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!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Lean Mean and Green!

Mid April has always been the time of the year when the course really comes alive on the West Coast of Canada. In the past I always attributed this green up flush to the weather but also to my heavy spring fertilizer applications.

Before I got onto liquid fertilizer applications and the growth potential model for predicting fertilizer requirements based on air temperatures I used to put out a heavy fertilizer application in March and then every 2 months until October each year. Now the rates vary depending on the average temperature for each month. The rates in the early spring are quite low with March seeing 3 bags of 21-0-0 going down on 5.4ha of turf and April seeing 4 bags go down. This is quite the contrast to the old way we did things with a granular fertilizer blend going down with about 40 bags every 2 months! Now we put down about 40 bags for the entire season. The last granular fertilizer application on fairways was done in June of 2013 and the conditions have only improved. The last granular fertilizer application on my greens was in 2011!

The really interesting thing to me is that even with this drastic reduction in fertilizer use there is still a phenomenal green-up in the spring and the turf looks great all year long. There are few weeds and we haven't used a pesticide on the fairways in over 15 years. There is a little poa out there but it is the minority with rye, bent and kentucky bluegrass forming the majority of the turfgrass stand.

I have told others about what I have been doing in conversation and the response is usually "but I get such a good green-up from that fertilizer application in the spring." My response is have you ever tried not applying that heavy spring green-up fertilizer application? The answer is almost always NO. This reminds me of the importance of check plots. One of the best plots I have seen is the one from Jason Hooper (@superjhooper) He has been using them on his greens and fairways to show the effects of his turf health programs. The crazy thing is that those check plots look great even with no applications of fertilizer, fungicide or wetting agents. Definitely makes you think. Also notice the abundance of bentgrass in the plots! Very cool stuff.

Others have also shared with me their success with going lean and mean on their turf. The result seems to be that more bentgrass comes in and out-competes the Poa annua.

Here's another tweet and I have to say from my observations on my course I completely agree.

I have been working to get some bentgrass established in my greens and have subsiquently done a lot of research into what others are doing to get good establishments. The majority of studies and articles about interseeding bentgrass are not successful over time and I think a lot of it has to do with the fertilizer use. Take the establishment guide for T-1 bentgrass for example. They recommend a 1.5lb N/1000 sq ft to start followed by 0.5lbN applications every 2 weeks after establishment. This would put down more fertilizer in 3 weeks than I put on my greens in 6 months! No wonder people are having issues with thatch and their bentgrass greens! Thatch = more aeration with leads to more poa. I have yet to read about someone inter-seeding and going "extreme" and not flooding their greens with fertilizer after seeding. All the studies I read also use relatively high rates of fertilizer after establishment. I have only used light nitrogen applications with a little potassium here and there for the past 4 years and have seen the bent come on strong. This year I plan to go even lower in my nitrogen rates in the summer to take into account the nitrogen released from organic matter.

If I was a fertilizer salesperson today I would mix up a liquid fertilizer blend to promote bentgrass and it would have a little n, little, k, lots of iron (to make you think it's working "ooooo look how green the grass is") and recommend high rates of my very low N fertilizer (to make more $$$$). I am confident this would result in a shift in bentgrass vs Poa on your greens. But for those of you who apply simple fertilizers, I would just apply less.
Lots of bentgrass creeping in. this green is now mostly bentgrass.
The point I am trying to make is that maybe we are doing it wrong? Maybe we are causing more damage with our fertilizer use than good? Maybe that fancy fertilizer program that babies the turf all season long is making it too easy for your poa to survive and compete with the hardier bentgrass? Maybe it is too easy for us to try and solve our problems by throwing more fertilizer at it? I don't think fertilizer has as big of an impact on our successes and quality of turf than we are lead to believe. Sure it is required to produce too turf, but probably at much lighter rates than we previously thought. Maybe that growth response we are seeing isn't because of the fertilizer?

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Core Aeration, A thing of the past?

Recently there was an interesting article about how some superintendents have started to forgo their core aeration practices in favor of less disruptive solid tine aeration with regular topdressing. It seems like we have been told to core aerate forever and the consequences of not pulling a core can be dire. What has changed and how are these guys getting away without core aerating their turf?
Is this a thing of the past?
It wasn't too long ago that fertilizer (specifically nitrogen) rates were much higher on golf courses. A friend of mine had a USGA consultation in the mid '90s and their recommendation was to increase their nitrogen rates to about 9lbs N/1000sq ft on their putting greens! That's about 3x what they now normally apply each season. With nitrogen rates this high there is no wonder why we needed to aggressively remove organic matter 2 or more times per season!

