Tuesday, August 26, 2014

If you build it, they will come: the UF/IFAS Landscape Unit

August marks one year since the completion of the Landscape Unit research plots at UF and a perfect occasion to reflect on the aims and usefulness of this site.

Modest beginnings
Last summer, thanks to UF’s Center for Landscape Conservation and Ecology, Turfgrass Science, and the Florida-Friendly Program, a weedy, derelict expanse off SW 23rd Terr. in Gainesville was transformed into a paved, fully operation research area.

A freshly scrapped site
Planner's conference as the structure takes shape
Removing fumigation plastic: Mackenzie Boyer fears no poison
The terrain was scraped and fumigated, a road and concrete rest areas were built, and landscaping and irrigation was designed and installed. 

Bring on the landscapes!
July 26, 2013: Planting Day
When installing irrigation, the ditch witch is your friend
All told, four plots were erected: three to resemble homes (in terms of square feet) with front and back yards, and one for showcasing different plants and turfgrass species.

That green green
The timetable for the initial build did not allow for the installation of warm season turfgrass. Ryegrass was used as a placekeeper throughout fall and winter. 

Fall 2013: the ryegrass emerges
Summer 2014: the St. Augustinegrass goes in
Early this summer, however, many of the initial landscaping team reassembled to lay St. Augustine sod in the research plots as well as Bahia, Centipede and Zoysia turfgrass for the demonstration area.

You weren't out there? Relive the magic

Getting out what you put in
Once the final ingredient was in place in the research plots, the real work began: logging resource expenditures - where resource includes fuel for maintenance equipment, labor hours and water use quantity. 

Front to back: zoysia, centipede, bahia, and St. Augustine
In urban landscape irrigation, one of the tenants of outdoor water-use efficiency is designing a landscape with minimal water requirements. In our case, this means a Florida-friendly landscape (FFL) – composed of native or drought-tolerant trees, plants and groundcovers, and perhaps also a smattering of turfgrass, all of it watered with an emphasis on hydrozoning and low-volume irrigation.

Attracting wildlife is one of the FFL principles
Groundcover de jeur: perennial peanut 40 weeks old
The antithesis of FFL is termed “traditional.” This landscape features maximum, jolly green turfgrass and sparse use of ornamentals, usually irrigated with no consideration for plant-type or water need. (As an irrigation tech I can testify to the prevalence of this design in urban irrigation.) The work in the Landscape Unit will reveal which of these two landscape designs is really the most resource efficient.

Courtesy East Bay Regional Park District
This is a topical question right now. Residential landscapes are often implicated in contributing to nonpoint source pollution (run-off and leaching of fertilizer and chemicals). In the drought-mired western U.S., water conservation programs target turfgrass landscapes with turf removal rebates, encouraging the use of drought-tolerant plants. And in California, where 2/3 of the state is now in exceptional drought, “brown is the new green” aptly describes a cultural moment where maintaining healthy turf and conserving water is no longer a tenable equation.

Quiet on the set

Drip irrigation up close and personal
As a visual media producer, I've come to see the Landscape Unit as a living set. To date it has played a role in no less than eight videos – some profiling aspects of the site, others capitalizing on the rich assortment of plants and irrigation equipment located there. 

Dr. Michael Dukes at a recent training with FL Extension personnel
Over the past year the site has also hosted an FNGLA conference, a Florida Irrigation Society course, an Extension Agent in-service training, and several master gardener tours.

Take an aerial tour

The Landscape Unit research site is a valuable resource, and I look forward to following the progress of the on-going plot study and helping develop future uses.

About the author: 
Michael Gutierrez is a water resources 
technician with UF/IFAS in the Ag & Bio 
Engineering Dept. He tweets, blogs and 
also shoots still and video media in South 
Florida, Gainesville and anywhere else a 
camera is handy. (image: Stacia Davis)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Irrigation principles and management? Yes please!

Fall 2014 heralds an exciting new era in irrigation graduate education at University of Florida with a hot-off-the-press course offered by Drs. Kati Migliaccio and Michael Dukes in the Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department.

This course will take advantage of the distance education (DE) format and thus be available to all UF graduate students - no matter the location!

Take a peek at one of the new technologies that we'll use in the course:

Additional examples of what you'll learn:

How to perform a hydrometer test (like the pros do it).

How to use a tensiometer to schedule irrigation.

How all the components work in an irrigation system.

How to fix leaks...not leeks.

Register today
So - if you are looking for something new and exciting to do this fall - check out: 

。☆ 。☆。☆ 
★。/|\ °★ 
  。☆。 。° ☆。  
☆。 ★。☆ °★

And now....the top 5 reasons to take this course

5. New UF/IFAS videos will be showcased in the course for the first time on different irrigation systems throughout Florida.

4. Posting pics of irrigation is cool.

3. With DE course flexibility, fall is the new summer.

2. Materials are fresh off the press - showcasing the newest irrigation technologies.

1. You can now fix your parents' irrigation system - their investment in your education has paid off!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Bonjour, Montreal! One (easily excitable) graduate student's take on the 2014 ASABE Annual International Meeting

The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) held its Annual International Meeting (AIM) from July 13-16 in Montreal, Canada. Several UF faculty members and students voyaged to the Great White North to attend – myself included! AIM attracts hundreds of Agricultural and Biological Engineers from across the world, and includes over 1,000 presentations and panel discussions.

Daeun Choi, PhD Student at the University of Florida, presenting her research
at the ASABE Annual International Meeting

The field of Agricultural and Biological Engineering consists of a large community of professionals that use the “engineering approach” to confront issues that occur as a result of human interaction with natural systems. Some of these interactions include water use, agriculture, and energy production. The vastness of these issues and interactions results in Agricultural and Biological Engineers working on a wide range of problems.

A profession that encompasses the whole planet!

This broad scope can admittedly make the wealth of presentations and topics at AIM a little overwhelming. But, the tremendous diversity of sessions at AIM ultimately makes the conference all the more enriching! I spent practically an hour every night putting my highlighter to the conference program to plan out my agenda for the next day.

UF researchers presenting bright and early at the Ecohydrology session

Although my graduate work focuses on water management, I’m also interested in agroecology and environmental health. Attending AIM, or other similar events that include a large breadth of topics such as those included at ASABE AIM, enables me to explore these additional interests and linkages to my own profession. I don’t want to sound like a salesperson here, but I highly recommend attending these sorts of “broad” conferences to provide perspective to your work, and spawn ideas for new projects and collaborations. It’s a fun time!

ASABE Student Video Competition
ASABE has initiated a Student Video Competition to invite Agricultural and Biological Engineering students to create a 3-minute video showcasing the “story of our work.” I worked alongside of Cininta Pertiwi and Stefani Leavitt – my friends and fellow graduate students at UF – to create a video for the competition. We wanted to give a glimpse of how the field transitioned from historically being Agricultural Engineering** to the modern profession of Agricultural AND Biological Engineering. The video places emphasis on the evolution of machinery, but the field has evolved in so many additional ways (as you can see from the posts on this blog!).
** Since its inception in 1907, the society was named ASAE – the American Society of Agricultural Engineers. The society added “Biological” to its name in 2005.


Well, we ended up winning! Our video was screened at the ASABE AIM Awards Luncheon for all of the attendees to see. We were so honored to have been chosen! You can check out our winning video above, or on YouTube

About the author:
Natalie Nelson is a PhD Student and NSF Graduate 
Research Fellow in the Ag and Bio Engineering Dept 
at UF. She is presently developing and analyzing 
algal bloom models for use in Florida.