High Time for Hydroseeding
With a one-sweep application of seed, mulch, and fertilizer, hydroseeding’s cost-effectiveness is hard to beat.
Nearly every business these days recites the mantra of “more work in less time,” and few pieces of machinery have met that goal quite like hydroseeding machines. Need to seed, fertilize, and mulch? These machines can do all three tasks in one step—sometimes with only a one-person crew. One might wonder: When will agriculture take this page from horticulture’s playbook?
For many areas of the nation, wildfires are a contributing factor to erosion; in Washington, high annual rainfall is more likely the culprit. “In the early 1990s, we were active in fire reclamation, but for the most part, we’re fixing up what fell when it rains too much,” says Carol Davis, president of Edgewood, WA’s Briar Group Inc. “For example, at Hood Canal, located in the Mason County peninsula near Shelton, every year it floods, and TV stations have footage of salmon swimming across roads. In such areas, we spray mudslide areas with bonded fiber matrix [BFM] to stabilize them. Our Finn HydroSeeders handle BFM very well. Other machines might not be able to handle such a higher-integrity mulch, but Finn does.” Davis refers to machinery from Fairfield, OH’s Finn Corp., which she has used exclusively since establishing her business in 1986.
“In 2008, we did some reclamation for federal highways in a coastal rainforest area near Forks, WA, which some might recognize as where the ‘Twilight’ novels are based. My crew met with the contractor at the Hard Rain Cafe! There’s a tremendous amount of rainfall there, and of course we did the project in March, when it’s really rainy,” she chuckles. “We covered about an acre, using BFM. It held well in the Finn, which is more than capable of shooting the material. In an area like this, you can’t go up there with a ‘Tinkertoy’ machine—you need a Finn.”
|Photo: Wilder Erosion Control
A Minnesota roadside needing work
She adds, “Because the rainforest is such sensitive area, and the rain so relentless, what we were working on wasn’t a slope, but we used Profile Product’s BFM—a first-class product—because of that sensitivity. It took us about two hours to do the job; access was not easy. We used a long hose to get to the site. The project was extremely successful, which had to do with the integrity of the Flexterra I used.”
Since her projects give her few problems, Davis has some time to address other issues facing her industry. “An interesting development here is ‘prevailing wage projects,’ in which the state dictates how much you have to pay your people. You have to file affidavits of what each person is paid for each public works project. Traditionally, our people have been classified under the landscaping industry, which averages lower wages than some industries. Washington has decided we can’t be classified there. In some cases, this has caused real problems; firms would bid a wage rate, then they’d be told how much it ‘should’ be—and they’d have to pay their people sometimes three times more than the rate they’d bid. These are the negative influences that hurt small businesses.”
She plans to meet with her senator and congressman and the Washington labor board to discuss the issue. “This wage rate applies only to public works projects, but with our economy, that’s about all we’re doing!” she says. “If you’re not bidding on public works, you’re not working.”
That lack of work is evident in Colorado, as well. “We didn’t do much this winter; it was slow,” reports Reclamation Division manager Colby Reid, of Frederick, CO’s Western States Reclamation. “Many of our projects are mine reclamation, and we don’t do a lot of hydroseeding on those anymore—mostly straw mulch and drill seed. But we use our Finns to put tackifier on our straw or hay mulch.”
Different sites get different applications. “Wind farms get straw mulch. When reclamating [after] fires, or oil and gas pads, we hydroseed and mulch,” Reid says. Natural-gas pads are a frequent project: “We have crews doing those constantly. Production is common in western Colorado, where sites are steep—often 3:1—and a tractor doesn’t work well. The HydroSeeders are used where traditional tractors can’t go. We use organic tackifier on areas too rocky for the straw mulch to hold on to. Our other mulches are all from Profile Products, standard wood mulches, Flexterra—and we have no problem applying them with the Finn.”
In a Straw Poll, BFM Wins
After the unusual amount of snowfall this winter, many areas of the US experienced Minnesota’s yearly challenge: snowmelt. In Mankato, Wilder Erosion Control is trying to improve local erosion control efforts, one job at a time.
“We use a combination of Profile’s products,” says owner Glen Wilder. “We try to specialize, and steer customers into using BFM or Flexterra. We increased our use of Flexterra last year. We work mostly commercial projects, more severely eroded areas, instead of road work, although we do that, too.”
Wilder has begun to use Profile’s GreenArmor System. “We’re looking to specialize in this instead of riprap—using environmentally friendly stuff, instead of just piling up rocks. We use the GreenArmor System, with Flexterra or BFM, in place of straw.”
|Photos: Wilder Erosion Control
These photos were taken each week over a period of four weeks.
|Material was installed in the dry mid-summer and was watered only twice.
|Below: By the end of four weeks, the Green Armor system had stabilized the site.
