Thursday, 18 December 2014

EIQ Tracking, My First Year.

Putting down an application of phosphite and primo in mid December 2014 before it gets dark!
It has now been almost an entire year since I started tracking my pesticide use in a meaningful way. Last year I discussed different ways we can measure our pesticide use on the golf course and discussed how the cost and EIQ (Environmental Impact Quotient) were the only real metrics that mattered. You can read all about this in my post:

Sustainable Pesticide Use: Tracking Pesticide Cost and Environmental Impact
By mid year 2014 I was seeing a lot of success with my tracking and goal setting. I claimed that I was ahead of my goals for pesticide cost and just about right on track with my EIQ goals. Now that the year has come to an end I can look back and see how I did. Did I achieve my goals? The answer is yes and no.

Here are the numbers:
Sustainability MetricYTD Total CostGoalPercent of Goal Used
Cost Fusarium$4,401.56$5,000.0088.03%
Cost Dollar Spot$312.17$400.0078.04%
Total Cost$4,713.73$5,400.0087.29%
Fusarium EIQ975.38775.00125.86%
Dollar Spot EIQ22.0125.0088.06%
Total EIQ997.40800.00124.67%

Yes I was able to exceed my goal for cost. I had budgeted $5,400.00 for pesticides on my course in 2014 but only ended up spending $4,713.73. This amounts to about 13% under budget for pesticides this year.
No I wasn't able to meet my goal for EIQ. I had budgeted for an EIQ of 800 but ended up using an EIQ of 997 which is about 25% over budget! To put these EIQ numbers into perspective, a single application of Daconil 2787 (chlorothalonil) at the high label rate has an EIQ of 620! My total EIQ is equal to about 3 low rate applications of Daconil 2787.

For me, this process of tracking my pesticide use was eye opening. In the Spring it was quite easy for me to stay on track. As the grass started to grow I could use less effective products to get adequate control. In the Summer I had little difficulty but in the Fall I was forced to bring in the big guns to get control of a runaway disease outbreak on a few of my greens.

This summer I decided to try not using Civitas and learned a lot. I learned how big of an impact it had on dollar spot. For the first time in 3 years I had to use a traditional pesticide to treat for dollar spot on my greens. I'm still on the fence whether or not it's worth it to use this product next year. The EIQ is rather high even though it's "organic" and I have seen issues with applying it to stressed turf in the summer. For me, my turf is always stressed in the summer! I also HATE the colour, it hides the real condition of the turf from my most valuable stress indicator, my eyes. I can see using it a few times of the year when disease control is particularly difficult to achieve.

I used phosphite all year on my greens. This product accounted for about $700 of my fungicide budget or about 15%. It also accounted for an EIQ of about 372 or 37%! Because this product needs to be almost continuously applied the EIQ begins to add up. More analysis of the actual benefits and effects of this product on my pesticide use will need to be done to see if this EIQ is worth the benefit it brings to my disease management program. If I removed phosphite from my disease management plan would I need significantly more traditional pesticides? That's a topic for another post.

Iron. I did not apply much iron this year despite recent research showing that it can reduce or eliminate fusarium on poa annua putting greens. Aside from some of the issues caused by excessive iron use namely, cemented layers, I was hesitant to apply it in significant quantities this year. Furthermore, the rates of iron sulfate that showed adequate control (97.65Kg iron sulphate/Ha every 2 weeks) had an EIQ of about 570! An EIQ of 570 every 2 weeks is 1140 per month or 11400 per season to control fusarium! Even though this is considered a "safe" alternative to traditional pesticide use I don't think that the EIQ is worth it. I'm just a simple man, and don't entirely understand how EIQ is calculated but I trust that the scientists at Cornell who made it know what they are doing and that the EIQ reflects the actual impact of a product on the environment. Iron is out as a big part of my disease management program.

The fall has always been a challenging time to fight disease. The turf growth slows and any damage done will recover slowly if at all. The deteriorating conditions are reason to be extra vigilant in the control of turf disease. Things were made particularly worse as I was caught off guard by the early birth of my son right when the fusarium started to explode. When I was able to get back to the course it was pretty bad and an application of chlorothalonil was the only thing that would do in my experience. My total course EIQ up to the 23rd of September was only 450. In the span of a few short months my EIQ doubled!

