February 2011

How to make those Fancy Stripes in the Grass!


Mow crew.JPGOk so this isnt the best mower stripping equipment!  Having fancy mowers is nice and stripping your lawn like the Pros can be accomplished by brushing your grass.   Those beautiful shades of green stripes on the fields you see at sporting events are not painted on!    (Actually, I have been asked this question by a few readers over the years).

First, Its not as hard as it looks to put those stripes in your yard..even a 7 year old can do it (under a parental eye) and I was a witness too that particular youth event as it was my son that put them in our yard many years ago with his bubble mower.
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The stripes are actually made by rolling or bending the grass in opposite directions.  In pro parks they use a vertical reel type mower.   Its all about the equipment …NOT THE PAINT! Some big league parks have developed some very special designs over the years like Cal Ripkens #8 in the field when he retired and Dave Mellor’s beautiful “Red Sock”designs at his field in Boston.  There are even parks that mow the grass in one direction to show “no stripes”.   The Skyline at Shea a few years back was nice as well.

There is a myth that the grass bending could effect the ball…again that is a myth as long as the groundskeeper changes the pattern every few weeks it will not effect the ball roll.   More importantly the bermuda grass tends to cause more snaking of the ball. You should try to mow the grass in the direction the ball is rolling to the outfielder.
Thumbnail image for york field.JPGFor years,  in order for the homeowner to put those cool stripes in there lawn , they had to purchase an expensive walk behind reel mower.  Your standard rotary mower can’t really perform this function because it requires a roller or some type of vertical movement to push or brush the grass in one direction.  This brushing and rolling is alternated as you travel back and forth on the grass.   That’s it! 

Recently,  I have noticed a few companies beginning to sell striping attachments that you can put on your existing mowers. Dscn1196 In fact the large commercial “Z mowers” ( the mowers you see zipping around..you know the one.. the guy uses two handles to maneuver it instead of a steering wheel) Some of  Those units now have a striping kit that can be attached to the mower.   If you look behind the mowing deck and in front of the wheel on the mower photo, you can see the attachment on this EX-mark mower that TORO distributes. 

Before going out and buying something to stripe your field or lawn you need to know what type of grass  you have because it may affect the ability to stripe the grass. 

Dscn1197The Northern grasses such as Bluegrass and fescues always stripe very well.  Also dormant Bermuda grass…. over seeded with rye type grass seed in the south does a great job. Where you may have some trouble is striping bermuda type turfs in the summers.  Its possible but these grasses need to be mowed in various directions or they tend to “grain” which will cause the ball to roll funny on the field.   

I actually had a small stripping mower at my yard a couple years back before the heat wave caused the county to impose water restrictions.   McLean and National Mower companies actually sell striping mowers.  I would also look for the striping  attachment as an option for your brand of mower. 

Its time to get those mowers out and ready for spring!

President’s Day, Baseball & Spring!


 


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Presidential Lawn Mowers?

Did you know George Washington was a highly skilled farmer and gardening enthusiast?  He was very involved with his property’s landscape planning at his home in Mount Vernon.  He managed a vegetable garden and numerous fruit trees.  You can actually head over in the spring and they still harvest from the garden.  According to a couple articles I read over the years, he even grew hemp in his garden back in the day…for medicinal purposes only I am sure.   I  wondered how they started mowing the lawn at the white house.  I guess Woodrow Wilson brought in some sheep to offset some maintenance expenses as the photo depicts above.  That would have been around 1910.  Before that they used hand sickles or scythes.

By now the true sense of “baseball spring training”  is in full swing and all the pitchers, catchers and positions players are beginning that ritual of planning for the upcoming season.  Tomorrow, February 22, not only means baseball season is just around the corner it’s also a federal holiday  to celebrate our countries First President George Washington’s Birthday.   It kind of picked up the Presidents day tab sometime in the 80’s  as people threw Lincolns Birthday in there as well.  Here in the state of Virginia where GW was born, the holiday is legally known as “George Washington Day”   Ironically other states have included their Presidents with GW.   Alabama celebrates Washington / Jefferson Day even though his birthday isn’t until  April. 


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IMG_1099.JPGWhats cool is that GW’s birthday and spring are linked together with our countries favorite pastime sport…baseball!   Notice the similar stripping patterns in the turf photos above!

Happy Birthday George!

 

 

Choosing the Right Grass for your Baseball Field


Thumbnail image for target field looking good.JPGThere are numerous types of grass that is used to cover our baseball and softball fields.

Blue grass, Bermuda grass, Zoysia, Buffalo, Rye grass, bent grass, Tifsport, 419, St Augustine, Bahia, 318, k-31, Limousine, U-3, Tifway, Fescue, Creeping red etc…  I could go on for days…Which one of these is not a real grass?   U-3 is what you call three grasses in your yard and you don’t know what they are!

Breaking it down to the basics:  Grass selection is based on Cool Season and Warm Season grasses and the mysterious transition zone. Every country has different grass growing zones but they all are defined by cool and warm season grasses.   Cool season grasses is what you have in your lawn from about the Maryland/Pennsylvania border north and warm season grasses start in Virginia and go south South. The transition line varies across the states. There are pockets in Virginia, Maryland, Texas and even Utah that you can grow both types…which explains the “transition zone”.  Picking your grass should begin with the zone you are in.

