September 2012 – RE-ASSESSING YOUR AUTUMN REPAIR PROGRAMME

IN recent issues I have covered bowls green soil profiles and included several photographs. I have seen many and various soil profiles in the past and they do tell the story of what procedures and practises have been going on for many years.

I started writing articles for Bowls International back in 2000 and prior to that I did many years of questions and answers articles for Turf Management magazine. I also wrote articles and ran bowling green courses for the Institute of Groundsmanship, English Bowling Association (now called Bowls England) and also the British Crown Green Bowling Association and the Welsh Crown Green Bowling Association.

I have had practical experience as a bowling greenkeeper and head sports groundsman for more than sixty years, 48 of them at the Met Police Sports Club in Hayes, Bromley, Kent, where I re-laid a complete sports field containing a rugby pitch, two sand raft football pitches, two cricket squares and the bowling green.

During this time I also ran day release and evening classes on turf culture for SELTEC and Bromley Borough Council preparing students for IOG examinations up to Inter Dip qualification level in both theory and practical work.

You will realise then that I have a wealth of working knowledge and experience in all aspects of turf culture relative to bowling green construction and maintenance for both flat and crown greens, as well as all aspects of cricket and football pitches and all other sports.

Many of you will know that I am also a specialist lecturer with Dennis and previous to that with SISIS, who have now been incorporated into the Dennis operation. I have also been a judge for the IOG exhibitions.

Hopefully, you can now be assured that I do know what I am talking about and that I have the experience to back it up. I have also assembled a large collection of photographs of the skills used and the problems encountered in maintaining bowling greens. All this will be incorporated in my illustrated book on bowling green construction and maintenance which I am in the process of writing.

I feel then quite happy to talk about the practical answer to the complaints that we have had for many years about the standard of greenkeeping and why the levels are not maintained consistently and satisfactorily. Bowlers know that there is something wrong, but they don’t necessarily know what it is.

It is about time that we began to understand in layman’s terms what has gone wrong with bowling greens in general.

Originally bowling greens were laid as level as possible with a purpose in mind of being able to play bowls as soon as possible once rain had stopped, whereas now play is continuous and members will don waterproof clothing either to complete their list of matches or compete with our unpredictable weather.

In the planning of what to do next, and in what order, we have to take stock of what we have got to manage. Some greens will be in pretty good condition because the maintenance practises have been carried out to a satisfactory standard. Other greens may have poorer quality machinery and so will not be able to easily achieve as high a standard as desired, whilst further clubs may not only suffer from poor finances, but also have inadequate knowledge and experience of maintenance practises.

By referring to maintenance practises I mean mowing, watering, spiking, scarifying and rolling which are all major contributors to good turf culture as well as including the correct summer growing grasses of Fescue and Agrostis.

This time of the season is the time for decision making regarding any improvements that need to be made to raise the standard of the surface of the green. Once the season has finished many players will disappear to indoor rinks and their interest will be divorced from the requirements of the end of season maintenance programme.

FINANCE

All members of the club need to be involved and take part in a discussion as to what needs to be done to the green to further improve the playing surface and what your club can afford to spend. Money is often earmarked for improvements within the clubhouse, but the priority should be the playing surface because without a good green you will lose members and the reputation of your club will go down. It is nice to have a good social side of things, but the main idea is the playing of a good game of bowls.

Everybody needs to have their say and be listened to sympathetically so that if any financial outlay is planned you will have the support of all members. It may be that you have to undertake major fundraising depending on what your green requires, but it is essential that everyone is including in decision making and gets involved and that the responsibility does not just rest on the shoulders of the few.

The first thing is to ask the club players if, in their opinion, the green has improved over the last three years relative to the money that has been spent on it and the effort put in. If the answer is in the negative then advice needs to be sought to rectify any problems. If club members are happy with the playing conditions then look to see if further improvements could be considered.

MAINTENANCE

Years ago many clubs would have greenkeepers to do the work at a minimal cost, but nowadays we seem to rely on volunteers, many of whom may be retired or just have time on their hands but who are all interested in the standard of the green. However, being willing and able doesn’t always produce the desired results.

Sometimes this is due to misleading advice from companies who are only interested in selling their products and although their knowledge is good relating to their products it does not necessarily mean it is in the best interest of your green. The greenkeeper needs to understand when the green requires any treatment and how to apply that treatment efficiently, otherwise it may be superfluous or good money could be wasted on misapplication.

Good maintenance is carrying out the tasks of mowing, scarifying, spiking, rolling and irrigation and providing these jobs are competently performed regularly and at the right time there should be few problems cropping up. Machinery needs to be kept in excellent order ready for use and maintained according to the manufacturer’s instruction manual.

