"Choosing the Right Machine” (Erosion Control: Nov/Dec 2018)

The type of work a contractor does often determines the choice of hydroseeding equipment.

By Roberta Baxter

Fertilizer, seed, mulch, tackifier: All are important parts of a hydroseeding or hydromulching task. Poor-quality ingredients or inexpert application of any of these threatens the success of a project. But another big component of a hydromulching project is the equipment.

Choosing the right equipment to complete a project is crucial to the success of the project and control of the overall cost. Using a machine that has too small a capacity for the area to be covered increases costs and time because of the need to stop and refill the tank frequently. Too large a machine also increases costs because fuel costs will be higher and access to a site may be especially difficult for large equipment. Other factors include the type of agitation, the strength of the pumps, and length of hoses available. A mismatch of any of these can add to the costs of completing a project.

Another critical element is expertise of the crew. A well-trained crew can accomplish a challenging job and make it look easy. Money and time spent on training is never a waste.

Another recommendation from industry leaders is to pay attention to maintenance of any machine that you are using. A breakdown during a job adds costs and aggravation. It’s better to perform maintenance on equipment before a job to decrease the possibilities of a work stoppage because of equipment failure.

Difficult Hydroseeding Job in Kansas

Clint Bates honored his service in the Marine Corps by naming his company Semper Fi Hydroseeding. The company hires veterans and donates a percentage of its profits to veterans’ organizations. Based in Bartlesville, OK, the company undertakes projects in Oklahoma and Kansas, usually three to five hours from its home base.

Semper Fi Hydroseeding recently tackled a project after a previous attempt had failed. The project near Ft. Leavenworth, KS, had turned into a case of what not to do. The goal was to reestablish vegetation in a right of way under power transmissions lines. The previous work was carried out with poor materials and sloppy techniques. When little growth appeared, the power company realized the project was a failure. It had suffered the loss of $300,000 paid out to the first company. After a time of little growth and increasing erosion, the power company decided to find a new contractor; Semper Fi Hydroseeding was chosen, and they started work.

Bates says he tries to persuade customers that spending more up front for quality products pays off in the long run. He recommended Flexterra and ProGanics, both made by Profile Products. “Flexterra and ProGanics go together like peas and carrots,” he says. After the previous failure, the power company was ready to pursue a different path, even one with higher initial costs.

Flexterra High Performance-Flexible Growth Medium instantly bonds to soil, providing excellent erosion control and environment for seed growth. The product lasts through grow-in in order to improve vegetation establishment. Application of Flexterra requires less soil preparation than needed for erosion control blankets. It costs more than wood mulch products, but less than erosion control blankets.

ProGanics Biotic Soil Media provides organic matter and soil enhancements to improve even poor soil. The combination of Flexterra and ProGanics ensured that this right-of-way project would see swift vegetation establishment.

Semper Fi’s equipment includes 5-ton, 6×6 military-style trucks. For this project, crews used two Finn HydroSeeders, a T120 and a T170, skid-mounted on the trucks.

The terrain was a big challenge. The area is hilly with steep-walled gulleys. The crews needed all the power of their trucks to haul loads up the steep slopes. Because of the terrain, the work was all hose work. In some places, workers had to rappel down with equipment to reach every area. The inaccessibility meant that days had to be added to the timeline for the project.

Another challenge was a source of water. Semper Fi was able to buy water through a county rural district. Crews filled up their equipment at available hydrants and trucked it to the site.

Two crews with a total of seven workers completed the 30 acres of hydroseeding across the property of 10 ranch landowners. The seed mix had to be cow-and-horse-friendly and match the requirements of each landowner. Some landowners requested a different seed mix than their neighbors, so, Bates says, crews would sometimes fill up only a half load of slurry to finish on one property before reloading for another ranch property.

Semper Fi Hydroseeding started the project in early April and was able to complete the task in about six weeks, impressing the group of landowners. As the growing season began, a heavy stand of vegetation appeared. All of the owners were well pleased with the success. One landowner had been skeptical after the first failure, but when he saw the great coverage of strong vegetation, he sent Semper Fi Hydroseeding an “Attaboy” text, praising the work.

Michigan Truck-Pulls Track

The plan was to build the biggest truck-pulls track in Michigan. Watson Diesel and Michigan International Speedway teamed up to complete the project. Part of the overall project would be to reestablish vegetation after construction. The challenge: to get the project done and vegetation established in less than 60 days. Natural Environment Reclamation Concepts (NERC) began work in March 2018 with just four weeks before the first events were scheduled at the track. The area to be vegetated included 7.5 acres of soil disturbed by the construction process and a median between the two tracks.

