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A grueling grow-in

By |  February 7, 2020 0 Comments
Joe Gulotti headshot (Photo: Golfdom)

Joe Gulotti

Witnessing a blank canvas blossom into a golf course is perhaps the coolest thing a greenkeeper can experience. I have been fortunate enough to work on several grow-ins during my career, one as an intern and two others as a superintendent. It’s problem-solving at its finest, and during my internship, a situation occurred that led to the hardest day I have worked in my life.

The pond we used for storing irrigation water wasn’t stabilized with vegetation. The edge of the pond was surrounded by the site’s native clay soil, so when it rained, all the clay on the slopes would wash into our irrigation water supply.

The water in that pond resembled the river from one of my favorite childhood movies, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. And watering turf with what looks like chocolate milk over an extended period of time isn’t good. Continued use of this contaminated water eventually would build up a layer of silt, suffocating and killing the turf.

Gypsum was the cure for this ailment because the mineral contains positively charged ions. The hypothesis was this: Treat the pond with gypsum, and it would attract negatively charged ions that are prevalent in clay soils. Basically, the clay particles would attach to the gypsum like a magnet, and once these positively and negatively charged ions bonded, the combined weight of the sediment would sink to the bottom of the pond.

After experimenting with various forms of gypsum, we decided to use a powdered version through a hydroseeder. On a beautiful morning in late May, an 18-wheeler appeared in our shop parking lot with 100-pound bags of powdered gypsum loaded from front to back on the rear of its exposed trailer bed.

Our mechanic and I were instructed to unload the truck and start hauling the bags to the pond. We finished staging the entire load by lunch, and after a much-needed break, we were told to head back to the pond to help the construction contractor apply the gypsum.

It took us a bit to get into a groove because handling 100-pound bags of powdered gypsum is no joke. It’s not like they were 100 pounds of dead weight. They were 100 pounds of powder, which made picking them up, cutting the bag open with a knife and pouring its contents into the hydroseeder quite cumbersome. We quickly learned that if the bag wasn’t balanced properly, half the bag would shift to the heavier side, almost assuring a drop. There were a lot of drops that day.

By late afternoon, about a quarter of the pond was finished, and we were covered in gypsum. Exhaustion set in as we loaded each bag into the clangorous hydroseeder. My arms and legs were burdened with weariness, and conversation was pretty much out of the question because the machine was making such a racket.

The day was long, and the sun had just set as we loaded the final bag into the hydroseeder. When the last of the gypsum vomited from the hose of the hydroseeder, the jerk from the construction outfit gave us the thumbs-up, and we headed back to the maintenance shop as evening gave way to night.

I was a mess, and before leaving, I disrobed by the dumpster. Everything but my drawers went into that piece. I gingerly walked across the gravel parking lot to my car in my bare feet, and my hope was to get home safely without getting pulled over by a cop while wearing nothing but boxers.

Powdered gypsum was the answer to our mess of an irrigation pond. In fact, it worked so well that the following week, algae started blooming everywhere because the water was so clear. It seemed so fitting of that summer. Just as a problem was solved, another would arise.

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