Researching Maintenance

Blower wars Do you have any information on noise ratings for gas vs. electric blowers? How have restrictions on blowers affected landscapers?-California

Robin Pendergrast, a public-relations consultant for Echo Inc., states that widely accepted standards for testing and rating noise levels still are lacking. Due in part to Consumer Reports testing and to the way some local regulations are written, 65 decibels at a distance of 50 feet has become a sort of an unofficial standard for acceptably quiet blowers. Fortunately, manufacturers have made considerable progress reducing sound output from gas blowers, and certain models now meet the standards imposed by some municipal ordinances.

Electric blowers generally are a bit quieter than gas-powered types. However, the difference is not as dramatic as many people assume, particularly if you compare units of similar performance. Plus, comparing electric with gas is not quite fair in the sense that gas blowers can actually be as, or more, quiet than electric units if you use them at reduced throttle settings.

Regardless, the blower controversy cannot be solved by simply switching to electric units. Pendergrast notes that, in practice, dragging an extension cord around is an overriding drawback when it comes to commercial use. Plus, safety becomes a serious issue near swimming pools and other bodies of water. Also, the dust that blowing creates-a bone of contention in its own right-is an issue for all blowers, not just gas units.

It is difficult to say how blower restrictions may be affecting maintenance contractors. Many are reportedly ignoring bans and continuing to use them, keeping throttle levels low and avoiding off hours (which all contractors should be doing anyway) to avoid antagonizing residents.

With luck, continued noise-reduction innovations by manufacturers will take some of the wind out of opponents' sails. In the meantime, courteous use of blowers by maintenance contractors will go a long way toward easing opposition to these vital machines.

Home-brew hydroseeding We do a lot of seeding for erosion control and stabilization. Recently, we bought a small hydraulic seeder to complement our broadcast seeders. We'd like to keep this simple and inexpensive instead of spending a lot of money on costly supplies. Is there some way to create our own "recipe" for hydroseeding?-New York

The basic elements in a standard hydraulic slurry (aside from water) are mulch, tackifier, fertilizer and, of course, the seed. Other possible additives include lime, beneficial microbes, "germination enhancers" and other materials. Whatever you choose to put in the "recipe," you have to buy it somewhere, so your best options are to cut out materials that aren't absolutely necessary and to shop carefully for those that are.

The largest cost in many mixes is the mulch. Most inexpensive mulches consist partly or entirely of recycled paper, which some applicators consider inferior. However, others have good success with it. I won't take sides, but just be aware that your choice of mulch is one way to considerably cut your costs. Virgin wood-fiber mulches can cost 60 to 100 percent more.

Experimenting with your own mulch materials is possible, but probably not the best idea. Norm Krisburg, sales manager for Reinco Inc. (Plainfield, N.J.), which manufactures hydraulic seeders, has seen applicators try to use ground pine straw or leaves, peat or newspaper they've shredded themselves, often with less-than-ideal results. The potential risk of damaging the seeder or affecting turf establishment doesn't seem worth the savings.

Shopping around for an inexpensive fertilizer also is a way you can save money.

Another strategy to consider, according to Krisburg, is to eliminate some or all of the mulch in the mix. A couple of situations might allow you to do this: 1. Some applicators blow a mulchless mix onto the seeded area and then use a straw blower to apply straw mulch over the top. The straw is much less expensive than the mulch you use in the slurry, and blowing it on while the tackifier is still damp will allow some of it to adhere (however, it is more effective to apply a binder over the straw as the final step). This strategy takes more time because you must use a straw blower in addition to the hydraulic seeder, but you definitely reduce material costs. 2. During the moderate weather of the preferred times for turf seeding-spring and fall-you often do not need the heavier rates of mulch necessary at other times for protecting the seedbed.

Some suppliers offer complete, ready-to-use mixes. For example, the Finn Corp. (Fairfield, Ohio) markets a mix that includes the essentials plus several other additives that improve establishment, and the cost is less than what you'd pay if you bought each component separately. So if a job is spec'd to include all the options, pre-mixed products can be more economical than purchasing components separately.