Lesson learned!

The real beauty of tracking what you are doing in a meaningful way is that it affords you a chance to learn. So what did I learn?

I have always been a reactive user of pesticides. I would always wait until a certain disease threshold would be reached before applying a pesticide. For the most part this has always worked out for me. It was especially useful when I wasn't tracking my pesticide in a meaningful way. I used to use the number of applications and costs as a gauge of how I was doing.

The right side of the 1st green loves the fusarium!

I still stand behind my principles of not applying a pesticide preventatively and I still like to hold off if I can. After all, why apply something if it's not needed? What I have learned through my detailed disease monitoring and pesticide application records is that there is a time (early September for me) when a preventative application of a product with a low EIQ could save me the need to apply a product with a high EIQ at a later date. I can go even further and say that this preventative application would only need to be done on a few of my problem greens. My shady greens are the ones that always cause issues and on some of my better greens the disease outbreak is only located in isolated areas. With my detailed records and vast experience with my property I can now make this preventative application only to areas that have been shown to need it. Doing this would slightly increase the cost of my pesticide use but I have some room to spare in this category.

I had no clue that changing the way I monitor pesticide use would have such a big impact on my management practices and my views about fighting turf disease. With a combination of reactive, and preventative disease management I can now try and further reduce my EIQ and costs of products used to fight turf disease. Next year I am going to keep my pesticide use goals the same as I feel they are still realistic targets to aim for. If you aren't already, I highly suggest that you start tracking the EIQ of the products you use, it will help you get a better understanding of what you are really doing and make a real difference to your bottom line and environmental impact. After all, these are the only real things that matter.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Digital Job Board, The Key to My Success in 2014

We all know that maintaining a golf course requires a lot of labor, and the cost of this labor makes up a big portion of our budgets. Last year I was coming off a very difficult year labor-wise and was facing further budget restrictions. In order to meet my budget restrictions it was obvious that I needed to do something to maximize my labor efficiency. I needed to do more with less. Following a detailed analysis it became obvious that we had a lot of room for improvement. There is nothing better than having a lot of room for improvement when working to reduce a budget.

I needed a plan. I started out by setting a few goals to guide me;

  • Staff do majority of mowing before golfers teed off
  • No overtime
  • All essential jobs covered during regular hours by my staff, not me.
  • Reduce the extra hours for me...I needed to balance my work/family life
  • Reduce or maintain current labor budget.
  • I was not scheduled for any regular maintenance practices, as I am the mechanic, irrigation tech, and everything else. I needed to be flexible.
As you can see, the above list had some tough requirements, and as far as I was concerned, they were not optional.

I laid out all the regular tasks that were required for normal maintenance and assigned the amount of time required to do each job under ideal circumstances.

This allowed me to assign my labor force to cover the amount of work required. This is where I came up with the idea to use 2 part-time staff instead of 1 full time staff. This allowed me to get more done quickly in the early morning hours before golfers started play. I increased my available labor during the time when they were most efficient.

Having a plan is only half the battle, though. Implementing this plan is the other half and just as important as the plan. I needed to cast a critical eye on how I assigned tasks in the past, and come up with solutions to make my planning more effective. With better planning and communication I could maximize my labor force efficiency.

In the past I would assign tasks in person each morning, going off the top of my head with maybe a day or two planned ahead of time. This obviously wasn't ideal! On my days off (the few that I actually had) I would write the daily tasks on a piece of paper and pin it to the shop door!

I decided to not reinvent the wheel. What were the guys at high end clubs doing? How did they manage their large labor forces efficiently? The guys at TPC Sawgrass had posted about their digital job board so I decided to see how they did it and what others were doing.

I asked twitter for feedback and got a lot of really good examples. It appeared that the majority of people were using spreadsheets put up on a tv in the lunchroom to lay out the assigned jobs for the day. The beauty of this system is that most shops already have the components to put this together, and even if you didn't, the components were relatively cheap.

