Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Biochar as a sand-based rootzone amendment

The main objectives of my research focused on the use of biochar as an amendment for sand-based turfgrass rootzones. Currently, peat moss is the most common organic amendment mixed with sand when sand systems are constructed. Peat moss increases water retention and nutrient holding capacity of the sand; however, peat moss is prone to decomposition over a relatively short period of time. Biochar, on the other hand, is very stable in the soil profile, and may prove to be a viable organic amendment for sand-based turfgrass systems. In this study, I used fast pyrolysis switchgrass biochar.

My research objectives were to:
• quantify soil water retention capabilities,
• determine infiltration rates,
• and measure creeping bentgrass rooting depth in sand and biochar rootzones


Soil Water Retention - Biochar significantly increased soil water retention (table below). Plant available water increased as percentage biochar increased.

Infiltration Rates - Biochar significantly reduces infiltration rates (table below).

The table to the right converts the numbers to inches per hour. Six incher per hour is the minimum for USGA guidlines when constructing sand based turfgrass rootzones. Above 10% may be pushing the infiltration rate limit with biochar.

Rooting Depth - The rooting depth of creeping bentgrass was measured by growing ‘T1’ in growth tubes with 30 cm sand and biochar rootzones on top of pea gravel. The tubes were sliced open after 110 days of growth, and the depth of rooting was measured (picture below). This pattern of rooting depth was consistent throughout replications. The far left treatment in the picture is 100% sand, and the far right treatment is 25% biochar; increasing in 5% biochar increments at each treatment level from left to right. Biochar amounts above 10% show inhibitive effects on rooting depth of creeping bentgrass. (Biochar percentages are on volume-to-volume basis).

Conclusions - Biochar increased soil water retention capacity and plant available water, but decreased infiltration rates. Rooting depth of 'T-1' creeping bentgrass is inhibited by biochar above 10% (v/v) levels in the rootzone.
Iowa State Turfgrass is attempting to lead the way in the biochar discussion for the turfgrass industry. We would love to hear any feedback you may have on this topic.
Shane Brockhoff
Iowa State University

Monday, November 16, 2009

What is Biochar?

For the past year and a half, I have been working with biochar for use as a soil amendment for sand-based turfgrass rootzones. Biochar has been gaining a lot of momentum in some agronomy circles as a cure-all soil amendment to improve the sustainability and productivity of our agricultural soils. A flurry of research has been funded and published related to biochar, but what really is this biochar stuff?

In a nutshell, biochar is the co-product of a biofuel production process called fast pyrolysis. Essentially, a biomass feedstock is pyrolyzed, or burnt, at a very high temperature and bio-oil is produced along with biochar. The oil can be used for consumer use after refinement similar to gasoline (see Figure 1). Originally, not much thought was put into using the biochar for any practical use, but agronomy researchers believe there is some potential for its use in agricultural settings.

I will be posting a series of threads relating to biochar in the coming weeks. If you have heard of biochar or have any firsthand experience with biochar or materials similar to it (ie. activated charcoal, fly ash, etc.) please post a reply explaining what your experience or use for these products has been. The reason I ask is because I received a question pertaining to whether biochar will deactivate herbicides, fungicides, ect…

*Illustration borrowered from Johannes Lehmann. Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853 (CL273@
cornell.edu) Front Ecol Environ 2007; 5(7): 381–387

Shane Brockhoff
Iowa State University

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Irrigation Winterization

If you haven’t already done so, the ritual of irrigation blow out is certainly on everyone’s mind this time of year. This procedure signifies the end of another growing season along with the realization that winter and the accompanying freezing temperatures are probably right around the corner. Properly blowing out an irrigation system ensures that minimal damage will occur during the winter months. Although blow out is a yearly occurrence, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of literature available about this important procedure. There seems to be various philosophies and most learn from field experience.

One aspect of blow out that has changed over the years is the pressure which the system is blown out. One reason for this change is the fact that sprinkler heads are now primarily comprised of plastic componts compared to their steel predecesors. As a result, the pressure which the system is blown out has been reduced. One way to help reduce the pressure is by using a pressure regulator.

