Unpredictable weather conditions and an increased demand for sporting facilities through the winter can mean a bigger workload for synthetic sports surfaces, so maintaining them well becomes even more crucial.
Charterhouse Turf Machinery specialises in technologically advanced synthetic surface machinery, offering equipment suitable for contractors who provide intensive cleaning and renovation services, as well as solutions for clubs and local authorities who want to carry out routine maintenance to the highest standards.
General Manager Nick Darking notes that groundsmen have become much more aware of the need to care for their synthetic sports surfaces on a regular basis in order to offer the best possible playing surface and prolong the life of what can represent a significant investment.
"To keep synthetic surfaces performing to the optimum through the winter and avoid ponding, it's essential to clear debris which can break down and contaminate the carpet and infill," he points out.
"Falling leaves can be a major issue at this time of year - many groundsmen use a blower to pile them up in one corner of the pitch for easier collection, before they can start to decompose and become a problem."
Deep cleaning of the pitch should have been completed before the season really gets going, Nick suggests, but light maintenance through the winter can keep the surface open, raking to loosen the fibres and infill and present a top quality playing surface.
"The Verti-Rake, with its spring tines, can be used on a regular basis throughout the winter, or where a more intensive action is required the Verti-Groom combines tines and brushes to agitate the infill and break up any crusts that may be forming, although this is better done in drier conditions than on a wet pitch."
The Verti-Clean, which lifts and sifts infill, can be utilised to remove surface debris and contaminants such as plasters or ring pulls, but Nick comments that preventing contamination is also important, particularly where players may be coming from muddy turf surfaces.
"Ensure that foot cleaners at the entrance to the synthetic pitch are kept clean and well maintained to avoid mud being brought onto the surface," he says.
While it is universally accepted now that synthetic pitches are not maintenance free, Nick stresses that their care need not become a chore.
"It is more a matter of keeping an eye on the condition of the pitch and being aware of issues such as contamination and ponding which can affect playing quality and shorten the life of the surface. And when the pitch does need attention, choosing the right machinery can make all the difference."
This view is confirmed by Adrian Jacobs, Head Groundsman at New Hall School near Chelmsford, a Catholic independent boarding and day school with a fine sporting tradition.
The school's sand filled astro turf pitch was built 10 years ago and is used mainly for hockey in the winter, while this summer tennis nets were installed to extend its use. As well as school fixtures and coaching, it is hired out to local clubs in the afternoons and evenings and is in virtually constant action.
"We originally just used a brush to maintain the pitch but it wasn't very effective- moss infestation was starting to affect the surface," Adrian explains. "Contractors Pitch and Track suggested that we try a Charterhouse Verti-Groom and it has made a huge difference."
The Verti-Groom combines a brush with tines, which can be retracted when not required.
"The tines agitate the sand while the brushed comb through the fibres, standing them up and breaking up any crusts," he explains. "The working depth of the tines can be adjusted or you can use it just as a brush to get the required effect."
"We have given the Verti-Groom a lot of use, and it has really helped to tackle the moss problem. Spores settle in mats of sand, so breaking up the mats prevents moss spreading."
Adrian comments that the Verti-Groom has helped return the pitch to top condition, improving the ball roll for more competitive hockey.
"We tend to use the Verti-Groom twice a week, but in the summer it was a big operation to remove the tennis nets so that we could bring the machine in and it was more like once a fortnight - it still did a great job."
He adds: "The Verti-Groom is a well-built, sturdy machine which essential for school use; it is kept outside so it needs to be durable. It can be difficult persuading school managers to invest in new hi-tech machinery, but this we all agree represents real value for money."
"I haven't attended any specific courses - to be honest I've gained a lot of my knowledge on the synthetic side of things from various companies - Technical Surfaces for one and also the Contractor who delivered and installed our Charthouse equipment. On the operating side of things, I use my experience from my natural turf maintenance. To a great extent with synthetic turf maintenance you learn as you go. We're fortunate at New Hall School that our synthetic pitch is out in the open and isn't as susceptible to lichen, for example, as a pitch which is more closed in.
One lesson you learn early on is that you do need to keep the synthetic surface maintained which is done on a regular basis here by our own staff with additional specialist work done by local contractors when required.
Asked about the imminent launch of the IOG website, Adrian commented: "That sounds very interesting. As with all things in this industry you can learn a lot from someone else's experience. It's always good to look at what someone else has done in certain circumstances. If we had a specific problem, it would be good to be able to pose a question to a group of synthetic experts and see how they would deal with the situation. I'll certainly take a look at it."
Charterhouse Turf Machinery Ltd., Weydown Industrial Estate,
Weydown Road, Haslemere, Surrey GU27 1DW UK
Tel: +44 (0)1428 661222 - Fax: +44 (0)1428 661218 - www.charterhouseturfmachinery.co.uk