What a drag core aeration is ;)
I have heard a lot about how nitrogen rates are being reduced significantly on golf courses. 2lbs N/1000sq ft per season is now not uncommon, and this is on super busy courses with poa annua greens! Historically I have applied about 4 lbs n/1000sq ft each season. This has remained the same even when switching over to a growth potential model for fertilizer applications. What I have noticed, however, is that during the summer months I measure excessive growth. This growth can probably be attributed to the release of nitrogen from the organic matter in the soil. This year I plan to significantly reduce my nitrogen inputs as fertilizer to account for the organic matter N release. With these small changes I fully expect to have my added nitrogen rate in the neighborhood of 2 lbs N /1000 sq ft with predominantly poa annua greens.

With the growth potential model I have learned just how little fertilizer is needed to produce great quality playing surfaces especially in the spring and fall, times when we used to apply the majority of our fertilizer applications. No snake oils, just light applications of urea and ammonium sulfate.

Since making even these changes to my fertilizer rates I have been able to eliminate 1 core aeration each fall and now just do a deep tine and heavy topdress. This is with the same yearly rate of nitrogen but just timed differently. I expect that my spring core aeration will also one day not be standard practice. I have never core aerated our fairways, they are on native soil/rock and see a lot of cart traffic. I just let the worms do the work for me. A minor inconvenience but a lot less inconvenient than a core aeration!
The turf in the aeration holes does well but everything else suffers, not my idea of progress.
We are also in the age of data collection. No longer are we left guessing. We measure ball roll, surface firmness, moisture content, temperature, nutrient content, and can precisely apply extremely low rates of fertilizer. With this precision turf management I believe that we can minimize waste (excessive organic matter production) and eliminate practices that were meant to deal with that waste (core aeration).

Of course there will probably always be more organic matter production than we would like as roots grow and die back with the seasons but with light frequent topdressing we should be able to keep ahead of that production as well as firm and smooth our surfaces even more.

The consequences of not having to core aerate are many and as far as I'm concerned completely good for the game, turf health and our budgets. Less disruption obviously is good for golfers and the course's revenue generation. Pulling cores and filling the holes with sand also create channels in the soil where preferential flow can occur. PACE Turf has made a great video showing this phenomenon shown below. This results in the accumulation of salts in areas that weren't directly cored and the turfgrass health suffers as a result. Not only that but this preferential flow must disrupt the drainage characteristics of the surrounding soil which probably isn't ideal.

I have seen some people try eliminating core aeration from their programs but fail. I think the reasons for this vary but the biggest factor is probably nitrogen rates. I think that there is still a lot that we need to learn about how much and at what time nitrogen fertilizer is required to produce good playing surfaces.

Will core aeration ever go away completely? I don't think so. There will still be times when we need to push growth (and organic matter production) to recover from damage. I think it will become part of the process from having to push growth beyond what is necessary for normal growing conditions and golf traffic. If we can limit damage to turf by providing ideal growing conditions I think we can save a lot of time and money. Get that chainsaw sharpened eh!

You might be wondering if I am ready to eliminate core aeration from my mainteance program and the answer is no. My nitrogen rates are still too high in my opinion to stop pulling a core. I hope that by following the growth potential model and adjusting for organic matter N release I can get them low enough to one day stop this pain in the ass practice.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Dumbing Down My Greensmower for the Winter

A solid front roller reduced gouging during the wet and soft conditions of the winter.
Two years ago when we got new mowers I was able to get 14 blade reels for my greens mower. Wow do they every produce a great quality of cut! At the same height of cut (HOC) I was able to get an extra foot of green speed. Struggling to get adequate green speeds became a thing of the past. We were also able to get walk behind quality from a triplex. SWEET!

The only problem I had was that during the winter I struggled to keep the density up, and the aggressiveness of the mowers would gouge when conditions were soft. I LOVED the summer quality of cut but needed to come up with something for the winter.

I had heard of guys using solid front rollers for bentgrass promotion with the theory that they produced less disruption. I'm not crazy pushing for bentgrass (at least not admitting to it publicly yet lol) but less disruption was exactly what I needed during the winter. I slapped an old set of solid front rollers on my greens heads. I also set the HOC WAY UP! WAY WAY UP. The highest that I have even bench set my greens cutting units. We went at 4.5mm all winter long and only just recently lowered them to 4mm. Even so, the greens after a mow and roll were just touching 10' on the stimpmeter! That was about 2-3' more than I needed so I wasn't concerned about the 4.5mm being "crazy high."