The pressure regulator is usually mounted just off the compressor. The pressure can be monitored and adjusted by a handle on top of the regulator. I have often heard that 50 psi is sufficient to blow out most systems. Obviously, the higher the pressure, the greater the chance of causing damage to the piping system and the sprinkler heads. The other consequence of using higher pressures is coupled to the pressure of the compressor.

Compressors also have a pressure gauge and increasing the pressure of the regulator will decrease the pressure inside the compressor and vice verca. Most compressors should not be operated under 80 psi. Under 80 psi, oil can blow past the seals in the compressor and enter the piping system. Of course you won’t realize this has happened until you charge the system in the spring and oil comes spewing out of sprinkler heads.

Let me know if you have any tips from the field concerning winterization of irrigation systems. Hope everyone has a safe and successful blowout.

Marcus Jones
Graduate Research Assistant

Friday, November 6, 2009

Greetings From Pittsburgh

This week I traveled to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to attend the Agronomy Society of America meetings. The meetings are held annually and scientists from all across the world come together to present and talk about their research. I presented on the findings from my germination study that I posted on the blog last week. Part of the conference experience included a tour of Oakmont Country Club and Heinz Field.

Oakmont C.C. was really beautiful and we had a nice day for our tour. The weather in Pittsburgh is slightly cooler compared to our temperatures in Iowa and they receive a bit more rainfall. As a result, they manage annual bluegrass as the primary species on their putting greens. The density of poa is really impressive when it exists as a monostand (picture above). However, they do fight contamination from creeping bentgrass (that seems like a weird statement) and it appears out of place (picture to the right). We also had an opportunity to see the church pues which are much larger in person than I expected (picture at beginning of post).

The second stop on our tour took us to Heinz field. In addition to hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers, Heinz field is also home to the Pitt Panthers. The field is also used for a handful of high school football games and a few miscellaneous events during the year so it receives a good amount of use. The field is Kentucky bluegrass overseeded with perennial ryegrass during the season. The middle portion of the field has a heating system underneath the turf. The field had been overseeded with ryegrass and the heated portion was covered up during our visit to promote germination of the seed and to stimulate growth of the existing turf.

The remainder of the trip was devoted to attending sessions where graduate students and professors present findings from their research. I attached links to abstracts from the talks that I found most interesting and though you might too.

Amicarbazone for Annual Bluegrass Control in Creeping Bentgrass Putting Greens

Potential Use of Mesotrione in Turfgrass Systems

Response of Kentucky Bluegrass Cultivars and Annual Bluegrass Control with Mesotrione at Turfgrass Establishment

Mesotrione as An Herbicide for Spring-Seeded, Cool-Season Turf

Biochar for Sand-Based Rootzone Modification

Dollar Spot Control Using Organic and Synthetic Fungicide Combinations

Anthracnose Severity of Annual Bluegrass Putting Green Turf as Affected by Summer Soluble N-Fertilization

Conversion of Kentucky Bluegrass Rough to No-Mow, Low-Input Grasses

Marcus Jones
Graduate Research Assistant

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Golf Course Superintendent – Meadows Country Club

Duties –

Responsible for Golf Course, Clubhouse Lawns, Trees and Flowers, Golf Course Budget, Cart Fleet and Clubhouse Building Maintenance, Purchasing

Qualifications –

2 Year formal Education preferred, Iowa Certified Pesticide Applicator or ability to obtain.

Experience –

Minimum 2 years golf course maintenance experience

Benefits –

State Association Dues, Monthly meeting expenses

Salary Range

$28,000 -$35,000

Application Deadline –

December 1, 2009

Position Available –

January 15, 2010

Contact Info –

Mark Harris - Board President

Box 299

Moville Ia. 51039


Email – msharris@netins.net

Monday, November 2, 2009

Food for Thought this Fall

USGA Green Section Mid-Continent Region

Food for Thought this Fall

By Ty McClellan, Agronomist

Updated October 19, 2009

The weather in 2009 for the upper Mid-Continent Region will be recorded as one of the coldest and remembered as one of the oddest. Other than a 12-day stretch of intense heat during mid-June, temperatures were well below normal. In fact, only a handful of days reached 90°F in the Chicago area and very few areas in the upper Mid-Continent Region hit 100°F. When elevated temperatures did develop, they were short-lived and/or quickly offset by cool nighttime temperatures. Rainfall was plentiful and often timely. All told, environmental conditions mimicked those of the Pacific Northwest rather than the Midwest.

