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Putting Down Roots In Pennsylvania: Lebanon Valley College

By Erik Skindrud, regional editor






A Toro slit seeder inserts Kentucky bluegrass seed into an athletic field. The advantage of the method is the good seed-soil contact it promotes. Kentucky bluegrass spreads by rhizomes, making it self-repairing, but the seed can take 20 days to sprout.


Rural Annville, Pa. is located about 80 miles west of Philadelphia--just eight miles east of the famous chocolate town of Hershey. Annville is a college town, since 1866 it has been the home of Lebanon Valley College--a leading private liberal arts school of the region. With a population of less than 5,000, the student body of 1,500-plus exerts a powerful local presence.

The college, of course, is an important local employer. Especially for grounds superintendent Kevin Yeiser, who is in charge of close to 150 acres of turfgrass, athletic fields, lawns, trees and planting beds. Working with Yeiser on the campus' athletic fields are Keith Evans, Ryan Schmidt and Chris Tshudy.

Keeping the rest of the grounds in shape are Scott Conrad and Charlie Silingeri. An additional seven or more college students round out the crew for the busier summer and fall seasons, which see plenty of action on the campus' soccer, football, baseball and field hockey fields.

One thing is certain, that Yeiser and company are doing things right. In 2004, the team took one of five Grand Awards bestowed by the Professional Grounds Management Society for outstanding university and college grounds.






A crewmember finishes edging along a baseball field's third-base line using a scuffle hoe. He used a Scag power edger to cut the line before finishing with the hand tool.


Turfgrass Trials

Lebanon Valley College is known for its sports teams--with softball and field hockey enjoying considerable recognition and success. All together, Yeiser and crew are responsible for football, baseball, soccer and field hockey stadiums and an even bigger number of practice fields. The game fields are fitted with irrigation rotors that are operated on an as-needed basis. The practice fields have Kifco Water Reels with retractable hoses that connect to portable Kifco big guns. A total of three on-campus ponds provide water for irrigation.

Campus athletic fields are composed of Kentucky bluegrass, which Yeiser values for its rhizome growing habit. "When the turf thins out we fill it in with Kentucky bluegrass," Yeiser said. "It spreads by rhizomes and kind of repairs itself so we like it. On the other hand, a drawback is it can take 20 days from the time we put it into the ground until germination. So we use the perennial rye for quick results during the playing season. Kentucky bluegrass is a very desirable grass, but it takes a while to get established."

Tall fescue is also used on practice fields because of its drought-tolerant nature, Yeiser said. The work is divided among crewmembers by area, each responsible for specific fields or campus areas. Mowing takes place weekly during the warm months, and takes about two days for each area to be completed. The team often relies on student employees to mow, giving the other groundskeepers time to attend to more technical tasks, like field renovation and fertilizer and insecticide application.






Groundskeeper Chris Tshudy drives the campus' Toro Groundsmaster riding mower under a grove of flowering crabapple trees. The crew applies an imidacloprid-based insecticide each June to control grubs and sod webworms that attack the turf.


Renovation takes place in spring and summer and consists of three familiar procedures. To start, workers pass over a field with a tow-able John Deere aerator that removes three-quarter-inch plugs. On some fields workers collect and remove the plugs; on others they're left to dissolve and work their way back into the soil.

The decision whether to leave them or remove them is based on the overall soil permeability, Yeiser explains.

"Once you start using sand (topdressing), you're pretty much married to it," he said. "You don't want to create layering, which can happen if you try to work the plugs back into the soil."

The more heavily-sanded fields tend to be those with drainage problems, he said.

Following aeration, topdressing creates space for grass plants to grow which makes an even surface that is suitable for athletic play. It's especially useful on field hockey and soccer fields, which are kept mowed at seven-eighths of an inch--where other practice fields are mowed at two-and-a-quarter inches.

"It's because the roll of the ball is so key," Yeiser said. "The games play better at a lower cut."

