77 David Cantlin – More Clover In Your Turf? Lessons from the City of Fife


Speaker 1: From the Oregon State University Extension Service, this is Pollination, a podcast that tells the stories of researchers, land managers, and concerned citizens making bold strides to improve the health of pollinators. I'm your host, Dr. Adoni Melopoulos, assistant professor in pollinator health in the Department of Horticulture. Remember a couple of episodes ago when we talked with Amy Cox from Pro-Time Seed about establishing eco-loans for pollinators?

Well, this week I traveled down the I-5 to look into this a little bit more by talking with David Cantland, who's the facility and operations manager for the City of Fife in Washington State. Amy Cox highlighted the importance of clover in terms of soil health, but also as this important nectar and pollen source for long-tongued bees. In this episode, we hear how the City of Fife has gone from battling clover to actually trying to figure out strategies for incorporating more clover into turf. Also just a correction from last week, I gave the wrong URL for this Pacific Northwest Pollinator Summit and Conference, which is happening in Corvallis, Oregon, from February 14th to 16th. The corrected address is now in the show notes. It's OregonBproject.org backslash PNWPollinators 2019. We've got some great speakers lined up, including Sam Drogey, a former guest, Elina Nino from UC Davis, and Rebecca Tonietto from the University of Michigan Flint, but also with the Porch Project, which I'm hoping we'll have an episode on soon. Early registration ends on the 12th of January, so don't delay to register today. Hope you enjoy the episode.

I am in Plyce City Hall, I'm sitting across from David. Welcome to Pollination. Thank you. Good to be here. So, tell us a little bit about what you do. What's your job and, you know, what kind of land are you managing?

Speaker 2: I am facility and operations manager for the City of Fife Parks Department. I've been doing this for 23 years. I kind of grew into the position. I started at the aquatic facility and as Fife Parks grew, I grew and my responsibility grew. Fife now has over six developed parks, several trails, some forested areas, and some wetland areas, and I oversee that. I have a maintenance crew of five people that I oversee. We have sports fields also, and I'm in charge of making sure all the maintenance and issues get done.

Speaker 1: Well, that's a lot of land to manage with five people.

Speaker 2: It is. So, tell us how you started to get interested. Well, I guess the big thing in Fife these days is clover. Tell us your history of working with Clover.

Speaker 2: Well, I have a dark history in dealing with clover. Unfortunately, it was not the bee's best friend. I've been spraying clover, treating it as a broadleaf weed and amongst other plants, and I would spend many hours with a four-gallon backpack sprayer on my back going out and hitting the rafts of clover and upsetting a lot of the local bees. And to me, it was weed. It was a nuisance. That's how I was brought up. And so that's what I did. Now, can we go on to how that changed or what I was like?

Speaker 1: No, I think that's good. And I just want to point out, for a lot of turf grass management, you're really trying to keep that grass stand pure. You don't want to have broadleafs come in, and a lot of the management is sort of geared towards minimizing that. But you had to change your heart, though.

Speaker 2: Yeah. Backing up on your comment there was that in my industry, clover's a bad guy. Clover's an indication, you want pure turf grass. That's all you want. And when you see clover or you see dandelions, people are wagging their heads. Your boss is wagging their head saying, you're not doing your job. You're not spraying. And clover's a very, very difficult plant to control once it gets going. So yeah, it's an uphill fight.

Speaker 1: OK, so you had to change your heart, though.

Speaker 2: I had to change my heart. I would like to say it was a pure heart, but it wasn't. I was doing a lot of work, and I felt that I was losing ground. And so I started reading up on Clover basically through the internet and some different literature. And I was seeing more positive articles and information on Clover than I was seeing negative. Through that research that I was doing, and I also contacted the WSU extension over in Pialup, to get a little information from them, I found out some amazing things about Clover that changed my thinking.

Speaker 1: What were some of those things that when you ran into these facts, you're like, wow, this is a great plant?

