Regular use of a Verti-Drain deep aerator ensures that the turf at Great Yarmouth Racecourse is always in excellent condition, despite the challenging conditions on the Norfolk coastline.
The Racecourse is located close to the beach and the sandy loam soil is free-draining. While this helps avoid waterlogging, Head Groundsman Richard Bradley says that it brings other challenges. "In hot summer sunshine, we invariably have to irrigate to maintain the surface 'going' - but inevitably valuable nutrients will be leached out."
Richard also has to combat the problem of soil compaction caused by the constant pounding of horses' hooves. If unchecked, this consolidates the ground and makes it difficult for the grass to establish long roots, leading to weak, patchy growth.
With regular use of the Verti-Drain during the relatively quiet periods in May and September, optimum ground conditions are maintained. Machines in the Verti-Drain range, which is distributed by Charterhouse Turf Machinery, can reach depths of up to 16in (400m). The tines 'heave' the soil before returning to vertical and being withdrawn. This action shatters compaction within the ground, and is the mechanical equivalent of digging a fork into the affected area and leaning back on it. It gives the twin benefits of relieving compaction and aerating the soil.
As well as improving water percolation, the Verti-Drain's action boosts nutrient take-up and means that plants have greater resistance to drought conditions, such as are common on Great Yarmouth's sandy soil.
Richard Bradley has been Head Groundsman at Great Yarmouth Racecourse for five years, having previously worked as a greenkeeper at the nearby Great Yarmouth and Caister Golf Course for seven years. He stresses the importance of maintaining the highest quality of turf, and has gained several Institute of Groundsmanship qualifications in management practices.
"The Jockey Club has strict rules governing the condition of the turf and it lays down minimum standards to ensure horse safety," he says. "It inspects the ground and maintenance regimes at least three times during the season. The sward has to be 4in (10cm) tall, and there has to be some thatch at the top of the rootzone to create a cushioning effect for the horses' hooves."
The Verti-Drain can be fitted with several different tines, including solid and hollow tines. The spacings can be altered, enabling the turf manager to fine-tune the machine's performance for the optimum results.
Unlike machines which have drive belts with their inherent risk of slippage, the secret of the Verti-Drain's speed and precision lies in the direct gearbox drive to all cranks powering the tine assembly.
"The Verti-Drain is an essential part of the grounds management team," says Richard. "Without it, we couldn't provide the top-quality surface that we do here at Great Yarmouth."