New Worship at St Mary's
With four league games, two reserve matches, a friendly international and a pre-season friendly under our belt, I feel that the new pitch has made a good start this season. It is of course early days, but the signs are encouraging. Mind you it helps to have 32,000 experts in the stadium at every game!
The way that the new stadium has been constructed allows a reasonable amount of light onto the grass. Up high in the stands and the roof, translucent sheets have been installed to allow more sunshine through, particularly on the south side of the stadium. I would have expected there to be a much more noticeable drop in temperature at the South end than there is, and the grass is almost as thick at this end as the North end. However I am sure that will change when the sun starts getting lower in the sky.
What I have noticed is that the plant leaves at the North end are finer and slightly more dense, the plants at the South end are broader leaved-obviously the plants are already adapting by producing more surface area and therefore more chlorophyll to absorb reduced sunlight.
The big difference for me is the lack of air movement, with a 'wrap around' stadium all the corners are filled in, so the pitch is unlikely to benefit from a drying wind. So far I have had to do far less watering because the surface seems to retain moisture. I feel that in some respects this is a benefit, as the plant is developing a decent root structure in search of water and the nutrients that are being added by means of fertiliser are not being leached out as quickly.
The pitch does drain well, allowing Andy and I to get on and do the operations of work when we need to. The pitch is built on a stone raft comprising of two layers of grit. The bottom layer is 4-7mm grit, the top layer is 2-4mm grit. Over the top of the grit is a layer of about 200mm 70:30 sand/soil root zone. The root growth is exceptional, going down the full depth of the root zone and even into the grit layer!
At the moment the pitch is being cut using a Toro 216 machine and currently we are varying the pattern of cut to suit ourselves. We have come up with some unusual designs and it always provides a talking point for the crowd- in fact we got a mention on Soccer am (praise indeed). However by cutting the pitch in different patterns we don't develop a nap, so the grass seems to stand up straight and we can obtain a cleaner cut. As winter approaches and the growth slows down we will probably adopt a more conventional method of mowing straight bands. Well it keeps it interesting doesn't it!
After the game we knocked back the damage and then used our verticut machines to clean out the sward. I have them set at about 4mm above the surface of the pitch, but with Autumn set in it won't be long before these machines are put into hibernation until the spring.
We are feeding the pitch with 5:0:10 +Fe to boost the plants ability to get us through this winter, the particular type of fertiliser is slow release, but I am also using a liquid feed that provides an even development and doesn't encourage 'lush' grass. This 15:0:0 +5Ca feed is taken in by the leaf and even works in low temperatures.
These are interesting times for us at the new stadium, we have a new pitch to get to grips with, a new office and a large material/ machine shed. It takes some getting used to-we even have a shower!