Outdoor Services Crew

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Let It Snow....UUUGGGHHH!!!

From time to time there will be topics that I feel would be great to create a post for, but the event/situation is not something I was directly involved in.  For those situations I will approach the responsible parties to share the event with you.  This post is done in collaboration with Jason DePaepe, the Athletics Turfgrass Manager and Ryan Newman, Assistant Athletics Turfgrass Manager. They are responsible for the day-to-day maintenance operations for Folsom Field itself and provided me with technical information on how the field was prepared for the USC game on the evening of November 4, 2011.

Almost everyone enjoys watching football in inclement weather and the atmosphere that it creates.  Well, almost everyone.  Snow during a game week is a nightmare for athletic field managers and facilities managers everywhere.
On November 2, 2011 we received roughly 6" of snow and on the third there was still a fair amount left, leaving no other option but to plow the field in preparations for a nationally televised home game on November 4th against USC.  Part of preparations for a home game is to monitor upcoming weather conditions, and make adjustments to preparations to account for weather impacts.  Knowing that there was a good chance for snowfall during game week, the field was painted on Monday and Tuesday.  Normally game day painting would be done on Wednesday and Thursday in prep for a Saturday game.

Folsom Field has a heating system in the soil profile which can be utilized in situations like this to prevent the field from freezing and causing unsafe playing conditions.  Some may think that the system will actually melt the snow, but in reality it is at a depth of 8" and will not have any direct effect on field surface temperature.  Allowing the field to melt naturally would have possibly jeopardized the firmness of the profile and could have provided a situation where players could get hurt because of soft footing.  These concerns further enforced the decision to plow the field.

The first step was to remove all the snow on the synthetic turf surrounding the actual field.  This provides locations for the field snow to be piled and removed. The tractor you see has a special bucket designed for pushing large amounts of material and works great not only for pushing, but holding the snow in the bucket so it can be moved long distances.  This same piece of equipment is used for moving the snow that is brought to the perimeter of the field.

The goal Thursday was to remove the rest of the snow from the actual field in Folsom Stadium.  This is a time consuming process.  Unlike normal snow plowing there is a very deliberate method employed to not only protect the field itself, but preserve the aesthetic quality of the field.  Sports turf managers not only strive to provide the best playing surface possible for the athletes, but also provide a product that has an appearance that they can be proud of.  With this in mind the striping that you are accustomed to seeing on tv must be preserved so care is taken to remove the snow in the direction that we have been mowing the field to preserve that same pattern.  There is a prior post on this blog that speaks about striping and the methods behind it.

In the picture below you can see that we use a small John Deere Gator with a blade that is designed specifically for sports fields. It has a rubber edge on it which allows it to slide along the field without tearing up the turf.  The snow is brought to the edges of the field by traveling east and west where we use the tractor to push it up to the ramp coming out of the north end of the stadium.  At that point skidsteers are utilized to load up the snow and remove it from the stadium completely.

In this picture you see what looks like the Gator had driven across the main field logo.  Actually Jason is backing the gator up to the edge of the logo and will pull forward.  With painting being done just before the storm hit the cool temperatures prevented the paint from drying completely, so all of the logos on the field had to be shoveled by hand to carefully protect them.  It would not be acceptable if the logo was to be smeared all over the field.  The logos take a very long time, are painted by hand and therefore are treated very carefully during this operation.  The decision was made that with the amount of melting we had going that we did not need to shovel the end zones.  They were melting very well and we felt confident they would melt off completely during the day on Friday.  With our good strong Colorado sunshine, Friday was a great day which allowed for the final melting and more importantly, drying.  We were able to mow the field late on Friday prior to the game which touched-up the field and provided the classic aesthetic of a football field.

Our BuffVision staff actually took video of the removal process as it happened. This is a great video to help illustrate how this process worked.

Events of this size alone take months of planning and many, many hours of preperation to pull off smoothly and safely.  When Mother Nature makes plans to attend the event, it strains the entire campus to make sure everything goes off safely.  It took a lot of work but the entire campus pulled together and the only thing that didn't go as planned was the game.

Jason DePaepe
Ryan Newman
Ryan Heiland

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Gray Snow Mold

It is that time of the year again where for the most part turfgrass maintenance activities have slowed, but not completely stopped.  What you see above is a very common turfgrass disease called Gray Snow Mold.  This is a fungal disease that, on golf courses or sports fields with shortly mowed turf, it can be more impactfull than normal 2" or higher turfgrass.  For locations with short mowing heights there can be some type of protective fungicide application performed late in the fall to help prevent the disease.  We don't do any kind of fungicide application, for many reasons, but more importantly this is a disease that is not much of a problem for our turf height .