NERC, based in Hanover, MI, brought in a Finn T120T HydroSeeder and a Material Innovations BBM-200 Straw Blower to handle the job.

Mark Sholtis, vice president with NERC, notes that the Finn T120T’s 1,180-gallon tank allowed crews to quickly spray material to cover 2.5 acres. The slurry used was a mixture of Lesco 19-19-19 fertilizer, a proprietary NERC custom seed mix, and a couple of cellulose hydromulch bales as a tracer. “The paddle agitation on these machines keeps all material suspended in the slurry as the four-inch by two-inch centrifugal pump would spray out the tank in a matter of minutes on the prepared seedbed,” he says.

Two crew members handled the hydroseeding while another two people prepared the Straw Blower to begin straw mulching. The truck-mounted BBM-200, manufactured by Material Innovations based in Sugarloaf, PA, can mulch 1.5 acres of straw per load and can spread 30 tons an hour. The machine can send straw up to 120 feet in still air, giving it a wide reach and requiring less driving time. According to Sholtis, “The biggest benefit of this machine is that it takes your needed straw mulch crew of four or five down to a two-man operation.”

He says straw is the company’s preferred method for cover. “It creates a greenhouse effect over the soil to promote quick germination after a rain event or heavy dew.”

After the straw was spread, the Finn was back in operation to spray ConTack AT tackifier to bond seed, fertilizer, and straw to the soil. ConTack AT by Profile Products is an agricultural tackifier made entirely of starch. It is especially effective with straw cover.

The results: In two weeks, there was an excellent stand of grass that only got better as the event approached. Sholtis says, “Seeing the site today, even after thousands of spectators walked over the newly restored grass, it looks like the track had been there for years. The technology and performance of equipment nowadays is second to none and their capabilities are endless.”

Heavy Rains and Mudslides in Minnesota

In the spring of 2014, heavy rains came to the state of Minnesota. The soaking rains hit the small town of Blakeley Township, just south of the Twin Cities. In the springtime, the area would usually be greening up with colorful wildflowers and native grasses. However, the rains caused mudslides that turned the area brown. Almost all of the roads in the area were damaged. The shoulders or the roadways themselves were washed away or severely undercut. The town was cut off because of road closures, and the nearly 500 residents were evacuated until roads and slopes could be stabilized.

County Road 1 (CSAH 1) edges the Blakely Ravine, a 3:1 sloped gulley through which stormwater runoff eventually flows to the Minnesota River. Mudslides increased the slope to 2:1 and destroyed some of the shoulder of the road. Channels designed to carry runoff were also damaged and needed to be rebuilt.

The repair project was funded by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), and Barr Engineering of Minneapolis was put in charge of the rebuild. Steve Klein, vice president and senior civil engineer with Barr, specified the GreenArmor system from Profile Products.

J & R Larson Grounds Maintenance was the installer for the project. Jim Larson, vice president of the company, says, “We did a lot of installation in a short time period. CSAH 1 needed to be reopened, and winter was approaching.”

Fill was added in the ravine and graded to prepare for the next step. Installation began of Futerra R45 High-Performance Turf Reinforcement Mats (HP-TRMs) from Profile. The mats, made of a polyester geogrid within thermally fused and entwined three-dimensional nylon monofilaments, are designed for conditions of heavy runoff and steep slopes. The HP-TRM was coupled with Flexterra. For the ravine, Futerra 7010 TRM was installed.

The TRMs were rolled out and anchored with 18-inch geo pins. Areas of heaviest flow received more anchors per foot. At the top edge, the TRM was stapled every 12 inches, with the addition of three or four geo pins per square yard on the heavy-flow sections and two or three for those with lower expected flow rates. Where the two types of matting met up, a double row of pins was added at 12-inch intervals to ensure complete closure. A total of 20,000 square feet of the HP-TRM was installed.

The anchoring was time intensive but would lead to excellent results. Larson thinks that the open matrix of the product has a positive impact on germination and getting a good stand of vegetation.

Once the mats were placed, the crews applied a layer of Flexterra at a rate of 3,500 pounds per acre over both types of TRMs. The wood-fiber mulch is nontoxic to fish and wildlife, and it also contains proprietary chemicals and locking fibers that behave much like an erosion control blanket.

For the sloped sections of the ravine, 1,500 pounds of Flexterra was mixed with MnDOT seed mix 33-261 grass seed at 35 pounds per acre along with 350 pounds per acre of type 3 fertilizer. A tackifier was added to the mix, and the slurry was loaded into a 3,000-gallon Bowie Imperial 3000 Hydro-Mulcher and applied to the site.

