Fields of green
The race was on. At Leavenworth's Abeles Field on a recent Friday afternoon, Jim Keeven, owner of Emerald View Turf Farms, Jefferson City, Mo., didn't have a second to spare.
Harsh sun beat on sprigs of Bermuda grass he had just planted. As seconds passed the delicate blades of green grass curled into crisp brown spikes.
"When they roll up like that they're telling you 'I'm just about to die,'" Keeven said.
Keeven called to his workers:
"We need those sprinklers turned on now," Keeven said.
In less than five minutes the sprigs of grass turned green again. Keeven relaxed.
This summer, Keeven and LeRoy Seifert, Leavenworth, who owns Lawncare Unlimited, are collaborating on the Leavenworth field. Seifert, who has worked for the Tonganoxie school district and maintains the grass in Chieftain Park, specializes in building and maintaining athletic fields. For the past two years, he and Keeven have worked together on various projects. Seifert does the field preparation work, which includes leveling the field with a laser, and Keeven does the planting.
The Bermuda planted in Abeles Field is a variety called quick stand. Quick stand is a drought-tolerant grass that survives cold winters.
The grass is sliced from Keeven's 40-acre field the day it will be planted. Enough of the root material is left in his field to allow regrowth. The harvested grass is cut into small pieces, called sprigs, and kept shaded until dropped from a trailer onto the athletic field. A roller behind the trailer compresses the grass sprigs into the soil. If the sprigs are kept wet, the grass will quickly cover the field. Once established each plant will double in size each week.
"In one month we'll have 40 percent cover, in one and a half months, 60 percent and in two months, 80 percent," Keeven said.
But, especially during hot summer months, moisture is the key.
"The first week is the most critical, literally," Keeven said. "The surface cannot dry up."
In the beginning
To prepare the field, Seifert's crew started early in the spring, tilling the soil six inches deep, adding 509 tons of sand and 10 tons of compost. After more grading, he leveled the field, using a laser system that automatically cut the grade.
This is a less expensive method of installing turf on an athletic field, Seifert said. The cost of putting grass on a football field, not including water and maintenance after planting, is about $6,200.
"If you go with sod, you're looking at $27,000, just for the sod," Seifert said.
More and more, schools are turning to this method, he said.
"Blue Valley has got 25 fields of it now, it's four to five years old, there are two of them in Atchison, and two right here in the Leavenworth area, one sprigged, one sodded," Seifert said.
The only way to go
While Keeven was planting, Jim Boyd, grounds supervisor for the De Soto school district, stopped to watch. From 1995 to 2000, Boyd supervised the grounds at Abeles Field.
The field receives heavy use, he said. Football teams from Leavenworth High School, Immaculata High School and St. Mary College all use the field.
He said because of time constraints last year, a sodded field was installed in the De Soto school district. With sod, he said, the field can be used two weeks after installation.
But he said the sprigging method, where there is time, is just as effective. And, he said the quick stand Bermuda, known for its durability, is the grass of choice.
"It's really the only way to go when you've got so many games," Boyd said.