Speaker 2: Well, I found out that clover is self-fertilizing. It actually puts nitrogen into the soil. It enriches the soil. It decomposes the soil. You know, we would go out there every year with machinery and stuff and try to bring on compaction of the soil so it loosens it up so things can grow better. But Clover does that on its own. You take a piece of hard ground and you put clover in it, and in a few years, it's going to be softer and better for not only the clover but for other plants. The other thing is that clover holds its color. It stays green. It's more drought-tolerant than turf is. A lot of times if we have a failed irrigation zone or something, we'll see where our turf grass is browned out, but our clover is still a bright green.

It's still growing there. Then the other thing that was positive for me was that I always like bees. I didn't like getting stunned by them, but the clover attracts bees and it also attracts other pollinators. So it benefits the ecology of the area. So I saw all those things, so I thought, you know, I'm on the wrong side of this argument.

Speaker 1: What was your first foyer into trying to encourage the clover into one of the city lands?

Speaker 2: Well I cut back a little bit in my warfare with sprays on the clover. I talked to my supervisor and kind of sold him on the idea of Clover and told him what I found out. He came along and agreed and we initially just started, okay, we'll not be as aggressive on the clover as we are. I wanted to carry this step further because I wanted to see how clover would work as a turf substitute. Taking a turf area and either mixing a lot of clover in with it or even just going 100% clover. I always, you know, even though I'm a park guy, I always kind of look like turf is kind of a wasted area because it's not doing a lot. It looks okay, it's a nice green, but it's not doing anything for the soil, it's not doing anything for the environment, it's just an appeal thing. So the next step with my director's approval was to approach the city council about developing a program, making program and decided to call it B. Clover, emphasizing that it helps bees, but it's a clover that's helping the bees. I went to the council two times and was trying to sell them on let's switch some of our turf areas to Clover and see how let's experiment with that.

That's kind of where we're at right now. We're into our second year of experimenting with clover. The city gave me a plot of land next to city hall that was not being used at the time and I was able to plant that. It's

Speaker 1: more than that. It was also just kind of like, it didn't look real good. The way you described it, there were a lot of rocks, it was kind of compacted. It looked awful.

Speaker 2: It looked awful. It was kind of a waste area. It used to be an area where there was a warehouse and a resident, in an old warehouse, and the city got the property for possible future expansion of city hall or other projects.

Those haven't happened yet. So it was just there looking bad. So I came in and made it look like a little bit of Ireland or something. It was just all green. Well, it is fife. In fife. There we go. What was I thinking?

Yeah, you can come to work for us. Anyway, this was new for me. This was an experiment for me.

I put some clover out in my yard at home, but we planted that and I mentioned to you earlier, we planted it on a Thursday and it came in strong by the following week. At its peak, during about the middle of summer, it was just like a floating carpet. It got compliments from everybody. Everybody loved it. Love the way it looked. And the bees showed up en masse. One day they weren't there. The next day they were out there in hordes.

Speaker 1: It's very remarkable because the I-5 was just like a stone's throw away and you wouldn't think this would be like a place where all the bees would show up.

Speaker 2: But yeah, you did. Well, this program, if it takes off and we can expand, maybe a revival for the bees because Fife has been an agricultural land, and a lot of the agricultural land has gone over to warehouses. And so a lot of that is gone. So a lot of that food source for the bees and other pollinating insects is gone. But now if we can start bringing clover in and perhaps some other type of plants, and animals, we can expand that and we can make a positive impact on helping pollinating insects make a comeback. Plus making our lands and our park areas, and not only our park areas, we have storm ponds, we have curbing along highways and stuff. We have a lot of areas that we can convert over to a bee clover program. And I think it would make the park look nice and it would have a positive impact on the environment.

Speaker 1: I guess that's the one thing with municipalities we often talk of, we've had a number of shows talking with gardeners and they've got a little piece of land that they can manage and you can really do some wonderful things in the backyard. But you're managing a lot of connected land right across the city and so there's a way in which these plantings can punch above their weight in some ways because they're all, you've got all these little connected pieces of land in odd corners and odd places that can connect up the pollinator habitat.

Speaker 2: Yeah, we have, there's, you know, the city owns a lot of land. Now, you mentioned street curbs, I mentioned the retention ponds, there are places along some of the highways, there's land along our trails and all these are candidates that, you know, normally we just either, they're either a turf area or if they're along a trail or something they're just weeds and whatever. And I'm changing my outlook on weeds, but we can convert these over to clover areas, make them a lot more patron-friendly, but make them also a lot more pollination friendly.