Like everything I do, I decided to plan my digital job board system with a series of requirements that would help it meet my needs.
  • It had to be simple to use and to read, if it's not easy you won't use it.
  • Easily accessed by staff
  • Ability for me to plan 2 weeks in advanced with automatic updates
  • Ability for me to update it from home, or in the field from my phone.
  • Ability to show up to 3 tasks per day per staff member and other relevant info.
  • Show other relevant information as it relates to maintenance activities

As I was already a power user of Google's cloud service, Google Drive, I decided that this would be the perfect tool for me to implement my job board. For those who don't know, Google Drive is a cloud based storage service that has the ability to create documents, slideshows, and spreadsheets, all in your internet browser and for free!
Early planning stages of my spreadsheet, I like to draw it out
It didn't take me long to put a rough job board together. You can see my current job board here and feel free to copy is for yourself. As you can see there isn't much happening here at the moment as it's just me this time of year and I'm just fixing mowers and writing blog posts.

Early view of my job board
One thing I noticed about all the other job boards people had shared with me was that they all needed to be updated each day. I didn't have time for this especially on my days off. I needed the ability to update it ahead of time. I built a planner that would allow me to assign tasks up to 2 weeks in advance. This worked great as my scheduled maintenance plan followed a 2 week cycle. The main job board would update each day with the tasks I had assigned for that day on the planner sheet. This sheet would be where I would add data that I wanted to show up on my spreadsheet. The main job board sheet would just be a user friendly way of displaying this info.

Planner sheet.
I also wanted it to be easily visible. I noticed a lot of the job boards shared with me had many staff on each page. I wanted my staff to be able to read it from across the shop even on a small 32-Inch LED TV . For this reason I put 5 staff on each job board page. I could then create more pages if I had more staff (luckily for me I only have 4 staff plus myself). If you have a bigger staff you can make more "job board" pages and then just rotate through the tabs with a chrome extension such as revolver. I also put a weather page in the rotation so the staff can see what to expect. This feature also saves your tv from damage caused from burn in.
Job board rotates through different screens to save my screen


My next challenge was to have a good way to show this job board to my staff. I only had an old computer in my office and I didn't want my staff using my office or computer. I also had virtually no budget. I needed a simple and cost effective way to put this all together. What I decided to use was a chormebox paired with a32-Inch LED TV
asus chromebox

An ASUS CHROMEBOX is a small cloud computer. I runs on the chrome operating system and relies completely on internet access. The best part was the amazing performance, size and price (~$220). It also has the ability to run 2 screens! I created a staff login and could share the job board with them. That way they could log into the computer and see everything that I wanted them to see.

I bought the cheapest screen I could (32" tv) and mounted it on my work bench. Another way to easily get the data from your computer to your tv would be a Google Chromecast dongle (~$35). This way you could use your current computer to send the job board to a tv without running expensive wires.

Putting It All Together

Now that I had the software and hardware put together the next issue would be actually using it. The hardest part was getting staff trained to look at the board in the morning and periodically during the day. It is not uncommon for me to make changes as I do my morning rounds each day. I make these changes on my phone through the Google sheets app.

Having the ability to finally plan out ahead of time really helped me maximize my available labor force. I could ensure that all required tasks would be completed. Furthermore, I didn't have to chase down staff to assign changes to their schedules. They also didn't have to chase me down if they needed further instructions.

On my days off I could check the weather at 4am, then update the day's activities for my staff to reflect the actual conditions, all without leaving my bed!

I added features that would indicate shift start times, and any tournaments and special considerations. Furthermore they would be able to see what was happening on the course a day in advance from the main job board page. 

Before long I found that my staff would be checking on their tasks and course events for the following day before leaving work. Often they would come in early all on their own to get the jobs done before golfers showed up.

The real proof of success was that I used my labor more efficiently than ever before and did it under budget for labor! Even better, I actually had a few days off this summer! The odd day where I had to leave the course unexpectedly, I could rest assured that my staff had the direction needed to get everything done. I even managed their tasks while I was on holidays in June! When my son was born 2 weeks early in mid September I could change our plans from aerating greens to regular maintenance duties from the hospital! 

For some (especially smaller operations) the cost of this system might make it unrealistic but consider this. My ROI for this system was the first 2 weeks I had it in operation. The amount of work that was being done, and the efficiency of that work, was amazing! Knowing ahead of time what needed to be done really helped my staff manage their time wisely. I was able to meet all of my labor efficiency goals for 2014 and came in under budget for labor!

