When it comes to hydroseeding machines, hydroseeding and hydromulching contractors have their preferences. But the features they value most vary from company to company, based on application needs.

For his unique work, Ted Stallings is a Finn fan. Stallings is president of Aero Tech, a Clovis, NM-based company that has provided aviation and aerial application services for private and public entities. He provides fire reclamation and aerial hydromulching, among other services.

Aero Tech does aerial hydromulching on a regular basis and often is called in after fires to help mitigate the damage. One recent large job was hydromulching in the aftermath of the Jesusita fire, which broke out on May 5, 2009, in the hills of Santa Barbara, CA.

The fire destroyed 80 homes, damaged 15 others, and burned more than 8,733 acres. It reached areas burned by the Goleta Gap Fire in July 2008 and the Montecito Tea Fire in November 2008.

Stallings says the success of the aerial hydromulching project can be credited to the combined expertise of Aero Tech, which provided the pilots, aircraft, GPS data, and aerial technology, and Western States Reclamation’s Colby Reid, reclamation division manager, in providing the precise amount of the product, mixing equipment, personnel, and expertise to make everything come together.

With a crew of 76 people, Aero Tech used eight AT-802 fixed-wing single-engine Air Tractors, several forklifts, and eight Finn machines from its fleet of Finn T-330 and T-400 HydroSeeders, which hold 3,300 and 4,000 gallons respectively. “We find the Finns to be far superior and more reliable than any other machine on the market today,” notes Stallings.

Mixes are made especially for the company’s unusual applications. “The secret to making it fly through the air and come down like snow, rather than flying like pumpkins, is in our mix,” he says.

Seeding in the Northwest
Another Finn fan is IECA member Carol Davis, president of the Briar Group in Tacoma, WA, who says she has a long history of using Finn equipment. “People who always buy Fords buy Fords, and it’s very similar in the hydroseeding business,” she says. “If you’re a Finn man, you’re a Finn man-me, I’m a Finn woman. What I have heard in the industry and why I have stayed with them is they’re a more stable machine, less tippy,” she explains.

Davis runs two T-300 Finn HydroSeeders, which are 3,000-gallon dual-agitation machines, mounted on a Kenworth truck.

Davis prefers paddle agitation. “I am a firm believer that jet agitation actually damages the seed before it gets out, and if you have any kind of coating whatever in your fertilizer, it’s less likely to get damaged when it’s whipping through,” she says. “With agitators, the paddles are nice, soft, and very thorough.

“The blades do a better job and, visually, the crew can stand there and watch the whole mix creating itself and becoming one. I believe you get a better homogenous slurry with paddle agitation.”

When Davis purchased the HydroSeeders nearly 10 years ago, they were the largest Finn offered. To buy larger machines requires more truck axles, she says, but she adds that not having to replace them speaks to the durability of the equipment. She prefers to buy her equipment for the capital investment benefit rather than to lease it.

“If you maintain [the machines], they’re going to last for as long as you want them to, and you can upgrade them,” she says. “With the downturn in the economy, I don’t have to worry about making any payments, which could be a real issue right now. It depends upon where you are financially when you are starting the business; if you’ve got the capital and you can buy it, that is the best choice. If you don’t have the capital, that’s not going to be the choice for you, and you do what makes sense to you.”

She bought these particular machines because of their high capacity. “There would be jobs where you do 12 acres in a day and you’re reloading a lot, but you’re reloading minimally compared to if you had a 1,200-gallon machine,” she says. “It lends itself to high production on bigger jobs.” Even when doing residential lawns after the busy season ends, she notes, “there are days when I can stop six times and do six different projects with one tank load. The increased productivity is fabulous and it increases your profit.”

One of the biggest challenges in hydroseeding work is figuring out a source for water, Davis points out. “When you’re doing the bigger jobs, generally the water is onsite and the general contractor is providing that for you,” she says. But when working on several jobs at once, Davis often has to deal with different water districts. “You obviously have to stage your projects appropriately for the mixes that you’re doing so that you’re giving everyone the appropriate product without any contamination from what you shot the day before,” she says. “That’s something I can figure out, and if I’m doing five small lawns and have a small erosion control project at the end of the day, the erosion control people really don’t care if they get lawn seed-it’s a bonus. You just throw the erosion seed in there and everybody is happy to go. Obviously, you can’t do it the other way around. That’s why I use a big truck.”

