In turfcare, this year has been just as testing as the previous. More than ever, groundspersons are seeking advice on issues relating to their struggles. This is a round-up of the Pitchcare pages - technical, news or opinion - which you've read most often since this time last year.
It has been another tricky year for most hoping to fight diseases and pests, as a similar number of products to the previous year have been retracted. Carbendazim is gone, iprodione is currently being phased out along with chlorpyrifos, and soon glysophate won't be able to go near food production.
As we've said many times over the past few years, it is time to think culturally, to prevent instead of cure, and to consider of what the future of that prevention really consists.
We can start by educating nematode efficacy deniers on their cruciality to ecosystems. After all, it's been over a century since the United States Department of Agriculture declared: "If all the matter in the universe were swept away, our world would still be dimly recognizable."
Roughly the same amount of time has passed since Svante Arrhenius released his global warming work 'On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Earth'. Public reluctance to accept both concepts as fact perhaps highlights a pattern in scepticism.
The future of artificial turf
It's a commonly-believed myth perpetuated by marketers that we currently live in an age of fourth, or even fifth, generation artificial grass. The reality is that we never really had a first or a second generation of fibre turf. These terms were applied retrospectively, and the current crop of non-hybrid surfaces are based on 1980s technology.
The hybrid form of turf has, of course, leapt into international prominence in recent years and now dominates the (pardon the pun) 'playing field' at major sports venues. This combination of artificial turf and grass, while now the big player, could theoretically be deposed by a truly novel approach to synthetics, so we'll have to watch that space.
Still being pitched to international sporting governing bodies, such as FIFA and the RFU, are designs for what the future could hold and what we may one day be calling '4G', but in the meantime, sand and rubber infill held between single-layer synthetic 'leaf' fibres is the continuing model - regardless of what supposed '4G' companies would prefer we believe.
An article uploaded almost a decade ago is still one of our most popular visits, perhaps driven by consistent Google searches which are unlikely to change year-on-year. It's a summary of some key tips on how to prepare a wicket for a cricket match.
The tips include timing: for a first-class pitch, it's important to start at least 10 days before the coin toss, and for schools it should be at least half this time. It should start with a cut to slightly lower than the rest of the square, perhaps around 6mm.
It's important to follow this with light scarification of the batting areas to prevent the sward from being thick like the outfield. Do not, however, scarify the bowler's lines - as much grass as possible will be needed here to prevent the wear and tear from pace bowlers' run-ups.
Don't worry too much about rolling or aftercare, as these are considered old hat. The above steps, on early preparation, are what will give a wicket its best chance to bounce.
Positive mental attitude
Our long-serving Technical Manager, James Grundy, wrote an enlightening piece last April on how simply changing one's mindset about upcoming turfcare issues can be the deciding factor in whether they are possible to tackle.
He outlined that, while it is easy to think of transitioning to a new model of leatherjacket and chafer grub prevention, it is only complexity that makes it seem this way. Like when learning any new skill, say when learning to drive a car, the steps may at first seem daunting, but once they're mastered, they will come as second nature.
The simple old model, he argued, which is based upon spotting the problem, decanting, applying chemicals, and achieving the kill, is not the only way to fix the issue. A new model can be learned with a little dedication. That is: learning one's high vulnerability areas, then establishing thresholds for care, monitoring, and preparing them with biostimulants and entomopathogenic nematodes.
Another of our enduringly popular topics is contained within an old article on wetting agents, and the confusion which arises when they are mentioned i.e. why should we use them, and where?
If running what is traditionally recommended as a hardy sward of bent and perhaps some fescue, it will be clear that the turf is resistant to dry patch. However, surfaces which are plagued by unwanted poa annua will show these readily, and this is where wetting agents are most needed.
Firstly, it's important for a turf maintainer to strike their natural balance between getting enough water on the surface to keep the leaf healthy and avoiding allowing that moisture to hold too close to the surface. When this is maintained but the soil quality still doesn't feel up to scratch, it's worth investing in a wetting agent.
The usefulness of the two varieties on sale depends on soil type. Denser soils, particularly inland where clay is most prevalent, will benefit from a penetrant wetting agent, which will allow moisture to be consistently distributed between soil layers over longer periods. Where drought is common, in porous soils, residual wetting agents may allow for greater fine-tuning of infiltration rates.
Deep drill aeration
The lauded teacher and ECB Pitches Consultant, Chris Wood, advocates the use of drills to aggressively de-compact soils. Penny Comerford's article outlines the benefits the process has shown to grassroots cricket clubs around the country.
Deep drilling is a different process to other forms of aeration, in that the aim is to semi-permanently create holes in the earth, rather than to crack the surface with tines before allowing the earth to be replaced immediately by the now-looser soil.
