Soft start to new season
It is one of the best things I've invested in, buying a Koro Field Topmaker. I've saved the club a lot of money and it will save the club a lot more money for the next five to ten years.
Previously the renovation bill alone for this machines work was about £15,000 per season and that was just for 'fraise mowing'. This bill increased if I took anything more than a scraping off the surface. This season for instance I removed 20mm off the Ewood park surface and I'd have been looking at a bill of around £4000 alone for this one operation. In addition this year we've done the same job on one of the pitches at our first team training ground that was desperately in need of similar work.
Now that I have purchased the machine I can start a rolling program of surface removal. I will be doing a minimum of two to three pitches a year, including the main stadium pitch every second to third year. Given that I have so many first class, reserve and academy surfaces it has become cost efficient to buy this contracting machine and do the work in-house.
Once we'd stripped the top off the stadium pitch, we spread evenly and then ameliorated, 300 tonnes of tarmac 70:30 root zone into the existing top 100 mm of the old Rufford root zone. This was achieved using a power harrow. The pitch was then re-consolidated, levelled, seeded and fertilised.
So far Ewood Park is playing well, the grass cover is fine but the pitch needs consolidating further as it feels very soft at the moment. Neither I nor the club consultant Mike Harbridge can decide on why it's so soft. We have only cut the pitch once all summer with a ride-on triple mower, preferring to mow with
Maybe it's to do with the specified root zone amelioration. The existing Rufford mix was full of fine particles and we are trying to redress the balance in terms of soil structure. In effect we have brought in a coarser material and tried to marry it with the old root zone to produce a better particle size distribution.
Now perhaps we have gone too coarse and sandy, I'm not sure but Mike Harbridge tells me that the root zone we've achieved is ideal. Unfortunately I haven't got anything to fall back on in terms of reinforcement, such as Fibresand or Desso or even the Motz system if I do experience any problems with stability mid season.
Overall, while at the moment it is soft, you would expect it to tighten up as time goes by and we get the heavier weather. Compared to what we had before, where the upper root zone was too fine and the Rufford mix used to cap off the surface, preventing water movement down, this may well prove to be the better long-term avenue pursued.
If it isn't the answer, we may end up putting Desso in to stabilise it. This is an option that the club could consider. If you have stability problems I think there are only two options that you could look at. One would be to re-turf the surface with a soil-based turf each winter, which is only a short-term measure. The second option is to install some type of reinforcement as already stated.
I had a chat the other day with Alex Edwards from Inturf who commented on what a good summer it had been. I said it had been a good summer for us human beings but not for the grass! The heat has caused a lot of stress to the grass plants; in fact we've been working to get new grass up in near drought conditions this season.
To be fair the root growth is excellent and we have a good root structure both near the surface and further down. That is the big surprise as to why the surface appears to be so loose still. You wouldn't expect the surface to be so soft with the root structure that we seem to have in place. Hopefully with the cooler weather I would expect grass to strengthen with renewed root growth and for the surface to tighten up over the next few weeks.
I was starting to get that concerned with the loose surface that I've even let the cuttings 'fly loose' to try and return some organic material to the pitch surface and give it some body.
We have been cutting the pitch every day, weather permitting to the playing height of 27mm. We've only had one training session this season and so far the feedback from the players is that they are chuffed to bits with the way the pitch is playing. Had we beaten Manchester City and Liverpool they would have been even happier.
My fertiliser programme has included a Scotts Co. 7:0:14 'double k' blend and I've also boosted the potassium levels in the pitch with 8 x 25kg bags of 0:0:45. My phosphate levels are fine and there is no need to add extra phosphate within the fertiliser mix. I have also boosted my magnesium levels in the pitch with an application of kieserite.
The other problem that I have at the moment is worm casts and I will be treating the pitch with a dose of 'Mascot systemic'. I'm not against worms but in a stadium environment the aesthetic appearance of the pitch is all-important and worm casts or bare areas caused by worm casts would reduce the visual quality of the playing surface.
This year I've changed my grass seed mix to a Rigby Taylor R14 on every pitch. In the past I've used Bar Stadia at Ewood Park, whether this is a factor in the slow tightening of the surface, I don't know. Time will tell maybe. I know after walking on Ewood Park this morning there's a fantastic infestation of 'annual meadow grass' already and it was seeded down with 100% rye grass in June. We're now the end of September and I would say that 20% of the sward is already Poa annua.
It worries me and you have to ask questions about the purification of the seed mixes. If you talk to the Seed producers they will tell you that it will be Poa annua seed heads blowing in from outside but I think it goes a little deeper than that. It is obviously frustrating for me having stripped the surface off, but in fairness I didn't strip off the headlands at the edges of the pitch and these are full of Poa. However I would have expected to see a much cleaner grass sward.
I don't know where to point the finger if indeed I should but its an observation at this stage isn't it. However there appears to be an even distribution of Poa annua across the pitch. In fact it even looks like its got into the drill lines.
Obviously as the pitch has felt so loose and with the renovation and amelioration I haven't had to do any summer aeration on the pitch. However I will be restarting aeration at the training ground, probably with a vertidrain operation in the next couple of weeks just to open up the lower root zone. I can only do this now as the temperatures have cooled off and the pitches have become moist. Our renovations at the training ground and academy, apart from the one Koro'd pitch were more basic. We fraise mowed each surface, removing the debris. Swept the surfaces clean and then top-dressed, seeded and fertilised. Each pitch was put to bed with a vertidrain operation.
Now the weather is wetter and it's still quite muggy with warm temperatures I would expect to see some more disease outbreaks soon. I haven't even experienced any problems with red thread this year which is a shock really because in my opinion over the last three or four years this has become more aggressive and a lot more prevalent.
We haven't changed our fertiliser patterns at all, we aim to feed every four to six weeks, although at the main stadium we fertilise on more of a trickle feed basis. We apply liquid feed as well as a granular. Even in June and July I was granular feeding as well as spraying with a 5:4:20 liquid feed, just to keep the potassium level high.I think I may have kept a healthier stronger grass this year, but what worried me was the fact that we were granular feeding and having to irrigate quite heavily because of the summer weather. I was worried that the potassium level was going to fall caused by our own level of watering so I've been counteracting that by using the additional foliar feeds.