Kit for pitches

What is available to help groundsmen keep playing surfaces in the best possible condition? Sally Drury asks the experts.

Imants Shockwave: Campey Turf Care Systems machine used to deal with compaction on the playing surfaces at Sandbach RUFC - image: Campey Turfcare Systems
Imants Shockwave: Campey Turf Care Systems machine used to deal with compaction on the playing surfaces at Sandbach RUFC - image: Campey Turfcare Systems

There is a football pitch I know of that is only mown when the dock leaves tower over the grass, the only water it receives comes from the sky and after hosting a fairground twice a year for the past decade it is so compacted that when it does rain the surface is quickly turned to mud by the feet of dog walkers. The goal posts are in good condition — in fact, they were recently replaced. But, perhaps not surprisingly, there are no matches played on the pitch.

Pitches, if they are to perform their function, need the right amounts of air, water and nutrients, and from time to time will require attention to levels. We know this yet, up and down the country, many pitches receive nothing more than a quick cut with the mower.

In stark contrast, elsewhere there are pitches — some at education establishments, some local authority and others belonging to social clubs — where limited resources, and often volunteer labour, maintain pitches to good standards. Often it takes serious fundraising or it is the sharing of equipment that makes
the difference.

Decompaction and aeration practices are essential for the success of pitches. Compaction problems at Sandbach RUFC are dealt with using an Imants Shockwave from Campey Turf Care Systems, while last year St Edmundsbury Borough Council invested in a Redexim Verti-Drain 7626 from Charterhouse Turf Machinery to help look after its sports surfaces.

The council’s landscape supervisor Andrew Cobbold explains: "We previously used a contractor to help us fulfil our commitment to aerating the sports pitches at least twice a year. He used a Verti-Drain and it was evident from the work he carried out what a great bit of kit it was."

The decision was taken to purchase a Verti-Drain to enable the council to aerate all its pitches, as well as having the machine available to carry out external work, so generating additional income.

"With this in mind, we went for the large 7626 model, complementing our John Deere tractors," adds Cobbold. "The weight of the unit is a big plus. It can really get to grips with heavy compaction."

Hole quality and productivity

A new aerator that groundsmen might consider for the coming season is the 1.8m GA600 aerator from Ransomes Jacobsen (above). Designed for hole quality and productivity on sports pitches, fairways and greens, it requires a tractor of 45hp or more, with a lift capacity of 1,315kg, and can work up to 3.4kph to a depth  of 30cm. If it is used with the AerStrike 4 Tine attachment system, productivity is further enhanced for tight 7.5cm-pattern, single-pass performance without the need for turf guards.

The main feature of the GA600 is the PerfectStrike tine arm motion that provides perfect tine entry and exit, achieving truly straight holes. The geometry of the crankshaft and tine arms allows vertical entry, while cluster tine heads keep tines at a distance to reduce turf tearing.

"A lot of research and development has gone into creating the GA600 and this is evident in it being able to achieve deep and shallow tine aeration in one pass," confirms Jacobsen product manager Lee Kristensen.

To make the best use of irrigation or rainfall, help roots breathe and reduce disease risks, the removal of thatch is also a necessary practice. One of Wiedenmann’s top-selling machines is the Terra Rake, recently introduced with a folding frame and now available in "double-size" 3.4m and 4.6m versions, giving a total of five in the range, starting with the 1.7m model. Capable of working at 15kph, the rakes have long foraging steel tines that rip out thatch and debris. This year the company announced all spring tines for new Terra Rake purchases come with a five-year breakage guarantee.

In addition, Wiedenmann is now supplying the Maredo MT series of tractor-mounted turf-maintenance tools, including the MT200 Flex-Verticutter for thatch removal, MT210 VibeSpike Aerator and MT214 VibeDisc Slicer.

The maintenance of good ground cover requires additional seed and at Bloxham School in Oxfordshire grounds manager Glenn Davies uses the tractor-mounted Variseeder from Sisis. "We really like the Variseeder because it is easy to use and has very little maintenance requirement — there are no belts, no drives and no messing around," says Davies. "You just drop the seed in, set it from A to D and off you go."

Wiedenmann Terra Rake, Maredo MT series, Vredo Super Compact Series - image credits: Wiedenmann, HW and Campey Turf Care Systems

Revamped overseeder

Last autumn Vredo revamped the precision Sport Overseeder, improving its shape, aesthetics and functionality. A sleeker, rounded shape has been given to the hopper to encourage better funnelling of the seeds towards the cam wheel, giving a more reliable seed flow and upping the accuracy. Lid chains have been replaced by gas springs to aid filling and provide a smoother closing action.

Operators of the new Vredo Sport with DDS System will also find that the gearbox has a new spindle adjustment, making the calibration of the seeder easier and contributing to increased accuracy. Vredo overseeders are supplied in the UK by Campey Turf Care Systems.

