyone else as golfers want in a sand trap edges. As a greenkeeper we want a surface that is easy to maintain. Golfers want a sand trap that looks good as the designer intended (some traps are made to look "natural" and some are intended to look clean with well defined edges. See the Anarchist's Guide to Golf Course Architecture.), a surface where balls don't plug but is soft enough to swing a club through, and usually a lie in the trap that is on the bottom (flat) portion of the trap.

We as greenkeepers are constantly battling to keep the sand up on the slopes. We have to sometimes daily rake the sand up the slopes to keep the sand depth consistent. Now ask yourself, Is raking the sand really the best thing to prevent erosion of the sand? Does it make any sense that by loosening the sand will help it stay on the slope?

Another question is do we want sand that is that loose on the bunker slopes? Do golfers like hitting out of plugged lies on the slopes of the traps? So why do we constantly loosen up the slopes with rakes?

The purpose of raking is to pull or push sand up the slope, and create a clean and consistent look.  It also servers the purpose of disturbance of the sand keeping weeds at bay (for the most part).

If we use big push brooms to groom the edges of the traps we can solve many of the problems that hand rakes present to sand trap maintenance.  Firstly they are capable of moving a lot of sand and sometimes more than a conventional sand trap rake. Personally, I have my crew rake the edges of the traps from the inside of the trap before we rake the bottoms. This is easier on the back, gives them a better view of the edge, and helps prevent them from pulling excess sand up on the trap lip. It also keeps the operators on the motorized trap rakes from driving too close to the trap edges as they are already groomed when they rake with the machine.
Edges are groomed with the broom first

Secondly they do not disturb the sand on the slopes of the trap.  This is important for a number of reasons.  It minimizes erosion and provides a firm surface which will prevent plugged lies due to the more compacted less disturbed sand. This firm sand will allow the golf balls to roll down to the bottoms of the traps. This undisturbed sand will remain in place for longer and will eliminate the need to irrigate your sand to keep it firm.  Undisturbed sand will hold the moisture longer and will be more consistent. Furthermore this more compacted sand on the trap edges will not be damaged as much when golfers decide it is a good idea to climb out of the trap up the steep bunker slope.

Thirdly it provides just enough disturbance to prevent encroachment of weeds. Depending on the desired look to the edges of the sand traps it would even theoretically be possible for the edges to only be raked every other time that that the bottoms are raked. This is another potential labor savings.
Then the bottoms are smoothed out with the Mechanized
Bunker Rake

Fourthly (is that a word?) they are quick.  It is easily twice as fast to broom the edges of the traps as it is to rake them.  It provides a very consistent and clean look that is difficult to achieve with a rake. Further experience is needed to determine which broom is right for your situation.  Wide brooms are good for doing the edges of traps that are rather straight.  For twisty edges a narrower broom might be better.  We also have the options of bristle stiffness.  Again trial and error will best determine which style of broom is best for your sand traps.
Nothing fancy here, old push broom, 1988 Sandpro 14
Other issues associated with the extreme cost of sand trap maintenance have nothing to do with the sand itself.  A great deal of effort is spent on keeping the turf surrounding the traps alive.  Wetting agents are often sprayed to keep the soils uniformly wet due to the constant spraying of sand from out of the traps.  Special irrigation head are installed to allow for these areas to be watered separately from the rest of the course.  Perhaps a more sustainable or "minimalist" thing to do is evaluate the species of turf or plant that is used to surround the sand traps. Is ryegrass or bluegrass the best species to surround a sand trap? What about introducing fine fescues or.....get ready for it.....white yarrow?

Yeah, that's right, white Yarrow or Achillea millefolium. "But isn't yarrow a weed?" you might ask. Well yeah, most greenkeepers do in fact consider it a weed.

I first heard about the use of white yarrow from Armen Suny from Zokol Golf Design LTD. He is also the author of the blog "Anarchists Guide to Golf Course Design"

He was presenting his thoughts about minimalist golf course design specifically at the Sagebrush Golf Course near Merritt B.C. Unfortunately a lot of the really great things he had to present were lost in the controversy surrounding some comments made is some newspapers somewhere about things that guys apparently do or something. Who knows? Being the way I am I ignored the BS and tried to learn something.

He talked about how they used a mixture of fine fescue and yarrow on their bunker edges and on some areas of their fairways. Apparently it isn't bad to golf on, has great color even during drought and tolerates the sandy conditions of the bunker edges. He talks about its use on this blog post about a mile down the page.

Another huge benefit of yarrow for sand trap edges is its rhizomatous (totally a word, I looked it up) growth. It throws down rhizomes and will tightly knit the edges of your traps together to prevent erosion and hold everything together.

It might seem crazy to seed the edges of your traps with a "weed" but what it really comes down to is, how does it look, how does it play, how much maintenance does it take. Apparently it looks good and green even during drought, plays as good as anything, and requires almost no maintenance. Now THAT is minimalist! Just be sure to keep the herbicides away from this stuff!!

I know a lot of what Armen presented as minimalist can be debated but the use of white yarrow on bunker edges is genious. Another thing I will be implementing this year on my traps. Thank you Armen!

Another thing I like to do on the traps at Pender Harbour is to keep large lips on them. This minimizes encroachment of the turf into the traps and helps me maintain the edges with a string trimmer. Again it all depends on the look you are going for. No matter what look whether it be laser clean lines or rough and rugged, the edges of your traps can be "minimalist". Sloppy looking traps can be a lot of work, tidy traps can be a breeze to maintain. Work smart, not hard.

