Outdoor Services Crew

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.