To complete topdressing, a Mill Creek PTO-powered spreader is hooked up to the same Ford Newholland tractor that pulled the aerator. Topdressing is an expensive and time-consuming task. Yeiser estimates that a 100,000-square-foot soccer field can take about 40 tons of sand--that's two dump truck loads.

The sand itself is relatively cheap--rising gas costs are making trucking it to the college more and more expensive. (The sand, incidentally, is a USGA medium-to-course grade product produced for golf courses.)

The final step of the renovation process utilizes a Toro slit seeder that puts the seed an inch and a half into the ground. The seeder creates "good soil-seed contact," which is important for the effective germination of Kentucky bluegrass, Yeiser says.






Former grad student Andy Herbein uses a Honda push mower to negotiate tight spaces outside the campus's Miller Chapel building. Campus turf is mostly Kentucky bluegrass with perennial rye and tall fescue.


Fertilization... And Snow Removal

Adding nitrogen and other nutrients, of course, is a key step to creating a lush and resilient green. The Lebanon Valley College crew applies a slow-release, extended-feed blend with a 20-10-10 rating in August. By September and October, football and field hockey are taking their toll on campus sports fields, prompting the application of a quicker-release blend. "It gives us a little quicker response," Yeiser said.

Crews usually mow as late as Thanksgiving; by that time they use compressed air to blow out irrigation lines to prevent freeze damage. Yeiser's team tries to squeeze in as much field renovation work as possible before snow covers the fields.

This is especially important for the baseball and softball fields--which will be needed for spring training in March.

"Many times we can have snow on the ground in March, so we've found it beneficial to level skinned areas out, add material to low spots, check baselines and re-clay the mounds and batter boxes before winter gets underway," Yeiser said.

Crews have also had good luck pre-seeding in December. The seed stays in the ground over the winter in a dormant state ready to sprout as soon as temperatures reach the correct level.






This Mill Creek PTO-powered spreader is topdressing the campus's field hockey stadium turf. The Ford Newholland tractor towing the unit is a campus workhorse, also used for seeding, earthmoving and winter snow removal.


Workers spend the rest of the winter months performing routine maintenance on equipment. Of course, when the snow flies it's their responsibility to clear campus paths and walkways. For the job they rely on eight Honda self-propelled snow blowers, a Polaris utility vehicle fitted with a rotary broom and the crew's Ford Newholland tractor. Snow removal from streets and parking lots is contracted out.

Winter is also prime time for pruning and tree maintenance. More tree maintenance, including insect treatments, is conducted when the sap rises in the spring.

Maples, oaks, elm, hemlock and other hardwoods grace the campus and some require regular maintenance to keep them pest-free and healthy. Bagworms affect the campus' evergreens. A pest called the bronze birch borer has caused moderate damage to birch trees. Another aggressive insect is the hemlock wooly adelgid, which has wiped out hemlocks in parts of Pennsylvania but has been kept in check on campus with root-soil injections of imidacloprid.

Spring is also the time for workers to refurbish planting beds. Many will be affected by excess salt and winter ice-melter spillage. Crewmembers will apply a pre-emergent herbicide called Snapshot (active ingredients trifluralin and isoxaben) to keep grasses and broadleaf weeds in check.

By early May it will be time for the campus's big annual planting when close to 100 flats of petunias, marigolds, begonias and ageratum are placed in the ground. It's a big job. Thankfully, students from nearby Lebanon County Vocational Technical School have been on hand in recent years to help out.

Building a Team

"Have a visible presence. Before the game begins walk the field and check with the coaches to see if they need anything more from you. If possible attend the games and watch how the field plays. Write or take mental notes on areas that may need attention. Above all make sure the coaches know you are there to support them and their program. Routinely talk with the coaches to make sure they have what they need for games and practices. It has been my experience that this can go a long way in developing good working relationships." -- Kevin Yeiser, Lebanon Valley College superintendent



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May 26, 2019, 3:22 pm PDT

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