Saturday, 5 December 2015

Grass no grow, grass no disease.

turf is starting to turn colour as the winter solstice approaches
I've talked a lot about how I think it might be beneficial to use growth regulators on turf through the winter. I'm on the West Coast of Canada where turf grows (slowly) all winter long and we are forced to mow. I've thought that mowing active fusarium could spread it and my observations definitely confirm this suspicion. This is one reason why I think using growth regulators might be a good idea in the winter, so that you don't need to mow so often and therefore spread the disease around less so.

absolutely no disease

I found a spot! nothing my spray bottle can't handle.
The trouble us turf managers have out west is that we need a lot of fungicide to keep the grass alive this time of year. The conditions are thought to be ideal for fusarium and not ideal for the grass which only makes this problem worse.
None here either
Courses that receive snow cover all winter can get away with a few fungicide apps in the fall and then go all winter long without an app. Why can't we do that where there is no snow cover? Maybe we can but I certainly haven't seen it. The conditions under a tarp or snow cover are way more ideal for fungal growth in my opinion than slow growing grass exposed to the wind and rain. There is nothing like dark, stagnant, warm, moist air to breed fungi! So they must get good long term disease control because they aren't removing the product from the plant by constantly mowing it all winter long.

In years where we have had abnormally cold and dry winters I have seen a fungicide application last months as the grass was more or less frozen solid with no insulating snow cover. Either they were lasting longer or the disease had no hope in the cold weather or maybe a bit of both.

For the past few years I have been using Primo Maxx during the winters and less so in the summer months. As mentioned earlier in this post, maybe the extra slow growth I am seeing and therefore less mowing is why I am seeing less disease. I think there is more to it. I am now thinking that maybe because I am mowing less, that I am removing less of the systemic fungicide that was applied months before.

The last fungicide application I applied this year was on Oct 23rd. It was propiconazole, a systemic DMI, which probably further reduced the growth of the turf. Aside from a few weeks of unseasonably cold and dry weather, we have had a warm and very wet fall so far. The current weather could be considered perfect fusarium weather, but there is no new disease on my greens despite the last fungicide application being made 43 days ago! For a West Coaster this is not common in weather like this!

The winter application of Primo and propiconazole has resulted in no need to mow the greens since Nov 3rd. That's 32 days ago! On my course tour today there was no need to mow the greens. If anything a light topdress will do to keep them rolling nice and true through the next month. So maybe the lack of mowing is spreading less disease around AND removing less fungicide from the plant!

I'm really glad that there is no new disease on my greens because even if there was, there would be no way for me to do anything about it. Winds are high, rain is almost constant and when the rain stops the turf quickly frosts over. I can't get my sprayer out to apply anything!

I would be very interested to see studies done which look into what I am seeing. Do plant growth regulators combined with fungicides increase the longevity of protection when the grass is mowed only as needed? From what I am seeing, I think this could be the case....

The impacts of this could be big for us guys out West. If we can get our fungicide apps to last longer, we can save a lot of money and reduce the impact that these products have on the environment (if any).

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Movember: Warning; Lots of selfies in this one.

No, not MOWVEMBER thank god! With the use of plant growth regulators I have been able to keep the amount of mowing to an absolute minimum this November. This is important because mowing at this time of year just makes a big mess and probably spreads disease around.


This year I have decided to take on the movember challenge. And no, it's not a challenge to see how much grass I can mow in the cold rain. From the website:
"The Movember Foundation is a global charity committed to men living happier, healthier, longer lives. Since 2003, millions have joined the men’s health movement, raising $677 million and funding over 1,000 programs focusing on prostate cancer, testicular cancer, poor mental health and physical inactivity."

To me, men's health hits close to home. Firstly I'm a man. More importantly, I have lost a lot of great men in my life from cancer, preventable disease, mental illness, and disease resulting from an inactive lifestyle. This sucks....big time.

This past winter something happened to me that never happened before. My pants started to feel tight. There was a swooshing sound when I walked which was the result of my pants rubbing together between my thighs. I started eating at Christmas and never stopped. This combined with my inability to get out and be active as I had a newborn baby that needed my attention, and I was gaining weight. Also, I was turning 30. No longer could I simply rely on my superhuman metabolism to keep me fit.

I was hoping my kids would get tired so I could practice hiking with some weight.
I've always been lucky to be a rather happy person. As you can see, I have a lot to be happy about. I also really love my job (if you couldn't tell already). I've seen people who don't like their job really struggle with happiness and depression and it sucks.

I am also a member of the local ground search and rescue organization. I am relied upon to be in peak physical condition so that I am not a liability to the person I am tasked with rescuing or to my teammates during a rescue. I couldn't let myself go and still take my commitment to helping others seriously.

