My new venture
I started work at Middlesbrough Cricket and Rugby Football Club about three months ago, and immersed myself immediately, improving and maintaining the wickets and outfield for this summer's play.
Now with my season end just one week away, I'll just double check my order with the Kaloam and seed companies to make sure that everything will be delivered on time, this week.
I've started preparing my last wicket for this coming Saturday, which is the last game of the season. I've just watered it this Monday morning to saturation point and also repaired the ends from last Saturdays and Sundays matches. Monday morning of next week I'll start the renovation work where I will begin to scarify with thatch removal blades in three directions, maybe more, just offset each pass in a general direction from stump to stump.
There isn't much thatch at all in my wickets because there is a heavy clay content in the square. If your surface is hard there's not much chance of having a thatch build up, particularly if you repair and prepare your wickets properly throughout the season. I'll probably set my thatch removal blades to enter the surface at a maximum depth of two to three millimetres at the most. I will carefully remove all the resulting rubbish and brush the surface to ensure that it's totally clean.
I will always advocate putting down a heavy application of seed, maybe up to double the recommended rate, this helps to ensure a good take and it's a lot easier to remove excess grass than it is trying to promote germination from further over seeding as we enter the cooler months. The answer is to get the grass established while soil temperatures are at their peak, particularly after the warm summer that we've enjoyed.
There's a couple of saddles on some of the older wickets but the centre of the square is fine, the problem being if I try and straighten out the table too much in one hit there will be a drop of about 150 millimetres at one end. What I have planned is to continue to do what's been done previously and not do anything too severe at the moment, just redress the overall levels gradually over the next few seasons.
I will probably put down about five or six kilograms of loam per square metre, on the lower areas rather than two or three kilograms, double the rate, but being careful not to blind over the existing grasses too much.
Before I start the top dressing I will solid tine and then soak the square, punching millions of holes and getting it wet will help the new dressings key in better.
I fertilised the square last week with a 12:0:7 because I have had all of my soil analysis done and the results from the soil analysis didn't show anything untoward. We have adequate phosphate levels. I used a company call Phosyn from Pocklington near York, the agricultural soil analysis company. The club have used them for some time, and their service is very good.
With the dressings worked in to the surface, I will water, if it's not raining, and put on the germination sheets. I will also fence the square off with four or five posts and some tape. The important thing to remember then is to check for disease under the sheets and make sure that the weather doesn't allow the square to dry out over the next four or five weeks whilst the germination is taking place.
I work on a shorter time in the winter, as I turn my attention to the other sport at the club, rugby. The rugby season started three weeks ago, and we have a lot of teams here. When I arrived there was quite a bad infestation with weeds, severe clover, plantains and dandelion.
The grass sward was very thick because the previous Groundsman had been using a PTO driven rotary cutter, which has kept the sward nice and thick but unfortunately the weeds have been allowed to seed and there were quite a few patches where there was no grass, just weed.
So I treated it with Supertox 30 and Clovertox about fourteen days ago just before we fed it to help the grass remain strong while the chemicals were applied. The clover takes a little bit longer to die off but the broad-leaved weeds have died back quickly. We may well have to hit the clover again with another application in three or four weeks time because it's quite hardy.
As the new grass establishes I will look to scarify the dead weeds and organic matter out with a SISIS V-Mow. I'm quite lucky that the rugby pitches are predominately rye grass although there is some Yorkshire fog in there as well which stands out like a sore thumb.
Overall the levels on the pitches are pretty good but as I've only been here for a short time I haven't had a chance to do much work in terms of aeration and preparation for the coming season.
Cricket preparation has been my priority through this glorious summer. Once my cricket renovations are out of the way I will be able to fully concentrate on rugby pitch maintenance. However I will probably have to wait until the end of the spring before I can properly get to grips with these surfaces. In the next few weeks I will start aeration with my tractor mounted slitter and solid tiner. I also have a five metre wide star slitter that will do a very adequate job of shallow aeration and root pruning.
With the outfield, rugby pitches and some surrounding banks, I have few options but to use a tractor mounted rotary mower to cut all of the areas. At the moment I am maintaining the height of cut at three inches (75mm) on the rugby pitches.
I use a Billy Goat pedestrian rotary mower to cut in my lines at one and a half inches (35mm). It is unfortunate that I have to return the grass clippings to the soil surface but the area that I have to maintain is large and the machinery doesn't allow for grass collection.
I do have a SISIS Quadraplay that enables me to brush the surface regularly. The reason for leaving the grass longer is that with only two pitches the surfaces are being used for training and games at least six days a week. We will inevitably have at least three games at the weekends.
Whilst my hands are tied to some degree as we go into this winter I have already built up a great relationship with the various sport sections and committees. Hopefully from next spring I will be able to instigate cultural practices that will provide a long-term quality to the playing surfaces.
I'm currently putting together a management plan that will benefit pitches for many years to come. It would be unfair to criticise previous management but there is definite room for improvement. I believe that the club's vision will provide the necessary funding for me to create top class playing surfaces.I'd like to use the Mastiff cylinder mower to cut the rugby fields, but time is premium until I get myself a modern apprentice alongside. I have been working closely with the Education Department of our Local Authority and I have a meeting next week with Middlesbrough College to finalise arrangements for the new lad to come in.