The Weedtechnics Experiment: University of Colorado, Boulder

In April 2016 we began talks with the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU) to trial our Weedtechnics Method and Machines. CU has a long history of environmentally-friendly and non-chemical policies, as such for the better part of two decades they’ve resorted to mechanical weeding methods. This has a few drawback, namely it is very time consuming and cost intensive, as you’ve got to hire several groundskeepers to go around and whipper snipper or manually pull out all the weeds. The costs soon add up considering that you’ve got to do this once every 4-6 weeks.

To establish a base line for the trial, CU recorded their current weed removal rate. We then brought in our SW700 Machine and the Weedtechnics Methodology to see by how much we could improve their results. For a summary of the entire experiment take a look at the presentation we put together…

The Weedtechnics Experiment began on May 1, 2015 with testing the baseline manual removal rate of their current weeding practices. It took 18 labor hours to treat 25,386 ft2 leaving a Hand Production Rate of 1,410 ft2/hour

We decided to use the SW700 unit for this experiment due to its manoeuvrability and ease of use. The treatment fluid is a combination of Saturated Steam and Boiling Water heated to 210-215 F (98-102 C). Water applied to weeds at this temperature initiates the process of Thermal Shock, killing the weed instantly.

We treated several different types of areas, including:

  • segmental paved areas
  • concrete paved areas
  • bark mulched beds
  • gravel mulched beds
  • pebble mulched beds
  • mulched tree circles

CU Test Parameters: 105,000 ft2 (2.4 acres) of landscape beds. Initial presentation levels were documented and we timed the application of the SW700 in each landscape bed.

So, what did we learn during our 60 day test period, spanning from June 13, 2016 to August 12, 2016?

114 labour hours, over 30 working days, were needed to maintain a presentation standard of 1 ( < 5% weed cover, < 1” in height).

2,297 ft2 per hour average with SW700 versus 1,410 ft2 per hour average by Hand

128 specific test panels were treated in the test area. To maintain a Level 1 presentation standard: 32 panels required only ONE treatment. 70 panels required TWO treatments. 26 panels required THREE treatments. This resulted in: 261,877 ft2 total area treated (6.0 acres).

What the University of Colorado Boulder Learned

Cumulative Benefit: Faster, better, stronger!

Efficiency Increase: 2,960 ft2/ hour of machine run time – during the 1st 15 days of treatment. 4,710 ft2/ hour of machine run time – during the 2nd 15 days of treatment. This is a 59% increase in productivity from the 1st to 2nd treatment.

The Real Measure of Effectiveness: By experiment’s end the overwhelming majority of test beds were at a Presentation Standard of 1 Presentation Standard.

The Weedtechnics Methodology:

  1. Establishing outcomes and presentation standards required
  2. Quantification of assets and areas to be managed
  3. Inventory of weed species, asset types, terrains and resources
  4. Assessment of techniques and apparatus appropriate to achieve the outcomes
  5. Skills gap analysis to develop training requirements
  6. Design of weed management program
  7. Procurement of appropriate SW apparatus
  8. Implementation of training, weed management cycle, reporting and feedback loop.

UPDATE 02/06/17:

Around 1 year ago we began the Weedtechnics Experiment with the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU). Their main aim was to improve the presentation standards of the CU grounds through Steam Weed Control. The experiment was a success, and they’ve been Steam Weeding ever since. While the CU Facilities Manager David Lawson said that improved presentation standard was the main goal for HDS, the benefits of the machine are many. 

The chemical-free factor, of course, is a major one that promotes improved soil health, employee safety and other decreased environmental impacts. But because the machine explodes the cells of weeds, there is also no need to return to remove the weeds. They decompose on their own and are gone within a few days. The steam process can also be used in all weather conditions, whereas with chemicals, wind or rain means lost workdays.

Another benefit of steam is that the heat helps to germinate weed seeds. While that initially leads to more weeds sprouting, it also helps exhaust the weeds’ seed banks and eventually leads to much lower-maintenance beds.

When we delivered 2 more units in early spring this year Mr Lawson was impressed at how much less weed growth was returning in comparison with last years untreated areas.  Dare we say the proof was in the steamed pudding!

During the winter months HDS will turn its attention to using their SW700 and SW800 machine as low pressure high temperature steam cleaners for like gum removal on sidewalks, cleaning landscape fixtures and removing water stains on the side of buildings left behind by the sprinkler systems.