Profile Products combined the turf reinforcement capabilities of Colbond Inc.’s Enkamat turf reinforcement mat with its own Flexterra FGM (flexible growth medium) to create the GreenArmor System. The Flexterra is hydraulically applied and fills in the open spaces of the Enkamat’s matrix, providing better erosion control than either would on its own and also holding moisture to aid in seed germination.
“Here’s an example of how we use GreenArmor,” Wilder says. “An electric co-op had an eroded ditch, and had hired a contractor to dig it out and fix it. He originally estimated $5,000 to dig it out and put in a drainage pipe. When he discovered he didn’t have time for the job, he contracted us. We ended up doing the job for $2,200, because we used GreenArmor instead of all that digging and piping. GreenArmor gave us thick, established growth in just four weeks.”
Despite his successes, Wilder still experiences an uphill battle against out-of-date specifications, or what he calls the way-we’ve-always-done-it attitude.
“People will expect you to use Category One or Three blankets, but I suggest using BFM or Flexterra up to 4,000 pounds per acre, because the growth and erosion control is so much better. On a recent job, a customer wanted blankets, which I knew wouldn’t work, so I used Flexterra. Now he doesn’t want to pay because I didn’t ‘do it to spec,’” Wilder sighs.
Yet he continues trying to train the local industry. “I’m trying to specialize in higher-end hydromulches and working with engineers to change their specifications. I must be making some headway; I’m seeing bids asking for ‘Type Eights’—BFM or hydromulches. However, there’s one problem for higher-end solutions in our area—people are buying them, but then use less than they’re supposed to, and so it fails.”
He finds benefits to using more costly but more effective products in the first place. “Not only is the job done better, but also it’s very expensive to go back to do rework. If I go back to a site, I want to look at it to learn something, not to rework it. If you go to Profile’s Web site, you see statistics of their results: 750% more growth! Who doesn’t like those odds? We recommend these products for first-time success; you don’t have to water near as much, and with Flexterra, all you have to add is seed and fertilizers, no tackifiers. In late fall 2009, I even did a project after a snow, but I had confidence it would hold. In the spring, the area only needed touch-ups. You don’t get those results with other products.”
Wilder increasingly works with Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources, often in wetland areas, and also reclaiming areas for utility and pipeline companies. “It’s better for them—the utilities—not to have erosion when going through valleys, not only because they’re supposed to stop erosion, but also because it’s good PR for their company, because pipelines are marked as theirs. I give them alternatives for these projects, such as native grasses.” He says he finds it easier to work with utility customers than with some “road ditch” project owners, who sometimes don’t have the same pride of ownership for their sites.
Metal Mulch-Munching Machines
Greenstar LLC in Storrs, CT, performs a mix of residential and commercial jobs, but in the fall of 2009 the company took on a large project, the Star Hill Family Athletic Center in Tolland, CT.
The privately owned complex, which opened in late November, boasts a 105,000-square-foot dome housing three 90- by 180-foot turf fields for soccer, softball, football, and other sports; two hardwood courts for basketball and volleyball; a three-lane walking and jogging track; and two batting cages. The 30,000-square-foot main facility includes an aquatics center, fitness center, multipurpose and group fitness rooms, locker rooms, a snack bar, and a pro shop.
“About 20 acres was cleared out for parking, landscaping, and drainage,” explains Ben Lacy, the owner of Greenstar. “We hydroseeded about five acres with a New England lawn mix—a fescue/bluegrass/rye combo. We use a green-tinted 70/30 wood/paper mulch as our base, then add water, seed, fertilizer, and tackifier. Once it’s mixed up, we can spray it all down at once.”
The work was done using Bowie equipment. “I started hydroseeding in the spring of 2005, and Bowie hydroseeding machines had more features that I liked than comparable machines,” says Lacy. “Hydroseeding with a Bowie is much more versatile than using hay, not to mention it produces a superior finished product.”
Of the Tolland project, he says, “There were lots of slopes in this area. The Bowie sprayer comes in handy. As the largest portion of Connecticut’s most favorable land has already been built on, now you have to move around more soil to make things work to fit a building to a site. Around the drainage pond, we sprayed with an erosion control mix and put in some wetland plants. We also planted hundreds of trees on the site—good-sized ones—and it took my four-man crew about two weeks to complete the project.”
Lacy likes the Bowie’s results. “It’s the only one I’ve seen that you can run that thick mulch through. With a lot of other brands, you have to thin or water down the mulch to spray it. Some have a larger tank on their rigs, but that’s because they have more water in their mix. I can get a thicker mix down with a Bowie.”
