Tillers Turf is a leading grower and national supplier of cultivated turf for landscape and sport. As turf growing specialists, they supply a wide range of turf for different uses and site conditions.
Growing turf for use by landscapers and house builders is the core of their business, and the products are used by many well known companies and organisations, including The National Trust, English Heritage, Olymic Park, Rolls Royce, British Airways, Nissan, Sainsbury, Heathrow T5, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Sun Alliance and the Foreign Office.
The company has also established an international reputation as a specialist grower of turf for golf courses. Turf for greens, tees, fairways and bunkers is supplied throughout the UK, France, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Holland and Ireland.
Managing Director, Tim Fell, explained how the company spent time evaluating new grass species and mixtures as part of their research and development programme that has led to the commercial production that includes RTF, Rootzone turf tor golf greens, Bunker Revetting and Wildflower turf.
The demands of both a changing climate and the need to reduce the carbon footprint of landscapes generally, dictate that Tillers explore grasses that can tolerate weather extremes and can thrive under low maintenance regimes.
Wildflower turf has been developed to meet the demand for biodiversity in the landscape, and special mixtures have been developed for green roofs and for developments where Sustainable Use Directives are specified.
Tim has dedicated twenty-four years of his working life building up Tillers Turf. Day-to-day management of the growing crop is the responsibility of Production Manager, Chris Elvidge, who is very hands-on manager, spending much of his working day monitoring the 1,100 acres of commercial turf nurseries split between nine farms in and around the Lincolnshire countryside.
Tim explained how it is important to be in close contact with the crop, nurturing at every step of the production cycle.
The investment in machinery is huge, with hundreds of thousands of pounds being spent on prime moving vehicles (tractors), cultivation equipment, seeders, harvesters, irrigation systems and mowing equipment.
Tillers have five Trebro turf harvesters that, when working flat out, can harvest anything between 20,000 to 30,000 square metres of turf a day.
These machines cost well into six figures to buy new.
At any one time there will be fields in different stages of production; some lying fallow, some being prepared for a crop and others in the growing and harvesting stage.
The natural underlying Lincolnshire soil is perfect for growing turf, as it is predominantly a sandy loam material that drains very well, is not prone to flooding and allows machinery access at all times of the year.
However, one of the downsides of having a free draining soil is that, come the warm weather, there is a need to water the crop on a regular basis, to ensure it does not dry out. Tillers have, therefore had to invest heavily in robust irrigation, with water resources being available at each farm. Tillers Turf was responsible for coordinating and implementing a water transfer scheme which transfers water from the River Trent to a series of dykes via the Fossdyke canal.
Irrigation reels automatically travel across the crop, and the system has electronic sensors that report any faults, such as water pressure problems, via a mobile phone system direct to the farm manager.
Supplying the golf market has always been a central part of their business. One of the reasons that their turf is so popular is the nature of their indigenous soil. The low percentage of silt and clay results in free-drainage through the turf surface. This is particularly important on heavily used parts of a golf course where drainage is a critical factor in sward quality.
Where turf for high specification golf greens is required, the company has pioneered the production of turf on a USGA rootzone to eliminate the problem of incompatibility. Their production system delivers exceptional levels of sward purity with negligible annual meadow grass (Poa annua).
On one twelve hectare field, golf tee turf, a mix of rye grass and fescue, was being harvested. It generally takes between twelve and fifteen months to be ready for harvesting.
Once a field has been harvested, soil samples are taken to monitor its nutrient status and soil pH, Once they have the results, cultivation and preparation for the next crop begins.
The field is sprayed off to kill all vegetation and cultivated. Fields for golf green turf are levelled using laser guided technology, to a tolerance of +/-3mm over a three metre run.
Once it has been sown, it is fed with a pre-seeding fertiliser, followed by 'little and often' feeds to meet the crop's needs during establishment. These feeds are both granular and liquid formulations.
Large rotary deck mowers perform the cuts for the first few weeks to top the grass and return clippings for nutrition. Once the new grass is strong enough, large cylinder gang mowers, giving a finer cut are used, maintaining a height of cut at around 10-12mm. Mowing takes place up to three times a week depending on growth.
GPS technology is employed to ensure a 50mm consistent overlap, thereby improving efficiency and presentation.
A selective weedkiller is applied to control annual weeds, such as Chickweed and Mayweed, which are generally seen during the early stages of the crop. Once the sward becomes dense, it is harder for weeds to compete against a healthy vigorous sward.
On specialist turf - for golf greens for example - first cut is undertaken by pedestrian rotary mowers at a height of 12mm, before the triple greens mowers take over, gradually reducing the height to 6-7mm to achieve a dense sward. Topdressing, using USGA sand, is spread every two weeks at 2kg per m2, and brushed in.
Verticutting takes place every four weeks. The mature turf is virtually free of Poa annua.
Lifting of the turf takes place when it is approximately one year old. At this age the turf is strong enough to handle and, because of the regular topdressing and verticutting, thatch has not been allowed to accumulate.
Once the turf is harvested, it is imperative it is stacked and transported as quickly as possible. Tillers use specialist refrigerated lorries; keeping the optimum transporting temperature of 2OC helps keep the turf fresh for up to four days.