In having a larger truck, Davis must hire Class A drivers, a factor she says costs more money. She also maintains a crew of two. “The job of one is to be a navigator. When they pull up to the curb at a job site to do a lawn, he has to get out and be out of the truck at all times to direct the driver for safety,” Davis says. “If I find out that somebody isn’t doing that, he doesn’t last very long with me, because we’re going into neighborhoods with little kids and tricycles. As long as you make your people very aware of the safety factor and reiterate it every chance you get, it’s fine.”

With each potential job, Davis asks if 300 feet of hose is going to work in terms of access to the water supply and also the ability to spray the site. “If not, we’re prepared to bring more,” she says. “Sometimes, in difficult access places, you can put a pump in the middle of two hoses.” The topography of a site also makes a difference, Davis says. “If downhill, we’re going to have a lot more ability to get a longer pull than if we’re pulling it uphill.” She notes that the Finn HydroSeeder has the ability to shoot 150 feet from the turret.

In a recent project in Port Angeles, WA, the Briar Group was providing erosion control on 11 acres of a road extension project in the lower Elwah Valley. “This job shows the versatility of hydroseeding-and once you get it all figured out, how fun it is,” Davis says. “We were doing this large project in Port Angeles. But on the way, we were hydroseeding in other places. So we’re making money while we’re driving, which is the versatility of this kind of machine. “We load for the lawns, we shoot them, we pull the trailer, we get up to Port Angeles, we check into the job that night, the guys check into their motel, and the first thing Friday morning, we’re shooting the project. It’s high capacity-we get it all done and come home on Saturday.”

Although the project was being done through the state’s transportation department, the owners of the property, the Elwah Klallam Indian Tribe, wanted native vegetation used.

“I discussed with the geoengineer the design factor on one slope where they wanted to have a more native look, because basically in Washington, a grassy slope is not native,” says Davis. “Here in Washington, it’s alder trees and Oregon grape, for instance. We discussed doing native. We got talking about the quality of the soil, how rocky it was, and perhaps they should bring in topsoil.”

The project entailed a fairly steep slope of 2:1. Bringing in topsoil and putting it on a 2:1 slope is a risk, because the topsoil can slough off, taking trees and shrubs with it.

“It seemed to me the most economical way was shooting it with erosion control [seed mix], and the alder trees and the Oregon grape will develop on their own. That’s how they decided to go. Then we didn’t have to worry about putting really expensive seed on a very rocky slope. You’ve reduced the costs,” says Davis.

Erosion control in the Northwest generally utilizes perennial rye, a creeping red fescue, and a white clover, says Davis, adding that they establish very easily at minimal cost and the clover brings the nitrogen back into the soil.

Handling High-End Materials
Like most contractors in the hydroseeding business, Mark Fox cannot afford downtime. His company, Alliance Landscaping in Pittsgrove, NJ, is a family business started by his parents Ellis and Gerry Fox. The company is involved in state highway projects as well as large commercial work. Fox prefers using Bowie Industries’ equipment. His company runs a 2009 Bowie 3000 and a 2008 Bowie 3000. He chose the machines for their ability to apply high-end mulches such as Flexterra from Profile Products. “We know that we won’t have any downtime on a job site,” says Fox. “From the time it gets started with the key until the time we shut it down at night, we know that we won’t have a problem with clogging or with any type of problems with material not mixing.” He notes that it costs less to run the machines not only because they are durable, but also because there are fewer parts to break down. “There’s less wear and tear on the tank, and it has a good mixing capability. The paddle agitation allows you to handle the bonded fiber matrix and the poly materials,” he says. The large tank capacity does not require frequent refilling or remixing, and the truck-mounted machines are easily maneuverable. Without the hose, Alliance Landscaping can shoot up to 200 feet from the truck; with the hose, up to 400 feet.

“We’re shooting it on 1.5:1 and 1:1 slopes now,” says Fox.

