When autumn leaves start to fall
Leaf collection has come a long way in a relatively short time. I well remember, back in the late seventies, the many hours spent raking leaves into piles and chucking them into a trailer with leaf boards - for the youngsters among you, they were little more than two bits of rubber, occasionally plastic or wood, and often an old cardboard box, that extended the size of your hands to allow you to pick up as much as possible in one go!
Combined with the raking it was back breaking, and time consuming, work requiring many man hours over a period of about six weeks every autumn. No such things as blowers, sweepers or vacs back then, perhaps with the exception of the Billy Goat, which was just beginning to munch its way on to the market.
Leaf collection is one of those tasks that just has to be done, whether on grass or artificial, the club car park or the steps leading to the toilet, they just have to be cleared away. And all the while the grass refuses to stop growing, winter renovations are still to be done and there's a million and one other things on your 'to do' list.
So, it is not surprising that manufacturers set about the task of mechanising this work. Now there's a myriad of machines available to Groundsmen and Greenkeepers to blow, suck, sweep and vacuum Mother Nature's end of season fall.
With the assistance of James Mead, Head Groundsman at Rugby School, Pitchcare organised a demonstration day where turfcare professionals could come along and see, at first hand, a host of machinery, in a working environment. Fourteen companies were in attendance and the late October weather was kind to us.
James had deliberately left his leaf cleaning for three weeks prior to the event so that there was plenty of work for the machines to undertake. Sadly, having had the promise of attendance from well over one hundred Groundsmen and Greenkeepers, the turn out on the day was disappointing with just over forty groundstaff coming through the gates! This is always a gamble for organisers and it is sad that verbal and written commitments are not honoured, especially when the manufacturers go to so much trouble to attend.
Nonetheless, those that did attend found the day worthwhile and will have gone away with a far better understanding of the products availabe to them.
New Holland, Massey Ferguson and Reco supplied tractors for the day to power the PTO driven machines and are thanks are extended to them also.
Some of those who attended give their views on the products and the value of the day in general.
Tom Brown's Cool Days!
As the first winter frosts bring leaf-fall John Reynolds attends the Pitchcare leaf collection demo day at Rugby School
When Thomas Hughes wrote his popular novel Tom Brown's School Days in 1852, he chose Rugby School as the setting for the unhappy and tragic events which unfold soon after our hero Tom arrives as a new fresh faced student. The reign of terror practiced by the notorious, boozing, bullying, womanising and sickeningly sadistic upper-class 5th former Flashman, (chacteristics still much admired and emulated by Pitchcare's own Laurence Gale ) are thankfully long gone. Today Rugby School is rightly world famous for its academic achievement and sporting prowess. Dr. Arnold, fictitious Headmaster in Tom's story would, I am sure, have been suitably impressed by the trade turn out at Pitchcare's September leaf and debris clearing demonstration.
With fourteen companies in attendance and fine October weather, an excellent display of efficient leaf and twig clearance was virtually guaranteed.
Casually observing the kit on offer during the day, I noticed several very innovative and technically interesting developments have taken place recently to make the normally excruciatingly boring leaf clearance task, actually a bit of fun!
Reco are a company with something to shout about lately with their highly successful value for money Kioti tractor range now well established as a serious contender in the market place. The new Grasshopper range of Zero Turn mowers, are imported by Reco from the USA. They are highly sophisticated and versatile with a host of optional extras available via their Quikconverter Implement System. The machines can be rapidly converted for numerous other duties, including the highly impressive PowerVac collection system demonstrated at Rugby. These mowers are produced in both mid mount and front mount configurations to suit all mowing situations.
The front mounted version can be used with no fewer than three different leaf clearing options. First up, is the PowerVac system for collection of grass clippings, leaves and sundry mowing debris, which can then be dumped from the operator's seat without dismounting. Secondly, the RemoteVac attachment allows the operator to vacuum around shrubs and obstacles with a flexible 12ft (366cm) x 6 inch (15cm) diameter hose.
The useful hand held nozzle rotated 360 degrees to prevent twisting of the hose when in use. The third option is a PTO driven Turbine blower, which cleans leaves from paths and paved areas and is capable of producing an impressive 9500cfm of air at up to 150mph. With further options available for fitting de-thatching, edging, aerator, weed sprayer accessories and even a snow thrower implement, this is a truly remarkable system! Build quality and finish are also excellent and the machines should prove very durable and reliable in operation.
Votex Whirlwind - were showing some very interesting products. I was particularly taken with the little push version 930 model, which weighs in at just 40kg and can be carried in the back of a truck or utility vehicle for instant use around the golf course etc. Powered by a 5.5 hp Honda 4-stroke engine, this is a really neat and manoeuvrable piece of kit.
Wessex Machinery - were demonstrating a tough and durable looking 1.2 metre model STC Sweeper Collector. Capable of collecting grass clippings, leaves and cores from turf and hard surfaces. This machine looks good value for money at £4475.00 RRP. It is nicely versatile too with an optional hose attachment available allowing collection of leaves, litter and debris from inaccessible nooks and crannies.
I like the idea that the Honda powered heavy duty fan can also be used to empty litterbins in parks and public areas. The hopper is hydraulically operated to tip debris directly into a trailer or skip. Another nice touch is the Option Change Kits, which convert the sweeper into a very effective scarifier or flail mower. Available in 1.2 metre and 1.8 metre versions this is a well engineered and generally bullet proof option for Local Authorities in particular.
