Outdoor Services Crew

Friday, December 9, 2011

Fall Storms Wreak Havoc on Campus Trees

Once again, the Boulder Valley was visited by an autumn snow storm massively damaging trees throughout our campus.  Many of our trees were still very much in leaf causing them to catch enormous amounts of the ice and snow as it fell early in the mornings of October 26th and November 2nd.  The damage to campus trees was among the worst of the last several decades affecting, in some way, nearly every tree on campus.
This event tested our work unit in a variety of way.  It also presented us another opportunity to work with our colleagues in Housing Services, Athletics and CUPD, as well as the City of Boulder. 

Our immediate concerns and actions were aimed at identifying and mitigating the dozens of hazardous situations created by the snow loaded limbs which were failing and shedding off of trees all over the university grounds.  The storm was indiscriminate, harming trees of all species, size, age and condition.

The entire Outdoor Services team, as well as many members of other Facilities Management shops, helped by responding to emergency issues as they surfaced throughout campus.  Staff began pulling down damaged hanging limbs that they could reach and taping off areas where limbs were dangling high above sidewalks and building entries.  We reacted to the largest and most dangerous situations with our Versalift truck as soon as the terrain was passable, pulling down large limbs that were snagged up in the canopies of the higher trees.  We will be going back to all of these sites to conduct canopy inspections and make clean-up and finish cuts.  That work will take months to complete.

Once the weather had let up enough for us to access most areas with our lift truck, we divided the entire Outdoor Services team into units to begin the clean-up process.  The crew of Arborists assembled a ground support team and continued to remove high hazards.  The rest of OS created teams to buck up the larger branches on the ground, load and transport this material, and operate mobile stations to chip the wood and brush into roll-off dumpsters.  We also assisted the Housing Department Grounds staff with their clean-up and chipping.  All of this material was taken off campus and ran through tub grinders to be utilized as mulch material.  The OS crews did an outstanding and efficient job of handling the huge amount of material they faced.   We were very happy to have completed this difficult and dangerous task without any known injury to any of our staff or to the public.

A small number of trees were damaged severely enough to warrant immediate removal.   Many more were damaged to an extent that will require us to assess, over the coming months, if we can retain them and nurse them back to health or conclude to remove them.

Thanks to Ryan Heiland for the photos.

-Vince Aquino

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Good and The Bad

In recent weeks the leaves have begun to fall which poses a couple challenges, both good and bad.  Leaves alone are a great source of organic material for the soil profile so we work very hard to make sure that we capture as many of the leaves as we can and mulch them back into the turf areas on campus.  Mother Nature puts a lot of nutrients into the trees and shrubs, so to pick-up the leaves and remove them from the system is not a good management practice.  (In a later post I will describe our methods of mulching such a large amount of leaves.)  Also, if not done properly and in a timely way leaves can also be a bad thing.

Along with it being a good practice to keep the leaves as a source of nutrients for the soil, and microbial life care must be taken so that the leaves don’t sit too long without being mulched.  Recently we had one of, if not the most, damaging snow storms in CU's history related to landscape tree and shrub damage.  The reason this happened is because with such a large and early storm, the majority of the trees on campus still had their full canopies to hold onto the snow.  Being so early in the fall, the turf had not hardened off for the winter yet either.  We spent two solid weeks with our entire staff working non-stop to try and make the campus safe from falling tree branches.  Just prior to the storm the leaves were starting to fall, and the heavy snow brought down not only large amounts of trees, but also defoliated the majority of the leaves, leaving extremely thick layers of debris on the still lush turf.  Once we started to get a handle on the safety aspect of campus and began to make progress on the clean-up, I started to take a look at the turfgrass under these thick leaves.

As you can see in the above picture the turf has a yellow look to it; this is called chlorosis.  It is evident when the plant is unable to make and sustain chlorophyll due to a lack of sunlight.  Since the plant is still in a stage of growing, it is still in need of nutrients and with the thick coating of leaves, was unable to produce the amount of chlorophyll needed.  This situation, if left unchecked, will cause loss of plants.  Depending on how dense the cover it can kill off an entire area and when the spring comes around the turf is all dead in that location.  The other scenario you can be faced with in this situation is lack of oxygen and abundance of moisture which can cause turf disease, again resulting in loss of plant material.  So obviously we had to make some adjustments to our manpower and clean-up operation.  Once the campus was in a safe condition we pulled a few staff member to start the process of leaf mulching.
If you were to see this in person the turf will almost have a look of being rotten.  Like any other landscape, debris in the early stage of decomposition is very limp, very damp, and over all just not healthy.  Luckily this situation though is very treatable just by simply blowing the leaves off and allowing the affected area to get some sun and air.  The condition will not be sustained and everything will return to normal.