Gray Snow Mold is a fungal disease which is dormant fungi in the turf canopy in the summer.  Then as temps drop in the late fall and winter months, the fungi becomes active.  Gray Snow Mold forms under prolonged snow cover and will continue to propagate as long as the snow continues to cover the canopy.  This desease is usually only found on north sides of builds where the snow has a chance to last for long periods of time.  Recently with warm winds, areas that have been under snow cover since the November storms have finally started to open up so I can take a look.  As you can see we have some Gray Snow Mold.

Gray Snow Mold grows like many other fungal infections and requires cool damp conditions for growth.  I had a good feeling we would get a fair amount of Gray Snow Mold this year because the turf was not completely dormant when the first heavy snow fall hit.  This provided a perfect scenario for fungal growth.  If the turf and soil had been completely dormant or frozen prior to the snow we would have much less infection.

Initially these infections tend to be circular patches roughly 6-8" in diameter and will continue to grow until individual colonies coalesce into larger patches that can cover entire areas.  Looking closer, the patches have a white to gray color and have hair like structures called Mycelia that envelope the leaf blades.  This fungus feeds primarily on the leaf tissue of the plant and usually does not go after the crowns of the plant and for this reason it is usually not a major problem in taller turfgrass.

Here on campus when these areas become open, we send our staff out with lawn rakes to literally rake the turf to break up the matted areas which allows dry air into the canopy.  This will quickly shut down the fungus and will prevent further damage.  We then will go back to the hardest hit areas in the spring to do heavy slit-seeding to regenerate any turf we may have lost during the event.

Having snow cover is great for moisture in the long dry winters to protect plants from drying out but as you can see there can be a downside to a good snow cover. 

Never a dull moment in the Turfgrass industry.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

What are those green boxes?

Those green boxes you see are actually part of our irrigation system.  They are called Toro VP Irrigation Controllers.  We currently have 68 of these controllers, each with roughly 32 irrigation stations controlling about 2,176 irrigation stations throughout the CU Campus.  They cover irrigation operation for the entire Main Campus, Williams Village, Research Park, and East Campus, along with some satellite locations including Newton Court and the CINC building.  We are continuously adding new controllers as the campus grows.  We will be picking up another 32 station controllers for the new landscape associated with the System Bio-Tech building at the Research Park.
These clocks are not like your normal irrigation clock in your home garage.  The VP controller is a very sophisticated controller.  It can be operated on its own just like your home controller but we control it with our Network 8000 computer through radio communication.  The original installation in 1991 used hardwire communication cable linking all the clocks back to the central computer.  Irrigation companies like Rain Bird and Toro had not started using radio frequency communication until a couple years later.  During those first years there were many challenges with that method of communication namely the amount of construction on campus would damage the communication wire.  As with any electrical system, the more splices you have in a wire the more resistance you have and eventually the system became unreliable with all the splices.  There used to be phone modem systems as well that communicated to the central computer but once the system started using radio control we eventually migrated the entire system to radio in the mid 90's and removed the modem systems.

A major challenge with using a radio system is location.  These controllers are placed in locations that are as inconspicuous as possible.  While that works great from a visual perspective it does not work well with radio signals.  Optimum radio signals are generally received as long as the two items communicating are in line of sight from each other.  That is why the majority of radio broadcasts are generated from elevated locations, such as Lookout Mountain, for most of our local radio stations.  The same reason you get great stereo reception the further away you are from the base of the Foothills and worse reception right along the Foothills is because you are more likely in line of sight of the broadcasting location.  Here on campus we have many buildings located very close together and on top of that some of them have extensive research equipment that generate plenty of interference for this type of system.

As the system continued to grow it became apparent that a more robust system was needed.  Previously the central computer spoke directly to the VP controllers, but as time went on and we started to use these systems in more distant locations we invested in a repeater system that was placed on the top of Folsom Stadium.  This location gave us the elevation we needed as well as the power to reach all the clock locations.  Now we are able to communicate with all of our controllers to include a controller at the South Campus tennis courts.  Since that system has been put in place we have been able to greatly expand the usage of these controllers.

We still have locations that have challenges that we are not sure of and have had pour reception at certain places.  In the first picture you see the two controllers but you also see a metal plate with a white stick in the middle.  We worked with our vendor to create the specific antenna setup to help us in some of our toughest locations.  We have many of these setups in use because even with the repeater on the stadium, we have some locations that are just extremely difficult.

In this picture you see the interface board that we can use to make changes to the system while out in the field.  This can include manual operation of the stations and we can make other system changes to the clock through this interface.  We do not use this option very often in the field, we tend to make all changes in the central computer.  There are a few key pieces to making sure we maintain a healthy landscape and these clocks are easily one of the most important pieces of equipment we have.

