Testing times for school sports
First impressions count enormously when you arrive at one of the UK’s most prestigious public schools. And whilst there is all the history and magnificence of Radley College’s academic and boarding houses, the eyes of most of the boys – and a significant number of their fee paying fathers – will turn to the playing fields and dreams of sporting glory.
Radley College is incredibly proud of its sporting heritage and winning at the highest schools’ level. For Adam King and the Radley grounds staff team, that poses the challenge of producing top quality surfaces for rugby and football in the winter, and cricket through the summer, from the same turf area.
The transition between sports at either end of the seasons creates a stressful time for both management and turf, particularly if weather conditions are unfavourable for growth and recovery.
This spring, Adam recalled that after the rugby pitches had suffered under heavy playing in extremely wet winter conditions, the cold, slow-growing conditions were a serious threat to get them transformed into the cricket outfield, ready for the start of summer-term play.
“Given where we were in March and April, the results from the trials of combined Ryder and Stressbuster treatment were stunning,” he reported. “The colour was fantastic and received so many positive comments, from the school, parents and visitors.
“With grass growth so slow at the time, the results were pleasingly long-lasting,” he added. The effect was especially welcome with the slow germination and growth of over-sown dwarf ryegrass in March and April, which would normally be relied on to add depth to outfield colour.
Once growth kicked-off towards the end of May, and although the turf is under a robust Primo Maxx II programme, the bounce of strong ryegrass growth saw the effects of the pigment treatment grow out over a shorter period. “Whilst the turf is growing strongly mid-season, we probably wouldn’t see a role for the pigment, unless we had a big match, open day or particular reason to give a green boost – when it may be useful to keep a can in reserve,” he believed.
However, towards the end of the summer, when the cricket outfield reverts to its rugby role, there is a potential use as he aims to get consistent growth and recovery back up to a 32 mm leaf, from the summer 12/14 mm cut.
“If it is under the intense late-summer drought stress that we have experienced some years, then Ryder may have a role to protect the existing plants and maintain the crucial density of turf cover that’s essential for the winter sports,” he advised.
There is the capability for irrigation on the outfield and the opportunity for additional over-seeding in July if required, but the preferred option is to retain the existing plants with stronger rooting that gives better surface stability, wherever possible.
Adam sees it as a real bonus that he could separate colour and fertility, particularly in the autumn and winter, when he’s typically using ICL Stressbuster, along with seaweed and iron, to gain colour without the feed.
“When you need a kick in colour and appearance the normal route has been to put on some extra nitrogen and iron,” he recalled, “which is not always to the benefit of the turf health or management for growth and mowing.
“Now, if we want the colour we have the option to maintain the turf nutrition and fertility where we want it, but have the appearance from the Ryder too.”
The Radley College grounds staff team are responsible for all the extensive and exquisitely maintained environs of the College, along with a nine-hole members’ golf club.
For Adam, in a situation where first impressions are so important for Radley College visitors, the confidence to know that he can always deliver fantastic looking sports facilities is extremely reassuring.