Cricket clubs including Moulton Harrox, Todmorden, Saffron Walden, Bath, South Woodford, Colchester, Northampton and Cleethorpes have taken the technique up as part of their root-encouragement programmes, and many of those that now use it have won awards. Saffron Walden, for example, have been granted "Best Wicket in the East Anglian Premier League" twice.
As with avoiding rolling when the square has already begun to dry out nicely (above), this removal of excess soil leads to additional bounce, which is of course a highly sought-after feature on pitches in our country prone to frequent rains and overcast skies.
From the low-priced and reliable manual to the high-tech CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), the way a tractor translates its power into movement is a major factor in deciding which brand and model is the best option. And tractors are a major investment for most.
Manual: The mode with which everyone, even non-drivers, are like to be most familiar. You know the score. A clutch pedal depresses the clutch, the gears cross each other, and the selector switches between them when shifted by a lever. It only usually breaks down when the selector fork does.
HST (Hydrostatic Transmission: This is the 'tractor edition' of a typical automatic transmission. Little bits of mesh allow the selection of gears, as above, to occur without constant user input. It used to be that the speed was difficult to manage, but these tractors now tend to have cruise control.
CVT: An expensive option for those who need a highly functional and efficient machine. Hydraulics allow instant movement in both forward and reverse, and a mechanical drivetrain then offers more power - it is a hybrid vehicle. They can be very powerful and allow for maintained speeds.
'UK's worst ever golf vandalism'
In April 2017, Vivien Saunders OBE, winner of the 1977 Women's Open, reported vandalism of her Abbotsley Golf Hotel and Country Club course, which she described as "perhaps the worst case of vandalism ever at a UK golf course."
Her analysis showed that the dangerous herbicide 'Casoron G', the use of which was banned in 2010, may have been applied to 13 of her greens. This substance, if used, would not drain away from the surface for around five years.
What was certain is that 12 of those greens were seriously damaged, and the costs could reach £350,000 plus contracting fees. The club's insurer, however, would only pay for around £100,000 per incident, and she implored clubs to re-consider which insurer would provide the best cover.
At the time, the club had been arguing with neighbours about a right of way issue within the course grounds. She admitted, however, that no attacker could be concretely determined and offered this statement: "See what disaster you could face from neighbours or a disgruntled ex-employee."
Why we aerate
Rootzones are made up of particles which cause pores to form. These pores are classified into two size brackets: macro-pores and micro-pores. Any soil containing macro-pores (defined as 0.08mm or larger) allows growth and water penetration, but any smaller spaces restrict these.
It is therefore within a turf manager's remit to encourage macro-pores, and therefore larger particles, in their surface. In most clay-based surfaces, compaction results in soil particles forming below this required size, which results in smaller air spaces and poor filtration rates.
This compacted earth, in practical sporting terms, produces poor ball bounce, roll and speed, and can also harden the turf enough to endanger sportspeople.
So, we aerate to de-compact, for playability and safety. It's usually undertaken to depths from 100-400mm, and largely involves innovative versions of coring motions which are based upon classical techniques, including slitting laterally, hollow coring, direct shockwaves or spiking.
All these methods can, by side-effect, contribute to other benefits like thatch removal, but they invariably result in a less dense surface with more room for root growth, and have all been shown to produce a more durable sward.
One of our very oldest articles stands amongst 2017-18's top 500 most-read, which is a testament to the enduring appeal of quick greens for golf courses. Simon Barnaby summarised the benefits and drawbacks to quick greens, and what causes variance in their speed.
Contrary to what some believe, there is a balance to be found between short, well-rolled grass on tournament days and allowing the grass to have both the necessary leaf length and rest to prevent overgrowth of poa annua.
Rolling at unnecessary times simply adds to the pressure of footfall, which deters helpful bents and fescues. It also causes the less resistant poa to overtake them, and this is the key: the poa then causes green slowing in the long run.
Other key factors include the use of light and regular topdressing, frequent verti-cutting, a well-thought-out drainage system, and knowing when one should use those rollers i.e. ideally, around competition time, when it's also fine to take that grass nice and short.
And a last note on those grass varieties. More available now are specially-bred varieties of creeping bent and fine poa, which contain some of the better shared features of the most common fine turf grass species. If a club has the spare change, these can increase Stimp numbers significantly.
"Rubber crumb is the new asbestos", wrote Pitchcare's Peter Britton in 2016. Not too much has changed since.
The European agencies which deal with health and safety have been producing reports over the last six-to-twelve months on the safety of rubber infill for artificial surfaces, and increasingly their opinion appears to be that it is much safer than we once thought.