With any system, redundancy is always the safest way to operate a crucial system.  In the case that one part fails, there are ways to continue operating and not have catastrophic failure of the entire system.  One of those benefits is that we can actually use the field interface to create programs and run the irrigation system without the need for the central computer in the case of a computer failure.  Also in the case that we have radio communication problems, the clocks will continue to operate on the last known command for up to 2 weeks without new input.

As the irrigation companies have grown they have continued to help Turfgrass Managers sleep at night! Which I can say is a great thing.  :-)


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Toro Network 8000

There are many computers on campus and some are tied to much larger items.  This happens to be one of those computers.  Above you see the computer that runs the entire irrigation system for CU Boulder.  With this computer I'm able to initiate, control, adjust or stop irrigation operations on campus.  Just like a home irrigation controller, everything comes back to one singular control point.  This post could be very long if I was to cover all the options that are possible with this system so I will focus on three things.

The first portion being the Control System for the Site Pro program.
I apologize for the large size on the above picture but it needed to be bigger so you would be able to see the items.  What you see is the control system for one of our 68 irrigation controllers.  Within this page resides all crucial data for every station within that controller including location, amount of heads, station flow and most importantly, station percentage adjustment.  The ability to adjust every single station by itself is one of the greatest benefits to having a central control system.  In the third column from the left you will see the header labeled %Adj.  This column represents adjustments that have been made to the individual station.  The adjustments are crucial especially with the amount of microclimates on campus.  Within one area we can have south facing sloped landscape and then on the north side of a building we could have flat grade and no sunshine.  This makes proper irrigation extremely challenging without the ability to adjust individual stations.  An example of the adjustment would be, I chose to irrigate .25" of water on a given night, but a location may need more water to compensate for a south facing exposure.  So that station may be adjusted to 125%.  This represents 125% of .25" of water.  The opposite is true as well, where I may have an area that is very shady and low lying so it only need 75% of .25" to satisfy the plants needs.  It honestly can take years to properly adjust the system so that when I irrigate a certain amount everything gets what it truly needs and we are not over watering/underwatering.  I'm in my tenth year of adjustments and for the majority of campus we have a good handle on all the microclimates, but each year with new construction and landscape growth I find that adjustments are still routinely done.
What you see above is a small portion of what is called the Hydraulic Tree.  Unlike the control system this section of the Network is not adjusted unless a new irrigation system is added to the database.  Inside this section you have every single pressurized irrigation mainline on the entire campus.  For a station to run on campus it must be "attached" to a "pipe" in this section.  Each "pipe" has a max flow.  The maximum water an area can deliver is set based on the Pump Sation feeding that area.  So in this case we have the Varsity Pump station which delivers 750gpm at max flow.  Each night before programs are loaded to the clocks Site Pro runs a projected flow graph.  This is a way for the computer to determine which zones run and for how long on each pipe.  The most crucial portion of this data is the flow management.  If the incorrect data has been input then we can have problems ranging from low station pressure all the way to breaking mainlines.  Needless to say we pay very close attention when we are in this area to make sure everything is done right.

The final section I will discuss is our Weather Station
Currently we have our own weather station which we use to monitor many things.  As you can see above we can monitor every important piece of information that a Turf Manager needs to help make decisions about the need/amount of irrigation for a given night.  This station gives us an important piece of information called the ET factor.  Also known as evapotranspiration, this is the amount of moisture returned to the atmosphere during a given time from the soil and plant transpiration.  This is a rough representation of the replenishment a given location may need during the next irrigation cycle.  But this is not the only information a Turf Manager uses to determine the amount to put down in a given cycle.  Root development, cultural practices, plant species, soil type, events, traffic, as well as the inherent knowledge of your landscape are all factors to help determine a specific amount of water to put down.  I have been asked in the past if the ET factor says .25 why don't you just put that down and call it good.  The factors given above help to illustrate that the ET factor is just a piece of the decision making puzzle.

The other benefit of the weather station is that I'm able to set alarm parameters which help to prevent the wasting of water.  Currently I have limits for strength of wind and also for amount of rain.  An example is if I have an irrigation cycle scheduled and a surprise rain storm pops up either late in the evening or during the night and we recieve .10" of rain during a set amount of time, the computer will shut down the irrigation cycle for the rest of the night.  This also is true for wind; it will cancel the rest of the irrigation cycle. The reasons for the shutdown is obvious, but having the ability to protect our water resource is just as important.

As you can see from these few items, we take irrigation practices pretty seriously here at CU.