Feb. 1, 2017 10:00

What Should Your Next Hydroseeder Have

Hydroseeding
In Good Hope, Illinois, Jeff Moore, owner of The Lawn Moores, was looking to buy a hydroseeder. He doesn’t hydroseed full time, and gets about four or five jobs a month from the largely commercial clientele of his landscape business.

“I needed to be able to adapt between doing small residential yards or a bit of commercial work, and occasionally putting bonded fiber matrix down on some steep hillsides,” Moore said. “I needed a machine that was easy to operate for one person, which could shoot that range of material.”

BY RUSS SMITH

Photo courtesy: Bowie Industries

He got himself a hybrid machine, which can use either mechanical agitation or a centrifugal pump to mix material, allowing it to cover a variety of jobs. It’s also a skid model that’s small enough to be mounted on a trailer, and which he can operate easily on his own.

Moore is happy with his machine, because he approached buying hydroseeding equipment with a specific goal in mind. He knew the type of machine he needed to get his work done, and found the one that suited his needs. With all the options available on the market today, it’s good to sit down and get an idea of what your needs are— whether you’re considering an addition to your fleet, or starting a hydroseeding service.

Hydroseeders are made up of a few different components: the tank, the agitation system, the pumping system, the dispersal system and the power system. Each of these components has a few options, and choosing them wisely can result in a machine that’s optimized to suit a certain type of job, or a company’s preferences.

One of the major decisions that purchasers must make is which of the two available types of agitation systems they prefer.

Jet agitation uses the pump from the tank to the turret or hose to mix the slurry; mechanical, or paddle, agitation uses rotating paddles to ensure a good mix.

The advantage to going with jet agitation is one fewer component that can break. On the other hand, “Machines that have jet agitation are limited in their ability to use wood fiber mulches,” says Jeff Clouser, president of Epic Manufacturing in Greenwood, Delaware.

Mulches are generally made up of wood fiber, paper fiber or a hybrid of the two. Wood fiber seems to hold water better, and has better erosion-control characteristics, but is also more costly. However, with the paperless office coming out of the realm of fantasy and becoming a reality, less and less paper is being used, and therefore becoming more expensive as a result.

Most advanced mulches, those that include additives like fertilizers, tackifiers and biostimulants, are based on wood fiber, or a hybrid that includes wood fiber. “Newer mulches on the market are much more capable of preventing erosion and they are longer lasting on the slope, so they can hold that seed in place until germination occurs,” Clouser said. “We’re seeing a lot of instances where erosion-control blankets are being replaced by these advanced hydroseeding mulches.”

That’s good news for hydroseeders in general, but if you find jobs in your area calling for thicker, more advanced slurries, you might be better off with a mechanically-agitated machine.

Even if you aren’t using wood-fiber mulch, you have to consider that your pump is running all the time in jet agitation, which can be a burden. Using granular fertilizers or other products that are high in particulates will cause more wear and tear on a pump in a jet-agitated machine than on a pump that just has to push the slurry out.

When it comes to ejecting slurry, there are two types of pumps that are most commonly found on hydroseeding machines. At the small end is the gear pump, a type of positive displacement pump. “Gear pumps are often used for hand-line operations,” said Sean Casey, president of Finn Corporation in Fairfield, Ohio. “They are typically found on very small machines, because they lack the high rate of volume and pressure for spraying long distances.”

Gear pumps are designed for hose runs, and are just as capable of pumping air as water. That makes them resistant to cavitation, where the slurry is being mixed so quickly that air bubbles get pulled down and trapped in the mix.

For larger tanks, or if you intend to hydroseed using a turret, you’ll need a pump that can provide more volume and pressure. “The most efficient pumping system, which gets large quantities and volume of material to high pressure, is the centrifugal pump,” said Casey. Centrifugal pumps are commonly used in jet agitation machines and hydroseeders with turrets, for just this reason.

Generally, the decision to either shoot the slurry through a turret or pump it out a hose is made when purchasing the machine. You need a pump powerful enough to make a turret viable, but if you have that in your design, including an auxiliary hose isn’t a bad idea. While turrets are more efficient as a rule, they aren’t quite as flexible as hoses.

“Let’s say you’re in a small area, and you need to go around the corner of a building,” Casey said. “You’ve got a big heavy truck, and maybe it can’t get off the road without damaging the terrain. It may be more efficient to reel off a section of hose, and go around the corner of the building to spray the bare spot.” For smaller, or hard-to-reach areas, having an auxiliary hose can save you time.

