Grassroots sport is usually challenged for the funds needed to nurture playing surfaces to the level they merit. When they do have budgets, grounds professionals want to control turfcare costs to give them the comfort of knowing their outlay during the year. One reason why Vitax Supaturf tailored packages of turf treatments and equipment are proving so popular.
At Harborne Cricket Club on the outskirts of Birmingham, groundsman Pete Day is already reporting great results for the package that local representative Alex McDermott put together for him for the start of the season. With the club’s 150th anniversary looming large in 2018, Peter is confident the two grounds in his charge will not disappoint the home and away teams, local schools and corporate clients who play at the historic site.
A cricketer himself, Pete had been headhunted by Old Hill Cricket Club, multiple winners of the Birmingham League, some seven years ago, before Harborne came calling with an offer he couldn’t refuse – although not for his playing prowess. “I prepare pitches to a higher standard than I play on them,” he quips. One of the biggest clubs in the `Second City`, Harborne plays in the Birmingham & District Cricket League, the oldest recorded cricket league in the world, formed in 1888.
England test batsman Jonathan Trott was assigned here when he first came over to England from his native South Africa, as was West Indian test batsman Alvin Kallicharran.
Chairman Malcolm Willcox, whose chartered accountancy firm, Malcolm Willcox & Co, sponsors the club, is the driving force behind the push to maximise sporting uptake of the site, and introduced junior football and Sunday league fixtures recently on the Knots ground, sited next door to the first and second X1 square.
“He was the main reason I came here,” Pete reveals. “He is great at attracting money from local businesses [like persuading Cottons, a leading firm of Birmingham chartered surveyors, to sponsor the club] and is really ambitious for the club, though runs it very much on commercial lines. Most importantly, I have his backing. He knows I know what I’m doing.”
Still just 39, and largely self-taught in groundsmanship, Pete has attracted a stack of awards in turfcare – Midland Club Cricket Conferences Groundsman of the Year 2015; Division 1 best pitch and outfield for the 2015 season and `Most improved ground in Worcestershire` (harking back to his volunteer days at Stourbridge Cricket Club).
Under Harborne’s five-year plan to improve facilities across the board and to attract local youth cricket with quality playing surfaces, Pete has taken up a tailored turf treatment package from Supaturf, which is already bringing tangible benefits – without breaking the bank. Within 18 months of arriving, Pete was stuck into improving Harborne’s turf machinery fleet, purchasing a Ransomes Triking 1900D for the outfields. A 2te electric roller followed, then an Allett C20 walkbehind, with all the cassettes, a Verticut, brush, and T blade cylinder with groomer. Not forgetting his own machine – a Ransomes AutoSurtees 10-blade walkbehind – the existing Honda IZY rotary and the Groundsman 345 Aerator.
Included in his purchasing was a Vitax 250 EvenSprey sprayer, acquired through a local supplier, who put Pete in touch with Alex when the machine needed servicing.
“Over the winter, I had been thinking about suppliers and technical back-up,” Pete recalls, so I spoke to previous suppliers about a turfcare plan for Harborne.
“It was Alex who ticked all the boxes for me, talking to me as a groundsman and taking a long hard look at what we had in the shed and the Chemstore, and in good faith advising whether we needed things or not.” It was just the kind of support Pete was searching for. “I needed someone to pick up the phone for advice and build a relationship with. As a solo groundsman that’s crucial for me.”
When Pete purchased a Vitax SSR 50 25kg capacity spreader at the start of the 2016 season, it was Alex who was there for him. “He built the spreader and provided on the job training to ensure I got the best out of what is a very handy piece of kit.”
After soil samples revealed magnesium deficiency and low levels of potassium, Alex formulated a package of turf treatments suited to the ground type. “My knowledge is weak underneath the soil,” states Pete, “but I was confident that the suggested programme Alex prepared would do the job.” And it has. Commencing in late March, the package includes Vitax Kieserite speciality fertiliser to raise magnesium levels, Enhance R microgranular fertiliser, 50-50 MiNT micronutrient tonic and SwardPhite bioactive liquid fertiliser and 50:50 Soluble Iron to prevent moss and provide rapid green-up to the turf surface.
“I applied fertiliser on Easter weekend for a pre-season kick and recovery as plant health improved on the strips,” Pete reports, “then mix the MiNT and SwardPhite formulations in a tank before applying the liquid with the EvenSprey. – simple, light, easy to run and maintain piece of kit.” Enhance R is applied with the SSR 50 spreader in the spring/summer period, then again in autumn, before leaving the fertiliser to do its job over the winter until pre-season.
“Results to date have been fantastic,” Pete declares. “The wickets and outfield look superb. Many clubs would die for a beautiful outfield like this but to help keep it that way I plan to scarify it next year.” Could another turfcare award be on the way soon? Watch this space.
As Alex confirms: “It’s all about getting back to the roots by providing a no-nonsense, reasonably priced package of turf treatments and equipment that suit the budgets of grassroots groundsmen.”
Pete again: “Most clubs will supply a budget to groundsmen but you have to justify what you need and when to the committee,” Pete explains. “The programme allows me to budget and fits nicely with what I have to spend overall.” Stressing another key benefit, Pete adds: “Visiting players can see how great the ground looks, while also showing the club committee early proof of the efficiency of the turfcare programme I’ve selected.”
Pete is no solitary soul plugging away at grounds improvements though. George Webb, 15, once dreamt of reaching the cricketing heights but is now keen to make his mark in the sport in another way, assisting with turfcare duties under a work experience programme.
“If I cannot play cricket at the highest level, groundsmanship is a great option,” he beams. “I used the 2te roller this week – really enjoyable. This is the kind of job I’d like to do.”
Then there’s the other Harborne stalwart – Helen, Pete’s wife. “She helps me out on my rest days,” he says, “cutting the outfields with the Triking mower.” Saddened by the demise of full-time grounds professionals in grassroots cricket, Pete knows he is one of the few and intends to see Harborne become a shining example of sustainable sport. With Vitax Supaturf’s help, he is already well on the way. “I’m young enough to adapt and to not stay shackled to tradition.”
Clearly a man on a mission.