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Turtle Turf I am looking for information on something called Turtle Turf. Do you know what this is?--Via the internet

Turtle Turf is marketed by Quality Turf, a Wildomar, Calif.-based company. It is available through several distributorships as well as some retail-chain outlets in the western United States and has only been marketed for about a year. Quality Turf maintains a website at www.turtleturf.com that provides more information about this turfgrass.

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Turtle Turf is prairie June grass (Koeleria macrantha [formerly K. cristata]), a bunch-type cool-season species native to the United States and many other parts of the world. In Europe, it has been used as turf for some time, and that's where this particular variety originated, says Doug Washburn, president of Quality Turf.

This is a low-input grass that works well in poor soils. Washburn recommends no fertilization except during initial establishment. Mowing height should be around 1.5 inches and mowing frequency may be as little as once a month.

A weakness of prairie June grass is that it doesn't tolerate heavy traffic well-its growth rate makes recuperation a slow process. A greater weakness, from the standpoint of market acceptance, may be its price, which is several times that of most other turfgrasses. This is due to the low seed production of the species.

Kevin Morris, executive director of the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP) says that in his experience, this species can produce a good quality turf. Consistent with Washburn's no-fertilizer recommendation, Morris found that even 2 pounds of nitrogen on plots resulted in disease problems.

Barenbrug markets a Koeleria variety named BarKoel and, according to Walt Pemrick, a Barenbrug representative, most of their sales in the turf market are for golf course roughs.

Seed Research of Oregon is working on prairie June grass under the direction of Dr. Leah Brillman and may have a variety ready for commercial release in a couple of years. Brillman says the diversity of native types should provide good opportunity for development, though breeders are only just beginning to explore its genetic potential.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached a "voluntary" agreement with Dow AgroSciences to discontinue most commercial and residential uses of Dursban insecticide (chlorpyrifos). The official announcement was delivered June 8 by Carol Browner, administrator of the EPA. She portrayed the move as a triumph for children's health and cited evidence purported to show Dursban is more dangerous than previously thought.

However, Tim Maniscalo, a regulatory specialist with Dow AgroSciences, states that what is understood about the health effects of chlorpyrifos hasn't substantially changed in years. Dursban is one of the most thoroughly reviewed pesticides, having been the subject of more than 3,600 studies. What has changed is the way EPA evaluates pesticides, due to the Food Quality Protection Act, enacted in 1996.

The key study that EPA cites as justification for its move showed that fetal rats exposed to high levels of Dursban developed neurological damage. This is reminiscent of the well-publicized scares over saccharin and hair dye. Scientists now concede that these products, which also were tested with high-dose exposures to laboratory animals, pose no threat to human health from normal use.

Likewise, no evidence exists to suggest that neurological damage will occur in humans as a result of as-directed use of Dursban, according to Maniscalo. Even the researcher who conducted the much-cited rat experiment, Dr. Alan Hoberman, says the agency has misinterpreted his findings. The dose administered to the rats was 500 times greater than typical human exposure, about the equivalent of spraying Dursban every 3 minutes, 24 hours a day, indefinitely. Studies conducted on actual human subjects provide solid evidence that Dursban is safe at the levels of exposure typical of actual use. However, the EPA, as a matter of policy, disregards studies that use human subjects.

Unfortunately, such details have a way of getting lost in the public discussion. Browner and the EPA are leading the public to believe that Dursban is harming our children and that their action will protect us.

This view makes little sense to some who deal with the health of humans rather than lab rats. For example, Dr. William Robertson, director of the Washington Poison Control Center in Seattle, recently wrote in the Seattle Times that he could "conceive of no way Dursban could cause neurological problems in humans if label instructions are followed...At the Poison Control Center I have directed for the past 30 years, I do not recall a single incident of Dursban-caused illness."

Dursban is the latest of a growing list of products banned on the basis of high-dose laboratory studies, despite the absence of evidence that people are actually being harmed by its proper use. Presumably, such health problems would be apparent after decades of widespread use, but that is not the case.

This does not inspire confidence that the EPA will rely on sound science when it evaluates other pesticides. Several more products important to grounds care are due to be reassessed soon.

One of the latest tactics in the battle against kudzu is one of the oldest concepts when it comes to controlling plant growth: sheep. Officials in Tallahassee, Fla., are experimenting with hungry ovines to see if their appetites are enough to match kudzu's phenomenal growth.

Larry Schenk, superintendent of parks for the city of Tallahassee, is heading up a group consisting of the Florida State Department of Environmental Protection, the Leon County park department, Tallahassee park department, Tallahassee city forestry and the city electric utility. The group has hired Bellwether Solutions, a New Hampshire-based company that specializes in using sheep for vegetation control, to provide sheep to graze kudzu-infested areas.

According to Schenk, the kudzu is becoming increasingly problematic in areas where mechanical and chemical controls are not practical options. In any case, these methods are only marginally effective. That's why sheep came to mind.

Kudzu is a nutritious plant, rivaling alfalfa in protein content. So the sheep need no encouragement to feed aggressively on the plant. "The sheep love it," says Schenk.

Initially, says Schenk, it is necessary to clip the kudzu stems to kill the climbing portions that grow above the reach of the sheep. After that, the sheep graze the regrowth as it emerges. Using a technique Schenk calls "mob grazing," a large group of sheep is confined to a relatively small area-an acre or so-for about a day, during which all the palatable vegetation is grazed off. Then the sheep are moved to new plot.

Naturally, the kudzu will regrow. However, the plants' reserves are finite. One issue that Schenk hopes to clarify is how much repeated grazing is necessary before the vines "run out of gas."

Previous research has shown goats to be effective against kudzu. However, a key difference is that sheep have a slightly more discriminating palate. In particular, sheep don't care for pines. This is critical because it means that the sheep can be grazed in local pine plantations during the few months in which kudzu is dormant, eliminating the need to ship them elsewhere.

Several interested parties are watching the study. Veterinarians would like to know how a kudzu diet affects sheep health. The livestock industry is curious whether potential exists for a sheep industry in the Southeast. And, of course, officials that deal with alien plants would like to see if this method actually works against kudzu.

In response to the recent piece (April 2000) in this column about owners' manuals for oldmowers, a reader directed us to Jim Ricci, who operates the Reel Mower History and Preservation Project (Haydenville, Mass.). Ricci is collecting not only old mowers and parts, but also literature, including owners' manuals. Ultimately, Ricci's goal is to establish a collection of literature-old owners manuals, parts lists and other such material-that will be housed and administered by a university or industry-related organization for public use. Such a collection does not now exist, to Ricci's knowledge.

Ricci laments the loss of old mowers as well as the literature that accompanies them. After all, they are a fascinating part of our history. Yet, as Ricci explains, "Old files and parts frequently end up in the dumpsters," particularly when a mower company discontinues operations or is acquired by another entity.

Ricci maintains a website dedicated to old mowers at www.crocker.com/~jricci. The site provides interesting photos and information, as well as links to current mower manufacturers and some organizations devoted to old equipment.

This topic originally came up because a reader was searching for a manual for a Pennsylvania-brand mower. According to Ricci, this company discontinued production in 1979, after manufacturing mowers for more than 100 years.

One other note: For those not needing an original owner's manual, per se, but simply a repair manual, check out the Clymer and Intertec repair guides. These cover various brands and models dating back many years. For more information, go to the web site www.intertecbooks.com.

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