Outfield improvements on a budget is a blog straight from the grass roots, more specifically from the grounds team at Dormansland Cricket Club in Sussex.
It is always interesting, and perhaps at times dispiriting, to see how (mainly on social media sites) to ‘properly’ carry out EOS if you had some of the equipment that the larger and perhaps professional clubs have at their disposal. One can only dream but it isn’t going to happen anytime soon methinks!
So what do we do, how do we do it and what with. Some information. We are a small village club. The only new mower we have ever bought was a cheap shed rotary to make sure we had something sharp for winter cuts on the square. Most of our equipment has been donated or ‘acquired’ and renovated in house and put to work. What we do have is a dedicated (but ageing) group who are prepared to turn up (all year long) when required and graft. Can’t put a price on that.
No Magic Wand
I will say straight away that not a lot has changed. There is no doubt, at any ground, that the square and the tracks on it are the most important areas to improve and maintain and we like to think we have gone as far as we can with that for the time being. There are often enquiries, not to say pleas for help on the forum ‘what can we do about the outfield’ our club was no different.
As with the square there is no magic bag of good stuff (I know some of us often feel like turning to a bottle) to spread around that will fix what most of us I suspect are left with. A neglected, worn out, uneven patch of grass, so where did we start.
Here I have to say how grateful I am personally, and the club as a whole, for the support and encouragement we received and still receive from two Brian’s (Sandalls and Fletcher) , our county pitch advisors and Andy Mackay. I would say that if you do ask, and I would encourage you to do so, for your local pitch advisors for advice do remember that there is often a charge as after all it is in some cases their livelihood. They are however always willing to help and often go beyond what might be called the ‘standard’ visit.
So, what did we start with and what are we aiming for, our outfield is clay with underlying sandstone beds. I would describe it as undulating rather than uneven although the rabbits do their best. It was smothered in weeds; the grass plants are themselves old and pretty much wild. It was invested with moss which held water like you wouldn’t believe and that had a knock-on effect on getting the outfield cut or the roller onto (or should I say off) the square.
What would we like to have?
Well, we can all dream, I was privileged to read the specification when the outfield at Hove was renovated a few years ago. Somewhat mind boggling for a village club and the cost brought me out in a sweat! As I said we can dream on.
At our level there are some things you need in varying quantities: time, money, a level of determination you may not realise you have and the support from your club. The work takes time and is then ongoing, others can be impatient (perhaps in their lack of understanding) and start to think of what else funds could be used for.
Finally, a belief and understanding in what you can actually and realistically achieve. l will never have a Hove and that’s ok.
The nitty gritty bit. I am fortunate that four of the ‘ground staff’ including the chairman sit on the general committee plus a couple of others who seem confident that we have thought out the proposals we are making and give us their support. That means what money can be made available is made available, on to the nuts and bolts.
1-It was obvious that some improvements were needed to the drainage. Not just the outfield but diverting water coming from neighbours, yes, I know the legal obligation but easier said than done and do we spend money on solicitors or on the ground and be sure of some sort of result.
This would then give us a chance of attacking the moss. This was labour intensive and in house. Three to four years ago.
2- Although some would like to have a perfectly flat outfield but we are not in that position. We are in this instance fortunate enough to have a slope. This enabled us to get our friendly contractor (Emmett Edwards for those that know him) in to mole drain the ground. (Autumn 2019). Never been done before to our knowledge.
Around this time, we acquired a small tractor and a slitter which was put to regular use (ground conditions permitting) with a chain harrow belonging to a member (but permanently lives at the ground).
There was also an attempt to encourage players to come and rake out the moss. As I have said before, we can dream., a stalwart did put in a good few hours and a few players tried for a few minutes, but the result was disappointing to all considering the effort.
Emmett also fertilised and over-seeded the outfield, something that had not been done in living memory. We also ‘acquired’ (as is our habit) a tine harrow to use on the tractor. With the bit between our teeth, we attacked the outfield with some venom. We were fortunate that some of us had a bit more time and perhaps some false confidence as the amount of moss removed would have filled a standard garage. Again, fortunate that we could dump it on site.
3- In April 2021 Emmett returned and verti drained the outfield, the last time this was done was nearly 40 years ago and you do have to realise the compacting effect a heavy ransome triple can have. You can effectively have a clay ‘cap’, all affecting surface drainage and encouraging the dreaded moss.
We were also fortunate to ‘acquire’ a garden tractor with a sweeper attached that had found itself under a large oak tree after a storm from a local estate. ‘Renovated in house (straightened out as much as we could) it was invaluable in sweeping up the dead moss once we had raked it out. It is planned for Emmett to return this autumn scarify and apply a moss treatment and fertiliser (2022).
So, what did we learn?
1.Well for all the hassle covid did deliver some benefit in that the grant provided us with some unexpected funds, and time to work on the ground while it was not in use.
2. It helps to have a committee that is prepared to share your dreams and to a large part trust that you have got your plans properly worked out. You then have to be bold and bite the bullet. Easier said than done sometimes. There were times when we looked at what we had started and thought ’O s***. See picture before image above, days before a game.
3. It takes a lot of time and commitment to do it ‘in house’, some equipment if you have it, and the honesty to realise that it will take years depending where you are starting from and where you hope to get to. I deliberately did not use the word finish as all ground persons know there is always some other improvement you will want to make.
We know help and advice is available. Listen to what you are told and don’t be discouraged when you realise the time scale, cost and materials that may be required. You will need to cut your cloth to suit as what many forget is when you make these improvements it then has to be maintained (and we are all getting older). It’s a slow process to improve something like an outfield but a much faster process to allow it to deteriorate again.
If you enjoyed this read, why not take a look at a previous blog written by grounds team on there square renovations last year – https://turfcareblog.com/a-diary-of-our-cricket-square-renovation/
Stu (Grumpy) and the team………………….