Given these non-typical summer conditions, cool-season turfgrasses experienced much less stress while the warm-season turfgrasses lacked vigor, as their growth was slowed much of the year by cooler temperatures and frequent rainfall. For all turfgrasses, disease development was rather minor when compared to more typical summers. By all appearances, this was a relatively easy summer for turfgrasses and their managers; however, there were a number of shortfalls observed this year. Before falling victim to a false sense of security, areas needing special attention as we transition into fall are detailed below:

• Completion of Earlier Projects - One of the wettest springs on record for the upper Mid-Continent Region did not favor those in the midst of course projects earlier this year. Whether work was performed in-house or contracted out, projects were delayed, if not abandoned, as even two consecutive days of favorable weather proved elusive. On the other hand, growing conditions were quite favorable for cool-season turfgrass (especially in the rough) all year-long and, with frequent rainfall, additional labor was needed to keep up with mowing. This limited the availability of labor for course projects. More often than not, spring projects either did not get finished or they persisted into the primary golfing season, inconveniencing golfers and interfering with routine daily course maintenance.

Looking forward, projects that went uncompleted (particularly if critical) will need to be readdressed. To do so with the typical number of full-time employees may result in other delays, as the unfinished projects take precedence over those originally planned for this winter. In other words, without additional winter staff to get the schedule back on track, projects previously planned for this season may need to be postponed until the projects from last season are completed.

• Adequate Budgeting for Fungicides - Mild temperatures correlated to an overall reduction in disease outbreaks in 2009 and the amount spent on fungicides followed suit. Superintendents generally reported anywhere between a 15% and 35% reduction in fungicide use this year when compared to previous years. While courses can count themselves lucky this year (and maybe even last year), this year’s fungicide expense should not be used when establishing next year’s budget, since it was not a true indication of typical disease pressure or the subsequent budget needed for control. It will be important to keep in mind typical use and needs.

• Irrigation - Cool temperatures and timely rains for most of the golfing season meant much less irrigation than normal. In fact, many superintendents in the Chicago area reported using their irrigation systems less than five times during the entire year for the purposes of replenishing soil moisture to appropriate levels. Rather, most used irrigation to simply water in chemical applications or lightly syringe ‘hot’ spots. As such, this year was very kind to those with inadequate or poor irrigation systems, who pay for water, or who have poor quality irrigation water. Unfortunately, this has caused some to lose sight of the need to improve the irrigation system, accurately budget for future water use, or support additional practices to manage problems associated with poor water quality, such as increased aeration, flushing and applications of gypsum, lime, calcium, etc.

• Organic Matter Accumulation on Putting Greens - Organic matter in putting green root zones increased this year, even for those with well-designed sand topdressing and aeration programs. Soil temperatures simply remained too cool for much of the year and putting green root zones were oftentimes waterlogged given regular, if not record-setting rainfall. Basically, cool soil temperatures caused soil microbial activity to slow and thus, limited its ability to decompose organic matter. A wet spring also meant the soils remained very saturated, thus limiting oxygen levels in the root zone that slowed oxidation, i.e. natural aerobic decomposition, of organic matter. To further complicate matters, routine topdressing applications throughout the growing season were difficult to administer given frequent inclement weather, so less sand was applied less often. To account for the increase in organic matter accumulation, an even greater emphasis should be placed this fall and next spring on core aeration and incorporating more sand into putting green root zones.

• Poa annua Control – Given that this summer was more like that of the Pacific Northwest, overcast skies combined with cooler temperatures and frequent rains that created environmental conditions very favorable for Poa annua. As such, decreasing Poa annua populations found in creeping bentgrass putting greens and fairways was very difficult this year. A lack of mid-summer heat meant that the Poa annua did not decline, and selective herbicides, such as Velocity, or plant growth regulators with some known levels of Poa annua suppression, such as paclobutrazol (Trimmit) or flurprimidol (Cutless), were not as effective. Looking forward, greater success should be anticipated in the future with a return to more typical summer weather.

If you would like more information about a Turf Advisory Service visit, do not hesitate to contact either of the Mid-Continent regional offices: Ty McClellan at tmcclellan@usga.org or (630) 340-5853 or Bud White at budwhite@usga.org or (972) 662-1138.