Although he’s not a Black Belt yet, Bill Anhalt is already an innovating ninja. Bill is a City and County of Denver Horticulturalist for the Congress Park shop in the East Parks District. A self-professed soil nerd, Bill, who has his degree in Crop and Soil Science, has also worked in horticulture at interesting places like the National Arboretum in Washington D.C.,Lockheed Martin and locally at the Denver Zoo. He truly has a passion for plant science and enjoys continually learning how he can support, as he likes to say, “happy, healthy plants.”
When he first began thinking about process improvement, Bill thought to himself- why can’t each shop in the district have their own a city issued purchasing card?” It would solve many of the problems he was experiencing, from paying for soil testing services to getting the tools and materials he needed to work in the flower beds. However, after learning the method and tools of the A3, he saw that there was a way to “more than one way to slay the dragon” and he got to innovating to find solutions that did not involve issuing purchasing cards.
(Wollemi Pine- A Jurrassic period plant Bill studied at the National Arboretum. Photo source)
One of Bill’s innovations was spurred by his favorite question, “Why?” It is the practice of most of the city’s Horticulturalists to turn the soil in the flower beds in the fall, but in his previous experience, Bill never turned the beds. Turning the soil in the flower beds is a labor intensive process and when metrics are put to it, it takes 6 people about 328 labor hours to accomplish the task. Translated to dollars, it costs $6,368 annually. So he asked why. Combining his soil education with soil literature research he began to look for the answers. What he found was there is not much science backing the practice of turning soil in flower beds in the fall, but there is a lot of information supporting leaving the soil alone. The research says that turning the flower beds encourages the loss of nutrients and water from the soil which is detrimental for the health of the plants.
For his innovation, Bill is testing the science by leaving three of the 68 flower beds in his area unturned to evaluate the efficacy of his innovation before expanding it to a greater number of beds in the future- innovated like a true scientist.
(Bill’s favorite plant)
A way Bill will be able to measure the efficacy of his innovation is through soil testing. By testing the soil in the flower beds, he is able to see what nutrients are available in the soil and what nutrients he needs to add for the health of the plants. If the soil is balanced and in good shape, then the plants will have the nutrients they need to be “happy, healthy plants.” In 2016, the Congress Park shop was only able to test 10% of the flower beds in their area. Soil testing is generally outsourced to an outside lab and is pretty expensive, at about $28 dollars a test. However, since Bill has the soil biology background, he has the expertise it takes to test the soil, interpret the results and amend the Congress Park flower beds by using an inexpensive soil testing kit.
This is where Bill’s next innovation comes into action. Bill found through process mapping, soil testing was taking about five weeks at the outside lab. By moving to in-house soil testing, Bill is able to perform the test, analyze the results and amend the soil in one day! With this innovation, efficiencies were not only found with time, but also with fertilizer use and dollars spent. The most important result of the innovation however will be visual: the blooms we’ll see in the flower beds this spring and summer are sure to be spectacular.
Bill will be attending Peak Academy’s Black Belt training soon and the City and County of Denver will be lucky to have this park ninja be outfitted with his Black Belt.
*cover photo is of Denver’s Cheesman Park Photo Source