If anyone likes my job board and wants to implement something similar for their club, feel free to send me an email. I would love to help anyone set this up to match their operation and staffing levels.

For an example job board that you can copy and edit for youself, check out the following link.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Equipment Use and Labor Efficiency 2014

For the past few years I have been keeping very detailed records of most parts of my operation. The reason for these records are to analyze what we have done, and come up with solutions for improvement.

Currently I have employees fill out a Google form after each time they operate a mower on the course. I collect the following data:

  • operator name
  • equipment name
  • area of course
  • which holes?
  • hour meter reading
  • amount of grass collected when cutting greens
This gives me a ton of info that I can analyze to really see what is happening out there on my course. I can even compare employees to each other to see who is more efficient at each job. This combined with each person's wage gives me a very good idea of what the actual cost of each mowing task really is. Even though I am the most efficient operator at my course, my higher salary make it much more expensive to the club for me to operate a mower.

Equipment Use Efficiency

One of the biggest costs for golf course maintenance is mowing the grass. Ideally we want to mow the golf course as little as possible to achieve the desired turf quality and we also want our mowers to cut the grass as quickly as possible. Cutting grass quickly doesn't necessarily mean running the mowers at a faster speed, it means operating the mowers in a way that is more efficient.

The following chart illustrates the amount of time spent mowing and rolling greens over the past 3 years:
Chart 1
The following chart illustrates the total amount of times each process took place.
Chart 2
Now you're probably wondering why did we roll so little in 2013? The reason for this was staff levels. We were short staffed and had an inefficient staffing schedule and were not able to roll as often as we would have liked. With the data collected last year it was obvious that I had to make changes in order to achieve my goals of rolling daily and mowing every other day.
Chart 3
By combining the data from the first 2 charts I can get an idea of the efficiency of each operation for each year. Now the issues with 2013 become clearer. We were incredibly inefficient in our operations.

So why were we so inefficient in 2013 and how did I increase this efficiency in 2014?

In 2013 I had a staff of 3 all working full time shifts. Because we didn't have the staff numbers to do all the required daily task starting from the beginning of our shifts, we were often forced to work on the greens when there were golfers on the course. Working on the greens with golfers present drastically increases the time it takes to do the job and I had an inexperienced staff. It also takes away from the golfer experience.

With this collected data I was able to identify the problem and come up with a plan to make it better. If I was able to increase my staff by 1 person I would be able to become more efficient with my daily tasks. The only problem was that I didn't have the budget for any additional staff!

What I decided to do was hire 2 part time employees instead of 1 full-time employee. This would give me an extra body in the early mornings when most of the mowing took place. We would be able to get all the tasks on the greens done quickly and would not have any golfer interference. This also freed up my one full time employee to start mowing fairways and rough early in the am further reducing golfer/mower interactions. I was also lucky to get back an experienced employee that had taken 2012 off.

With this small change I was able to keep my labor budget the same, and get a lot more done! The following chart illustrates that even though I put less time into the course this year I was still able to get everything accomplished with the highest efficiency ever achieved on this course!
Chart 4
I can do the above comparison for every aspect of the operation. Chart 5 below shows the efficiency of my mowers over the past 3 years.
Chart 5
As you can see, I was able to get the most efficient operations on greens and tees ever. For fairways and rough I was able to drastically improve on the efficiency of 2012 but it still wasn't my best effort yet. I think the reason for this is that the new fairway mower is slightly slower and we had to further reduce the speed of it due to the fact that its reels are not as durable as the mower we had in 2012. We were still able to increase our efficiency simply by mowing when golfers were not on the course. Rough took a bit longer than in 2012 because we are now mowing more rough than we used to. I decided that with the increased efficiency I would cut the rough more frequently to increase the quality of the course.

This is just a small portion of what this data can help you do to refine your operations. Without the data all you can do is guess.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Fertilizer Use 2014

It has been a while since my last post. In my defense I have been a bit busy. In September my wife and I welcomed our second son, Avery, into the world. I was also busy working towards my search and rescue Rope Team Leader certification. This involved years of training and a test that lasted 20 hours!