From that point you can get really creative with 1000’s of varieties of grasses.  The bottom line…keep it simple.  Don’t go crazy with a bunch of different seed choices in your lawn.  That could lead to a  fungus problems.  2 or 3 varieties different is OK but more than that is probably not necessary.

Here are some fun grass facts you can throw at the neighbor while you are out shopping for seed at the seed stores!

FACT- The first white house lawnmower. George Washington and Jefferson used sheep to keep the lawn under control!

FACT- “There are over 200 varieties of of tall type fescues in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Delaware.  The type everyone knows about in the store and one of the first types…was K-31.

FACT- The grass seed state in the US is in Oregon with sales over 300+ million per year.

FACT- In the 1800’s golf courses in the UK were infected with a pests called ….. Earth worms!  This resulted in some of the great courses in Scotland developing along the seashores. Worms do not care for the salty/sandy soils.  In the US, night crawlers are actually good for the earth!

FACT – Next time your significant other asks you if you are going to the mall and you want to work in the yard say:

“And let the earth bring forth grass..and the earth brought forth grass” Genesis 1:11-12

FACT- First lawnmower. invented by Edwin Budding in the early 19Th century. In 1870, Elwood McGuire designed a mower that made a big impact on the homeowner. By 1885, the USA was building 50,000 push mowers a year and shipping them everywhere.

FACT- A survey in 1994 listed 43 million acres of turf in the US.

FACT- The cooling power of grass!  8 average front lawns have the cooling power of 70 tons of air conditioning. (The average home has a 3 to 4 ton central unit)

FACT- Fresh Air… a 50×50 square pieces of grass generates enough oxygen for a family of four.  As mother natures filter it absorbs carbon monoxide, nitrates and hydrogen fluoride and releases oxygen.

FACT- Last one – A test was conducted by dropping 12 eggs onto a dense small piece of natural grass from 11 feet. NONE BROKE!  On a thin turf piece 8 broke…. and all 12 broke when dropped from 18 inches onto a rubberized track. 

Have fun!!

Building a Baseball Infield


infield watered.jpgTechnically, the term infield skin refers to segments of the baseball field that contain clay, specifically the areas around the bases and base paths. The keys to quality infield skin are good materials, proper moisture and consistent maintenance practices. With 70 percent of the game played on the infield, having a consistently firm, smooth playing surface is essential.

Infield construction

Infield mixes are made from various combination’s and percentages of sand, silt and clay. People consider the general standard for an OK infield to be 60 to 70 percent sand, 30 percent clay and 10 percent silt. Particle size also makes a big difference in these materials. Infields vary greatly by regional conditions, commercially available mixes and the preferences of the sports field manager and their facility and teams.

The nail drag scarifies the surface and digs deeper to further loosen the infield mix. With any drag, be careful not to drag too close to the turf edge.
Annual laser-grading is used to check the infield slope and correct any inconsistency.

The weight of the infield mix is in the clay and the silt and that’s what retains the moisture. You may be in an area with a lot of rain, and if you don’t have much maintenance help for tarping you’ll want to have a bit sandier infield mix. If you have a heavily used field or one for university or professional play, you’ll probably want a more stable infield with a heavier mix containing more clay and silt to withstand the wear and tear of multiple events. For some infield mixes with lesser percentages of silt and clay, a conditioning amendment of calcined or vitrified clay is worked into the top 1 to 2 inches of the mix to help bind the clay and stabilize the infield.

When constructing a new field or rebuilding an existing one, the general depth of the infield material for the baselines is approximately 5 inches. The depth, the type of material used and the subbase components are subject to budgetary constraints. There are fields with the infield mix placed directly on the subbase soil, some on a sand layer over the subbase soil, some directly on a pea gravel layer and some on geo cloth covering any of these subbases.

Opinions differ on whether a geo cloth layer will be detrimental to drainage. While drainage within the infield mix will vary according to the percentages of clay and silt, it is generally slow, so many prefer the geo layer for other advantages. It can keep pea gravel from migrating up into the infield mix and bordering grassed areas. Geo cloth on the pea gravel does keep the infield mix from sifting into the gravel, reducing the need for continual addition of the mix during the first few years of construction and helping stabilize the surface more quickly.

To counteract slow drainage within the infield mix, many fields are constructed with a slope to help move the surface water off the clay and into the grass. A slope of about .5 percent, extending from the edge of the pitcher’s mound out past the 95 arc should provide sufficient water movement for most fields. Some skinned baseball infields and some softball fields are constructed with a greater percentage of slope.

It’s critical to achieve consistency of slope across the entire surface. Use laser-grading equipment and a skilled operator. Otherwise, once all the material is in place, run string lines from the infield grass to the outfield grass across the infield and work your way across the field with shovels and rakes. Keep moving the string lines every 1 to 2 feet, and check and recheck for accuracy as you move.