So this spring I was getting fat. I'm 6'4" and for the first time I weighed more than 180 lbs. I had gained 30 lbs in half a year and was at 210 lbs. I always told myself that I would use my pant size as a gauge. If they got tight I would do something about it. So the day had come....

The problem was that there was no way I had time to attend a gym, and I love food way too much to eat less. I was worried that eating less would leave me depressed and probably feeling weak. As an aside I believe that diets are a terrible idea. Withholding food can only do one thing. Leave you feeling shitty and unhappy further driving you to eat more because eating feels good!

So I decided to try riding my bike to work. I used to ride home every day when I was 15. I remembered it being hard but decided to give it a whirl. To be honest, it was really tough the first few weeks. My problem was that with this increased exercise I was now eating not enough! I more or less doubled my caloric intake and have felt awesome ever since.

When I drove my car to work it would take about 15 mins in each directions. On my bike it takes me about 30 mins each direction. So I get an hour of vigorous exercise each day that only takes me 30 mins extra.

I started riding in mid April and never stopped. It is now mid November and I can't see myself ever driving a car to work again! 26km every day, 5 days a week for 7.5 months and that gives you about 3900km! Ok, I took a week off when I went to the US Open, but I made up for it by walking the entire course every day while working and walking the course as a spectator. That's a lot of walking considering Jason Day nearly passed out on one of the days.

At first I was worried that biking that distance to work would leave me too tired to do a good job at work. I'm a working superintendent and am required to do a lot of physical work on the course alongside my small crew. Boy was I wrong. Instead of leaving me tired, biking to work leaves me invigorated. I've never had so much energy. Imagine my tired crew coming into work in the morning to a superintendent all pumped from a 30 min bike ride a few minutes before. Poor them ;)

This year I came across an amazing book called Born to Run. If you haven't read it, you should. It changed my life.

It is a book about how humans are the perfect endurance runners. We aren't the fastest or strongest creature on the planet. The one physical advantage we have over all other land animals is our ability to run long distances even in extreme temperatures. It goes on to discuss how our bodies are perfectly suited to running and being active. Being active is not just important to our health in the obvious ways. Being active can have a huge affect on your mental well-being, reduce your chances of many disease, and leave you feeling strong and happy.

It also touches on how modern padded running shoes have quickly turned us into broken runners prone to injury. It just makes sense that our natural naked feet would be the best thing to run on. I see a lot of parallels in golf course maintenance. Nature is incredibly good at doing what it does, and our arrogance at trying to control it, or even remotely understand the complex processes that are happening on the golf course, only leave us with more problems. Less is definitely more when managing a natural system. Don't forget, we are a natural system and we need to be active to work properly. Your machine is broken if it isn't used properly. Your machine needs to run, a lot!

I used to think I was a happy person. I am now way happier! I mean, it's almost impossible to not smile when you are out being active, out in the weather, heart pumping, moving through the air. It's not crazy, it's in our DNA. We are made to move.

If you are stressed out and not feeling great, please give exercise a chance. Get a bike. Get out a run. And don't listen to the people who say that you aren't made to move. You are!
Impossible not to smile when on a bike, even during an Atmospheric River event!
I am now at the point where biking isn't enough. It's not that I'm still gaining weight. It's that exercise is addictive. It feels good, it makes you happier (unless you are a sick ultramarathoner) and leaves you wanting more. The problem is that I still don't have time to exercise more.

While out today inspecting our elk fence (after a wind storm) I discovered that it would actually be faster for me to inspect it while running than by driving my golf cart around. It's not that my cart is slow, or I'm that fast. It's just that the terrain that the fence follows is too rugged to follow in a vehicle. It leaves me having to walk from the vehicle back and forth down certain sections. This current inspection takes me about an hour on a cart. The elk fence is almost 3 km long. If I ran the perimeter I could probably get around in 20 mins, almost 3 times as fast as a cart. Not only that, I would get a decent little run in! Now I am thinking how I could do course inspections on foot in the morning!

So this month I have pledged to move every day of the month and grow a sweet mustache in hope of raising awareness and money for men's health efforts. I think the money raising part is important, but even more important is that you find a way to be out and active. It's easy to be overworked in this industry, and burnout is common. I think that if you give exercise a serious consideration and effort, it will change the way you do your job, how you live your live, and how happy you are.

If you feel inclined to donate to men's health and my effort to raise awareness for this please go to the following link.