It's that time of the year where things are slow and I begin to look back at my records, reflect, and make changes to better my operation for the next season.

The first thing I have looked at is my fertilizer records. I have made great strides to reduce the amount of fertilizer applied, the cost of the fertilizer and the time taken to apply this fertilizer. Last year I started using the MLSN guidelines and was amazed with the huge impact this made. This year the impact was less dramatic but I still saw reductions in almost all categories.

For those that don't know. We have 0.4ha of poa greens, 0.3 ha of bent/rye tees and 4.5ha of rye/bluegrass fw.

Here is the raw data:
Total Product (Kg)
Total Product678863195629308523822301
Total Cost200920102011201220132014
Total Costs$12,389.00$10,811.00$9,360.00$4,433.00$2,539.00$2,276.00
Total Time200920102011201220132014
Total Time8275.59117381.585

The total mass of fertilizer applied this year remained almost exactly the same. I applied almost half the product on the greens but saw a slight increase in fairway fertilizer as I tried to battle dollar spot this summer. The tees also saw a reduction of almost half year over year.
Costs were also down slightly with trends similar to the amounts of fertilizer applied to each respective area of the course.
 Labor was up just slightly as I made a few extra fertilizer applications on the fairways this summer.

Total nutrient amounts applied are as follows:


Now none of this matters without results.

I don't plan on making too many additional changes for next year. I plan to do more soil tests this coming spring and will adjust to stay just above the MLSN guidelines.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Is the best solution always the best?

Often when we search for solutions to our pest problems we are presented with the best most effective solution. Obviously this is what we would expect, especially when coming from a consultant or expert. No one wants to recommend something that might not really work that good right? Typically the best solution is the one that provides the best control. What if we have other criteria? Doesn't true IPM practices demand alternative actions?

Case in point this summer I had a particularly bad outbreak of Cyanobacteria on my putting greens. I did some quick research and the main recommendation I found was to spray cholorthalonil. Great. A simple and relatively cheap solution. The only problem is that I have set some rather stringent EIQ goals for pesticide use. One light application of chlorothalonil would use up half of my yearly budgeted EIQ. I needed another option. Chlorothalonil would only be used in a worst case scenario. I would continue to research options and closely monitor the health and playability of the greens.
Chicken and the Egg. Did the thinned turf cause the Cyanobacteria or did the Cyanobacteria cause the thinning?
I tried to dig deeper but almost everywhere I searched the recommendation was chlorothalonil. Of course it was, why would anyone recommend anything else? That stuff works!

Finally I was made aware of this research which outlined the impacts that fertility, soil moisture, and many other cultural practices had on the disease. OF COURSE THEY DO! It showed that ammonium sulfate, proper moisture management, wetting agents and phosphite all had impacts on the Cyanobacteria. I just needed to know which products did what.

The poa seems to be more susceptible to damage than the bentgrass
I was already doing most of these things except my main source of nitrogen fertility was urea. As I apply my fertilizer on a weekly schedule I changed the ratio of ammonium sulfate as my nitrogen source to 50% of nitrogen required. My greens were also a bit wet so I turned off the irrigation system.

It was like the disease was telling me "you are getting lazy, Jason. Smarten up. Your greens are too wet." It's a common trend I find. Especially when driving down pesticide use. Get lazy? Get punished!

Another thing I tried was a Zerotol (hydrogen peroxide) application. I put down some knock out plots to see if this product was effective. It wasn't.

Thinned areas around perimeter of the green probably caused by cyanobacteria
After a few weeks of a higher ratio of ammonium sulphate fertilizer the cyanobacteria was gone. With such a simple modification to my management practices I was able to solve this troublesome issue. The costs were practically nil and the EIQ was also substantially lower even if I included the additional sulfur into the equation.

I think a lot of the time we get caught into the trap of chasing perfection. We NEED the best solution. Sometimes this is true. Sometimes the environmental conditions, politics, and clientele demand the best. I think for a lot of us we can probably opt for the less than perfect option and save some money, reduce our EIQ and learn to prevent the issues in the future. I learned that sometimes it is very difficult to find out the "not best" solution. Sometimes all we need is a simple change to shift the cards in our favor.