And then again, we have a lot of, if you just go into our parks, there's a lot of beds. One of the other positive things about clover is it crowds out other weeds. Clover likes taking over their territory. So if you have, we have some beds, say beds with eroded endrooms in them or something like that that aren't going to be hurt by the clover, we could instead of just barking it over or coming back in spring, we can just fill that up with clover and let the clover do the work for us. Not only it's going to do the weeding, but it's also going to do the fertilizing for us.

And it's also going to be helping hold moisture in those beds too. So it's, you know, it's almost easy to say that there's endless opportunities that you can do with the plant.

Speaker 1: I think it's a fantastic plant as well. There are beekeepers who have long known this, where I am from the plains of Canada. People remember, oh, 20, 30 years ago, just having huge sections of clover come into bloom and the amount of nectar and pollen that they're producing is immense for that small piece of area. You can't in some ways outcompete a legume. They are super plants when it comes to honeybees and bumblebees, that's for sure.

Speaker 2: And so I find, I guess I find my role in this a lot too is like with, with the council and with the homeowners associations and stuff. We have a FedEx, one of the FedEx facilities in town has expressed interest in using clover on their grounds.

It's an educational process. We've been hearing for years and years and I never questioned it that, you know, clover's a broadleaf. Broadleaf equals bad.

Bad equals spray. Now it's, well, it's, it's a broadleaf, but it's got all these positive things going for it. So why am I getting rid of this? You know, actually what I think I'm doing is I'm, I'm trading a superior plant for an inferior plant.

Speaker 1: Well, let's take a break and when we come back, can you walk us through the mechanics of how to take all the X warehouse piece of land and turn it into a Clover Haven? That'd be great.

Here we are, we're back. We're just looking during the break we're looking at the logo and all of this information people can get on the show notes. If you go to the show notes you'll be able to see everything. I just want to go through what's involved with establishing a patch of Clover Haven.

So maybe just take us over on the other side of here a city hall. How did you establish that? What was, so you had it was mostly bare ground at the time?

Speaker 2: It was bare rocky ground. It was just a waste area. There used to be a warehouse on it and there used to be a residence on it. The city bought it with the idea of expanding the city hall. So it was cleared but there was a lot of broken asphalt, there was a lot of rocks. Somebody brought in a load of rejected material and put it in there which made it, I mean it was just a horrible place. No irrigation. It just, you know, it kind of looked like some of the Mars pitchers that we have seen so recently. But you know the first step in doing it was winning approval.

You know, this whole thing is an education thing to convince people Clover's not a weed. So once we got the approval we went in and used some of our equipment. We used a bobcat and this is about a quarter to a half an acre of land. And we went in there and got as many of the big rocks out, plowed it up as much as we could. We just wanted to give everything a good chance of growing.

Speaker 1: Like you tilled it or something?

Speaker 2: We tilled it a little bit, mildly. We don't have any agricultural implements. We're talking about using a bucket with forks on it.

Speaker 1: Gotcha, okay. That type of thing. So it's redneck agriculture. How's that? So we went and did that. We smoothed it out. We did put an irrigation system into it so we cheated a little bit because this was a dry desert area. There was no water for it. And then we broadcast the Clover.

The Clover we mixed in with the three-way rye turf grass also because we wanted to have that mix. So we went in and did that. This was working with my crew. I have a great crew. When were you... This was like two falls ago? Or last fall?

Speaker 2: No, this was actually just last spring. In the spring? So this has only been over here for one year. Well, it's completing its first year. So this was in spring.

The rains were starting to taper off so we ran the irrigation system. And let me tell you, it just took off. It just took off. And I mentioned a bit earlier that we seeded on a Thursday and by Monday we had a good crop of Clover coming in. Great. It was just gone.

Speaker 1: So... Okay. So get an established you got some irrigation on it and it's come up and we're looking back there and it's still fully covered. You also talked earlier, we were just chatting by the lawn that sometimes just having some grass in there is important just to keep the Clover structure. You expand on that a little bit?

