High usage start to another season
By Dave Roberts
Maintenance has been progressing pretty well. Our maintenance regime has consisted of weekly scarifying and verti cutting whilst the pitch was growing and then aeration operations every fortnight. We've been using a Charterhouse Mustang with a slight heave adjustment on it. In between the heavier aeration we've also been using a shallow slitter on a weekly basis.
Fertilisers have been applied every three to four weeks, alternating between liquid and granulated feeds. The liquid that we've used has been just straight 15% nitrogen while I have varied the content of the granular feeds. We've been using a nutrovate formula, the spring / summer has had mixed success. Magnesium levels have been really down so we have been putting a lot of magnesium on the pitch and potassium has also been down which you would expect with sand based pitches so we've been looking at adjusting the levels of that also.
Our maintenance has really needed to be fitted in around training schedules and matches. It really is just a case of mowing and as soon as the games gone we either verti cut or use a light weight rotary to pick up the debris and clean the surface, this is followed by aeration as soon as we can. The beauty of the charterhouse is that we can aerate in two hours. With the whole pitch aerated in two hours, it means we can divot, get the grass mown and aerated in one day. This is important to us because we have a lot of training sessions on it and we need to be repaired and prepared for the next use, whenever it's called.
We mark out once a week at the moment, which tends to be on the day of the game weather permitting, however we will do it before, if the weather is looking unsettled. We cut on a Friday after training and we'll cut again on the Saturday morning prior to the final marking out.
Aeration does affect the surface, it does soften it up a bit but it's a catch 22. When we had active plant growth we were getting good root development, which toughened the surface up a little bit. The players were ok and I spoke to the manager, who said that he actually preferred it a little bit softer. It wasn't ripping up, just a few heel marks but we found we were getting a lot better root density. There has been little disruption as it has stayed flat as a pancake so from that point of view it has been good.
It's interesting to see the light trials that have taken place at Sunderland and now at Manchester, I've used grow lamps at The Dell and now St. Mary's, for a number of years. I only have a small system set up, and I concentrate it over the south end goalmouth. The results have always been good and it enables me to get, not only recovery, but germination as well in the winter months.
We've had a lot of work done at the training ground this summer, and some construction is still to be finished off.
We've got a brand new indoor sports hall with a Field Turf construction and that was used for the first time on Tuesday 4th November. We've also had another two 2.7 hectare pitches built at the training ground and again they came into play on the 1st November, these pitches are mainly for academy use.
All the new surfaces were grown from seed, we have a horrible clay soil, and so the contractors stripped off the topsoil, leveled the base and then re-spread the topsoil. We've had pipe drains installed and sand slits above them at one-metre centres.
I was hoping that the weather would allow us to use a Blec SandMaster to get more sand slits installed, but we had to pull off from that due to the hardness in the ground so we're hoping to do that in the spring when the soils a bit moister.
Predominately we've used British Seed Houses for most of our grass seed but we have used some Johnson seeds as well. It was Johnson seed we used when we constructed the new pitches at the training ground because I wanted to establish some smooth stalk meadow grass in to the sward as well.
Obviously you have to work out what the training regime is with the manager and the coaching staff to see what maintenance routines we can fit in and around them.
The manager prefers the pitches to perform similarly, the club brought a local football club, and it had it's own dedicated football pitch with floodlights and stands around it. This is where the first team trains, because it's like a mini stadium and the area gets used intensively. Both the under 19's and the under 17's and the reserves use it as well, so it gets a lot of wear. Again we aerate regularly, probably every three weeks. I use a Groundsman aerator at the training ground, again because it's a quick tool, about two and a half hours to finish the whole pitch.
For the mowing I bought two Dennis mowers, we can swap the cassettes for either cutting or verti-cutting on a weekly basis. The mowing heights at the training ground are a bit longer, at the moment the grass is cut to an inch and a quarter (30mm), where as the stadium is kept at one inch (25mm).
At the training ground the weather has caused us all sorts of problems- it's been an absolute nightmare in fact. We did not have a good irrigation system and we are on a clay soil which is normally quite good. This summer has allowed the clay to dry out completely. When clay gets dry its harder to get wet again, and it does shrink like mad. We have had problems with the sand slits installed recently, as they have started to collapse, with the sand falling back into the fissures in the clay.
Kestrel Construction put in a new pitch for us, they had problems with the irrigation system that they installed which meant it wasn't working efficiently when we meant for it to be up and running. I wanted it working before construction started so that we had water available ready for when we got the seed in to the ground. Instead we had to use our old antiquated system to water everything, this system allowed just enough water to keep the pitches from burning up and stay looking green, but it didn't really promote growth. The irrigation is up and running now and despite having a few teething problems it is proving an excellent system. It's not a pop up system; it's a big pump with two speedy rain guns, a drum type irrigator.
We've noticed a lot of Poa this year with the pitches. Again it could be because when we've watered we've only been doing shallow watering and the Poa has been encouraged because we've just been keeping the top wet. Any deeper roots have been in dry soil so they probably have died back. We've noticed a fair bit of kicking out already on some of the training pitches which is a bit concerning but there's not a lot we can do about that at this stage.