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Fertiliser: less is more

Posted by mynormas on August 9, 2016


I was doing training at a golf club the past couple of weeks. It was about basic chemical application, y’know, calibration, safety, pest identification and stuff. Since it was the fourth time for the club (the superintendent organised it every alternate year), I thought I’d slip in a module about fertilising, just to keep the training interesting and hopefully to ensure I get invited back next year. Two things came to mind:

One. I was explaining about the nutrients required by turf and how important each nutrient in its own way to the health of the turf. I was writing on the white board when suddenly I drew a wooden barrel (or cask, if you prefer) and mentioned about Liebig’s Law of Minimum. I said that according to Mr. Liebig, each nutrient is important and lacking in any will affect the plant’s health.

Liebig's barrel

Liebig used the image of a barrel with unequal staves to explain how plant growth is limited by the element in shortest supply, just as the level of water in the barrel is limited by the shortest stave.

During the lunch break a participant showed me a picture of the Liebig’s barrel sent by the superintendent (he was sitting at the back of the class) to their group WhatsApp presumably because my drawing was bad. It then occurred to me that I actually read about Liebig’s Law 22 or 23 years ago! I remember because I read it in the local public library. I know it was that long ago because back then, knowledge wasn’t the only thing I was pursuing at the library and when I got married, I largely stopped going to the library.

Anyway, Liebig’s law was more than 150 years old and there probably are people who disagreed with him but the fact that I recalled it at the particular instant reminded me about something I heard or read about the mysteries of the mind and how we don’t actually lose information in the brain, so I came to the logical conclusion: I am more than just a pretty face.

The second thing that struck my mind was when I was explaining about measuring green sizes and the participants eagerly asked that it be included in the practical session later in the evening. Know this; most of my participants are not particularly fond of practical sessions because it involves a lot of calculations. Know this too: many superintendents don’t know or don’t measure their green sizes.

Training day at KLGCC

I told my participants that knowing green sizes is important because it will be easier to weigh the amount of fertiliser needed for each green – based on fertilising rate – as compared to calibrating the fertiliser spreader or worse, having no system at all. It would also make it easy to buy close to exact amount of fertiliser needed instead of the usual one ton figure when what you really need is 0.8 ton for 18 greens for six months (all figures not real).

As an example, if we decide to fertilise at a rate of 1.5kg/100 sq.m then green 7 which is 600 sq.m in size will get 9kg, green 8 (703 sq.m) will get 10.5kg, green 16 (345 sq.m) shall receive 5.2kg of fertiliser brand Y which, when calculated with the percentage of nitrogen in the fertiliser, we can say that each green receives 150g of nitrogen per 100sq.m.

Furthermore if the total sizes of all 19 greens in your course is 9,200sq.m, and you think you will stick with applying 1.5kg/100 sq.m/month of that particular fertiliser, then you’ll know you need 125kg of it every month or about 750kg for the next six months. Why order more? Yet it is quite common for clubs to order an exact one ton despite the protestations of the supplier “NO! Don’t order so much! Order just enough for your needs!”. Ahem.

It is disappointing that I can still find Malaysian golf clubs that apply fertiliser at the rate of one bag per green regardless of green or fertiliser bag sizes. The other method I’ve seen was when I was told that this club used the setting ‘J’ on brand ‘X’ fertiliser spreader. That could’ve sound reasonable except that the spreader was never calibrated and the superintendent doesn’t know the rate of fertiliser he applied.

In the first club, after measuring the greens and weighing the fertiliser according to the size of greens and rate of application, they cut down their fertiliser use from 16 bags to 12 bags per month. Guess what? The greens were greener and in better condition two months later. In the other club, they chose to be secretive about the amount of fertiliser used before measurement or maybe they didn’t know or maybe they were upset that a consultant was forced on them and didn’t want to cooperate: didn’t matter  to me, based on a few factors, I chose a new rate and the greens improved too.

If you think by saving the club’s money every month, producing  greener and better greens means that I’m getting a huge paycheck; you’re wrong. Despite the improvements at one particular club, it still hasn’t paid me for the last four months of my consultancy there. No kidding.

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