Saturday, 14 November 2015

Estimating Fertilizer Use....and loss

Last week I shared how I was able to make further reductions in my fertilizer use on the golf course. This week I will discuss how this reduction in fertilizer use will look like as far as my soil tests are concerned. I will also compare 2 soil tests with the amount of fertilizer applied between the two dates to determine where the fertilizer I applied went.

This spring I took part in the Global Soil Survey for the 3rd time. I did my soil tests in early April 2015 before the grass started growing so that I would know what fertilizer I would have to add in order to keep my soil levels above the MLSN guidelines.

As you can see in the top 2 rows of the above table, the soil test results were all above the MLSN guidelines except for Potassium.

I was then able to estimate the amount of each nutrient that the plant would use based on the amount of nitrogen applied. Where K was half, P 1/8, Ca 1/8, Mg 1/20, and S 1/40 the amount of nitrogen applied. Now this assumes that all the clippings were removed, which they more or less were. We always collect clippings on our greens.

I was then able to compare the amount of nutrients used by the plant to the amount added as fertilizer. I then converted this number from g/m2 to ppm by multiplying the mass by 6.7 to give me a net gain or loss. As you can see, in 2015 there was a net loss of P,Ca and MG simply because I applied very little or no amount of most nutrients. This is partially why I was able to make such a decrease in the amount of fertilizer applied this year.

You can also see that I applied exactly the amount of K as the plant used. This left me with a 2 ppm deficit as I started the year with a 2 ppm deficit. Clearly I should probably add more K. Even though I am theoretically below the MLSN guidelines, my greens are still in great shape. I will be making a light K application the next time I take my sprayer out just to be sure that K levels stay at a safe level over the winter.

I thought it would be fun to see how long the supply of each nutrient in the soil would last me while still staying above the MLSN guidelines. This assumes that the amount of fertilizer I applied was all held in the soil. We know this isn't the case and I will demonstrate that next. Either way, I theoretically have a 21 year supply of P, 14 year supply of Ca, 11 year supply of Mg and a 243 year supply of S. I applied a lot of S, and I have a hunch that if I tested my soil right now it wouldn't be much over 15ppm as most of it likely leaches or is wasted as far a fertilizer is concerned.

Now all these numbers except for the soil tests are theoretical. Is there a way that I could compare them to actual numbers?

In 2014 I did the GSS soil test in early June. Here were the results of that.

I then used the amount of fertilizer added between the dates of the two soil tests and was able to make a prediction of the amount of nutrient used.

I was then able to compare the theoretical deficit during the winter of 2014/2015 to the actual numbers tested in April 2015. I compared how much it should have gone down according to this math vs how much it went down according to the test.

As you can see the estimated difference for K was 7.8 ppm less than the actual difference. That's a difference of about 1.2g/m2. Why would its loss be lower than anticipated? Probably because some of my nitrogen applications were poorly timed, essentially being wasted therefore not contributing to turf growth in a way that increased the use of potassium. Or it could just be the margin of error by using math to explain an incredibly complex natural process with many variables.

This math estimated the Mg change almost perfectly. It was way off with Ca and S though. Now why would this math be way off? Because it assumes that that soil can hold onto whatever you apply. It also assumes that whatever I apply actually enters the soil! This is a great way to illustrate waste.

The math estimated that the amount of sulfur in the soil would go up by 87.94 ppm. This is because I applied a lot of sulfur. In reality, it actually went down! Where did all this sulfur go? Probably leached.

I also estimated that the amount of Ca would go up by 28 ppm when it actually went down by 17 ppm. Again, there is a huge loss here which means one thing. Waste. I am basically throwing my money away if the calcium applied was intended to go into the soil for the plant to use. Maybe the calcium applied was taken up by the plant leaves? I doubt that because it was applied as 2 heavy granular gypsum applications. I bet most of it was either leached or washed off the surface of the turf or picked up by the mowers. Gone. Either way, it was not held by the soil.

So with all the waste in 2014 I set out to reduce that waste in 2015. This is why I applied so little fertilizer. If it was in the soil, it would make no difference to the plant, and the soil tests if I applied that type of fertilizer. This is the basic concept with the MLSN guidelines. Only apply fertilizer if it is needed. With this math, you can determine how much you will need to stay above the guidelines and ensure that your grass has all the nutrients it needs to be healthy and awesome.

In 2015 I still applied lots of S as it is a component of some of the fertilizer I apply such as ammonium sulfate and potassium sulfate. Therefore I get it whether I need it or not. The fact is that I like the S but not from a fertilizer standpoint. I like it because of its acidifying and anti-fungal properties.