Speaker 2: Yeah. One of the things that I'm noticing because this is all new to me too. I'm planting is not my background. It's my daughter's background. But I see that Clover has difficulty supporting itself unless it's really crowded in there. And so we noticed that when we were mowing, we've mowed it three times since it's been here that the Clover just kind of tended to lay over because when we mowed it, it was about two to three inches in height. So we thought that putting a little bit of turf grass in with that we found that that help support that after the mowing session was just kind of something for the Clover to lean on. And so that worked.

And so that's kind of a model that we're probably going to be adopting as we expand our programs. And we want to make this a mix just not the Clover standing by itself. What we have seen at one of our parks that has a lot of Clover in it too is that Clover tends to kind of take over a turf area. But then after a while, because the Clover is fertilizing the ground, the turf gets healthy and comes back. And then there's a real beneficial coexistence. The turf is there. It's supporting the Clover and the Clover is there supporting the turf. So you get a good two-way relationship.

Speaker 1: Okay. So you mowed it three times. You let it flower and then it seeded out and then you mowed it?

Speaker 2: Yeah. As soon as we noticed the flowers going we'd back off on anything we were doing and we would give the flowers a couple of weeks to have access to the bees and hopefully pollinate and hopefully get the seed process going. And then we would come back. And that, we did that about three times and it would seem that the flowers always managed to come back strong and.

Speaker 1: Oh, so you got three blooms. That's great. So you get, you're able to kind of like, not only is Clover really efficient at turning sunlight into nectar, but you're also getting really extended bloom over the year.

Speaker 2: Yeah. By putting it down. And because of that, I'm excitedly looking forward to the spring because as I mentioned right now, it's kind of dying back a little bit. It's still green, but it's not looking like it did during the summer, I'm anxious because I know there's a lot of seed in the ground. The other thing that we had bloomed was the Crimson Clover.

We put some of that on the borders. It didn't do quite as well. I think the white Dutch was kind of overwhelming it, not letting it come up, but in the places that it did, we had good, rich, red crimson, beautiful blooms going on. And I thought that would make a great border crop because it grows, it's tall, where the white Dutch kind of spreads out into what I call a raft. The red crimson is tall and, you know, probably gets about four inches, five inches tall, and then it flowers. And so that would just be, it would be a good definition of a border on that.

Speaker 1: So you also had some micro Clover in there. How did that bear? That fared fair.

Speaker 2: It came up, but it came up in patches. Again, I blame the success of the regular Dutch Clover, but we did put some mini Clover in it. Interesting, the seed is much more expensive than any of the other Clovers I ran into, but I wanted to, I wanted to get a variety going in there and, see what it would work on. And, so I, in my thinking, haven't come up with a role for the white Dutch mini yet. I just wanted to see how it grew. It did grow well where it was established, but, if the regular white Dutch was already established there, it didn't do well. It's a lot closer to the ground and that's probably part of the problem that's getting shaded out.

Speaker 1: David, do you remember how, how heavy you seeded? Of what? Of any of those.

Speaker 2: Okay. , of the white Dutch Clover we used in this over here, we used 150 pounds of seed. I only had 20 pounds of the white mini. In fact, I still have some of that left. So I only put about 10 pounds out there. A red Crimson, I put about 20 pounds on and I just did that along the borders. Okay. Okay.

Speaker 1: And so the next question is you were last talking, you said you came through and over-seeded again this fall. Tell us a little bit about that. Okay.

Speaker 2: I went back in there. I just wanted to kind of help things out. It was still thick, but after our last mowing, I went in and reseeded and I probably used about just 30 pounds of the white Dutch and I just walked around with a little broadcaster and just walked back and forth through the area and just put a light seeding in. And that's what I'm kind of hoping that's going to supplement whatever seeds the Clover already put in the ground.

Speaker 1: So like September, October, you did that?

Speaker 2: I would, no, I did that probably the end of September.

Speaker 1: Okay. Great. And tell us a little, just before, we take another break, just tell us what people's reception is. You said people have noticed this and I imagine on one end there must be some people who are used to Clover being a weed and they look at it and they're like, Oh my God. But then probably when you bring it in this thick, it does, it looks very intentional. It's not like a little patch of Clover here and there. Yeah. It's a little bit about people, what the reception is.