You can see in the above picture that the leaf blades are yellow and in some cases brown.  The blades that are more of the brown color are the plants that are further along in the process and are starting to die off.  Some of those individual plants may or may not come back around.  I believe that we caught the situation early enough and made corrections so that we will not have any noticeable damage from this event.

So again, leaves are great for your home lawns and gardens but you need to follow the classic idea that there is such a thing as "to much of a good thing."  :-)


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Top dressing Kittridge Synthetic fields

As most of you know, the university has three synthetic sports fields along the east edge of campus.  These fields were put in about five years ago and have been a tremendous benefit to the CU Rec Center and the sport teams that use them.  Even though it is a synthetic field, it still needs maintenance due to wear and tear.  There is normal light maintenance done every year which consists of dragging the fields to help prevent matting and maintain an even playing field.  But depending on play, there are more significant maintenance tasks that must be completed like replacement of goal mouth areas and a top dressing of new rubber infill.  This year was the summer for that work and the Rec Center funded the replacement of synthetic turf in the goal mouths of the competition field and a top dress of rubber.

As you see in this short video above, we are using our large top dresser and applying crumb rubber just like a normal top dress of sand on a regular field.  The rubber is made of 100% recycled tires which is ground into a very fine granule, a little smaller than a grain of rice.  The amount put down was roughly 1/8" thick and was dragged to help work it into the synthetic turf blades.

During this project we used 12 tons of crumb rubber which was delivered in these large bag's called "totes."  This is a great way to use large amount of product because you cut down on packaging and the loading of it takes only seconds.  The video shows the loading of one of the bags into our top dresser.  This project went very smooth and the field needed it badly.  So now with the work we’ve done, we should be back to normal maintenance for years to come.
With constant talk of which field is better, synthetic or real, there are many points for each.  But the biggest benefit to synthetic is and always will be, the low level of maintenance compared to a real turf field.  It sure is nice to have 3 fields that barely need any attention and stay very safe and playable under all conditions.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Parking on Lawns

For most large organizations parking can sometimes be limited because land is hard to come by in a large city environment.  Even though the university has some very large events, the frequency of such does not warrant the amount of dedicated parking spots to handle the large events.  So to deal with these few events which require large amounts of parking, the decision is made to use some of the open lawn area.  One of those very large events is student move-in.  This year there were roughly five-thousand freshmen moving into campus and, unlike regular events where alternative transportation is recommended, it is a little difficult to use that method to move someone’s home.

When we determine parking is going to be allowed on the landscape there are actions that will be taken to help protect the campus property.  One method is to actually place turf mats on top of the irrigation valve boxes so that the weight of the vehicles does not break the irrigation mainline.  Other steps that I use entail roping off areas to prevent vehicles from parking under the drip lines of our trees and shutting down irrigation applications.  This is done to firm up the landscape to protect the grades and prevent "rutting" from heavy vehicles.

Parking on landscape is pretty difficult no matter what steps you take but what you see above is a result of the use of the protection matts. Unfortunately the mats are black and with the high temperatures we had paired with relatively little cloud cover, the mats became extremely hot.  There is a pretty good chance this turf will actually come back since we only had these locations covered for about eight hours and then water was applied.

What you are actually seeing is a result of temperatures under these mats getting so high that the leaf cells actually burst.  A leaf blade is made of many individual cells, each having their own cell walls. These cells basically burst from the extreme heat, with the ruptured cell walls releasing all the chlorophyll and moisture in the leaf, creating this very burned out look to the plant.  In time with proper irrigation the plant will start to push new leaf growth and eventually what you see will be mowed off and fade away.  We were pretty lucky that the mats were not down for too much longer or the crown of the plant could have been damaged, resulting in turf loss.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Early Mornings

Being in the Turf Management field means being up early and out checking on things as the sun is coming up on a new day.  The week before the students move in is always one of the quietest times of the year.  Summer school has finished, many, if not all, of the large scale construction projects have finished and it is the final week for the grounds crew to be able to operate with little to no interference.  It is also a time when, just like graduation, we are working very hard to spruce the campus up for the large influx of new students and family.  Our fertilization is peaking at this time, irrigation practices are fine-tuned and mowing happens on a daily basis.
But there is just something about being on campus early, the sun is shining through the trees, there are hardly any people, traffic or anything other than a peaceful landscape.

I thought sharing a few shots of campus in the early morning light would be worthwhile.