So there you have it. A useful way to look at where the fertilizer you apply goes and if it actually makes a difference. A single soil test is a useful snapshot to see what is currently there, but comparing soil tests over the years with theoretical plant uptake numbers can help you understand how efficient your fertilizer practices really are. Eliminate waste, save money and reduce the potential impacts your fertilizer use has on the surrounding environment.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Fertilizer 2015: More reductions in quantity, not quality

Total fertilizer applied per year
For the past few years I have made big reductions in fertlizer use on my golf course. How? I started using the MLSN guidelines and based my fertilizer applications more or less on the temperature based growth potential model. If there is enough of an element in the soil, I don't apply it. Plain and simple and it works. Where I used to have a fertilizer program, I now apply it as needed based on the weather and conditions I am trying to produce.

What are those conditions? Good healthy grass that grows as slow as possible while putting up with the traffic and other stresses that it is subjected to.

A lot of focus is always on pesticide use but the misuse of fertilizer could probably be said to contribute more to pollution and adverse health effects than pesticides so therefore it is important to me to only apply the amount that is absolutely needed. No more.

This year we had a warmer than normal summer. The growth potential hovered at near 100% for 4 months where it normally only does so for 2 months. I did, however, adjust my growth potential formula for bentgrass over poa. Essentially I made the ideal temperature warmer (20c) and the ideal amount of nitrogen per month down (3.5g/m2/month). This was from an ideal temp of 18C and ideal nitrogen amount of 4g/m2/month. So even despite the prolonged summer and very stressful conditions, I still was able to reduce my fertilizer use on greens by almost 40% by weight.

total Kg fertilizer applied to course.
Why did I make these changes? Well I had heard of others with similar turf species going that low, so I thought that if they could do it why couldn't I? I made a few adjustments to my GP formula and voila. I first talked about this on my post about aeration.

Surely such a huge reduction would have a noticeable impact, right? Well if there was one I couldn't figure out what it was. Maybe the only difference has been less thatch on my fairways, smoother firmer greens, less disease, less water use, and more rocks poking through the thatch! These are all just casual observations but seriously, things have never been better.

Now was I using more expensive products to achieve these reductions? You tell me.

Yeah, that a reductions of 40% as well. Interesting. You mean you don't have to spend more to apply less?

So what exactly did I apply this year?
Fertilizer added in 2015
Now you might be thinking, yeah, he just used more concentrated fertilizer to get low numbers. I have been using these fertilizer sources starting in 2009. No, I simply applied 40% less (or more than that) of each individual nutrient. 
Nutrients applied in 2014
Greens: 80% of growth potential rates at 20C and 3.5g N/m2/month, MLSN Guidelines, applied weekly during growing season

Tees: 75% of what is applied on greens as the clippings are returned. MLSN Guidelines, applied monthly

Fairways: Not much. applied every 3 weeks through growing season, monthly in shoulder season

The source of nutrients that I used this year are, urea, ammonium sulfate, potassium sulfate, monopotassium phosphate, iron sulfate, potassium phosphite, monoammonium phosphite.

I haven't applied a granular in years but I expect to have to next year on tees to supply some calcium and as a pH adjustment. I am only applying N and S to fairways as a big weed experiment inspired by the work done at the Park Grass Experiment at Rothamsted.

Other than that there's not much to report. Despite the most challenging drought conditions I have ever seen, we managed just fine and the course was the best it has ever been.
Greens were nice

so were the tees

surprise, even the fairways were good, and have less weeds too ;)

Fertilizer isn't that hard, don't over-complicate it.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Turfhacker Summary of Everything That's Interesting to Me

Every once in a while I am treated to having guests tour the course with me who have no prior knowledge of what I have been doing on the course and it allows me to share everything I have learned over the years. During these times I am reminded of all the crazy stuff that I am doing that I don't normally think of as most of them have become "normal" to me. I thought it might be good to do an overview post every now and then to catch everyone up on what that nut bar in Canada is up to.

For those that have been following along, this year have been great. I have been practicing low impact (disturbance theory) management on my greens and have had great success in promoting bentgrass. I haven't required a broadcast traditional fungicide application since April 2nd and have been using regular phosphite applications and spot applications to keep the disease in check. I have been following all my theories and plans and feel that they continue to deliver the expected results. This year has been very difficult with the record breaking drought and heat but the greens and course in general have managed through it all with little issue. Things have been so good, in fact, that I can say that managing my greens has never been easier or more hands off. My "do nothing" approach is really proving to me that sometimes less is more. This is easier said than done as we are often too quick to react to any issues that arise. Basically we cut as little as possible, roll as much as possible, fertilizer little and often and water to keep our soils hydrated but not excessively wet or dry. We aren't chasing any extremes with regards to firmness or green speeds and this in turn has made it very easy and inexpensive to keep our greens in excellent condition.