A similar mixture was sprayed on the channel, with MnDOT seed mix 35-441 grass seed going on at a rate of 11 pounds per acre.

Access to the ravine was a significant challenge on the project. Larson says that even with the hoses of the Hydro-Mulcher, crews could not get to all of the slopes. “I hooked the Peterbilt carrying my Bowie 3000 Hydro-Mulcher to a John Deere 850K dozer and lowered it into the ravine,” he recalls. The hydroseed mixture was applied with cannon spray and some hose work as needed. Larson adds that the design of the Hydro-Mulcher prevents plugging up, so crews could continue spraying constantly.

The work took place from October 6 to November 6. The seed did not germinate until the next spring growing season. However, the TRMs’ matrix design held everything in position during the snowy season and spring thaw.

When spring arrived, the seed germinated and grew. The vegetation was strong and even enough that J & R Larson did not have to perform additional maintenance. The GreenArmor system provides the long-term stability that the town needed for Blakely Ravine. Through 30 inches of rain in the next year, the established vegetation remained strong and there was no erosion.

Texas Seeding

A 5-acre plot around a substation in Texas needed to be revegetated. The project was north of Del Rio in a rocky area with little topsoil. In addition, heavy runoff and erosion from rain events and from wind also complicated the situation. Getting a good stand of vegetation would be a challenge under the conditions.

KerTec LLC, based in Lubbock, TX, tackled the job. The company specializes in reclamation seeding on rights of way, especially for oil and gas pipelines in the Permian Basin. It also performs other types of projects around the state and nearby areas.

The first step for this project was adding 6 inches of topsoil. Crews also put down 4,400 pounds of Flexterra per acre and 4,400 pounds of ProGanics Biotic Soil Media. Jacob Woolsey, project manager, notes that crews added ProGanics before Flexterra because the ProGanics works as a soil substitute for depleted soil. Then the acreage was planted with a grass/wheat drill for maximum results. It was seeded at a rate of 10 pounds per acre for grass and 40 pounds per acre for wheat.

Then the area was hydromulched, using a Bowie Victor 800 Hydro-Mulcher. The machine has a Wisconsin W-4 engine in addition to the Bowie Hydro-Mulch pump. The mixture is stirred with paddle agitation, using two augers in the tank. One auger breaks up the mulch and the other mixes the load.

There are different nozzles for the discharge gun or cannon. Nozzles such as V-jet, fan, sprigging, and fire hose nozzles all provide different shooting distances and widths and affect the coverage of the hydromulch mixture. For this job, Woolsey says, they used a V-jet nozzle for medium distance and covering a larger width than other nozzles. When not using the cannon, they use 200 feet of fire hose. Woolsey recommends that for every 50 feet of added hose, the load rates for the hydromulch should be reduced by 5% because of friction in the hose.

For this project, crews could use the cannon. They mixed 13 50-pound bales of ProGanics in a load. To apply Flexterra, they cut down to 10 bales. If the Hydro-Mulcher is fed too many bales, the slurry is too thick. The manufacturer’s guidelines on the amounts to add to the slurry should be followed carefully. On this site, the Hydro-Mulcher was pulled by a 70-hp tractor.

Water from a water truck was pumped into the Hydro-Mulcher while it was being loaded. The slurry mixture also included 4 pounds of grass seed, 4 pounds of wheat seed, 12.5 pounds of American Plant Food Corporation Uri-Pels S.R. fertilizer, 32 ounces of Puric Prime Max soil amendments, and FlocLoc. FlocLoc, a tackifier made by Profile Products, is a polyacrylamide (PAM) flocculating soil stabilizer. It coagulates soil particles so that they stay onsite.

The crew for this project consisted of three people. One person drove the tractor pulling the Hydro-Mulcher and two people loaded and sprayed the mixture.

The site was watered every other day for two weeks to ensure germination and vegetation growth in the dry climate. So far, the vegetation has reached a good stand and is thriving.

Whatever hydroseeding project you are tackling, you must consider all the components of applying the mixture. Use the best quality seed, soil amendments, and hydromulch possible within the price constraints. Choose the best size machine for the area to be treated; you will find a large array of equipment to use.

Remember that crew training and equipment maintenance are vital parts of any project. A well-trained crew and well-maintained machines will handle a job with ease and speed, increasing your profits.

Original article written by Roberta Baxter for Erosion Control. View the online version.