Friday, August 26, 2011

The Compost Tea Effect

For the past couple of months we have made and injected our compost tea.  Of course it will be years to start to get the full effect of the bacterial injection, but one thing we have noticed right away is something we call the compost tea effect.  If you have ever switched from normal diesel fuel to biodiesel then you may have heard of the biodiesel effect. When you switch over to biodiesel after using regular diesel, you have to change out the fuel filter frequently because the biodiesel frees up deposits in the fuel system that clog up the fuel filter. In time these deposit are flushed out and you can usually return to normal frequency on your fuel filter changes.
What you see above is organic debris that started to clog our nozzles a couple of days after the first injection.
Since we could not find anyone else who has injected the compost tea on this scale, we had not been warned of such a problem.  All of our heads worked properly and these nozzles were in the ground for years with the occasional clogged screen here and there.  What you see above are Hunter MP-Rotators, the 1000 and 2000 size head.  They are basically miniature rotors the retrofit into existing pop-up spray heads and have screen sizes to match each level, 1000 having the finest mesh size, 2000 having a slightly bigger size and 3000 having the biggest mesh size.  We initially didn't put two and two together until we started to actually find complete irrigation zones where these MP 1000/2000 nozzles were all clogged solid.  The only time you may see this naturally is if you just had a large irrigation break and large amounts of debris were put into the system.  That had not been the case in all of these location.

We worked pretty hard to make the repairs we needed, which actually turned out to entail replacing about 750 of these nozzles all throughout campus.  Then after some conversation and brainstorming we realized that the clogging happened just after our first inject of tea. We were not positive since we did not inspect every station prior to the injection, but the amount of clogged heads would have been noticed in advance of the first injection, so we theorized the tea caused it somehow.  So prior to the next injection we went to the majority of our MP 1000/2000 zones and inspected them to see if they were in good shape as a baseline.

At the same time we had another theory going.  Since almost none of our MP-3000 zones clogged we thought that the screen size of the 3000 series head must have been just large enough to allow this organic debris to flow through and out of the head.  We purchased a few 3000 screens and placed them on the 1000/2000 series heads.  Of course we were not very confident because there must be an engineering reason for the screen sizes based on the small gears inside the head, but it was worth a try.

We went forward with our next injection after establishing our baselines prior and we were able to confirm that the compost tea injection was somehow freeing up this organic matter and allowing it to flow down the system.  I believe that the tea product itself is not at a concentration high enough for it to be the clogging agent, but instead the bacteria in the tea eats away at organic material on the inside of the pipes.  Irrigation mainlines are really no different than rivers or streams in that there are dead spots and locations where water swirls and stays in place as water passes by.  After the injection there were about 12 hours until I ran another cycle the next night to "flush" the system out.  I believe during that time is when the majority of the organic matter is freed and travels through the system.

Once I had a good feeling and understanding of what was going on I spoke with our compost tea guru. He initially believed it could be a real possibility but then he spoke with a bunch of his colleagues and they all believe that what I'm describing is a result of the bacteria eating away at the organic matter lining the irrigaiton pipes.

We have done three injections now and every time, like clockwork, we are getting this result, each time with less and less clogged heads.  We are changing out many of the screens to the MP-3000 screens which has helped tremendously with this organic clogging.  We believe losing a few heads to true debris is acceptable while allowing this organic matter to flush through.

After all the work we have done building, testing and now injecting, we think we have found all the pitfalls and have started to make adjustments to account for them.  I still believe we made the right decision to inject this product and although there have been headaches, it has and is still very rewarding to do something in a way nobody else has.


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Trunk Injection Treatments for Elm Scale on Campus

Some of the most impressive and interesting trees on our campus are the American and Augustine Elms.  We are lucky to have about 40 of these trees left on the main campus after the Dutch Elm Disease epidemic reached colorado in the 1980's, decimating elm populations along the Front Ranges' urban corridor.  We have not had any confirmed cases of Dutch Elm disease in the last decade but our Elm trees have suffered from other disorders and insect issues. 