For those that don't know that much about what I have been trying to do let me try and explain as briefly as I can. The following is a summary of what I think are the most interesting things I am doing along with links to more detail on each subject. Everything that I am doing and trying has been inspired by others, so thank you everyone for the inspiration, it has been a lot of fun!

Four years ago I started this blog. During this time we were facing the very real threat of a pesticide ban. Instead of focusing all our efforts on fighting the ban I thought it would be wise to work together to learn how to better manage turfgrass in case pesticides were banned. I looked to "organic" golf but was frustrated by their poor planning and failure. I decided to share what I was doing on this blog as a means to learn from the entire turfgrass community as a whole. Aside from this blog, twitter has also been an incredibly useful tool for connecting and learning from other turfgrass professionals all over the world.

I started out trying to be all scientific but found it more productive to just share my observations and theories and let the science come to me. Hell, I've even inspired some science!

I published my first take on how I don't apply preventative pesticides so that I can see the disease, how and where it infects the plants, and try and observe patterns of this infection. My feeling was that preventative applications were just covering up poorly managed turfgrass. I have found this completely true, speaking for myself at least. This resulted in a number of interesting observations on how rolling might help reduce fusarium and how disease is spread by mowers and how we can reduce that spread and theoretically the need to spray so much in the winter. I continue to spot spray minor disease outbreaks to hopefully help reduce the likelihood that they become a major outbreak that would require a broadcast pesticide applications. With no preventative sprays going out, I can also see new infection and often make minor changes to fertilizer, water or mowing to keep the disease in check. True IPM (integrated pest management). I used to have disease explosions where right about the time a fungicide would be wearing off, my greens would almost instantly be completely covered in disease. That no longer happens. Disease comes on slow and I have a lot of time to watch, make adjustments and treat if it continues to get worse.
preventative fungicide applications would have robbed me the opportunity to observe how disease is spread by mowers
I was also able to notice cool things like this moss disease that normally is killed with preventative fungicide applications. Again, less is more.
moss disease, this green now has no moss.
I started setting goals for pesticide use based on cost and EIQ but have since put this on hold due the the fact that there have been some errors found with the way EIQ is calculated and the whole equation is flawed. That's just life on the bleeding edge I guess. Sometimes these new things aren't perfect and need to be refined. Even though this process is flawed, it has helped me make meaningful reductions and also learn a lot more about disease management. Either way, the best way to reduce pesticide impact is to simply not apply them.

I made some huge changes to the way I fertilize the course and have drastically reduce the costs associated with fertilizing and have also increased the quality of the turf on the course. I base my fertilizer rates on the growth potential model and use solely soluble source fertilizers applied light and frequent. This allows me to make quick adjustments to turfgrass growth and react to what the disease is telling me! I have since adjusted my growth potential model numbers to cut the fertilizer on my greens in half as I had heard of others doing similar things without negative results. These low rates might even reduce the need for core aeration one day!
Fertilizer costs so little it's almost a joke and I'm not left wanting more.

I have also started following the MLSN guidelines for fertilizer applications on my greens and tees. I have taken part in the Global Soil Survey for 3 years now and have been following the MLSN guidelines exclusively since they were first developed. After all those years of not fertilizing unless it was needed, the greens are better than ever and I no longer worry about locked up nutrients in the soil. It's not that difficult and I highly recommend you stop worrying about it and adopt these fertilizer guidelines now.

All of these things have also lead me to change the way I manage weeds on the golf course. By simply changing your perspective and learning to accept some "weeds." I have also changed my perspective to how I approach weed problems and how they can be managed in a more sustainable way. I have not required a herbicide application on the course except to control highly invasive species such as Japanese Knotweed or Spotted Knapweed.

This change in philosophy has helped me continue to manage the course without the need for herbicides but also continue to improve the turfgrass quality on all our playing surfaces. These changes combined with my fertilizer changes and low pH have also surprised me with the almost complete eradication of clover from my tees. I am still waiting for the pH to drop to a level that is unacceptable for clover on my fairways. This will take longer as the fairways are on native soil and not sand.
letting anthracnose go untreated to promote bentgrass

I have started to work towards shifting the turfgrass populations on my greens to bentgrass and have had lots of success even though most say it can't be done in my climate. I am now at the point where I can let poa specific disease go untreated as the bentgrass fills in the voids as fast as the disease can kill the poa. The fact is that there are a TON of ways to kill poa naturally, and I am taking advantage of each and every one! The entire purpose of shifting to bentgrass is to reduce fertilizer needs, water needs, seed head issues, and the fact that a polystand is more stable with minimal resources and inputs. I don't expect to ever have a pure bentgrass stand but hope that the population of each turf species on my greens shifts back and forth as the conditions that favor each species change.
just because it's low maintenance and cheap doesn't mean it shouldn't be great to play on

I have also seeded in "weeds" like white yarrow to provide good playing conditions during tough growing conditions with less or no inputs. After a few years I am starting to see the real benefits of these efforts.
yarrow (left)  is loving life during a drought where grass just dies (right/center)
I have also used technology to improve the efficiency of my operation. My digital job board has been a huge help as have all my digital record keeping methods.

