Review - Aerators and scarifiers

These machines are important for the provision and maintenance of healthy turf, Sally Drury explains.

Terrain Aeration Scamper - image: HW
Terrain Aeration Scamper - image: HW

TESTED THIS WEEK


Terrain Aeration Scamper
ATT (Advanced Turf Technology) TMSystem
Verti-Drain 215.013SP + Carrier
John Deere Aercore 800
Toro ProCore 648
Ryan Lawnaire IV Plus
Toro ProCore SR70-S
Charterhouse Pro Scarifier
Trilo VCU 120 Scarifier

THE REVIEW PANEL

Andre Gardner, grounds manager, Bridgwater College, Cannington Campus

Hugh Murray, head greenkeeper, Cannington Golf Club

Aeration and scarification are important operations in the provision and maintenance of healthy turf. In this test we look at a wide range of machines to break compaction and reduce thatch to improve gaseous exchange and water percolation.

We start in the Walled Garden at the Cannington Campus, where we ask David Green to blast air and seaweed into the lawn and the area around the tree planted three years ago by the Earl of Wessex.

Then we move onto the golf course at Cannington Golf Club, part of the college, and put the ATT cassette system through its paces.

The latest Verti-Drain, Toro ProCore and John Deere Aercore are used on the greens. We undertake some hollow coring with the Ryan Lawnaire before using the tractor-mounted ProCore SR.

Finally, we look at two dedicated scarifiers - the pedestrian Charterhouse Pro and tractor-mounted Trilo VCU.

TERRAIN AERATION SCAMPER

It is the ugliest machine we have ever seen, but effective. Scamper is one of a fleet of Airforce units used for decompaction and aeration by Terrain Aeration Services (TAS).

Adapted from the original German-designed Terralift system, it works by hydraulically hammering a hollow probe 1m deep into the soil. Compressed air is blasted through the probe end at pressures that can be accurately controlled over a range from 8-20bar, depending on conditions, creating fractures and fissures in the soil. At the same time, material - we used milled seaweed - is injected into the hole, where it sticks to the walls of the fissures. The probe is removed and the hole backfilled by hand with Lytag. On golf courses and pitches, top-dressing material can also be used.

To keep weight down, Scamper runs off an umbilical cord from a compressor. As each blast of air is forced into the ground, the lawn around the machine lifts gently and then settles back.

"You can see the ground ripple," says Murray. We feel some earlier holes as the machine blasts in more air two metres away. "You can feel the air come out," adds Murray.

Scamper is strongly built and it goes down very deep. "It is getting below the compaction and dealing with it from underneath with virtually no surface disturbance," says Murray. "It's a good system and I am surprised at how much ground it is covering."

TAS offers a package of decompaction, aeration and soil treatments (call 01449 673783).

ATT (ADVANCED TURF TECHNOLOGY) TMSYSTEM

The TMSystem is bursting with technology. It is capable of reducing organic matter and aiding gaseous exchange but can also manipulate green speed, integrate top dressing or simply cut the grass.

A high-grade, laser-cut stainless steel chassis holds the cassettes. It is fully compatible with all mainstream makes of triplex greens mowers but we use it with ATT's own INFiNiPower pedestrian unit.

"This is what greenkeepers want," says Murray, studying the traction unit. "It is nicely balanced, you can spin it round at the end and carry on working, and it feels good to use."

The power unit has a floating head mechanism with dynamic return, which constantly spreads the weight of the treatment tool evenly.Changing cassettes takes about 10 seconds. Height adjustment is wrench-less.

The Scarifier Cassette is the choice for thatch removal and has five-knife blades of 1.6mm thickness and at 40mm spacings. The THATCHMaster Cassette prevents thatch accumulation.

There are also the Star Spiker and Sarel Roller Cassettes, the Ultra Groomer Cassette, vibration cassette and powered rotary and static top-dressing brush cassettes. Or you might want a cylinder mowing reel.

SPECIFICATIONS


Working width: 18in or 22in
Depth: Scarifier down to 15mm
Cassettes: Scarifier, thatch control, spiker, sarel roller, groomer,
brushes, cylinder reel
List price: POA
Contact: The Grass Group - 01638 720123

VERTI-DRAIN 215.013SP + CARRIER

There cannot be many in the grounds care and turf industries who have not heard of the Verti-Drain. The name is synonymous with deep aeration and the 215.013SP is the latest in the family of machines that is renowned for its adjustable parallelogram forced heave system.