Managing moisture

An in-ground irrigation system with a zone that only waters the infield clay is one way to deliver volumes of water quickly. When water patterns are diverted in windy conditions, hand-watering will be required to reach the places missed.

Quick-connect outlets behind the mound and behind home plate provide access to hook up a water hose. Some field managers place quick couplers at the infield corners behind first and third base in the grass. A 1-inch hose is preferred to deliver a larger volume of water faster. A retractable hose reel installed in the ground behind the mound makes pull out and rollback easier and eliminates hauling the hose out and back for each watering.

Select hoses and hand-nozzle sizes based on the number of fields you need to maintain and the size of your crew. Ideally, your nozzle selection should be able to apply enough water to reach the desired depth for the initial soaking and to lightly mist repeatedly to maintain the desired moisture level. Some infields drain so well that you can “puddle” the infield after a night game and it will be perfect for play by morning.

When necessary, crews can level the infield skin using a string line and hand-held tools and hand-pulled drags.

Top it off

Using the different calcined or vitrified clay amendments as the top surface coat can make it a little easier to manage the skin moisture levels and achieve consistency. You don’t want the players to pick up wet clay on their spikes or have the infield get too dry during the pregame workouts. With a topping of 1/8 to .25-inch, you can soak the infield as you would normally and have a good surface for workouts and sufficient moisture retention for the game. Consistency of depth is extremely important during the initial application of the top layer both for accuracy of the slope and footing for the players. Once in place, use a cocoa mat or the back of a fan rake so you’re just lightly smoothing the top surface and not moving piles of material.

Dry down

An infield tarp is an important tool in moisture management. No one likes to use it, but covering the infield when you have rain issues can be the quickest and easiest way to preserve playability.

Edging the infield as a weekly maintenance practice will reduce lips and keep turf edges smooth. This Turfco Edge-R-Rite was used in 2004 during the Olympics. Along with edging the bermudagrass, it doubled as a small sod cutter.
Rolling infields is an important practice to stabilize the areas.

The worst thing you can do following a heavy rain on an uncovered field is to work the field too early. Let the sun do its work on the dry down before you get out there to squeegee, rake and dig. The dryer subsurface material will try to draw down the moisture from an undisturbed wet surface. If you must work existing or added material to dry down the surface, use a roller squeegee rather than a rake to spread the water so you’re not cutting into the wet material and disrupting that downward movement.

If you have depressions with standing water, fill them with calcined clay and let it soak up the moisture for 15 to 20 minutes. Then, spread out that moist material to dry further, or borrow a technique from ground crews in South America to remove excess water with no surface penetration. They use a supply of 12-by-24-inch foam-rubber sponges (old padding) and place one in an area of standing water, step down on it, allow it to absorb water to capacity, pick it up, wring it out and use it again.

Another technique to combat light rain or drizzle, and to use between innings when the dirt is starting to look shiny, is to apply a very thin layer of conditioner using a regular walk-behind or hand-held spreader set for the largest opening. You’ll get a more consistent layer than pouring conditioner from the bag or putting out piles to spread.

Working the dirt

The right equipment used properly is critical in maintaining the infield skin. You’ll want a series of different types of drag mats, rigid and flexible steel mats for breaking up dirt clods and leveling, and cocoa mats for finishing the surface. You’ll need both a fine nail and heavy nail drag for scarifying the surface and digging deeper to further loosen the mix and allow better moisture penetration. You’ll need rakes, brooms, edgers and rollers. The 1 or 2-ton roller will become your favorite tool.

The three-wheel field rakes produced by the major equipment suppliers do an excellent job, and they come with an assortment of attachments, as well as connection points for other implements. You also can use a small tractor, lawn mower, utility vehicle or golf cart to pull the drags.

We bored into the infield to check soil conditions and discovered a layering of different clays. We had to rototill to remove the barriers so the clays would not “plate” when the players took the field.

Always pull the bases and insert the plugs so you can drag the entire infield. Pay close attention to the wear areas around and in front of the bases, such as where the first baseman plants his foot. Consider incorporating a heavier clay mix 10 feet out from first base and also at second and third base to make it easier to reduce divoting and keep indentations from forming. Follow different routes when driving equipment onto the field to reduce compaction issues. Transport the drags to the field and drop them at different spots each day. When working the field, keep attachments, drags and screens 6 inches away from the grass at both edges of the base path to avoid lip build up. Use a variety of dragging techniques, continually altering your patterns and incorporating circular spirals and figure eights. Go slow, especially in the turns, to avoid slinging materials.

Managing Lips

To avoid creating lips when hand-raking, always rake up and down the base path, not across it. Work the grass edges with a fan rake or stiff-bristled broom after every practice, workout and game. If you don’t have the staff for that, use the water hose to blast the infield mix from the grass edges at least once a week.

You’ll want to edge the infield grass periodically, cutting away turf to remove any lip buildup, then backfill with new infield mix, tamp down firmly and test the edge. There should be no transition between the grass and the clay. If you can feel even the slightest difference with your foot, the ball can feel it when it hits, and that’s what causes a bad hop.

This article was published in sports field management magazine

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