One of the most damaging of the insect pests on our elms is the European Elm Scale, a very difficult pest to treat once it becomes established.  This insect is the armored scale present on the twigs and smaller branches of nearly any elm tree you might see in Boulder.  Many otherwise healthy and vigourous appearing elms have many small twigs denuded of their leaves due to the scale.  If unchecked, this dieback will move into increasingly larger diameter branches.  This scale insect is also the reason so many elm trees have massive amounts of "honeydew" misting off of them, sticking to everything under the tree.  This honeydew also feeds the production of the black sooty molds on the trunk and branches of the trees and on hardscapes around the tree.  Besides the nuisance factor, this insect is very hard on the trees' health, robbing the twigs and leaves of nutrients and opening the door to secondary decay organisms and weakening the tree substantially.
Over the past several years we have intermittently tried applying insecticides to our elm trees in an effort to slow down this insect.  This year, one of our vendors, Davey Tree Care, is utilizing a new system to administer the pesticide that we feel will do an excellent job of striking the pest while greatly reducing any chances of harming non target organisms, including people and pets, on our campus.  This system is called ArborJet and uses a pressurized cannister to push the insecticide into the cambium layer of the tree allowing the trees' own trans-evaporation processes to then move the product up the trunk and into the smaller branches and twigs where the scale is feeding.  This is a much more direct application of the product than a soil drench to the roots of the tree.  None of the product is disbursed into the surrounding environment and therefore cannot likely be contacted by non targeted or beneficial insects.  Only the insects that puncture the trees and feed are subject to the insecticide.  Most any insect feeding on the trees juices or foliage is not considered beneficial to the landscape.

Working within Integrated Pest Management practices means that in addition to using this pesticide, we will continue to practice other forms of plant health care for these trees, as well.  This will take the form of continued dead wood removal from the canopy, small amounts of structural pruning, and supplemental watering.  The sanitation of the dead wood is especially important in elms in order to lower the attraction of the bark beetles which can vector the Dutch Elm Disease.

The following photos show the insecticide being administered by a professional crew from Davey Tree Care Co. contracted to work on our campus.

Small holes are drilled into the outer layers of the tree and the injectors applied.

Then a pressurized cannister delivers the amount of material needed to treat the tree.  The amount of product needed is determined by the trees' Diameter at Breast Height.

We are hopeful that these trunk injections will help to turn the corner on contolling damage to our historic elm trees from this very resilient pest.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Big Day

Well after almost two years of work in design and securing funding, today was a big step towards getting the Williams Village Raw Water system up and running. The new pump station was delivered today and set in place.
This station, when it comes online later this summer, will feed the irrigation water to the Williams Village complex. This new system will further the use of our Ditch Water rights and remove the usage of domestic water for irrigation at Williams Village. Currently the installation of mainlines and the pond are underway. This system has been designed a lot like the other raw water systems at CU-Boulder with a ditch delivery system, a pond, pump station and new raw water mainline.
The difference with this system compared to the others on main campus is this system has been designed to tie into the existing domestic irrigation systems. The design of the new system was rather challenging. It was tedious trying to make sure to pick up all of the small stand alone domestic systems that are used through-out Williams Village. The irrigation design company that we are using has done a great job trying to find innovative ways to get to all these locations and yet still maintain good hydraulics through the system. It is a very challenging job for sure and they have done great trying to keep everything straight and good to go.
There was a lot of help from many people to get this system funded. The major push to get this system in was to help reduce the amount of domestic water that was used for irrigation. Once this system is in and all the tie-ins have been done we expect a savings of 10-13 million gallons of domestic water. Technically, we will still be using the same amount of water but we will be using untreated ditch water instead of domestic treated water.

Once this station comes online it will be the 5th raw water pump station at CU-Boulder and will convert the last large location of domestically fed irrigation to ditch water.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Looking back

A good thing to do once in a while is to take a breath and look back at what has been accomplished. It is very easy to get bogged down always thinking about the current list of challenges and start to feel like you are not making progress. During my recent work on the Turf Taskforce I dug through a bunch of old photos and did some comparisons on where we were, to where we are today. There are too many to show in a single post but wanted to share a few.
A good practice to get in the habit of especially in the landscape field is picture documentation. It is easy to try to remember how things look but to be able to pull up pictures from years ago helps to jog your memory. During the spring of 2002 I spent some time going around campus taking a lot of pictures of the existing conditions. Those pictures have come in handy to help realize that the work we have done is making a difference.

The look of campus in the early years of the turf program was rather dismal. After a lot of hard work by the Turf Management Team we have made great strides. As with any change, there are so many factors that play a role such as funding, understanding, but most of all patience. Mother nature has been known to take her time with certain things and growing a healthy ecosystem is not a quick turn around. We are almost 10 years into the program and we still have a long ways to go. Honestly, we may never reach the end, change happens very frequently here on campus and along with that change comes landscape impacts.