This system enables the V-D to give deep compaction relief, including between the holes, without causing surface disruption. Tines enter and exit in the true vertical plane but give a violent kickback in the ground to shatter the pan and introduce air.

Although the new aerator can be mounted to a suitable tractor (20hp upwards with 500kg lift capacity), matching it to the Carrier gives a self-propelled walk-in-front aerator, which then allows you to keep your tractor busy with other jobs.

"What a beast - that 32hp engine is powerful," Gardner notes. "With the Carrier it makes for a very solid, well-built and sturdy combination. The controls are simple to use - apart from the parking lock." The brake didn't disengage, resulting in wheel skids across the green. Ouch. "I had to rock the machine to free the brake," he explains.

The Carrier has smooth, wide tyres to minimise ground pressure and, having its own three-point hitch and PTO, can also be used to power other equipment such as the Speed-Seed and Charterhouse's Verti-Cut 1200 scarifier. It could be useful for football grounds where you do not want anything too big in the stadium.

SPECIFICATIONS
Working width: 1.3m
Depth: Down to 150mm
Transmission: Hydrostatic
Speed: 0-3.7mph
Engine: 32hp
Weight: 430kg or 950kg with carrier
List price: POA
Contact: Charterhouse Turf Machinery - 01428 661222

JOHN DEERE AERCORE 800

With a more powerful engine - a 25hp Kohler - and smoother, more efficient operation, plus the bonus of easier maintenance, the new Aercore 800 has many improvements over the original.

We particularly like the electro-hydraulic controls. They halve the time it takes to lift and lower the coring head and, along with the cleverly designed shock-absorbing Flexi-Link mounting system, provide good-quality holes with minimal scuffing.

The Aercore is based on the same type of heavy-duty frame and tine rams as JD's tractor-mounted aerators but gives the choice of a lighter unit for use on cricket squares, golf greens, tennis courts and bowling greens. Having four selectable forward working gears, the machine is reasonably fast.

"It's very easy to lift and lower the head and the machine takes the contours well because the aerating unit is in line with the wheels. It took a bit of persuading on the turns, but the transport speed is good. Vibration was noticeable during operation," says Gardner.

JD tells us it can cover 1,440sq m an hour in second gear and with 2x2-hole spacing, travelling at 1mph. The transport speed is good and really gets you moving between greens. Drive chain tensioning is automatic to give more positive engagement between the transmission and drive wheels - the result is improved hole spacing patterns and straighter lines.

Now sporting standard drive tyre core deflectors, the Aercore will displace hollow cores in the path of the drive tyres. This should make cleaning up easier. We also appreciate the flexibility to add a verticut attachment to complete two jobs in one.

Maintenance could not be simpler. There are no greasing points - just check filter, oil and fuel. Hollow, open-sided, solid, cross and needle tines are available.

Specifications
Working width: 1.47m
Coring depth: Down to 89mm
Transmission Four working speeds
Travel speed: 3.5mph
Engine: 25hp Kohler
Weight: 665kg
List price: POA
Contact: John Deere - 01949 860491

Toro ProCore 648

It is fast, smooth and it turns easily - and it is not that noisy. Golfers should not mind this one working away in the background. Operation is a doddle and the tines are engaged swiftly at the flick of a switch.

"It's a cracking machine. I like it," says Murray. "It's light and manoeuvrable, something you could use the whole winter, even when conditions are bit soft. It's a lot quicker than I expected, though it's not going in very deep, and it turns really well."

JD has Flexi-Link; Toro has RotaLink. The purpose is to ensure that the tines remain vertical as they enter and exit the ground to leave consistently round holes. We use the new cross tines, designed to give a bigger surface to the hole.

Individually floating turf holders prevent lifting and Toro's TrueCore system gives full-time automatic contour following. The result is neat. With wheels in front of the aeration head, the ProCore cannot crush previous pulled material when you are hollow coring.

"It's quick and straightforward to change the tines and maintenance isn't troublesome," says Gardner. When you want to vary the depth to avoid panning, spacers can give you the adjustment you need.

We find the sight markers useful for lining up the machine on each run and Gardner says very little vibration is transmitted back to the handle. Hollow, open-sided, solid, cross and needle tines are available.

