Tales from the seaside
By Roy Charman and Andy Bacon aevonshire Park, Eastbourne.
On 1st April and with the Tennis Club scheduled to start play in three weeks time some serious judgements have to be made.
This year, perhaps more than any other that can be remembered, although we are all inclined to short memories, has usually been more 'what can we do today?' rather than 'we will do this today'. A regular work programme went out of the window some time ago.
Since 1867 the average rainfall for the period October/March here at 'the Park' has been 47cm (18.5 inches). From October 2000 until March 2001 we had 92cm (36 inches). I believe that the average country wide over the same period was 130cm (51 inches) so, at least compared to some places, it's only been relatively wet here!!
But it has been cold here and the grass knows it as well. The calender says it's early April but looks and feels like early March.
Some of our baselines are still very weak. Heavy rainfall during our September/October renovation period last year took its toll on the seedling growth. Baselines are always subjected to heavy wear and in the spring will inevitably require some additional attention.This will usually involve some form of aeration, some over seeding and a light top dressing.
It promises to be dry so this is what we do. Forget the aeration for today, as we need to get the seed into the ground now. Baseline strips are cut down tight and about a metre wide. The overseeder that we're using creates small indentations in the surface while at the same time dropping the seed from a rotating belt. Two, three or more passes will be made to create as many indentations as possible and the seed will usually be helped on its way with a dragbrush or switch. We're using a 70/30 mix containing a couple of cultivars of dwarf Rye and another of Slender Creeping Red Fescue. While working we're watching the weather all the time.
It's tense out there. The strip is then lightly dressed with a medium loam and worked around using a lute to take the material down into the indentations, covering the seed and any shallow depressions. All go's well, its been a dry day and we've managed to complete all the baselines. But what's this? Some pigeons have arrived and they like the seed. They tell all their friends. More pigeons arrive. Word gets out. We walk across. We clap our hands. They look up. They fly up. They fly round. They land again. We walk across. We clap our hands. They look up. We give up. It's April 1st.
Dew brushing remains a routine but a very important part of maintenance programme at this time particularly on those dull wind still days when everything takes a long time try out. With about 1.5 hectares to clear and three brushes going it doesn't take long though.
We have nutrient application scheduled for the second week of April and so although at the moment growth is still at a premium we will start a Verti-cutting programme this week. Heavy scarification during renovation last September/October substantially reduced sward density but, as usual, some undesirable procumbant growth has developed over the winter period and a light scarify should help to clean it out. Usually a couple of passes will stand the grass up quite well and this will be followed up with an opposing cut at 7.5mm to clean everything up. 'Groomers' can also be very useful following a Verti-cutting, assisting in the removal of that horizontal growth.
Height of cut will probably now remain at 7.5mm for the season although, to some extent, this will be dictated by the weather conditions. Following on from autumn renovation, height of cut will usually be raised up to 10mm or so for a relatively short period to allow for some new seed development. However, it will be reduced down to 8.5mm as soon as conditions allow so that, in fact, there is very little seasonal difference in height of cut. This may be a somewhat controversial policy but seems to work quite well at this venue.
An aeration programme will continue. We're trying to pre-empt some of the compaction problems that will inevitably develop over the coarse of the season. Once all twenty courts are in use any form of aeration programme will become increasingly difficult, although still possible. At this time we'll use a pencil tine at 10cm centre to a depth of 15cm achieving a clean hole with minimal surface disturbance.
A liquid nutrient application went ahead as scheduled during the second week of April combining a predominantly slow release nitrogen source with some soluble Potash and a little Amino acid to provide 21kg hectare of nitrogen and 11.5kg hectare of Potash.
Various aspects of Groundsmanship have been covered over this brief period. Dew brushing, scarification, height of cut, over seeding, top dressing, aeration and fertilisation. In future articles I'd like to return to each operation in some greater detail and try to explain why we do these things and make these choices.