Trilo are always a regular, and welcome, sight at this type of event, with the highly enthusiastic and knowledgeable Paul Trowman, ever willing to demonstrate and patiently explain technical specifications. The new SG 300 Vacuum Sweeper looks typically well engineered and superbly designed in time honoured Trilo tradition. It certainly made short work of deeply scattered leaves on the open areas of Rugby School leaving the turf clean and undisturbed.
Jeremy Lucas of Park Sportsground Contractors used the day to catch up on the latest developments
As a contractor I am always on the look out for new machinery to improve the productivity and quality of our workmanship when carrying out routine maintenance operations. We specialise in the annual maintenance of sport pitches and grounds at eighty five schools in Northamptonshire area.
At this time of the year leaf and litter debris can often be a time consuming task, so the opportunity to come to the leaf demo day at Rugby School not only enabled me to see a wide range of equipment on show but see it being used on location.
I was particularly interested in looking for a machine to sweep leaves from different surfaces. The Sisis Litamisa was one such machine that caught my eye. It has been around for some time and clearly worked well when demonstrated.
I was also interested in the simple vacuums that Overton UK had on display. The Wheelie bin vacs would be ideal in the school environment, they had a good strong vacuum system and would be ideal for collecting leaves and rubbish from confined areas.
Of the larger leaf collecting machines on show the Turfmech's TN5 and the Wessex STC 120 looked to be very efficient in the way they handled the problem of leaves and debris on large areas.
The choice and range of machinery being demonstrated was excellent; the fact that it was all on hand in one location along with plenty of leaves to clear up was for me important and time well spent. As for deciding on what and which bit of equipment to invest in would be down to budgets and how well the equipment fits into my existing operations.
James Cavanagh, Groundsman at Rugby School - impressed by Votex and Wessex. During the Pitchcare leaf open day at Rugby School I had the opportunity to test two machines.
VOTEX WHIRLWIND 960 E
This leaf blower would be my choice, as its easy to manoeuvre, and weighs only 78kg. It has a height adjustable handle, and a cast-aluminium casing for the powerful fan. The casing makes this one of the quieter blowers. It has a 6.5kw, 9hp Honda 4 stroke engine, with an adjustabe vertical airflow guide. Ideal for both grass and astroturf pitches at Rugby School.
I found it to be the most efficient of the machines I tested on the day. It is designed for all types of leaf clearing operations, on all sports grounds.
WESSEX PROLINE TRACTOR MOWER
I found the Wessex Proline tractor mounted mower to be very efficient. It has a cutting width of 1.95m, with four rotary blades. I was very impressed with the professional, fine cut finish it produced. It has floating linkage points, and also very easy to adjust the height of cut. All parts are easily accessible for maintenance. The safety guards were easily removed for greasing and belt changes. It has to be driven by a 30hp tractor, and can be road driven between each sports ground. Pric
ed at £3.785 + vat this machine would be my choice for the most professional finish to our sports ground at Rugby School.
Overall, I found the Pitchcare leaf day demonstrations very interesting. I was very impressed with the different types of machinery bought to the school for the trials, and also by the new technologies that the groundscare industry now has to offer.
Steve Ascott, Head Groundsman at St. Albans School - about to make a purchase!
A big thank you to James Mead, Rugby School and Pitchcare for putting on the leaf clearing demonstration day. The subject matter was not necessarily the most exciting but we had a very interesting and informative day! Numerous machines gathered to show off their blowing, sucking and/or collecting capabilities. Reps had the time and opportunity to go into detail, both explaining and demonstrating the machines. It was very easy to compare like with like to see what a machine can actually do.
I think these specialised demonstration days are a good thing as you have time to see and try out a machine without feeling that you still have half the show to get round.
Rugby was a very impressive venue and it was good to see the hallowed turf where the game began. James took a few of us on a guided tour of some of the historical parts of the school as well as explaining cutting regimes and what he does with his compost.
On the back of this day we have had two leaf blowers on demo - a Billy Goat Force and a Kersten Vento and expect to buy in the near future. So I think it was a productive day all-round.
James meads business! Firstly, a big thank you to Pitchcare for getting together so many different companies. I am very interested in the Etesia range of collectors and was pleased to see them unload the ride on cutter collector range. I feel their H100D is excellent in most situations.
Here at Rugby it is very easy to use on large lawns and lends itself well to go into our smaller gardens, the high lift makes emptying into trailers, skips etc., very simple indeed. The operator position also lends itself to many hours of fatigue free use. The Hydro 124 however is something that may be of some interest to us as a multi-purpose collector. With most grounds scarifying is necessary to keep healthy lawn in good fettle, I am looking to see just how good the 124 is at this task, this will help in freeing the use of a tractor and quickly double up as needed to cut our surrounds.
Once again thank you for helping to create a very enjoyable day.
SUMMARY: All in all a fantastic opportunity to see so many different machines being demonstrated in a typical working environment. The recent leaf fall, and James Mead's prudence in not clearing them away for three weeks, provided plenty of debris for the machines to be tested on.
I found it invaluable to be able to compare one machine with another, especially in terms of manoeuvrability, efficiency and noise levels in a school environment.
I was particularly impressed with the Force blower from Pinnacle Power - it was extremely powerful for its size. I could also see it doing a good job of clearing away the arisings after scarification of cricket pitches, bowls greens etc.
I was also impressed with the Etesia range of powerful rotary mowers, whilst the larger leaf collectors all performed very well and clearly make the job of clearing debris from large areas more efficient and cost effective.
Companies in attendance:
RECO - GRASSHOPPER