A challenge we have is preventing frustration from grounds staff. After seeing an area get turned around and brought up to a level where we are very proud there tends to be some type of construction that makes an impact to that area. This must be looked at as a challenge and a chance to make improvements. It is a chance to prove our skills and more importantly learn new ways to deal with these impacts. There is no class in Turfgrass School to deal with some of the things we are faced with and it is very interesting to think of new ways to deal with impacts.

We tend to laugh sometimes at how bored we would be if we went to a place where everything stays the same for years on end:-)


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The only constant is change.

As most of you may have seen, the Coors Events Center has been under construction for the new Basketball/Volleyball Practice Facility. Along with construction always comes a little bit of destruction of existing landscape. This is not always a bad thing, by consistently working to upgrade buildings and infrastructure on campus we help to prevent becoming stagnant and work towards continuous imporovement. At a previous employer I learned a saying that seems to fit perfectly, " You have to crack some eggs to make an omelet." I constantly remind myself of this during construction projects.

Many other locations where landscape is installed there tends to not be much in the way of constant construction or change. When they designed the irrigation system 20 years ago they had no idea where buildings would be constructed or how funding would ultimately change those master plan ideas. Sometimes with those changes come major impacts to the irrigation delivery system. I consider major portions of the delivery system to be 4" mainlines and larger.

Recently during the later stages of the practice facility design it was determined that there needed to be an area which would allow large semi-trucks to be able to back into the new loading dock. A relocation of the existing 6" mainline would have to be undertaken.
In the above picture you will see the 6" PVC mainline. Since this is a change in direction there needs to be concrete poured behind it to prevent it from moving. This is known as a "kicker" and must be poured up against virgin soil to make sure that it stays in place. The "kicker" is technically called a thrust block and is used to handle a phenomenon called "Water Hammer." The best way to describe what water hammer is to talk about the banging noises you may hear in old houses as you quickly shut of the faucet. The hammer is actually the force of the water rapidly stopping, because as with many things, once the water is in motion there is a certain amount of force behind it in motion. To have it stopped suddenly or change direction suddenly it will tend to apply forces which must be counteracted. In a home situation this hammer is normally not of sufficient force to cause a break in the pipe. However with large pipes the forces are easily great enough to cause breaks in the pipe.
In this picture you can see the actual pipe fitting  prior to the plastic and concrete being applied. Also in this picture you will notice some control wires. These are the wires that run from the irrigation clock to the individual zones and allows for the operation. Relocating the mainline itself is not too much of a problem, it is pretty straight forward.

However, the main issue comes with control wires. In the ground the control wires are just that, wires. But each individual wire goes to a station and is associated with a designated station in the controller and also the Network 8000 computer. The real challenge comes during the operation of the stations from the computer, each station has its own identity in the Network 8000 and along with that identity is the amount of heads on that station, the type of heads, the amount of water those heads put out, etc. As with any computer system it is only as good as the information you put in it, so if a station is not put back in the correct sequence it may run that station thinking it is a rotor zone but is incorrectly hooked to a pop up zone. Pop up zones generally run anywhere from 5-10 minutes during a cycle where as rotors can run up to 45 minutes, obviously there are going to be some serious flooding concerns if those stations end up running for that long.

We work extremely hard with contractors to make sure they understand this risk and take all necessary measures to iensure that there are not mistakes during this portion of the job. Of course once things are buried it becomes extrememly difficult to make repairs to the wire and thus we do extensive testing before the pipe is buried to make 100% sure everything is correct.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Lightning Strike

Late in the evening last night we had a small storm roll through town. There was a good amount of lightning and surprisingly not too much rain. Usually that is a bad combination because it can cause forest fires and the like. In this case the other part of lightning, that we tend to deal with in urban areas, is the damage it can do when locations take a direct strike. Thankfully nobody was hurt when this 50' White Fir tree took a direct hit yesterday.
In the picture above and below you will notice large chunks of bark which were blown off of the tree from the direct hit.
CU-Boulder does have lightning detection systems on campus. There are 5 stations on main campus: one on top of the recreation center, one on Franklin Field, one on the northwest corner of Farrand Field, one on the Business Field, and one on the basketball courts east of the Coors Event Center. Also there is 1 system out at Williams Village. These systems are much like any other detection system using the amount of static electricity in the air to determine when lightning strikes could be possible, once this happens there is an audible and visual alarm that starts to sound.
It was really fortunate that nobody was hurt, but as you can see in the pic, it is also really unfortunate that this one took the hit. It is a very mature White Fir and will be noticed when it is removed. We are working to take it down but with more storms in the area today our Arborists have not been able to take out our lift truck and start the removal. Safety is always first and foremost in a situation like this, so we have taken the necessary safety measures to protect the public and will begin the removal process as soon as the weather cooperates.