For the start of the 2017 renovation season, Wiedenmann launched the Terra Float Air, a combination surface conditioner and overseeder. Its aim is to provide precision and reliability for maximum accuracy at low rates — in fact, as low as 1g per square metre.

The machine starts by aerating and loosening soil to a depth of 30mm using spikes at 1,500 holes/sq m or slits at 500 slits/sq m. Next a brush and roller combination incorporates top-dressing material before smoothing the surface. Finally a pneumatic air seeder directs precise amounts of seed to the prepared, perforated holes. A series of steel deflector plates ensures uniform depositing from a short distance. Lifting the unit automatically triggers shut-off.

Wiedenmann sales manager Chas Ayres says: "The beauty of the Terra Float Air is that, because its seed rollers are so fine, you can achieve a very exact calibration, while the distribution of the seed is absolutely uniform via the airflow and deflector system. If the seed you are using is expensive or particularly precious, then this delivers peace of mind.

"The memory function on the control panel stores input and calibration data for your follow-up activity and the three-part rear roller helps firm the seed into the surface for soil-to-seed contact."

GKB CS seeders: available in 1.2m, 1.6m and 2m widths

Adjustable-depth roller

GKB has introduced the CS seeder in 1.2m, 1.6m and 2m widths. Its adjustable-depth roller gives 1,400 holes/sq m and it comes with a calibration tray. The 1.2m version is suitable for tractors of 30hp.

Applying nutrition and levelling uneven surfaces requires spreaders and dressers. The Thorpe Underwood Estate is home to Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate. In charge of maintaining the campus’s 34 acres of rugby, football and hockey pitches, grounds manager Ben Grigor is conscious of the quality needed as rugby league club Leeds Rhinos and Yorkshire CCC use the facilities.

Grigor opted for the GKB Sandspreader SP230 to maintain surfaces on natural and synthetic surfaces. "There is nothing overly complicated and we like the way the discs are protected, but above all we are impressed with the quality, both in the way it’s built and the way it operates," he says.

A new development in Dakota Turf Tenders, which are available from Campey Turf Care Systems, sees an upgraded electronic control panel that contains reference guides for adjusting spinner paddles and rate settings, helping to provide a more even spread.

However, nutrition and top dressing, along with scarification, aeration and seeding, remain a dream for many pitches. For some, cutting down the docks is the best they will see. 

Linemarkers: SWOZI from Vitax, Intelligent One from Rigby Taylor and MAQA from Fleet 

For many groundsmen the tedious job of line marking will mean using a walk-behind machine, either wheel-to-wheel transfer or spray. However, a new era is dawning using GPS technology.

Over the past 18 months we have seen the introduction of the Supaturf SWOZI from Vitax, the LineMaster from Pitchmark, the Intelligent One from Rigby Taylor and latterly the MAQA from Fleet, demonstrating that these companies believe satellite guidance is the way forward.

The SWOZI, LineMaster and MAQA have handlebar-mounted touchscreen devices for selecting locaton, pitch and marking requirement, and both still require a groundsman to push a marking machine.

The Intelligent One goes a stage further — it is the world’s first robotic line marker. What they all have in common is the elimination of stringing out and they speed up of marking to give huge savings in time and labour.

"The MAQA line-marking system can reduce the time it takes to initial mark by three-quarters," according to Fleet international sales manager Iain Courage. Highground Maintenance managing director Mike Lewis says he can initial mark a full-sized football pitch in 20 minutes — on his own.

So far I have seen and photographed three of the four systems available in the UK and yes, they certainly speed up initial- and over-marking operations and they offer a great degree of accuracy, albeit sometimes variable — perhaps being dependent on the GPS signal not being interrupted by a cloudy sky.

GKB Combinator: tackling weeds, thatch, black layer and uneven surfaces

How do you tackle a pitch that has more weeds than grass, where there is more thatch and black layer than good soil or where levels are so uneven they affect play?

A solution is to strip off the surface and start again. Seen at last month’s Turf Maintenance Live demonstration event held at The Worcestershire Golf Club in Malvern, the GKB Combinator (pictured) is one method of removing the upper layer.

Developed by the GKB Group and the Council of Rotterdam in the late 1990s, the Combinator is a heavy-duty, multifunctional fraise mower that uses a CombiRotor with three types of chisels, including vertiblades for verticutting and a chisel suitable for hybrid-grass pitches. In addition, the rotor shaft can be used for scarifying and there are special brushes available to remove sand, cork and rubber infill material from synthetic pitches. The removed material is transported on conveyor belts into a trailer running alongside.

The Combinator comes in working widths of 1.2m, 1.6m, 2m and 2.4m. All models are capable of verticutting to a depth of 40mm or fraising to a maximum depth of 50mm. The smallest 1.2m version weighs just 500kg and requires a tractor delivering 30-50hp. The 2.4m model weighs 1,400kg and requires a 95-110hp tractor. Dealers supplying GKB machines in the UK include Ernest Doe, Russell Group, WT & RJ Jones and Lloyd.

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