If I had immediately gone with the best solution I would have failed my EIQ goals for the year and I would have missed out on a great learning opportunity. I learned that a little ammonium sulphate in the summer months isn't a bad idea. There was minimal burning (I let it sit on the leaf blade all day before watering in. sizzle sizzle) and the problem was easily managed. I will be keeping a higher ratio of ammonium sulphate in my summer fertilizer applications in the future to keep this pretty widespread disease at bay. I will also remember that moisture management is key when trying to make significant reductions in pesticide use. You just can't get lazy.

So whenever we are faced with a disease issue or any issue really I encourage you to dig deep. Ask twitter, try a few things. You will probably learn something new, save some money, and reduce your environmental impact. Don't just jump at the "best" solution.
Greens still aren't dead......

Saturday, 23 August 2014

"Grow What Grows"

A few years ago I noticed that what little bentgrass was still around on my greens was seeming to be taking back over.

This got me thinking. Uh oh.

At this time there was very little bentgrass left on my greens. They were almost 100% poa annua. I was in the process of making big changes to my management techniques. The use of a moisture meter allowed me to keep moisture levels controlled during the optimum growing season. I changed over to the MLSN fertility guidelines and my fertilizer rates were changed to be based on the temperature based Growth Potential. I changed the way I mow, cultivate and almost every other aspect of the putting green maintenance.

I started using a moisture meter in 2008. All of a sudden I wasn't guessing on soil moisture levels. Although I wasn't precisely controlling moisture similar to how they do on Tour I was able to keep the greens significantly drier. Some people say that in my climate (West Coast of Canada) it is impossible to keep the greens dry as it rains for half the year. The difference I think is that when temperatures are the most conductive for turfgrass growth I had full control of soil moisture levels. Back when I was guessing the soil moisture we probably consistently applied double the required water for healthy turf growth.

Since I was using growth potential fertility most of my fertilizer applications are made in the summer, again when I have full control of the soil moisture. I wasn't pushing turf growth in the early spring and fall like I used to. Based on my observations I really think that pushing growth during these cool wet times is a big contributing factor to the success of poa vs bentgrass. We are often too eager to get things moving in the spring and I think this causes all kinds of issues. During these cool wet periods the bentgrass looked fantastic and the poa looked hungry, very very hungry.
Mid spring the poa is still hungry and the bent grain is starting to show
I also stopped applying fertilizer unless it was shown to be deficient according to the MLSN. I don't have any direct observations that would suggest that this is a major contributing factor but I know that poa loves phosphorous and I haven't applied any in 2 years now. This process has also led to a drop in soil pH which probably also helps the bent. This drop in pH has sure helped my tees as discussed in this post about clover.

Furry bent in early spring doing well under the low/no fertility  
I have also been making real progress to reduce the amount of pesticide applied. This summer my poa has suffered an almost constant attack from Cyanobacteria. I have been able to keep it under control, though, with ammonium sulphate applications and by avoiding excessive moisture. This has contributed to a general thinning of the otherwise super dense poa sward and has allowed the established bentgrass to creep in. I just wish I had the budget to afford more than one bucket of bent seed each season so that I could inter-seed into the disease scars. Unfortunately I can only inter-seed into aeration holes once a year at very light rates.
A rather extreme case of Cyanobacteria has thinned the poa a bit too much.

Using Primo through the winter has probably also helped. Keeping the higher metabolizing poa at bay during the cool parts of the year when poa is known to make advances can't be a bad thing.

I have also stopped verticutting my greens. I asked myself why I was doing this and made some measurements. It really made no difference playability-wise and it also contributed to disease spread as observed in this post this spring. There is a lot of talk about the disturbance theory and verticutting only allows poa to establish and spread. I had never verticut deep enough to remove much thatch and honestly thatch on my greens isn't much of a problem. I think this is due in part to my change to temperature based fertility and daily rolling. If conditions aren't waterlogged the soil microbes can better do their job breaking down the soil organic matter. Matching fertilizer applications to temperature might match thatch production to thatch decomposition more closely.