Recently, Alliance Landscaping enlisted its Bowies to shoot bonded fiber matrix and Flexterra fiber mulches on 1:1 and 2:1 slopes on a road project at Route 42 at College Drive in Camden County.  The company also shot about 20 acres of Flexterra material on a road project on Route 30 in New Jersey.

“Most of the government work now is going towards the higher-end bonded fiber matrix and Flexterra materials for slope-holding, and that’s basically what we’re using these machines for,” says Fox.

Trying New Materials
Horsepower and immediate parts availability are reasons why Earth Control of Dallas, TX, uses Kincaid equipment on its hydroseeding and hydromulching jobs.

Earth Control runs Kincaid’s Pro Series 1200 G2C, a 1,200-gallon diesel hydroseeding machine with variable hydraulic agitation and pump control and a 200 gpm, 120 psi centrifugal pump.

J.W. Lemons is a consultant for Earth Control, owned by his sons Derek and Devin Lemons. He does the quoting for the jobs, offering his sons the years of experience and expertise he’s gathered in the field. Lemons, an IECA member, is also vice-president of SECA Environmental Supply.

“We supply erosion control, sediment control and environmental pollution control materials for the construction industry,” he says. “We got involved in the hydromulch and the hydroseeding business because my sons wanted to be more active in the erosion control industry, so they opened their own company called Earth Control to bid on jobs for hydromulching and hydroseeding.”

Lemons and his sons favor Kincaid because, he says, “having experienced several other types of equipment, one of the key deciding points for us was the availability of repair parts. I also do consulting for other people who do hydromulching and hydroseeding, and I know for a fact that they run into problems getting parts when they need them.

“Downtime is critical, especially in this economy. You can’t call someone up and say “˜I’m sorry, I can’t come out there because I’m missing a particular hose’ or whatever.”

The horsepower of the Kincaid machine is another important consideration, Lemons says. “It’s almost double other units of the same size, and we really wanted that power, especially given the accessibility on some of these spray jobs,” he says. “We have to throw the material out a long way, and Kincaid does an excellent job with that cannon. That horsepower is critical.”

Having paddle agitation with reverse functions is also important, says Lemons, “especially with our heavier wooden mulches and bonded fiber matrix material. You definitely want a paddle in there, and you want the paddle to go in both directions for uniform mixing. It gives us a great solution and breaks up all of the clogs the mulch might have in it.”

Although the Kincaid Pro Series 1200 G2C is heavier than similar machines on the market, says Lemons, it is towed behind a trailer and can be set up where needed, and it offers a lot of reach.

“We have the opportunity to get a lot of material on a short period of time because the cannon will throw that material out,” he says. “We have measured the throw at 200 feet. We have 300 feet of hose on an automatic reel that came with the machine. We can get material out a long way from one spot.”

Lemons adds that the pump strength is critical to ensure a good spray.  The Kincaid hydroseeding machine comes with a 200-GPM, 120-psi centrifugal pump.

He says that in pricing out hydroseeding machines, Earth Control considered what was “included” and what was “optional” and found the Kincaid machine included features that others sell as optional. He and his sons also found Kincaid was willing to back up its equipment with trials when they wanted them.

“As a consultant, I wanted to try a particular material with the machine-a material I’ve also championed and helped get specified in a couple of states,” he says. “I invited to this trial a lot of people who would buy machines and buy hydromulch supplies, mulches, tackifiers, and amendments.”

Lemons called around, and only Kincaid was willing to participate in the trial, he says. “We asked them if they would be willing to bring a machine to us from out of state to put on a trial. They drove the machine down and operated it for us. That’s the kind of support that this industry has to have.”

Lemons has been working with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation on trial projects with various materials on extremely steep hillsides.

“There’s been some difficulty-not only in their state, but in several states-in getting good vegetation establishment on real steep decomposed shell. It’s half rock and half soil, but it’s all busted up and in smaller pieces. A lot of companies say there’s not much they can do about it, but the highway department doesn’t have that leisure. They have to make sure they don’t have any erosion coming off of it.”

After working with another company, Oklahoma DOT representatives contacted Earth Control in an effort to try different materials.

“I’ve done this for a few other states,” says Lemons. “I used HydroStraw, which is a product that mixes and applies easier than anything I’ve ever used out there, and with that we got a much more uniform application than we did with other mulches.”

