Saturday, August 17, 2013

August 17, 2013

We have begun to de compact the fairway and tee soils with a machine named “the Verti-Quake”.  I think that this is the first time here that the fairways have ever been worked deeper than the standard two inch aeration that has been done spring and fall. We did do deep tine aeration and Verti Quaking a few years ago on the tees. And every other year we have done the greens with the process of “drill and fill” – deep tine aeration to a depth of 10 inches and the holes backfilled with sand to provide drainage. Yet for the fairways,  this is a first that I am aware of.

The standard fairway and tee aeration is great, but it only works the top two inches of soil. Below 2 inches, the soil continues to compact a little bit more each year from cart traffic, mowers, foot traffic, etc. Over the 90 years since Greate Bay was built, a definite hard pan has developed (more so on the original holes than on the redesigned). The soil beneath 2 inches has very little pore space for roots, air and drainage. In fact, most of this pore space qualifies as micro pores, which tightly hold water in the soil by surface tension, rather than allowing it to drain by gravity.  

In some areas, the hardpan is so dense that even while applying all my weight to my soil probe, it won’t penetrate it. In this environment roots will not grow strong and deep or last for long, and with the onset of heat, drought, or high moisture stress, the turfgrass plants can rapidly weaken and decline.

This was very evident this summer on the fairways. Record amounts of rainfalls saturated the soils and they never fully drained, drowning the roots with lack of air, and creating a thriving disease environment. When the heat came, the plants in the worst areas were too compromised to survive. Pythium and wet wilt then occurred and increased struggles in many areas.

The Verti-Quake has curved blades which are offset by just a few degrees. As they rotate through the soil at a depth of approximately 9 inches deep, the offset “rocks” the soil sideways back and forth, loosening the soil and creating pore space. If you were to stand behind the machine, you would easily feel the earth vibrating side to side under your feet, like a gentle earth quake. The offset is strong enough that the tractor operator is swayed (gently) left to right and right to left as he/ she drives forward. The harder the soil, the vibration and sway increase dramatically.

A side benefit of using the Verti-Quake is that the rotating blades also cut any smaller tree roots that extend into the playing surfaces. Tree roots are much stronger than turf roots, so out compete the turf for nutrients and water. The cessation of root competition will also make the turf stronger.

The Verti-quake is a slow machine – it is operated at 1mph or less. To do our fairways one time will take many weeks. Tees will take a few days. I am hoping to do the course twice this fall/ winter, and go on a bi yearly program.  

Within a few years, if we are able to stay on this program, the results will be dramatic.

The Verti-quake won’t solve every problem that we have – the need for drainage, less trees to block air circulation, cart traffic on wet soils, etc. Yet, it is another procedure that reduces stress and will give us a more competitive turfgrass plant.