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.