Up until this year I have been making a lot of big changes to the way I maintain my golf course. This year I have been able to sit back and really refine my strategy and have had great results so far. After 4 years I can finally say that everything I have changed feels normal and I can feel confident in saying that it is all working and coming together nicely. The course transition to these changes is not yet complete but is going in the right direction.
Something is not right here
This is just a brief summary of what I do and I hope that you can find the time to dig a bit deeper on this blog and share your thoughts. These interactions are how we can all learn and improve!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, 14 August 2015

Yarrow during drought

A few years ago I seeded yarrow into the sand trap surrounds at the advice of Armen Suny. This "weed" is perfectly adapted for the tough growing conditions surrounding sand traps, it stays green even when it is extremely dry, provides a good playing surface when mowed, and spreads to provide a good stable edge to a trap.

This year we have been experiencing the worst drought since they started taking records. Needless to say we have had trouble keeping some of our bunker surrounds in good shape. Today I noticed that the yarrow was still doing great, despite the difficult growing conditions on the course and especially on the bunker edges. Here are a few pictures to show just how happy the yarrow is.

The collar is on a steep slope. Any hand watering will wash out the trap. The yarrow is creeping in from the trap edge towards the green in these tough growing conditions. Without the yarrow the trap edge would completely collapse.

Close up of the yarrow creeping back from the bunker edge

Yarrow in a well irrigated bunker edge.

The only thing that is green on this unirrigated slope is the yarrow. Even the fescue and moss are brown

green happy yarrow on a very tough growing environment
I casually seeded my bunker surrounds a few years ago but am now considering an all out effort to bring more of this plant to my course. Aside from bunker surrounds I can also see this used for steep slopes, and even fairways and rough. I might even sow some into some "naturalized" areas so that I can start a self sowing chain reaction.

I am completely sold on the use of yarrow on golf courses. Water is a precious resource and anything that we can do to reduce that usage and still achieve our goals of producing nice looking and playing golf courses should be done. I think it's time that we take a serious look at using other drought tolerant plants for widespread use on golf courses.

Monday, 10 August 2015


Death to Poa annua
Finally! Some disease on my greens that is starting to kill some grass. It has been a long disease-less summer with our last broadcast fungicide application made in early April. Since that time we have had diseases come and go; waitea, brown patch, fusarium and probably others too.

Through good practices or just dumb luck we have been able to manage these disease without the need for traditional fungicide applications. The only thing remotely anti-fungal would be from my regular phosphite applications and possibly the sulfur contained in my fertilizer applications.

As the anthracnose is starting to actually cause widespread damage to the poa I would normally apply a fungicide applications and I'm still not entirely ruling it out. Instead, I am pushing the bentgrass growth to try and get it to fill in the voids. It seems as if the anthracnose is not impacting the bentgrass at this point.

Bentgrass is not being killed by the anthracnose

When I started over-seeding bentgrass back into my greens a few years ago this was exactly why. With the goal to reduce the need for fungicides on my greens I knew that if I had a poly-stand on my greens I could get away with pushing the application intervals further and further as no single disease would completely wipe out a green.

I am further reassured that a fungicide application will not be needed as the bentgrass growth has been going crazy recently. I hope that I can continue to promote this jump in growth and get the bentgrass to fill in the voids left by the anthracnose damage. I stopped regular primo applications at the advice from other bentgrass promoting superintendents and have been pleasantly surprised in the jump in bent growth.

bentgrass is going wild
Of course the trick is to manage the anthracnose at a level that doesn't cause complete turf stand failure so I am watching things closely and will apply a corrective fungicide if things get carried away.

Next up is dollar spot, I currently have enough for a fancy coffee from Starbucks ;) If I can survive the next 3 weeks we should be back into fusarium weather....finally!

Seems like this is just another way to kill poa. Add it to the long list.......

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

When is the best time to water greens?

Nice contrast
I was always taught that the best time to water greens was right before the greens mowers went out. The theory was that this would reduce the time that the plant was wet and would therefore result in less disease. So from my start in the turf industry this is what I did. I am very focused on reducing my reliance on pesticides to control disease so whatever I can do to accomplish this goal, I try.