Winter maintenance is also an issue. During this time of year on the West Coast it is often very wet and there is minimal play, if any. One thing that works great is to enact a lift rake and place policy. That way the golfers always get a good lie in the traps during the winter but you won't have to rake them as often if at all.

So to summarize my thoughts on minimalist maintenance of bunkers, use motorized rakes when possible, brush the slopes of your traps to increase playability and plant appropriate plants on your bunker surrounds to minimize inputs and optimize the look and playability. There is no reason why sand trap maintenance should even be half the cost of maintaing putting greens. Maintenance of the sand traps at Pender Harbour is 7x less expensive than maintaining our putting greens before using these potential cost saving strategies.

Please let me know what you think and I look forward to hearing about everyone's experiences with minimalist sand trap maintenance.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Feb 2012 0.2L/100m2 Zerotol Evaluation

I first learned about the use of Zerotol (H2O2)(certified organic pesticide) at the 2011 Canadian Turfgrass Conference in Vancouver BC. Apparently it was registered for the control of Fusarium Patch (Michrodicium nivale) which is a major turgrass pest on the West Coast of Canada.  This fungus is active almost every month of the year in coastal British Columbia so I was eager to try it out.

My first application was on May 24 2011 at 0.1L/100m2 (low end of label rate).  I reapplied again on the 30th of May at the same rate.  A week later I had to apply some propiconazole as the Zerotol had no effect on the Fusarium.  I had all but given up on the product.

During this past Western Canada Turfgrass Association Conference 2012 I was talking with a fellow Superintendent and he was saying that he had success using Zerotol at the High end of the label rate or 0.2L/100m2 in the Winter only.  My interest was re-ignited.

So last week I jumped the gun a bit and cut my greens when I probably shouldn't have.  Only 3 greens were thawed enough to cut but apparently not thawed enough.  A week later these three greens were covered in Fusarium Patch.  I learned my lesson and will always check my soil temps before I cut in the winter.

The good thing about this disease outbreak is that it gives me an opportunity to test out the higher label rate of Zerotol on 3 of my greens in the winter time.  If it doesn't work I will spray some Iprodione, no big deal.

So I decided to to a bit of a trial to see what the actual effects of the Zerotol were on my Poa annua greens.

I have a few worries using this product as the Hydrogen Peroxide is non selective so it will oxidise beneficial organisms just as easy and the harmful organisms and theoretically giving the harmful organisms a head start in the re-infection process.  I am no John Kaminski so this could all be a "load of balls."

So my trial consists of taking samples of the three greens that were going to be sprayed.  I took 2 samples from each green before the spray and after the spray.  One of these samples was of an active Fusarium Patch and the other was from a relatively healthy part of the putting surface.  The idea behind this is that if the Zerotol harms the beneficial organisms and proves the above theory correct I should see more disease on the sprayed healthy plugs.....or something. I have placed the plugs in my warm office (21C) to speed up the infection process.  I have also taken picture of the green sites where the plugs where harvested to see how the results differ in the field.  This is important as the Superintendent who I was talking with said that the cooler temperatures were what he thought was the deciding factor in making Zerotol effective in the Winter.
Hole 1Control Day 1
Hole 1  Zerotol Day 1

Hole 9 Zerotol Day 1
Hole 9 Control Day 1

Practice Green Zerotol Day 1
Practice Green Control Day 1

The main purpose of this experiment is to generate interest in the product and hopefully more research will be done at the university level so that we as turf managers can learn about how to best use this product.

I will start another post to compare the samples day to day so stay tuned.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Control Areas

Something that I have always taken for granted at the Pender Harbour Golf Club is the fact that I can easily see what the overall disease pressure is on my turf. Due to the cost and the environmental conditions at our course we only have to apply pesticides to our putting green surfaces. This leaves the rest of my course as a "control" plot.

Fusarium on the tees shows me that it is active.
I can easily see when the other areas are being infected with disease or other pests. I can then take this information and use it to plan my pesticide applications on my putting greens. When pesticides are applied to my putting greens it becomes impossible for me to see what the true pest pressure is because all of the pest is suppressed by the pesticide.

I had the pleasure of hearing Jeff Carlson of Martha's Vineyard Golf Club speak at this year's WCTA conference.  For those of you who don't know, Martha's Vineyard is one of a few courses that is completely organic but still maintains comparable conditions to most "non organic" golf courses.  He showed us how he has a control green at his course that shows him the benefits of the cultural practices that they perform.  He can easily see the benefits that rolling, dew whipping, and any of the organic pesticides he is able to use.  It really helps him gain perspective and justify the huge amount of work that it takes to manage turfgrass without synthetic chemicals.

Scenes like this clearly show the benefit of pesticides to your
turf's health and playability.
This winter I have talked with a few turf managers about how they leave areas of the course without pesticides to see how the conditions differ.  This is a fantastic idea and allows the managers of these areas to see the benefits of their pesticide use.  It is also a great tool to show the public or membership what would happen if pesticides were not used or banned. It could also tell the turf manager that pesticides might not be needed.  It can really help us learn about how our management practices affect the turf.

Another idea that has been thrown around is the "sheet of plywood" method where a sheet of plywood is placed on the turf before a product is applied to see the differences that result.  The area covered with the plywood does not receive the application so it allows the turf manager to evaluate the benefits of the applied product.

Fusarium mycelium in winter.  This disease is definitely active!
Either way it is good to have a control area on your course so that you can see the benefits of your management practices.  It will help you make better decisions based on results.  It will also help you show the membership/public that what you are doing is justified.