However, there still exist numerous studies into the component chemicals which can be found within what is literally crushed rubber tyres, and their findings are less promising.
The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment found the crumb to contain the carcinogen butylated hydroxyanisole and the corrosive t-octyl phenol, amongst others.
While those European agencies come to their conclusions, the Americans and Canadians are still conducting further research into the long-term effects of exposure, which does still appear to be a necessary undertaking. The jury is still drinking coffee.
Cricket in Portchester Castle
One of the 'Forts of the Saxon Shore', and a crucial military strategic post for nearly two millennia, Portchester Castle spent about a century hosting cricket matches for the 3rd XI of local amateur side Portchester Cricket Club.
The fort has been prized for so long because of its position on a France-facing inlet just outside of Portsmouth. What many may not know is that Portchester is the older settlement. And it was Portchester's strength which was responsible for Portsmouth becoming the major city it is now.
A couple of years ago, the club lost one of its XIs due to subscription numbers, and it was finally time to say a 'good bye' to their iconic home. All fixtures are now played at nearby Cams School in Fareham.
What was once the site of 8,000 prisoners of war during the Napoleonic and French Revolutionary wars, and folklorically purported to be the final resting place of religious figure Pontius Pilate, would not see another slogged six accidentally chip away at its ancient walls.
It will remain a tourist attraction maintained by English Heritage, and will contain only a church with a graveyard in one corner and the newest iterations of its castle in the other - perhaps what will become of the other two corners is a story best told in another 2,000 years.
The case for 9-hole golf
As funding for golf courses has dried up since the late 2000s financial crisis, the clubs which started up during the golfing boom of the turn of the millennium began to wither and decrease in quality, according to golf course architect Jonathan Gaunt.
In response to this, industry experts and those invested in golf, including the directors of world-renowned Troon Golf, began to call for more affordable constructions, and this led to increasing demand for nine-hole courses.
The answer, Jonathan said, was to favour quality over quantity within set budget restrictions. For example, when dealing with only 40 hectares of space, a safe course built with wide fairways, plenty of teeing space and additional practice facilities might allow for a higher standard of course design and maintenance.
Architects of such courses have known for many years that with multiple tee boxes and flags, a nine-hole course can essentially provide 18 unique holes on all but the longest par-fives, because the tee shots, approach shots and putts can all be from different areas and/or angles.
Besides this, with only nine greens to maintain, huge amounts of money can be saved on quantity and transferred directly to improving quality: two bags of 60% bent could buy one-and-a-half bags of 90% bent; a second mower could be sacrificed for a verti-drainer. It is surely worth consideration.
Some of our most enduringly popular articles are to do with machinery maintenance, and Tom Stidder's 2012 summary of methods for cylinder grinding continues to be the cream of that crop.
He highlighted the three available types of mass-produced grinding units. In one, the spin grind is in situ, with the bottom blade block and relief edge managed separately. Another combines the bottom blade and cylinder functions, with spin and relief grinding in the holder bearing. The third combines all three in situ within one machine.
When cutting units begin to sink into the sward, he said, the actual height of cut differs from the bench set height of cut, because some of the ground beneath the unit has been lowered by pressure. This can be calculated by increasing up to a maximum of 0.7mm depending on moisture.
Green mowers and US-built bottom blades' front face angles are best taken to around five degrees, with UK-built blades closer to ten. For the top face rear relief angle, US-built should have an angle between eight and ten degrees, with tournament or UK-built blades being between five and seven.
Barnsley FC's lighting rig
With its towering stands, relative to the true 23,000-person capacity of the stadium, Oakwell in Barnsley is one of the English Football League's more consistently shady pitches.
This was an issue until they purchased a 10-metre lighting strip from RA Turf Lighting Solutions, after advice from the FA, who had been undertaking a shade pattern diagram of every club in the second, third and fourth divisions of English football.
Head Groundsman David Anderson said: "November is perhaps our worst month for shade… we don't get light anywhere until about 10am, then it's completely gone by three in the afternoon. So, that's all you get - about five hours."
"Our worst areas are where goalkeepers warm up, and where the outfield players do the same warm-up every day. We rotate between the first team warm-up area, the goalkeeper's training area and the goalmouth."
"It's especially handy through the winter. We just have one to tackle the one area, but a team tends to only need to really focus on one area anyway, depending on where the sun hits."
"The shade encourages various things, but one of the worst is algae. Overall, the lighting rig has been a Godsend to us. It they haven't tried it already, I'd recommend investing in them to other clubs who can afford it, definitely."
"I didn't expect the technology to be as helpful as it was. Last season, we had the best coverage we have ever had, and I put a great deal of the responsibility for that improvement on the lights."