SPECIFICATIONS
Working width: 1.22m
Coring depth: Down to 102mm
Transmission: Forward and reverse
Travel speed: 3.5mph
Engine: 23hp Kohler
Weight: 722kg
List price: £18,508 + VAT
Contact: Toro Commercial - 01480 226800

RYAN LAWNAIRE IV PLUS

With a frame of heavy-gauge steel, this is a solid looking unit and one that should survive life in the hire market as well as taking the knocks of transport between contracts. And it's sufficiently narrow to slip through gates into back gardens or other areas of limited access.

Built by Ryan and supplied in the UK by Ransomes, the Lawnaire IV is a drum-type aerator that pulls itself along as it cores. The roller at the front is water ballasted for stability. Transport wheels allow the machine to be easily raised and lowered for manoeuvrability in tight areas and for crossing walkways or drives.

"It's a basic, simple hollow corer," says Murray. "It's quick and easy to put in and out of operation. The thing I didn't particularly like was the plate at the back. Some cores were dragged and smeared."

The hand brake took a bit of working out, but should prove useful when loading and unloading the unit from a trailer.

SPECIFICATIONS
Working width: 48.3cm
Coring depth: Down to 70mm
Holes: 81 per square metre
Engine: 4hp Honda recoil start
Weight: 91kg dry, 127kg with water and weights
List price: £2,920 + VAT
Contact: Ransomes Jacobsen - 01473 270000

TORO PROCORE SR70-S

A truly versatile deep-tine aerator, the SR70-S is light enough for use on greens and fairways and tough enough for compacted sports pitches. It stomps across the ground with confidence and precision, leaving neat and tidy holes. Depth is adjustable from the tractor cab.

SR stands for "soil reliever", and that's exactly what it does. It plunges its tines through the compaction, creating channels to improve drainage and gaseous exchange.

Murray says: "It works very quickly when you consider the depth and with its width it isn't going to take long to do all the greens."

The SR70-S is 1.85m wide and requires a 25-35hp tractor with 817kg lift capacity. Productivity is 4,460m/h, making it one of the quickest in the range. Other models are available with working widths of 1.2m, 1.37m and 1.98m.

SPECIFICATIONS
Working width: 1.85m
Depth: Down to 250mm
Tractor requirement: 25-35hp with 817kg lift capacity
Weight: 750kg
List price: £16,222 + VAT
Contact: Toro Commercial - 01480 226800

CHARTERHOUSE PRO SCARIFIER

Another good machine for the hire industry and contractors, this scarifier is well built and simple to use. It rips out material at a good rate. A choice of cutting mechanisms makes it even more attractive.

If you want a fixed-blade rotor, you can have it, complete with 24 1.5mm-thick blades at 20mm intervals. If you want swinging blades - likely to be popular with hire firms - you can have a four-section rotor with 48 3mm-thick hanging blades.

Height adjustment is via a hand-nut at the top of the lever that takes the blades in and out of work. Twin V-belts imply this scarifier is going to be reliable and you cannot go wrong with the Honda engine. We also like the way the handles fold for easy transport.

"It's a good basic scarifier, easy to set up and use, and it's speedy," sums up Murray. "Build quality is good - there's nothing much to go wrong. The solid tyres mean you won't get punctures."

After 20m of operation, Murray has to stop the machine and empty the catcher.

SPECIFICATIONS
Working width: 50cm
Depth: Millimetric adjustment
Cutting system: Swinging or fixed blades 20mm apart
Engine: 4hp Honda GX160 recoil start
Transmission: Belt
Weight: 74kg
List price: £1,020 + VAT
Contact: Charterhouse Turf Machinery - 01428 661222

TRILO VCU 120 SCARIFIER

This machine can rip out clouds of thatch - the build up of dead material, leaves, old clippings and moss - to allow air and water to percolate the surface and boost sward health.

"This is a great piece of kit," says Murray. "We have a fairway scarifier, which is a bit bigger, but I don't think it would rip out this much thatch."

Gardner drives the Iseki tractor up and down the fairway. The VCU is entirely mechanical, so there is no fear of hydraulic leaks, and offset design allows it to scarify beyond the tractor wheel right up to the edge of the turf and down to 50mm.

The VCU 120 is equipped as standard with 24 blades, each with 10 teeth, and a blade spacing of 50mm (optional 25mm).

"It's certainly does the job," says Murray. "It's good that the roller is close to the back wheels - it will help the unit follow the contours."

SPECIFICATIONS
Working width: 1.2m
Depth: Down to 50mm
Cutting system: 24 blades
Tractor requirement: 20hp
Weight: 180kg
List price: POA
Contact: The Grass Group - 01638 720123


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