The weather at the start of this month has again thrown a spanner in the works, with frost and snow that has already set some record low temperatures, bringing with it added pressures of cancelled games in this first part of the season.

The chances are that you will be called upon, as soon as the temperatures start to lift, to make an assessment of the playability of the ground. As you discuss the condition of the ground with your team managers and officials, you will no doubt bring to bear your negotiating skills. Be firm if, in your opinion, the surface will suffer if played on too soon.

If the grass leaf is frosted then you will need to keep off the grass but, equally, you may be of the opinion that the frost may lift later in the day to allow play to commence.

There may be instances where the ground is still frozen, even though the frost has lifted from the grass leaf. In these circumstances, you need to make your own judgment as to whether the surface will take a stud. Of course, the thing that will be uppermost in the mind is if the ground has thawed enough to allow play to commence without players sustaining injuries.

If you are snow covered, then keep an eye out for disease as the snow melts. Continue with all the regular cultural maintenance tasks when you can next get onto the pitch starting with a brush to lift the grass back up and a spike to get some air back into the surface.

By Malcolm Gardner
Grounds Manager
BA Clubs

Early in the Month 1st - 15th December

Sand applications can be a benefit to ensure pitch playability, but it is important to understand that, in the absence of a good free draining soil and/or a good drainage system, little or no benefit will be gained from just adding sand to a worn goalmouth or centre circle area and walking away.

You may think of this a little like throwing a handfull of marbles into a bowl of porridge. After spreading the sand, it is important that the area is hand forked or spiked and the sand worked down the holes.

Don't buy any san and especially not builders sand, as this contains natural cements that bind it together, and can lead to further problems down the road (consult your local specialist supplier for the correct sand for your ground). Rounded silica type sand is better than sharp sand, as sharp sand will interlock together reducing the pore spaces for water to percolate through.

Applications of tonics, such as seaweed based products, can also be applied in accordance with your annual programme to help harden your turf against damage and the ingress of turf diseases.

Keep an eye out for disease, and treat at the early signs. If worm activity is a problem, then brushing the surface when dry will help to dissipate the casts, reducing the problem of smearing.

Later in the Month 16th December - onwards

Start thinking now about your machinery service requirements and put them into a programme.

Some forward planning, at this stage, of what service requirements are needed for which machine, and a time when you will be sending your mowers out for sharpening etc. will help you in the long run to avoid nuisance breakdowns, and to ensure that you have the machinery on hand when you need it.

Look at the overall condition and check for extra requirements needed to keep it compliant with current health and safety legislation.

(Correctly functioning safety cut out switches, belt/chain guards in place etc.) Check also for things that may cause a problem in the future, such as fatigue fractures on handle bars or on grass box carriers etc.

Key Tasks for December
Post match and pitch preparations
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Post match repairs:- Divoting. This is an obvious, continue this essential work and it will pay you dividends later in the season. Brush to bring the grass back upright. Cut with a box to clean surface debris.

Keep casual play out of goalmouth areas if you can. This can be easily achieved if you have a set of portable goals that can be moved around to different parts of your field or pitch. However, if you have socket goals then your task may be a little more difficult, requiring erecting and dismantling rope and pins.

Pitch set-ups:- Continue your pre match preparations: brushing, spiking, cutting, marking out, not forgetting your post and net inspections.

Check weekly - goals for loose bolts, and tighten as necessary.

Check nets - make sure the net is properly supported at the back of the goal and isn't sagging.

Check team dugouts are stable and anchored securely. Make sure that they are tidy and free from litter.

Useful Information for Post Match and pitch preparations

Articles Products
Which tractor? Tools
Mowing
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Continue cutting regularly, 25 -37mm, to ensure a good sward density. Check the cutting action of your cylinder regularly to ensure that the units are cutting and not tearing the grass.

Useful Information for Mowing

Articles Products
Facts about mowing
Mowers
Drag matting and Brushing
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Continue the work of brushing to keep the air circulating around the base of the plant, particularly important for removing early morning dew and controlling disease.

Brushing during the right conditions has benefits, but I have seen some pitches where the grass has become smeared with mud through brushing or drag matting while the grass is still damp and particularly in the presence of worm casts. Of course, the rain will wash it off the plant eventually, but it will rob the grass plant of valuable light. Much better to leave it until the right conditions are available to carry out the task.

Useful Information for Drag matting

Articles Products
A baptism of snow! Snow solutions
Spiking
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Continue spiking when the conditions are right (this should only be carried out if the soil is suitably moist.) to augment your deep spiking carried out to alleviate built up of compaction. Keep your spiking regime flexible, alternating between surface spiking, deep spiking and slitting.

Useful Information for spiking

Articles Products
Why Aeration? Aerators
Marking Out
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Take your time when marking out, as rushed lines will invariably wander and will no doubt look messy. This creates a poor impression, lowering the overall standard and vision of an otherwise perfect surface. An accurate line will make such a difference; you should always be prepared to run a line out to aid you in this, particularly if you already have a crooked line.

Useful Information for Marking

Articles Products
I walk the line! Markers
Other Tasks for the Month
  • Maintenance of equipment :- Remember to protect your sprayer's spray lines, pump and pressure regulator by leaving anti-freeze in it during cold weather over winter. This saves split junctions and writing off pump or pressure regulator housings, and nozzle holders damaged by expanding ice. Check that your vehicle cooling systems are up to strength too.