Turning on some Ditches

In the past I have spoke about the water rights that are owned by CU-Boulder and are extensevly used to irrigate campus property. Last year there was some discussion about bringing a historic section of ditch back into an operational status. Last summer I started to investigate what it might take to allow water to once again flow in the Norlin Quad. There were some sections that had collapsed under sidewalks and some portions that were clogged with roots and debris. This winter we were able to make repairs to these sections, and a couple of weeks ago we brought water down these sections for the first time in decades.

In the video above you can see we created a small diverter in the ditch lateral. This board is used to help create "Head Pressure" behind the board. Basically allowing the water to gain elevation and provide the ability to divert the water into a section of ditch that is at a different elevation. This trick is not new and was used by early settlers to get water into locations. The most common method for moving water to a different elevation by gravity only is the use of holding ponds. This allows you to move water to one location and use a pond as a method to "raise" the water elevation and send it out through another ditch at a higher elevation.

This section of ditch in the Norlin Quad used to be used to flood irrigate the quad. If you were to look closely at the grade it slopes from south to north in the quad. At the south and north sides of the quad there are two open ditches. If you were to look closely at the video above you notice a slit in the stone, these slits are about every 5-10 feet along the entire ditch. Just like we put a piece of plywood in the slit to help divert the water into another lateral the night watermen used to put boards into these slits and let the ditch overflow. Then gravity would take over and allow water to flow across the quad. The ditch on the north side is used for conveyance but also to collect excess water that flows across the quad, then that water can be used further downstream to irrigate other sections.

It was really a great feeling when we started to flow water down this ditch just prior to graduation. For many decades this was just an open ditch with nothing in it but concrete and now on nice sunny days you can hear trickling water in the Norlin Quad once again.
It is amazing looking back at the ingenuity of people, today nobody would ever think of a gravity only delivery system. This is one system that if you keep it clean, water will always flow. There are no concerns about pumps going down, electricity going out or any kind of mechanical failure. Mother Nature can move water very easily, we just have to want to allow her to do it and have patience and she will get it done.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Annual Tree Walk Re-scheduled to Wed. May 25

All this recent rain is great for the campus turf and trees, but it’s not so good for doing a tree walk!

A smaller than normal group showed up for  this Tuesday's tree walk after it rained most of the day.  Wednesday, Mother Nature really stepped up her game with fairly heavy rain right at our scheduled start time of 5 p.m.  Only one brave soul showed up to join us.  This was the first time I can recall that we actually had to cancel an entire walk due to rain. 

Vince and I have decide to schedule a new date, Wednesday, May 25th, meet at the west steps of Norlin library at 5 p.m. to try to give folks another chance to enjoy the tradition of a spring tree walk.  We hope to see you there.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Soil Food Web

Recently we worked with a company to discuss our Turfgrass Management Practices. The consulatant believed our cultural practices were very solid within our Turfgrass Management program. He discussed the introduction of a compost tea program to help increase our microbial life in our soil. In a previous post, I discussed our history of working towards increasing the microbial life and what tools we have been using for 9 years.

When we chose to implement this compost tea brewing program we were very curious to know what amounts and types of microbial life we already had and how well we had been doing in the past 9 years increasing these numbers. The problem has been not having the factual data to display these numbers. Within the past couple of years a new test has come online that is called a Soil Bio-Assay test. This test involves a company actually looking through a microscope and counting, indentifying and sizing out microbial, bacterial and fungal life in our soil. These tests are not cheap, but the information we get is honestly priceless.
The soil food web image above illustrates how the soil profiles are all tied together with many levels of organisms. As with any other eco-system, if you dont have enough of a certain species then the eco-system will get out of whack and you will have too many of certain things. Depending on what that species is it can become detrimental to the entire eco-system. It is all about checks and balances. As you can see in the above diagram it all starts with good levels of organic matter-which we have good levels of-and then working to increase the levels of bacteria; which in turn help to increase the entire food web.
The test above is one example of our food web test. This location is the Norlin Quadrangle and has always been a place where good practices have been used because of its location and importance. As you can see we have been doing pretty well at feeding the organisms that exist and trying to increase these numbers is the goal. The compost tea brew will be a major factor in introducing more of these bacteria and microbial life to speed up Mother Nature as well as help to inoculate more of the organisms to areas where new construction has happened and the soil is effectively dead.
If you were to look between these two test you will see some higher numbers of organisms in the test just above (Varsity Lawn) compared to the Norlin Quadrangle test. I have my theories as to why it is so much different. Both places have the same type of irrigation and cultural practices including the same Richlawn 5-3-2 fertilizer and the locations are within 500ft of each other. If you were to think of these two locations though, the Norlin Quad has a few trees along the perimeter otherwise it is mostly an open lawn. As for the Varsity lawn location, the area has a very high concentration of deciduous trees.

