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The two legged problem in the room

Ecology is a fascinating subject in and of itself. If you’re not convinced of that, I defy you not to be awestruck by Chris Packham’s brilliant BBC series on the subject. This particular episode is heavy on fungus, but also explains a remarkable synergy between animals and plants. The pine trees a reliant on the success of the salmon in the river!

This easily digested and entertaining explanation of an eco-system at work shows not only how fascinating ecology is, but also how fragile eco-systems can be. For example, over-fishing of Pacific Salmon at sea could send the forest in the film into a sharp decline.

If you were tasked with saving the vast and ancient forests of North America, you actually wouldn’t need to understand all of the relationships as well as Chris Packham does. You’d only need to recognise that they are vital and that you shouldn’t do anything to screw them up. This is exactly what the Native Americans did for millennia. They didn’t know about microbes or mycorrhizal fungi, but they knew that the eco-system seemed to know how to look after itself and as a result didn’t feel the need to interfere.

The bowling green is an eco-system in the same way that the forest in the film is. To create a Performance Bowling Green, all we have to do is facilitate the formation of a mature grassland dominated by perennial grasses like fescue and bent. That’s all, nothing more and nothing less and it is remarkably simple if we don’t over-think it. The article I linked to earlier explains this in some detail.

It’s been human interference and tampering around the edges with limited knowledge that has brought us to the point where greens are in generally poorer health than I expect they were pre-WW2. Indeed, the agricultural technological revolution we’ve seen since then is largely responsible for the decline in green health. If I had to point at one single cause of the problem (which is of course an over simplification) I would choose fungicide availability as the culprit.

The No Interference Rule has been Over-ruled (for now)

Of course for bowling greens we can’t just wait around for nature to take its course. The No Interference Rule overlooks the need to keep the green playable for now, the slight issue of us continually removing the grass clippings and the need to expedite the process of transforming the green on a more 21st century timescale.

Keep Making the Tea

With this in mind it’s a great idea to keep brewing and applying your compost tea. You’re adding missing microbe groups, boosting the existing microbiology of the soil and speeding the transition of your green to a fully perennial sward.

Natural Greenkeeping

Of course, there is no point in applying Compost Tea and then carrying on with a conventional greenkeeping program that includes routine use of fungicides. It’s important to minimise the use of pesticides generally, but with fungicides you might well have to bite the bullet occasionally to check an out break of fusarium or such like. If at all possible this should take the form of a spot treatment curative spray and blanket preventative spraying should not be employed except in extreme circumstances.

Fertilisers, Bio-Stimulants etc

Similarly, the continued routine use of high salt mineral fertilisers flies in the face of what we are doing here. You’ll remember that these are based on mineral salts and essentially perpetuate the Circle of Decline in greens.

Organic fertilisers, Bio-liquid fertilisers and Bio-stimulants are the preferred route to go while transforming your green and then for the long haul afterwards too.

As your green transitions to perennial grasses and the soil micro-life changes in recognition of this you will use less fertiliser in any case as the continual, aerobic degradation of organic material feeds the natural supply chain in the soil. Of course, we are continually removing the grass clippings, so additional Nitrogen will aways be required.

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Irrigation Systems

Bowling green irrigation is one of the areas of bowling green maintenance that raises the most questions.

On the face of it, this appears to be a simple subject; install sprinklers (watering systems), switch them on when it’s dry and the green gets evenly watered and everybody’s happy!

In reality it is a minefield of decisions including; best system design for your green, water storage, watering schedules, when, how and how much to water, green speed, disease, dry patch, thatch etc.

I have assembled some more in-depth information regarding the watering of bowling greens here.

If you need any help with this subject please feel free to drop me a line directly.