“The highway department was very, very happy with the results,” says Lemons. “They applied a number of square feet of different types of products and selected the Kincaid machine to do that, too, because they didn’t have someone they could depend on to get the trails done, so they recruited Earth Control, which took Kincaid there. Everybody was happy with the machine; it was ideal for highway application.”

He notes that while the Kincaid machine is “definitely not a Mack truck with a 3,000-gallon tank mounted,” it is “relatively easy to fill, especially when the right materials are used.

For tax advantages, Lemons favors purchasing machines rather than leasing them.

He believes the hydroseeding machine will be a “huge tool in the fight against erosion and sedimentation,” especially in light of the new EPA effluent limitation guidelines.

“They’re going to have to do a lot of monitoring on every construction site to meet those turbidity rules, and with hydromulching you can’t go wrong,” he says.

In-House Maintenance
Bob St. Jacques has been in business for 30 years and has used Reinco Hydrograsser machines over the years. He owns Four Seasons Landscaping in Windsor, CT, a full-service landscaping company specializing in landscape construction, development, installation, hydroseeding, tree transplanting, landscape maintenance, snow and ice removal, sports field maintenance, and erosion control throughout the state.

His company’s client list includes commercial properties, condominium projects, homeowners associations, and new developments.

St. Jacques has a Reinco machine he bought 10 years ago and a straw blower he’s had for 15 years. He’s purchased three Reinco machines over the past 20 years.

“We’ve had good luck with their products,” says St. Jacques. “They’re simple to operate, they do hold up, and we’ve had good luck with their service, warranty, and parts.”

The Hydrograsser uses jet mixing, which St. Jacques favors. “It’s simpler. There are fewer moving parts. There are no paddles, no chains, no bearings,” he says, adding that his company does most of its equipment repair and maintenance in-house.

The drawback to jet mixing is that St. Jacques can’t use a bonded fiber matrix in the machine and finds wood fibers to present a “a little bit of a challenge.” He addresses that challenge by doing some combination mixing and using slicking agents.

“We actually use corn oil we buy from the grocery store sometimes,” he says. “It will lubricate the mulch and make it flow easier.”

The hydrograssing machine’s 2,500-gallon tank means fewer stops for refilling and remixing, St. Jacques says.

“It’s fairly maneuverable,” he says. “You can get off road with it, whereas some of the bigger units get too heavy.”

A John Deere diesel motor accommodates a strong output and 250 feet of hose permits a long reach, St. Jacques adds.

Reliability is important, he says.

“Most of our jobs involve some type of hydroseeding work,” he says. “All of our new construction jobs have some type of seeding. For every job we do, we have to have our own hydroseeding machine. We’ve done a lot of slope stabilization work that will feed into the rest of the landscape work.”

St. Jacques prefers to buy equipment. “We pay for it for a few years and then we own it,” he notes.

Moving From Job to Job
Bobby Parker of Parker Grassing in Opelika, AL, says he finds his company’s six DuraTech’s Haybusters and three Finn HydroSeeders indispensable when it comes to tackling the variety of jobs his company does seeding and mulching slopes for highway construction projects and working on levees.

Parker says he favors the Haybusters not only because they do a good job, but also because they require less effort to transport throughout the company’s service area, which encompasses Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

“With the width of them, we can transport them on these low-board trailers from one job to another,” Parker says. “Some of the other machines were too wide.”

Another feature Parker likes is the remote controls in the cab that his employees can use to control the Haybusters’ operations from within.

The company has one Finn T-300 with a 3,000-gallon tank and two T-90 HydroSeeders, each with an 800-gallon tank. Parker uses Finn’s wood-fiber mulch.

In executing each job, if Parker’s workers can’t access it with a tractor, then they’ll hydroseed it and blow hay on it, but if they can get tractors on the shoulders and 3:1 slopes, they’ll use tractors to seed, blow hay over it and crimp it.

“With the bigger machine, we can shoot a 1-acre mix and on the smaller machines, about a half-acre mix,” says Parker, adding his company uses the Finn T-330 the most.

About the Author

Carol Brzozowski

Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to resource management and technology.