We have been rolling daily and mowing every other day for almost 4 years now. This might also contribute to the bentgrass domination as per the disturbance theory.
bentgrass is very visible during the winter frosts. The poa is yellow and not very happy.
I now have a very distinct turf grain on my greens but this doesn't bother me. It doesn't affect the ball roll enough especially with my frequent daily rolling. I also feel that bentgrass grain give the bent a competitive advantage over the Poa. The longer leaf blade gives the plant more energy and physically covers over the poa plants.
The coarser bent now consistently covers most of my putting greens. The grainy turf covers over the finer poa plant.
The remaining bentgrass was doing so good that I decided to over-seed the greens to get a more uniform bentgrass population established. Starting in 2012 I started lightly over-seeding the greens during the spring aeration at about 22kg of seed/ha per season. I also put down a number of cultivars.

The thinking was this; may the best grass win. With such a drastic change to my management techniques I wanted to see what grass species would do better and provide a bit of insurance in case one species decided to check out. Of course poa will always be here but if my new management techniques favored the bentgrass I want there to be as much bent out there as possible.

This summer the bent has really started to flourish and it now covers significant portions of most of my putting greens. In some areas it has coalesced into dense patches but for the most part it is evenly established alongside the poa. I know you might be thinking that these patches are just different varieties of Poa but they aren't. Before I started over-seeding I had a very pure stand of poa with almost no mottling.

On some greens the bent has done better than others and as time goes on I will shift my over-seed rates higher on the greens with less bent and probably stop over-seeding altogether on the other greens that have a good population of bent established.
Bent has quickly become the dominant turf species in a few short years. Only speckles of poa remain on this green.
I am not interested in extreme measures. In a lot of people's efforts to "manage for the sustainable turf" they end up throwing more money, resources, stress and suffer less than ideal conditions than is probably needed. I'm not aggressively acidifying the soil. I'm just not applying calcium unless it's needed. I'm not drying down the greens to extreme levels. I'm keeping a constant soil moisture in the 20%-30% range. I'm not pounding any kind of chemicals. I'm using pesticides as a last resort allowing the natural susceptibility of the different turf species to fungal disease to weed things out. Maybe my pesticide use could be considered extreme with a yearly EIQ goal equivalent to two light chlorothalonil applications.

I have had a lot of people tell me that growing bent can't be done in my climate. "Grow what grows." My answer to that is how long have we been completely guessing about what we are doing? How long have we been using moisture meters? Are we applying fertilizer to suit the actual turf needs based on temperature? Are we applying pesticides preventatively? How often do we verticut? How much phosphorous have we applied to our greens this year? Why? Are all our fertility inputs actually needed?

It took 20 years of over-watering, over-fertilizing, and overuse of pesticides for my greens to become almost pure poa annua.

I'm not against poa. It makes for really nice greens. It just so happens that the changes I have made to reduce inputs and eliminate waste and guesswork has lead to conditions that favor bentgrass. If that is "what grows" then it just makes sense to grow it.

My goal isn't to have a pure stand of bentgrass. None of my surfaces are managed for pure perfection. I have some weeds, but use no herbicides. Some disease, but use few fungicides. I try and manage for a good playing surface with the lease possible inputs, especially chemicals. With this philosophy and management style I expect that eventually bentgrass will be the dominant turf on my course. It won't be pure. I will always have a lot of poa but I will be able to further reduce my inputs of water, fertilizer, and pesticides without fear of catastrophic green failure.

The bare minimum. Mow, roll, fertilize, water, solid tine cultivation. Not perfect but the price is right!
This is a work in progress and who knows? Maybe I'm completely out to lunch.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Where did all the clover go?

While out fertilizing the tees this morning I noticed something crazy. All the clover on the tees had disappeared. There has always been a good population of clover on the tees at Pender Harbour ever since I have worked here starting in 2001. Up until 2005 we would spot spray these areas with Killex but haven't applied any type of herbicide to them since then. Today I could only find one small patch less than 1 m2 on my tee boxes. Crazy!

So what the heck happened to the clover? It's not like the clover really bothered me. I was not trying to rid the tees of clover in any way. This was an indirect consequence of something that I did.