I was inspired by a post by Dr. Micah Woods a few years ago questioning the deep and infrequent irrigation regime vs the light and frequent. He made a great case that light and frequent isn't necessarily an inferior way to water. The great thing about this way of thinking is that it left me knowing that my way of irrigating wasn't inferior. It also got me questioning a lot of things about irrigation that weren't necessarily true.

This year while I was setting up our irrigation system I started to think about the timing of when I watered greens. I was thinking about the way we have always done it and it just plain didn't make any sense to me. If you have ever been on the course as the sun is setting you will know that the turf becomes covered in dew and guttation fluid. So basically every night that it wasn't raining, the grass was covered in stagnant sugary liquid anyway. So from a leaf wettness standpoint, there was no benefit to watering last. If anything, waiting until the last minute to irrigate the greens only extended the time that the dew and guttation stood undisturbed on the leaf surface. This is a problem if you believe that dew can lead to increased disease.
Too green for my liking despite using half as much nitrogen this year as in previous years.
So then I thought about what the advantages of watering greens first before anything else would be. What would be the advantage of watering greens just as the sun was going down, or at midnight? Theoretically it would knock the dew off the leaf blade and break the stagnation. This stagnation or still water is probably what leads to disease. At least it sounds good in theory.

It would also leave the surface of the greens less wet when we were mowing. Less water pickup into the baskets and less wear from driving equipment on freshly watered turf. Theoretically it would also give the water more time to move down into the soil before being used by the plants. If this water has more time to flow into the soil it also should give me more accurate readings on my moisture meter too. Lots of theories haha!

It would also give the plant the water it required sooner, reducing the time that the plant was in a moisture deficit. Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks this way.

Maintaining the greens has been carefree and almost easy despite record breaking drought, heat and a
mostly broken irrigation system.
So this year I have scheduled my greens to be watered first each night. The result? Well this trial has been far from scientific but I can share my experience. The greens are still alive. I haven't required a fungicide application since we started irrigating in early May except for my regular phosphite apps. Despite going through a record breaking heatwave and drought period the greens have never been better! Is it because of the time of night that I water greens? Maybe. It certainly hasn't hurt things and if anything it has only made things easier.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Tire pressure made easy

The other day I was reading another excellent blog post on Bob Shop about his air line installation. He mentioned that he was going to post the tire pressures on a list that would be posted on the wall near the air hose outside the shop. This would make it easy for everyone to see what the tire pressure was supposed to be set at. This got me thinking of something that I have done to ensure that my staff know the proper tire pressure for each piece of equipment.

I write the pressure requirement on the rim right beside the valve stem. This makes it quick and easy for them to always know the correct pressure for the tire.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Is Phosphite an Environmentally Friendly Alternative to Traditional Pesticides?

This week I had a discussion on Twitter about a statement made that phosphite use will help reduce the environmental impact of pesticides on the golf course. The guru of phosphite in turf, John Dempsey, stated this in his thesis abstract.

I have done quite a bit of work looking at the environmental impact of different products that we apply on the golf course using Cornell University's EIQ calculator. The EIQ calculation is, in my opinion, the most comprehensive and meaningful way to measure the impact of certain products used for pest control on the golf course. I wrote about this in a blog post "Sustainable Pesticide Use: Tracking Pesticide Cost and Environmental Impact." I also shared my observations after tracking my EIQ for an entire season in a post "EIQ Tracking, My First Year." Tracking the EIQ has been an enlightening experience for me and has really helped changed my perspective on the impacts that certain products have on the environment. It is usually impossible to determine the exact impacts each product has but the EIQ equation takes a lot of the measured impacts that we are aware of and puts it into a format that is easy to understand. The higher the number, the worse the product is for the environment.

With my extensive pesticide EIQ records it was easy to break the EIQ apart into categories to see how much the of my total EIQ was a result of my phosphite applications.

In 2014 (first year of tracking as I go and using the EIQ to make application decisions) my EIQ was as follows.

Total EIQ for year on putting greens adjusted to account for spot spray applications.


EIQ for phosphite on greens also adjusted for area


Therefore phosphite accounts for a total of 46% of my total EIQ.


Last year I looked back on my records as far back as 2009. I wanted to get an idea of what my average EIQ was over the years so that I could set realistic goals.

The average EIQ over the years was about 950. I started using phosphite in late 2011. For the ease of calculations lets just call it early 2012. The rate over the years has remained constant year over year as recommended by John's research at 0.35g/m2 every month. I tighten up the intervals but adjust the rate accordingly during the summer as the turf growth increases. Basically the rate stays the same each year.

