As I pen this foreword, I'm sat in a 9-tonne excavator at Shrewsbury Town's training ground, moving lorry loads of sand; forty-one articulated lorry loads to be precise, amounting to 1200 tonnes of medium coarse sand.
This sand is being used to change the composition of a silty clay loam sportsground and is in addition to a further 1000 tonnes of koro'd material that was removed from the playing surfaces at Shrewsbury Town, Telford United and Wolverhampton Wanderers in the spring.
We have been trying to construct two pitches since May but, due to the often wet weather and poor soil conditions, have really only been able to start since the beginning of August. This is a reflection on the weather generally this year, spring not really starting until May and summer temperatures hovering around 15 degrees during the day; and sometimes dropping into single figures at night. That, coupled with significant bouts of rainfall, have hindered grass growth and, more importantly, roots, which have become lazy with the regular natural topping up of soil moisture levels. Trying to drive roots down and create a decent root mass before the end of the autumn is critical, certainly for everyone involved in winter sports, so I hope that the hot and dry weather that the forecasters have predicted is with us by the time you read this.
I started talking about the construction at Shrewsbury Town's training ground because, as I sat in the digger, I thought back to the days when we used to carry out standard renovations on pitches; scarify 2 passes, vertidrain, topdress with approximately 60 tonnes of sand, seed, brush in and fertilise.
The two passes of scarifying used to do nothing but tickle the surface, produce a large pile of debris (which the client thought was great), but any space created was soon colonised by poa annua again and, to me, was a 'money for old rope' operation. The sand dressing was standard and, since most amateur playing surfaces were on heavier ground, 60 tonnes didn't go very far to change the soil composition.
However, for clubs on a budget, we used to recommend that they persisted with dressing every year and, over a period of time, they would slowly see a difference. It was inherent that you'd have clubs ring up during an inclement winter to say their pitch had turned over and the committee were questioning the £5k they had spent in the spring as a waste of time and their money.
I've always said that any sand that can be worked into the surface isn't wasted, it's still there. When you sit down to calculate how much medium/coarse material is required to turn an 80:20 fine material composition into a 70:30 sandy composition - just in the top 150mm surface - it can be quite daunting. This is what we are faced with at the training ground, over two pitches measuring a total of 15,000 square metres.
The silt and clay content is 51% and fine/very fine sands amount to another 29%. So, to ameliorate the top 75mm of loam with the imported materials will mean mixing approximately 1,100 tonnes of silt clay loam with 2,000 tonnes of medium coarse sand. This, hopefully, will provide 150mm of reasonable free draining soil as a playing surface.
Of course, this isn't the only prerequisite for a playing field and, despite the weather, we have installed drains at 5m centres and will sand slit at right angles once the new grass is established to provide secondary drainage from the surface to the drain lines.
I hope that we will retain nice weather until the end of this weekend, so we can cultivate, grade, consolidate and seed the two pitches by the middle of August. We are then back in the hands of the gods to get grass germinated and established and maybe, fingers crossed, the squad could be on them at the latter end of October. We'll have to see.
Good luck to you all.