MOWING

The bowling green mower must be capable of cutting down to 5mm and no lower and must be set to cut evenly the cylinder to bottom blade as according to the manual. With practice this can be achieved quite easily. It is essential that the grass is cut cleanly, otherwise it will be bruised. Ideally mow three times a week, remembering to go from corner to corner diagonally during the playing season.

SCARIFYING (VERTICUTTING)

Grass plants have a very short life and need to be cleaned out at least once a fortnight, again diagonally in both directions on the same day to prevent the bowl from drawing on one hand. It is vital to remember that scarifying is a vertical raking action to control the turf and must not disturb the soil by digging into it or scoring it. This would ruin the tips of the scarifying blades and destroy the growing crowns of the existing grass plants.

SPIKING

Essential to cary storm water and irrigation water down into the drainage raft beneath the bowling green surface approximately ten inches down to be used in reserve for the rest of the season. Carry out spiking every two weeks with solid spikes in the playing season always diagonally corner to corner. Do two passes each time you use the spiker so that there are sufficient holes to cover the green in case of storms and irrigation.

ROLLING

Roll as required particularly after the turf has swollen after much rain. Wait until the rain has drained through and then roll to press out the excess air that has been created by the turf swelling. The turf needs to be lightly pressed back into place, sometimes the roller on the mower may be sufficient to do this or alternatively use a SISIS Trulevel roller or an equivalent 5cwt roller. Control the speed at which you roll, the slower the roll the heavier the compression. A fairly brisk speed will result in a lighter rolling.

IRRIGATION

If sufficient spiking is done twice a week throughout the winter months there should be enough water down in the lower levels of the bowling green raft to last for several months of the season. If there is insufficient spiking then there will be a minimum of moisture in reserve lower down so watering will be needed.

Rolling in mid-March helps to seal in the water that has been transported down through aeration to the lower levels of the drainage raft. If you need to apply water, the optimum time is in the evening when the sun is at its weakest so that little will be lost through evaporation.

A check on the dew every morning will indicate where the plant is working efficiently. In the event of minimal dew in certain areas those will need to be watered until they show the corresponding amount of dew in the mornings to match the rest of the green. This dew must be removed early every morning by use of a brush, or switch or a dew removal roller, drag mats or even by two men pulling a hosepipe across the green.

Removing the dew will raise the temperature of the green, recycle the moisture back into the soil and assist the grass plant to function. Using the above equipment to remove dew prior to mowing will help to rough up the grass to meet the mower blades.

On days when you do not intend to mow then a dew roller or a very light roller would be the best equipment to use and this method will add a few seconds to the speed of the green.

MONEY MATTERS – AND IT DOES

Many clubs have had to close due to financial problems caused by the expense of maintaining the green. The time has come to consider the absolute essential outlays of maintaining a bowling green and how you can wisely cut your annual costs.

Some clubs may be able to pay a greenkeeper, but most clubs depend on volunteers or part-time staff who might require expenses or minimal pay, so staffing is not a major expense, therefore we need to look elsewhere for savings.

The budget must include fuel for mowing, spiking and other motorised functions. Maintenance costs on machinery can be

kept down if you have one or two members who are mechanically minded and happy and competent to carry out this task. Otherwise tools have to be sent away to be professionally serviced during the closed season.

Regular spiking and scarifying should cut down the need for fungicides because the surface would be kept clean from dead, dying and diseased materials which are vital food for fungi already living in the soil. If the conditions are right it will enable fungi to become active, spread and cause unsightly patches. With a reduced amount of thatch debris we can spend very little on fungicides.

Reducing thatch will also reduce the amount of water needed on the green, so we can see that regular maintenance procedures will again cut costs, this time on your water bill.

If you do need to control weeds it is cheaper to use a contractor rather than fund the cost of sending one of your members on the relative training courses and providing them with equipment, personal protective clothing and chemical storage areas.

One of the items that clubs have traditionally purchased year after year is top dressing which is a major expense. However, I am at a loss as to why this should happen. Why would you buy top dressing every year and does it have any noticeable effect and improvement on the green or the standard of bowls?

When the green was originally built at great expense, it would have been set at the correct level as specified relative to the surrounds which is nine inches below the top of the banks. If you spread top dressing every year on top of your green you will obviously raise the height of your green comparative to the surrounds and if it is not applied uniformly over the whole green you will not only destroy the original level but cause undulations however small.

Who says it was necessary to have all this material placed on the top of the green when the green was constructed with the correct materials in the first place?

What do you think the purpose is of top dressing the green? (to be continued next month).

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