Speaker 2: How, um, well, I mentioned to you our first perception that we, when we tried to do our be Clover program in one of our parks, the local neighborhood kind of objected to it. And I take that as this is a weed.

They're still thinking a Clover is a weed. And a lot of what we are trying to do is educate. But when we did this piece of land, not only it's right next to city hall, but city hall staff, for the most part, just constant beneficial compliments. The city manager came up to me several times and said, I, he says I've been receiving nothing but positive compliments from it. So it's, it's overwhelmingly people like it. And that's kind of what's leading us up to our next step.

Speaker 1: So, okay. That and everybody's, what, you know, I just heard everybody's ears prick up. It's like the next step, tell us about your next steps. What are your plans?

Speaker 2: Our next step and we've been given permission. We have, we have, I mentioned we have several developed parks. Well, this first Clover area was not a developed park. It was a piece of wasteland, not a lot of public traffic through. So now what we want to do is we're going to take one of our public parks, a smaller one, but one that has picnic tables in it and places for peep benches and people to relax. And we're going to do a heavy mix of Clover and turf in this area. And we're also going to take this, it's got some flower beds in it. We're going to one that has tulips in it. And we're going to put the Clover in there to act as a ground cover to keep the weeds from coming up on the tulips as such. So we're going to do this.

And this is, this is going to, you know, teach us several things. One, how does Clover hold up in a turf area that is trafficked by patrons going through? And then also how's it going to hold up with regular mowing? My idea again is, is, is I would love to take a lot of the city parkland and convert it over to Clover just because of all the benefits. And because also when you think about it with all the positive things they said about Clover, we're going somewhere in there, we're reducing maintenance. We're not having to mow it as often.

We're not having to water it as often. And we're getting a good-looking product. So I'm expecting big things. If this succeeds over at Centennial Park, then, you know, we have lots of acreage of other parks that we can consider.

Speaker 1: For education, how are you going to let people know about this?

Speaker 2: We have a sign, you're going to show it on your website, that this is, we're going to identify these areas as a be Clover project. If the city likes this program and wants to be more supportive of it, we'd like to also encourage, you know, put the word out to the schools, let the kids come out and see, hey, here, this is what's going on. You're not just looking, at a turf area, but you're looking at a Clover area. And these are all the benefits of doing it. So we're getting an opportunity presented that we can go and educate the public about Clover, about the benefits of Clover, and hopefully reverse this idea that Clover is a weed and it's a problematic plant. And then hopefully someday people, when they'll think of Fife, they'll think, oh yeah, Fife, Clover Capital on the Northwest.

Speaker 1: I love that. Coming from Oregon as a Clover seed growing state, Oregon, listen to this episode, we have to make sure this does not happen.

Speaker 2: The competition is on.

Speaker 1: Anyways, thank you so much. Let's take another break. I got a couple of questions. I asked all my guests these questions, so you are on the hot seat for them. All right. Okay, we are back.

The first question I have for you is whether there is a resource or a book that you've found really important when you're trying to undertake this big undertaking here in Fife with Clover.

Speaker 2: You know, I found, as I'm thinking more stuff is coming out. I went on YouTube in a lot of places and there's a lot of footage. I think it was the University of Georgia had an informational film clip about how they're encouraging farmers when they have fields that go into Fallow to plant clover there for while the field is out until they come back next year or two years and they plant their crop because they do a lot of land rotation. But there was a lot of information. There's a lot of information on the internet.

There are a lot of articles that I read about converting turf lawns into Clover lawns. I got a little bit of information from WSU. Fortunately, their turf program has kind of gone away, but there was information there. But I would say the majority of the information I got was on the internet.

Speaker 1: Well, you were also saying that you picked some kind of brochure up from Olympia. Yes.

Speaker 2: Our community development director, Steve Friddle, used to work down in Olympia. I don't know if it was Olympia or Lacey, but there was a brochure on encouraging pollinators. There was a blurb in there about promoting Clover and stuff like that that caught my interest. I even made copies of that and I gave it to the public works director. I gave it to the city manager. The public works director even planted some clover in his homeyard. Anyway, I don't know if that put me in good standing with him or not.