Bee gone! I have a client with a small pond, stepping stones and a waterfall. Bees are congregating on the stepping stones to get to the water, creating a nuisance. The pond is near the house and patio. Is there any method to get rid of them?-California

This is a frequent problem, particularly in arid regions where a water source is a valuable asset to bees. Unfortunately, according to Stephen Buchmann, an entomologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Carl Hayden Bee Research Center (Tucson, Ariz.), you have few practical options in this situation. Eliminating the water source would do the trick, of course, though this is not likely to be the answer your client wants to hear.

Although bees are listed on the label of several insecticides registered for landscape application, this isn't an appropriate situation for their use.

The Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) was widely praised across the political spectrum when Congress passed it unanimously in 1996. It was seen as a science- and health-based measure to ensure food safety and provide extra protection for children. However, it soon became clear that FQPA posed serious problems for the pesticide industry generally and for specialty pesticides in particular. The pesticide reassessments that FQPA mandated included impossible deadlines; demanded data and studies that would require years to complete; and were based controversial scientific concepts.

In attempting to adhere to the mandated timetables, EPA has begun using extremely conservative "default" assumptions about pesticide exposures instead of real data. In essence, this means that EPA will assume the worst about a chemical unless data demonstrate otherwise. If a manufacturer is unable to supply data, even if only because there hasn't been time to perform the necessary studies, EPA will instead use assumptions. Typically, these numbers are absurdly high.

A key provision of FQPA is the "Risk Cup." This is a means of accounting for all uses and possible routes of exposure to a chemical, including non-food as well as food-related exposures. For example, the same insecticide might be used on food crops, for indoor pest control and for turf and ornamental pests. All such uses must be accounted for collectively during the reassessment process.

If the "cup" is "full" (that is, the total exposure from all possible sources exceeds the maximum allowable level), manufacturers must drop certain uses of the chemical to bring total potential exposure to a level acceptable to EPA. This sounds great in the abstract, but the problem is that manufacturers may have to cut uses to reduce exposures that are preposterously overestimated in the first place, thanks to default assumptions. Even more unfortunate (for this industry) is the fact that manufacturers are likely to cut relatively minor uses first, to protect their major uses, which mostly are agricultural. Thus, ironically, the Food Quality Protection Act may have a disproportionate impact on non-food uses. And that's bad news for those of you who maintain turf and landscapes.

It's still early in the FQPA reassessment process, so many of the fears over FQPA have remained unrealized-for now. Unfortunately, the latest announcements from EPA are changing that, and it appears that industry fears are justified. Recently, EPA restricted the use of two important agricultural chemicals-parathion and azinphos methyl-claiming the move would provide needed protection for children. Congressional representatives charged with the oversight of EPA reportedly were none too please with the apparently political basis for this decision. But it illustrated the fact that EPA is relying on more than just science in its decision-making.

These two pesticides do not directly affect the turf and ornamental industry. But others that do-for example, chlorpyrifos, most familiarly known as Dow AgroSciences' Dursban-were among a group of organophosphates (OPs) recently reviewed by EPA. As feared, EPA is assuming grossly exaggerated levels of exposure.

We're used to hearing "Write your Congressman." However, EPA needs to hear from you as well. After all, they, not Congress, are making these decisions. Now is the time to speak up! EPA takes public comments into consideration, but it can't consider feedback it never gets. A review of atrazine netted 21,000 letters from farmers. A proposal to ban lead sinkers elicited 4,000 letters from concerned fishermen. By contrast, EPA reportedly has received less than 50 letters from users concerned about how it is reassessing OPs. Rest assured, anti-pesticide activists are not so complacent. Without public pressure, EPA is not likely to worry much about the fallout of restricting OPs.

It's important that EPA hears how you benefit from pesticides: how you rely on them professionally; how they control unhealthy and damaging pests; how difficult it would be to find substitutes if key products are eliminated. For more information about how to make your voice heard, contact your Dow AgroSciences' representative. EPA is currently accepting public comment on its chlorpyrifos reassessment and should hear that people care about this and other important chemical tools for the turf and ornamental industry.

Remember this important detail: whatever method you use to comment on such matters to EPA, you must always accompany your comments with the correct docket number. If you don't, EPA will not consider your comments.

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