On the opposite coast, Bowie Hydro-Mulchers are allowing crews to perform tasks on mountainsides. “Last fall, we hydroseeded an Idaho gold mine that was being closed down,” explains Cory Streblow of Valley Center, CA’s Pacific Rim Hydroseeding. “The mine site was special—those type projects only happen every once in a while. We’re geared more toward commercial landscape business.” Streblow, who with co-owner Don Smith established the firm in 2006, had been using Bowies for two decades.
Digging for gold often unearths harmful metals, so when the mine was closed, it needed to be capped. “The mine was originally built in the late 1800s,” Streblow says. “The reclamators went in and cleaned out the contaminated soil. They dug a huge hole, lined with 6 feet of clay so nothing would leach out, then covered the contaminants with more clay so water doesn’t leach in. They covered that with good soil, then my crews came in to seed it. We sprayed BFM and seed over disturbed areas—a total of about 25 acres. As this is in a ski resort area, near Ketchum, ID, the terrain was hilly slopes. Access to the mine area was so limited, we pulled 1,200 feet of hose uphill to do the job. The long hose slows you down a bit, but we were totally able to do it. Our two-man crew took about three weeks to complete the project.”
Of his equipment, he notes, “It’s a machine I’ve been used to. I’ve been running them for 20-plus years; I know every in and out of the machine. Bowies are very well put together, which is important to me, because I run them very hard.”
|Photo: Greenstar LLC
Hundreds of trees were added to this site by the crew.
The Seed Matters
In October 2009, Dan’s Excavating, one of Michigan’s largest MDOT contractors, finished a year-long project on Interstate 75.
“We worked on the I-75 rebuild, from Gibraltar to South Huron River Drive. The restoration was about probably 100 acres or so. We did all the work, from the excavation to the finish seeding,” says Ted Clark, restoration crews supervisor for the Shelby Township, MI, company.
“During construction, we also have to restore and take care of erosion control. We do it within the allowable time frames per the specifications, or the following morning, as the ground is friable. Typically, we work on 1 to 10 acres at a time, preparing the ground and removing debris 2 inches or larger. We fertilize and seed, then add a light layer of fiber mulch over it. We then apply straw mulch and tackifier. For any slopes 3:1 or steeper, we used a high-velocity straw blanket.”
As Interstate 75 is one of the nation’s busiest highways, it could not be closed during the work. “This time the highway was open, and we were working around the traffic. It takes approximately 20% longer to do a job when the highway’s open to traffic.”
Tough sites need tough seeds; good germination is the key to avoiding rework. “Dan’s has been using Rhino Seed for 14 years,” says Clark. “It’s a good product, and the company is very attentive to its customers’ needs.”
Michigan DOT, much like every public entity, has tightened its budgets. “It used to be that once we placed product on the ground, if we had to reseed it, they had to pay us,” Clark explains. “MDOT got shafted so many times for redos that it established ‘guaranteed growth jobs,’ a performance bond, which means the contractor is responsible for growth—no bare spots! Our theory is that seed is relatively cheap, so it’s better to put down more than not enough. Yet, we have to be low bidder, or we don’t get jobs.
“For the I-75 project, we seeded with a typical MDOT mix,” he says. “We hired a separate contractor to put in day lilies and wildflowers in certain locations. We did a lot of wetland seeding, as well; the project included six detention ponds.”
Dan’s Excavating covers mostly the tri-county (metro Detroit) area, but, Clark says, “We can go to Saginaw or Lansing—anywhere there’s work, we’ll do it. We’re one of the larger highway contractors in Michigan. Most others don’t have the projects we have, and we need enough crews to put out fires. We have to get in there and get it done.”
“Rhino Seed started about the time we did—1967,” says Joe Servinski, owner of Servinski Sod Service in Midland, MI. “We do residential, commercial, and landfill projects. In the very beginning, we were strictly sod, but in the mid-1970s we started hydroseeding, because it was more efficient, costwise. Ninety-five percent of our projects these days are hydroseeding for erosion control. We’ll do whatever work comes along.”
Servinski describes recent projects. “We did two landfill capping projects this past year. One landfill was 28 to 35 acres. The landfills had already been covered with soil—on some projects, we have to do soil, too, but not these. We go in and do fine prepping; both of them had drill seeding, hydroseeding, some crimping, and some blankets. Any hills and ditches necessitated the use of blankets. It took us about a week for each job, with a four-man crew.”
The projects used native grass seed and rye grass. “Rhino seed is easy to apply, and its products have been good. I find we’re buying more native seeds than 40 years ago; most projects will tell you what they want put down; I have no choice. But we do seed at a higher rate so we don’t have to go back for rework.”
Author's Bio: Janis Keating is a frequent contributor to Forester Media, Inc. publications.