Before changes were made to the grounds program 9 years ago, the leaves on campus were all picked up and removed from campus. If you think of what Mother Nature does she expends nutrients to make those leaves so why not put them back. 9 years ago we started to mow all the leaves back into the lawn areas by using mulching decks on our mowers. I believe by returning these heavy amounts of leaves we have provided a great "food" for the first level organisms, this gave them the ability to increase in numbers which helps to sustain a higher amount of each level of organism in other levels of the food web.

These tests for Turf Managers, like myself, are amazing. To be able to see proof of what you where taught in school, and to know that the practices you have been doing are making a huge difference, provides a great sense of satisfaction to our whole team!


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Stripe it up!

Everyone has seen the stripes on golf courses, baseball fields and other locations. Believe it or not I have been asked many times, "How do they do that?" Some believe that it is something extremely unique; however, the true trick is the large mowers used in the Turfgrass industry that have rollers on the back of each deck. As you mow the lawn it is first cut by the blades and then it is rolled. This rolling is actually what makes the stripes you see. If you think of a blade of grass there is a slight reflective ability of the grass blade itself and the mower lays the turf slightly to the side which allows sunlight to reflect off of it.

In the picture above you can see what appears to be light and dark stripes. The light stripes are actually the turf being layed slighty in a direction directly away from you in this view. Therefore the sun is able to refect off the blades of grass themselves. As you are looking at the dark stripes what you are actually seeing is the turf has been layed every so slightly directly pointing at you. Because of this orientation, the sun would be shining on the tips of the turf blades and there is not enough surface area to reflect enough light to make it look bright.

From an agronomic perspective there are no benefits to the Turfgrass by having these stripes; they are purely asthetic. When you are on campus you will regualarly see stripes in the lawns but they are not as strong as these pictures show. When we are approaching spring graduation or fall move in we make it a point to have certain mowing patterns to stay on for a couple of weeks.  Believe it or not we have reasons for choosing these special pattern directions. One facter is direction of travel. If you know a lot of people are going to be coming from a certain direction, you would want to have the stripes pointing in that direction to give the full affect. The other factor to consider is position of the sun at the time of the given event. To get the full affect you will want the sun shining in the direction of the stripes; this will give the best light, dark contrast. As the sun moves across the sky you will not get the same affect because the light will be coming from the side.

So next time you are watching tv and you see these stripes, remember that there is actually someone that thinks about the pattern of the stripes and the directions they run to provide that final touch to a well manicured lawn.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Time to pull some cores!

After a good soaking of 1.5 inches of rain, its perfect timing to get our aerators rolling!  There are several kinds of aeration techniques.  Here we are using two walk behind core aerators.  These are great machines to get into smaller areas where we can’t get in with our bigger equipment.  With the hollow tines, we are pulling cores out which leads to several benefits.  We are relieving soil compaction, removing thatch, improving air circulation within the soil, and improving water infiltration and drainage in the soil.  This will help with root development essentially making the plant stronger and healthier with a deeper root system and a better ability to uptake nutrients.  The soil also becomes a better growing medium for essential microorganisms that help break down organic matter that accumulates throughout the season.

Here we are using our solid deep tine Wiedenmann aerator on a recreation field.  The actual playing fields are synthetic but the sidelines are natural grass.  These sidelines take a beating with foot traffic throughout the academic year.  The solid tines do not pull cores and we’ll eventually go back through one more time with our core aerator for that.  With the deep tine we are getting down to a 5”-6” depth thus relieving deep compaction.  

As always, when we’re finished, we’ll go back and broadcast seed and slit-seed these areas to help the strength and density of our established turf.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