I even went a step further by slowing the reel speed. I wasn't too interested in removing too much grass in the winter as I wasn't growing that much grass either!

This past winter the greens have never been better, smoother, or faster. A lot of that can be contributed to tree removal and abnormally warm temperatures but I feel that these modifications made a big difference.

Going forward in the season I am going to leave the HOC where it is until conditions dictate having to go lower. I might even leave those solid front rollers on too! Either way, these reels are insane when you need them to be, but instead of having two sets of cutting units for each season, just make a few quick modifications and they will work great!

Thursday, 9 April 2015

One mower, 2 jobs

One sweet mower, two sets of heads
Two years ago I put together a plan to replace our aging maintenance equipment with new leased modern equipment. At the time, we were spending almost as much as our current lease costs each year on parts alone! There was also the time I spent fixing the equipment and the time my staff were not working efficiently as their mowers seemed to be broken more often than not. This was a great opportunity for us to both modernize our fleet, but also build in some equipment inefficiencies specific to our course and operational needs.

In the past we had 2 mowers set aside for mowing tees and greens. Each mower was basically the same but the cutting units were set at different heights of cut. This worked great but when I was looking at getting new equipment on lease it was just too costly to do this with new equipment. What I decided to do was get one really nice mower that could do it all. We needed a mower that was all wheel drive, was versatile on all types of terrain and had quick change cutting units.

We got 2 sets of cutting units, one for greens and the other for tees and approaches. This would allow us to cut at two heights of cut but use the same traction unit to do so. This cut down on our lease costs but allowed us to have the latest mowing technology for all fine turf areas of the course. Our tee units have rear roller brushes as we don't collect the clippings on our tees and wanted to minimize clumping. On greens I have found roller brushes to actually increase the clumping although they do keep the HOC more consistent. We clean our rear rollers after each green just to keep things pure.

This was especially useful as we only cut our greens every other day while rolling daily. This reduced the impact of having only one mower for two jobs would have. We also have a small crew so even if we had two mowers we wouldn't' have the manpower to cut both at the same time. With this mowing strategy we have also been able to keep hours down on the unit and should be able to get at least 7 years of reliable service from it based on historic use patterns with toro triplex mowers.

The only downside has been during the odd breakdown. If the traction unit goes down, we don't cut anything! Luckily I kept our old junker mowers so that we can get some mowing done in a pinch. They are high hour units and work just fine in an emergency situation.

If you are looking at getting new equipment and mow and roll your greens alternately I would highly suggest getting one mower to do the job of both!

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Controlling disease on tees and approaches without pesticides

This past winter I was inspired by research out of Oregon State University by Clint Mattox on alternate control methods for the control of Microdochium nivale. I wasn't ready to take the plunge on greens but thought that I could adapt their findings to my tees and approaches. They used iron sulfate and sulfur to get reasonably good control of the disease over the winter on poa putting greens. I wrote about my early success with this plan earlier this past winter.

My tees are predominately ryegrass and bentgrass with a tough of poa. My approaches and green surrounds are mostly poa but have some bentgrass as well.

A great deal of the disease control success can be attributed to the incredibly mild winter we have had. Despite the nice weather there were times of high disease pressure on the course. Early January we were socked in with fog and the disease exploded. The recent warm and wet weather has also set the disease going on the putting greens and approaches.

Here is my application record. Nitrogen applications are based on growth potential for bentgrass.
kg applied

I also applied Primo Maxx monthly throughout the winter in an effort to reduce the spread of the disease by mowers. We cut tees 7 times from October until today despite the warm weather.

The cost of iron sulfate for the winter was about $55. I don't know of many traditional pesticide applications on 3000m2 that are that cheap!

Now the use of iron sulfate is solely for disease control. Because of this I feel it is important to calculate the EIQ of this practice. In the past I applied nothing for disease suppression so my EIQ was 0. This year the EIQ from the sulfur in the iron sulfate is 629! The EIQ from the use of ammonium sulfate is 1188! WOW! That is a total EIQ of 1817! To put that into perspective the total EIQ on my putting greens excluding sulfur contained in fertilizer is about 1000.

This brings up the
Disease control on approaches. 
question of what the actual impacts of these alternative control measures are? Just because they aren't pesticides doesn't mean that they are safe, or less harmful for the environment. Either way I am torn. Do I continue to use "fertilizer" for disease control throughout the winter? Do nothing as I always have and suffer the less than perfect conditions? Or start using expensive traditional pesticides? If it comes down to perception, the do nothing is best, followed by the fertilizer method.

Thankfully I have all summer to ponder because, damn, the tees were sweet this winter.......