Of course, one of the most important factors when making hydroseeder purchases is the size of the tank. Tanks come in sizes ranging from a few hundred gallons to 4,000 gallons. Some are made of steel with an epoxy coating, others are made of plastic.

Large tanks are desirable for large projects. The bigger the tank, the more water you can haul, the fewer trips you’ll have to make and the more efficient you’ll be. However, it’s also important to remember that bigger is not always better.

“As you get into bigger equipment, you get into more expensive licensing,” says Ron Dietz, owner, Dietz Hydroseeding in Sylmar, California. “You get into weight issues on the highway; you get into diesel motor requirements, and it can quickly get continued much more costly to operate a larger rig.” His recommendation is simple: if you don’t have the work, don’t buy the iron.

There are lots of different hydroseeding jobs calling for lots of different mulches. Think back to Jeff Moore, who we talked about at the start. A big, 3,000-gallon rig that can spray a clear 300 feet in a single go and empty its tank in eight minutes is simply more machine than he needs. Instead, Moore made the purchase that’s right for him, and picks up steady work from it.

If Moore suddenly gets an influx of bigger, higher revenue hydroseeding jobs that his current equipment can’t handle, he can always purchase up with confidence, knowing the work will be waiting for him when he does. Going in the opposite direction is a lot more difficult.

“I see a lot of people who go out and buy a big truck, but they don’t realize the cost of the fuel and the cost of the insurance and the cost of the licensing,” said Dietz. “Then they tend to go out and oversell at low prices just to keep the machine working, but that is not really a good business model. A lot of people go upside-down that way.”

Another efficiency factor is if your machine comes with a mulch shredder. Ideally, mulch will dissolve quickly and easily in a tankful of water, and mix evenly throughout the tank, but that isn’t always what happens.

Your water source may be at the other side of the property, down the block, or even on the other side of town from where you’re mixing and spraying. If you can’t mix where you fill, that means dumping a bag of mulch into a full tank, which can pose problems.

Mulch tends to float, so a 50- pound block of mulch bobbing at the top of the tank will be harder to mix. That can result in cavitation, uneven mixing, or simply a slow mixing process. Not ideal.

“Our method is to shred those bales into small pieces,” said Dean Myers, president of Bowie Industries Inc., Wichita Falls, Texas.

“Then those small pieces get mixed with aggressive agitation to shorten the mixing time.” A mulch shredder can result in a more even, faster mixing slurry, but there’s another helper that comes in when the tank has been emptied.

Some machines come with a flush tank, a small, separate tank that gets filled along with the regular tank, but is not part of the slurry mixture. Then, when the tank is empty, you can use the clean water in the flush tank to wash the system out, and keep any leftover slurry from solidifying and clogging your pump or hoses.

Clogs can take hours to clear out, so taking a minute to flush out the system is well worth the time. But that’s not the only danger that leftover mix poses. Corrosive agents in the slurry, such as fertilizer, can eat away at your machine, and in the long run, can seriously shorten its life. That’s why Myers is a big believer in maintenance.

“The life of the machine is totally a function of maintenance,” he said. “You need to grease all the mechanical moving parts, and then you need to make sure that the machine is washed, inside and out, every day.” The pumps can be repaired, and the engine is built to last, but if that tank rusts out from under you, then it’s probably time to replace the machine.

On the latest machines, proper engine maintenance is of particular importance, thanks to stricter emissions guidelines from the EPA.

“What is now required is that diesel engine manufacturers have to meet the Tier 4F emissions standards in the application in which those engines are being used,” said Casey.

So not only must the engine meet the emissions standards while you’re driving your hydroseeder around, it must also meet those standards when used to power the mixing and spraying operations. Practically speaking, that means that we need to learn how to properly maintain and care for Tier 4F engines. It also means that the complexity of integrating Tier 4F into our machines will increase their costs.

Ultimately, your choice in hydroseeding equipment is usually the best when it coincides with the type of hydroseeding work you perform. Knowing a few important factors about your average job can be very helpful in determining the right machine to fit your needs.

A hydroseeder can be around for decades, and it’s a major purchase for any company. Its existence in your yard can be either tangible proof of how much work your company does, or a financial millstone around your company’s neck. Taking the time to know your costs and know the work that’s available will make sure that your next purchase will be just what your company needs.

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