New Install

Recently the new Institute of Behavioral Science Building was constructed in the Grandview area of campus. During construction, they ran into some schedule challenges-passing the October 1 planting deadline-which prevented us from landscaping. Now that spring is here, we have finally gotten to the point of landscaping the building. The tenants are very excited considering they have had to look at a baron dirt only landscape all winter long.
One of the major design criteria of this building was working to an extremely xeric landscape using almost exclusively a product called Netafim. Recently, this type of drip irrigation-water is emitted through the tubes themselves-is being used over traditional drip tubing-a very small tube is run to each individual plant. However, there are some challenges with this application method. The orifices in the tubes are very small and if you dont make sure to have pre-filters on the irrigation valves these holes will get clogged. The major downside to this is if you are not watching the plant material closely, or inspecting the pipes for operation, you won't know that they aren't working until the plant starts to wilt.
With only three irrigation technicians to monitor the entire university irrigation system; this can be a difficult challenge. One way we have found to help give a visible notification that the drip line is working is a small pop up sprinkler head on the end of the line. This sprinkler head has a nozzle on it that is closed and does not emit water but will still pop up just like a normal pop up sprinkler. By looking for these sprinklers we are able to know whether the line is working without having to spend time pulling the mulch and weed guard to verify operation.
The upside to this type of irrigation is the prevention of evaporative loss and control of the pattern of irrigation. A major downside of spray types of irrigation is making sure the heads are operating properly so that the water is being put on the landscape and not onto concrete or other hardscapes. With this type of application we are also able to mitigate drift from external forces such as wind. Since the irrigation is applied under a weed barrier and under 4" of mulch it is a very directed application, the proper amount of water directed exactly to the proper location.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Traffic Paths

When new buildings are constructed we always have a change in pedestrian traffic patterns. The paths are caused by the pedestrians as they choose to not use the designated sidewalks and take the lazy route. As you can see in the below picture, instead of putting a hand rail along the sidewalk to prevent the cut through, the decision was made to place trees instead, which would hopefully change the look of the open lawn. As you can see it didn't work.
These paths are extremely frustrating to the grounds staff who are constantly working hard to make the campus as beautiful as possible; however, these paths also represent a cost impact to the campus. There is a lot of work put in during the design phase of projects to help identify possible locations where this could happen. It is always amazing to see the amount of design work that goes into preventing these paths, only to have the resilience of these lazy pedestrians come through and find a way.
 In the grounds and landscape community, these paths are unofficially named "Cow Paths" because they closely resemble the look of trails formed on cattle ranches. This term may not be the most politically correct way to describe these paths but the impacts match perfectly to the term. As you can see in the above picture, there is a full grown row of trees and the pedestrians have found a way to cut through a small gap in the branches. 


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Arbor Day Tree Planting Ceremony and Tree Campus USA Certification

Please join us on Friday, April 15, 2011 beginning at 11 a.m. for a celebration of CU-Boulder being certified as a Tree Campus USA, as well as a ceremonial tree planting for Arbor Day.    These activities will take place in the ‘meadow’ area, downhill from the northwest corner of Macky, across the street from the Armory building, along University Avenue.  (Vince Aquino posted an interesting article about the removal of two large willows in this same general area on March 7).
Keith Wood, Urban Forester from the the Colorado State Forest service will be on hand to present the University with our Tree Campus USA recognition materials.  After that, we will be planting two Sweet Gum trees. Our event will conclude with some light refreshments and the opportunity for our guests to talk to tree care professionals about trees and  proper tree care.  We are also expecting special guests including Vice Chancellor for Administration, Frank Bruno, staff from the City of Boulder  Forestry division,  other campus administrators as well as the members of the Tree Campus USA committee. Everyone is invited to join us in this age old tradition.

In the case of poor weather, we will move the ceremony to the Heritage Center in Old Main, followed by the planting at a back up location along the historic president’s walk near the east side of the Alumni Center. Please wear comfortable shoes, as the ceremony and planting will be in a natural area.
I hope to see you there.  Alan

Strange Things

One interesting thing to watch in the springtime is which plants start to awake from dormancy at different times under the exact same conditions. This is usually best seen in lawn areas where patches of green turf show up while there are still patches of dormant turf. Often this is because there are different types of cultivars of turf and even different species, which is close to impossible to recognize with an untrained eye. 
Then there are other times where it is plain to see.
The above is a classic example of what I mean. In the picture you clearly notice two of the shrubs are fully leafing out and starting to actively grow. This row of shrubs was all installed at the same time during the construction of the Discovery Learning Center. They are obviously in the same location with the same irrigation, shade and other environmental impacts.
These shrubs are of the same species but are slightly different cultivars. This cultivar may have a slightly different genetic characteristic which is more conducive to growth at a slightly lower soil temperature. This has allowed these plants to start the spring growth much earlier than the rest of the bed. The other plants are starting to create leaf buds but are a couple of weeks behind the others. During this phase it can take on the appearance that these are the only two plants that have made it through the winter; which can cause some alarm. However, after closer inspection, the other plants are just fine they are just a little behind their brothers and sisters.

This is one interesting part of Mother Nature, such little changes can have drastic affects on the landscape and its growth habbits.