Traditional EIQ1286.38648.65792.941130.25885.41997956.7716667
phosphite EIQ440.00440.00400.00
Phosphite percent of total0.390.500.400.43
Traditional Pesticide EIQ reduction690.25445.41597.00577.55

As you can see since I started using phosphite for disease control on my putting greens I have reduced the EIQ of traditional pesticides by an average of 43%.

Here's the thing,


It is a measure of the environmental impact of the product no matter how it works, or is marketed as. 

My average EIQ before using phosphite was 908. The average decreased about 50 since I started using phosphite or about 5%. So yes, technically my environmental impact has reduced since I incorporated phosphite into my disease management program, but not by much.

Now John's research has shown that when using phosphite the fungicide efficacy is increased and rates can be reduced. This would in turn reduce the total EIQ. The only problem with this is that I almost always apply fungicide at the lowest label rates. It is simply illegal to apply fungicide at lower than label rates.

So from my observations and data collection I have to say that in my circumstances, phosphite does not reduce the environmental impact of my disease management program on my putting greens. It does, however, reduce the EIQ of traditional fungicides which is a meaningless statement. It does however make me feel warm and fuzzy inside for some reason that most people choose organic products over non organic even though they are often just as bad. My greens have also never been better and the disease has never been easier to manage. The traditional pesticide applications just seem to work better. I can't measure that though.

Now I don't want to say that phosphite will not reduce the EIQ for everyone. For some it will probably have a bigger impact than it did for me. For those that require higher rates of traditional fungicide to get control, or those that are having resistance issues, I would highly recommend phosphite be incorporated into your programs. And for those that already have a low EIQ, the use of phosphite has other benefits for turf as well, namely an increase in general turf quality.

So technically John isn't wrong to say that the use of phosphite can reduce the environmental impact of pesticides, but it won't always be the case and wasn't for me.

To measure is to know.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Global Soil Survey Take 3!

I just got my soil tests last week for the Global Soil Survey! Getting soil test results back is just about as good as Christmas! This is the third time that I have taken part in the GSS. Since my first GSS in 2013 I have followed the guidelines religiously saving a ton of money and seeing no real difference in turfgrass quality. Arguably my greens could actually be in better shape now than before I started using the MLSN guidelines.

Here are the results of my GSS in 2013
In 2014

And 2015

The GSS requires that you take samples from areas of good performing turfgrass. Each year I have varied the exact locations for my samples. The reason for this is to compare areas of good turf performance but on different microclimates or turf species etc to see if there is some relationship to what I am seeing to nutrient levels in the soil. From what I can the soil nutrient levels have little to do with what I have observed.

They then tell you how your test results are compared to the MLSN guidelines.


As you can see all my nutrient levels are in excess of the MLSN guidelines except for Potassium on by 6,8,9th green. I combined the samples of these greens as they were the greens with the most bentgrass. My first green has 0% bentgrass for some reason despite receiving the same amount of seed and having a similar microclimate.

The important thing to remember here is that even though I have a deficiency according the MLSN my 6,8, and 9th greens are not dead. They are, in fact, my best performing greens. The MLSN has a built in safety margin to ensure that you do not go too low!
The greens have never been better or healthier in my opinion
The creators of the MLSN (PACE Turf and Micah Woods) emphasize that the MLSN are not targets to work towards, just nutrient levels you should stay above. I'm a bit insane so I like to use them as targets, I want to see what happens when any nutrient excesses are removed from the soils on my course. It's a work in progress and I do this at my own risk.

After all this they give you the fertilizer requirements based on how much nitrogen you plan to apply each season to ensure that you remain above the MLSN guidelines. This makes your fertilizer program planning very easy. So easy, in fact, that I will walk you through just how simple it will be for me this year.

Look at all that fertilizer I don't have to apply! Going on year 3 of nothing but N and K (s and fe too)

Just because my fertilizer is cheap, doesn't mean that my greens suffer from poor quality.
As you can see the only fertilizer I need to stay above the MLSN guidelines is potassium. Just to play it safe I will use the high rate required based on 4 lbs of N /1000 ss ft per year. 1.7 lbs of potassium on 40,000 sq ft is 68 lbs of potassium or 136 lbs of potassium sulfate. I pay about $30 for a 50lb bag of potassium sulfate so my K costs for the year will be about $81. 4lbs of N/1000 sq ft at $19/ bag of urea will costs me $132. That's a total cost for fertilizer on my greens at $213. There is no mystery here, no special products required to "go low". Just simple fertilizers , the GSS, MLSN, and my sprayer.

There it's that simple. For the past 3 years the cost of the GSS ($250) has been more than the fertilizer that I apply to my greens. Here is to my 3rd season using the GSS and to hopefully a lot more!