Speaker 1: So, is there a tool that you use that tells how you use it? Yeah,

Speaker 2: we use the Bobcat. We have a little bit of a vantage because we're a parks department. We have some machinery, but the best tools I found, you need something to prepare your ground. Clover likes the ground to be loosened up, raked up, and then broadcast the seed into it. And then water it right away. One of the handiest things I did is this little Whirly Bird broadcaster that you carry by hand and just walk along and turn the crank like the old organ grinder.

Speaker 1: I've never done this before. How do you get it even? You just kind of... You don't.

Speaker 2: You just make sure you put down enough seed and usually it's not a problem. And you also keep an eye on it. You don't watch the Whirly Bird thing. You watch where you're walking.

Speaker 1: And you know you've got to get this many pounds on this quarter or eight. And so you're going to... Oh, I've got to keep going. As long as it's even and you get it all down, you're good. Yeah. Okay, thanks.

Speaker 2: And it doesn't hurt to come back and oversee. And what I like to do is I like to go one direction and then maybe the length of the field and then come back and go do widths of the field.

Speaker 1: Okay. So that helps cover everything. You won't have any empty patches that way. And when you were talking about the Dutch White, you were doing 20 pounds on kind of a quarter acre. Yeah. Okay. Got it. All right. The last thing we ask people is if they've got a favorite pollinator species that they...

Speaker 2: I do. I like the bumblebees. But the bumblebees are getting competition from my heart with the small carpenter and mason bees. I'm fascinated by them. Oh, fantastic. I put out a little house nesting box for them. But I think I did it too late because I haven't gotten any takers yet. I even put a little sign on there that said, you know, you could be home by now if you lived here, but it didn't work. So maybe this spring it'll come out. So...

Speaker 1: Well, I imagine you're going to get a lot of great visitors there. And clovers are such a great bumblebee plant. It's like the clovers and bumblebees go together so well. And I'm sure... And here in the Pacific Northwest, we have so many species. You're going to probably see a lot of different critters. Yeah.

Speaker 2: One of the first pictures that I took out in the bee clover area and I have it in my camera. Another place is a bumblebee on one of the white flowers out there. And just...

Speaker 1: Oh, if you have a chance, if you can share it with us, we'll put it on the show notes.

Speaker 2: Okay. That'd be great. I can do that.

Speaker 1: Well, it's a Friday afternoon. Thanks for hanging out with me and telling us about this really great project here in Pife, Washington.

Speaker 2: Well, I appreciate it. Appreciate meeting you and having you come down and thank you for this time.

Speaker 1: Thanks so much for listening. Show notes with information discussed in each episode can be found at pollinationpodcast.oregonstate.edu. We'd also love to hear from you and there are several ways to connect. For one, you can visit our website to post an episode-specific comment, suggest a future guest or topic, or ask a question that could be featured in a future episode. You can also email us at [email protected]. Finally, you can tweak questions or comments or join our Facebook or Instagram communities. Just look us up at OSU Pollinator Health. If you like the show, consider letting iTunes know by leaving us a review or rating.

It makes us more visible, which helps others discover pollination. See you next week.

David Cantlin is the Facility and Operations Manager for the City of Fife in Washington State, where he is implementing his Bee Clover project. His goal is to educate the people of Fife of the wonderful benefits that clover provides, as well as using public lands to create stronger habitats for pollinators, as well as a more enriched ecosystem. In this episode we hear about the City of Fife’s initiative to increase the amount of blooming clover available to bees on their city properties.

In this episode, we hear about the City of Fife’s initiative to increase the amount of blooming clover available to bees on their city properties.

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“Clover attracts bees and other pollinators, so it benefits the ecology of the area.” – David Cantlin

Show Notes:

  • Why people in David’s position often remove clover from their land
  • What changed David’s mind about clover
  • How David experimented with using clover on his land
  • David’s goals with his project
  • How clover can help improve an ecosystem for plants as well as pollinators
  • What the process was in establishing clover in Fife
  • The symbiotic relationship between clover and turf grass
  • How the different clover varieties have worked in David’s project
  • How the people of Fife have received the abundance of clover
  • What’s next for the Bee Clover project

“This program, if it takes off and we can expand, may be a revival for the bees.” – David Cantlin

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