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Clipping volume nothing to snicker at

By |  November 12, 2018 0 Comments
Joe Gulotti headshot (Photo: Golfdom)

Joe Gulotti

Recently, I listened to a turf-related podcast while completing some turfgrass chores. I was thoroughly enjoying the conversation until it hit on a topic that in all honesty, annoyed me a bit.

The subject of clip volume was plucked from the host’s list of current greenkeeping fads, and the snickers and groans that followed led me to assume the podcast duo regarded this particular practice as total nonsense.

It hit a nerve because I have measured clipping yield for the past couple of seasons, and to paraphrase my boy Darth Vader, I found their lack of faith regarding this useful practice quite disturbing.

I started measuring clipping yield to gain a better understanding of the growth rate on putting surfaces. We began measuring a single green two seasons ago, and have since progressed to measuring yields on eight different putting surfaces.

This practice has provided a wealth of information, some of it being as simple as knowing all three reel units on our triplex mower are collecting an even amount, to the more complex ordeal of removal rates being ungodly high, leading to mechanical stress on turf.

If I had gone old school, basing clipping yield off how many times the buckets were chucked, I would have been oblivious to the fact that a single reel mower was a fraction off. And I now have a distinct number correlating yield to turf injury, which in all honesty, I probably would have noticed going with the old-timey method of counting how many times the buckets were emptied.

Even though checking the amount of clippings you have in the buckets or asking the operator how many times they were emptied are methods of gauging growth, those options certainly aren’t as precise as dumping the buckets into a 20-quart stock bucket and writing down the measured yield in a field guide. It does add a few minutes to the task, but I have not noticed a discernible difference in the amount of time it takes to complete mowing all of our greens.

And despite not being a “desk jockey,” I consider the act of sitting down at the computer and placing this data into a spreadsheet as time well spent. It’s precision-based turf management in its purest form, giving me a distinct number for accurate decision making.

If yields are low, I skip mowing the next day, and roll. If yields are high, we’re definitely going to mow the following day, and might even consider throwing down a double cut. We adjust nitrogen applications based on this data, as well as the rates and intervals of applying plant growth regulators. We also have an approximate number relating to nutrient use on our putting surfaces. Currently, we have removed just over a pound of nitrogen (in clippings) per thousand square feet on our 18th green. Would I have known this number doing bucket chucks and asking the operator how many times they emptied baskets?

What we’re doing is maximizing our resources by collecting data on growth rate. It’s taking out the guesswork, enabling us to be more precise. We’re no longer mowing and applying nitrogen and plant growth regulators on a schedule. Our operation is small, and time and every dollar spent is extremely valuable. We need to be frugal out of necessity, and measuring clipping volume aids us in achieving maximum efficiency.

I like the two gentlemen who were conversing on this particular podcast and appreciate their contributions to our industry over the years. However, I do disagree with their opinion on the matter of clipping volume, and hope this column gives them a better understanding of why greenkeepers are using it to measure growth rate differently from how they’ve determined it in the past.

About the Author:

Sarah Webb is Golfdom's managing editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at Golfdom, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.

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