Vermorel knapsacks put grounds team in their comfort zone

Greg Rhodesin Chemicals & Fertilisers

Head groundsman Jason O'Keele and his six-strong Epsom College team are all dab hands with knapsack sprayers.

"Everyone has their PA6 certificate so they can use them whenever we need to weed and feed," says Jason.

The team manage an 85-acre estate, 12 hectares devoted to sport, including five cricket squares, 12 turf pitches, two synthetics and plenty of planted-up borders lining college staff and pupil accommodation at the 1,200-head co-educational independent school, so there's plenty of opportunity for them to hone their spray skills.

Part of Commercial Groundscare Services' team of professionals who tend school sports facilities throughout Surrey, the Epsom College contingent are based permanently on site.

"Being here full time means we can really take pride in looking after what are fantastic facilities," Jason says. And as pupil numbers rise under the College's expansion programme, so does the sporting calendar."

"We can have as many as 10 cricket fixtures here on a Saturday for example," he adds, "while local and league football clubs also train here."

That all means the pressure's on to deliver perfectly manicured grounds that reflect the prestige and prowess of the College academically and across a sporting spectrum that includes, football, rugby, hockey, tennis and athletics.

"I like to give team members different jobs to tackle as that creates more interest for them, rather than doing the same thing all the time," explains Jason, whose allegiance to Hozelock Exel knapsack brands dates back some years."

"Our Cooper Pegler professional sprayer has always run without any trouble but I wanted a couple more knapsacks so that we could speed up the efficiency of our spraying programme," he says.

"I trialled the 16l capacity Pro Comfort 2000 sprayer in the Berthoud Vermorel range, liked it, and have just bought another one. What impressed me were the chest and back strap supports. Ergonomically designed, they make spraying comfortable, and that's important if you are out there for a day non stop."

"Also helpful is the zip bag of spare nozzles and accessories and the extendable lance, which lets us reach into corners and the back of borders."

Jason keeps the weed and feed programmes separate, using each Vermorel knapsack for discrete duties. "In spring and summer we're out every fortnight for a couple of days, applying liquid iron across the ornamental lawns with one of the knapsacks while using a mix of systemic herbicide and liquid nitrogen with the other."

"Growth retardant applied to banks reduces the need for strimming, and we can use it in the same knapsack as that for feed."

Winter sees the team applying moss and algae treatment liquid monthly to the two synthetic pitches. "They thrive over the colder weather so we need to tackle growth regularly as playing surfaces can become slippery."

Jason knows the value of regular maintenance in keeping knapsacks primed. "We run pre-start checks before every outing and in the two years since I bought the first Vermorel knapsack, I haven't replaced anything. They are certainly robust and the piston and pump operation really works well, delivering a consistent, continuous spray."

Variety is the spice of life they say and Jason puts theory into practice. "Everybody takes turns in spraying as they are all trained up to use knapsacks, complete with white suits, wellies and appropriate PPE kit. It helps keep everyone engaged, which means we have the best chance of delivering the finest results across the grounds."

Each of the three premium grade knapsacks - Vermorel 1800, Pro Comfort 2000 and top-range 3000 Electric - come with ergonomically contoured, sturdy backframe as standard.

Safety harnesses provide rising levels of support progressing through the line - from padded shoulder straps on the `1800`, to padded shoulder, waist and chest strapping on the `2000` and fully specified `3000`.

All Vermorel knapsacks are easy to use and dismantle for servicing and repair. They are also suitable for applying sanitisers and disinfectants and are available with a host of spares and accessories such as spray shields, seal and nozzle kits and multi-nozzle spray booms to give operators even greater flexibility.