Compost Happens - Case Study, Q and A with Scott Wheeler of Gorge Vale

One major tenant of "sustainability" that seems to be missing from most descriptions of the term in our industry is the concept of becoming self-sufficient. Why is this an important concept? By sourcing materials locally or even within our own property lines, we reduce dependency on the resource intensive transportation, production and extraction of materials. Perhaps the greatest opportunity accessible to all golf courses is composting.

Furthermore, for Island golf courses who find themselves surounded by a "money moat", the cost (economically and environmentally) to import materials is significantly higher than a golf course within the mainland web of highways. One course that has adopted composting practices as a means of managing wastes, improving aesthetics, reducing outward expenditures and creating the perfect size and consistency for use in turf is Gorge Vale Golf Club on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada.

I've been lucky enough to have a tour of the property (take your own here) and decided to interview Golf Course Superintendent Scott Wheeler for more info on his Composting Program. - What goes in to your compost pile?

Scott Wheeler - Pretty much anything that comes off the golf course during routine cleanup on a daily basis including leaves,divots,grass clippings,branches etc. Leaf cleanup and core aeration obviously supplies large volumes of material. We also compost all our kitchen waste except meat/dairy products from the clubhouse. I might also add that we have a number of gardens on the course that generate material that is composted as well.

Aeration Cores
Spoiled Bunker Sand
Club House staff bring kitchen scraps to the pile - Process of collecting materials? Do you use one central dump, or multiple ones that are eventually consolidated?

Scott Wheeler - Prior to my arrival at Gorge Vale GC material was being dumped at a number of locations on the property with no plans for composting. Over a period of time we relocated all the material to a central yard where all material is now processed.

An Organized Central Yard is Key to
a Successful Composting Program - How many "active" piles of composting material do you maintain?

Scott Wheeler - We usually have 3 piles on the go. Staff dump branches in a separate pile where they are chipped with our Vermeer chipper and added to the youngest pile. Piles are turned on a regular with a large front end loader we have. Check out the BMP's of Gorge Vales Vegetation Management Plan at the EIFG.

Chipping wood debris in to the first stage pile - Machinery used?

Scott Wheeler - I've provided pics of all the equipment we use, but the key piece is the EZScreen 550 unit I purchased and had shipped here from Michigan (Made in the USA). That piece will easily pay for itself in a couple seasons as soil out here on the island is expensive and also rather poor in quality. The unit has a small pull start diesel engine on it and you can purchase different size screens.

Front End Loader
The EZScreen resting up for the next batch

Mmmmmm, Black Gold!
Note: This Video is not of Gorge Vale GC, but we thought it was fitting to provide product info. Go here to view the product sheet for the Single Deck EZScreen 550 that Scott uses. - Approximate man hours per season?

Scott Wheeler - It's an ongoing process thats part of our everyday routine so its difficult to really put a number on it. - I think that is one of the most important characteristics of any new activity, for it to be successful it must fit seamlessly in with your regular duties. Approximately how many cubic feet per year of end product?

Scott Wheeler - Approx. 14,000 cu ft of material that we have accumulated over 12 months. Of that approximately 1/3 is fully composted and ready for use. Its incredible the volume of material we handle over 12 months. - Where is the composted material used? Gardens? Turf?

Scott Wheeler - Gardens, construction projects, divot bottles, topdressing weak turf areas around green sites and other rough areas. We obviously do not use it on greens, but do blend the compost with sand for topdressing rough areas as mentioned and for construction projects. Forgot to mention that we also use it on the range to fill divots.

Garden areas needed to be reconditioned
Out with the old, in with the new
Gardens love it!

...Remember that first garden bed?
What a better way to start a tree nursery
than with all your own material - How do you apply to turf areas?

Scott Wheeler - Applied with our Propass topdresser and often the old fashion way.... by hand.

For info on the specifics of using compost with turfgrass (and turfgrass with compost) check out this fact sheet care of PSU. Quite possibly the best resource available. - Using Compost to Improve Turf Performance

Thank you to Scott Wheeler and Gorge Vale GC for the opportunity to tour and learn more of your outstanding environmental efforts.