Two years ago I radically changed the way I fertilize and manage inputs on the golf course. I switched to the MLSN and stopped doing things "just because that's the way we have always done it." One of the main points of the MLSN is to only apply a nutrient when it is needed by the plant. With the MLSN I stopped applying calcium to "free up nutrients" in the soil as was always done with the BCSR. Consequently the pH on the tees dropped into the low 5's. From 2012 the pH dropped from 5.9 to 5.3 today. I had read a great article by Micah Woods about "Why it is Not Important to Maintain Soil pH Between 6.5 and 7.0." I decided to give it a try. I would closely monitor the situation and adjust the pH as needed if turf conditions started to deteriorate.
The only patch of clover on the tees.
In Micah's post he referenced the article called "Farming with Acidity"  which talked about how pH was maintained as close to neutral as possible to allow the pH sensitive legumes (clover) to grow as they were a source of nitrogen to early farmers as they rotated crops. We no longer require legumes to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere as we have fertilizer! We kept maintaining a neutral pH because some studies showed that nutrient availability was greater at a neutral pH. We are now learning that the nutrient needs of turfgrass is much lower than previously thought. So I stopped liming "just because."

Tees have never been better.
After one year of no liming there was still quite a bit of clover on the tees. Even this spring I had noticed quite a bit of clover.
Since 2012 I have really only applied nitrogen and wetting agents to the tees. This combined with the lack of liming has, in my opinion, lead to the disappearance of the clover. The pH is lower than even Micah recommended (5.5) and the tees have never been better in the 13 years I have been here. Just nitrogen, wetting agents, and some aeration every now and again. No "weeds." Super quick divot recovery. As close to perfect as I can expect.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Pesticide Tracking First Half of 2014

It has now been 6 months since I started tracking the cost and EIQ of pest control products at the Pender Harbour Golf Club. So far I am doing great with keeping with my set goals.

Sustainability MetricYTD Total CostGoalPercent of Goal UsedYTDProgressDaysPercent of TotalNext App Max
Cost Fusarium$1,964.89$5,000.0039.30%46.58%7.28%2784.37%$363.87
Cost Dollar Spot$0.00$400.000.00%46.58%46.58%1700.00%$186.30
Total Cost$1,964.89$5,400.0036.39%46.58%10.19%3778.12%$550.17
Fusarium EIQ348.23800.0043.53%46.58%3.05%1193.46%24.38
Dollar Spot EIQ0.001.000.00%46.58%46.58%1700.00%0.47
Total EIQ348.23801.0043.47%46.58%3.10%1193.34%24.84

As you can see I am almost 37 days ahead of my cost goals and 11 days ahead of my EIQ goals. I am not bragging either. The act of monitoring, setting goals, and making informed decisions has made it extremely easy to keep on track with my goals that I set out in my original Pesticide Tracking Post. I can take what I know about my current EIQ, my goals, weather forecasts, etc, and select a product that will meet the needs of the current situation.

I originally set my goals based on history and as the years go by I will get a real good idea of how my pesticide use differs from year to year as well as set goals that better suit my desire to have the lowest EIQ and cost possible. To get an idea of what my EIQ goals mean I have set my limit at 800. A single high rate of Daconil has an EIQ approaching 600. A higher rate app of Instrata is even higher! I am lucky to be in a part of the world that doesn't require many pesticides to be used!

I am not out in the clear just yet for fusarium but if I can manage the next 2 weeks without a traditional pesticide application I can finally enjoy a few months without this menacing pest! Next up, dollar spot!
Next year I also plan to monitor the EIQ of fertilizer products that are applied that are not required by the MLSN or GSS. Sometimes fertilizer products are applied to improve colour or help with disease so it is important that the impact of these products is also taken into account. Currently the only fertilizer product that is applied as a pest control is Iron Sulphate and Potassium Phosphite. I currently track the Potassium phosphite EIQ and cost in the above table.

In one of my original posts on reducing pesticide use on golf courses I wrote how it is important to keep the condition of the course at a similar or better level to that which was achieved with the pesticides. I can honestly say that the greens here have never been better! I hate the thought that course conditions have to suffer if pesticide use is reduced. NO IT DOESN"T! Despite the greens being in full seed head they look and play great!

If you haven't already, I highly encourage you to start monitoring the cost and EIQ of the pesticide use at your golf course. The simple act of monitoring their use might just be one of the most important IPM practices you can do!
Hole 3 is finally looking good thanks to some tree removal!