Monday, October 31, 2016

Plan to compost your leaves this fall

And there you have it: the season has changed. Gone are the 90-degree days and 80-percent humidity, and now come the days with moderate temperature and cool and frosty nights. Of the many seasons in New England, this one seems to be the favorite of the golf course superintendent. With mud season, black fly season and syringe season in the past, now begins leaf season and the challenges it brings. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when considering your leaf management strategies:

What do you do with the leaves you harvest off of the golf course? Leaf litter can be added to other course debris to make an excellent compost material. Shredded leaves with untreated grass clippings make an excellent start, with many other options that may be available.

The sustainability session at the 2016 Golf Industry Show was an excellent opportunity for superintendents to trade ideas, one of which was composting. (Side note: Utilizing waste from the food and beverage and on-course containers was an initiative undertaken by one presenter). While actively managing a compost pile will significantly decrease the time needed to achieve a nutrient rich product that can be utilized on your property, even an unmanaged process will eventually be beneficial. Think of the yards of leaves you manage to maintain playability returning to the course as deep rich compost! Site selection and protection of water resources also play a big role in mindful composting. It would be a great project for an ambitious assistant or incoming intern. For more about composting, visit the UMass Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment resources page on Organic Waste Management.

While composting may not work within your leaf management strategy, one item to be aware of when blowing leaves to tree lines or property edges is the environment that this litter establishes. Often researched as a wonderful overwintering site for annual bluegrass weevils, it may also be contributing to an increase in tick populations. Last year, Joellen Lampman, School and Turfgrass IPM Extension Support Specialist with the New York State IPM program, reached out to golf courses in her region to study the effects of different leaf management practices and the relationship on the tick population. An unseasonably warm winter in 2015-2016 led to an explosion in the tick population this year, and hopefully some additional research will assist golf courses to develop strategies to manage both leaves and ticks successfully! If you think your leaf litter strategy might be creating increased spring tick population issues, Lampman included some information on testing your site for ticks in her Community IPM fact sheet. Keeping ourselves, staff and golfers safe is always a priority and easy.

Whether blowing, mowing, or picking them up, leaves create an additional labor constraint on our budgets and inconvenience to our golfers. By developing a sustainable composting practice, the property could benefit greatly from the reuse of an otherwise undesirable byproduct. With research, we can also gain a better understanding of the implications of our management strategies on non-desirable species. Best of luck with leaf season, and as we have all come to learn here in New England, keep your eyes on the cars around you when on the roads. Leaf peepers make very poor drivers!

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