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Circle of Improvement

My post yesterday looked at the huge extent to which the top 100mm (4inches) of our greens have been subjected to sand over the previous 3 or 4 decades.

Today I’d like to elaborate a little on my thinking about taking a green from that state to one of High Performance.

The recovery process is based on encouraging that same top 100mm to return to a state that is akin to a natural, healthy living soil. This of course takes time as we are actually waiting for nature to produce more organic matter to ameliorate the sand to bring the soil back to a state where it can support a large, thriving population of soil microbes.

If you imagine my sketch of the “Circle of Decline” as a water wheel spinning fiercely in a clockwise direction; in other words out of control due to inappropriate maintenance. Each application of sand, pesticide, excessive N fertiliser, etc only serves to set the wheel spinning ever faster in the wrong direction.

The performance greens program is aiming to make the wheel turn in the opposite direction so a lot of the effort at the beginning is simply to slow the wheel down gradually until it is eventually stopped. The program then needs to get the wheel to start turning in the other direction.

Once it starts to turn in the right direction every bit of the correct maintenance program just makes it go faster and faster, so although the recovery process is slow at first, it builds very quickly once things are turned around.

We then start to see the action of what I am going to call the Circle of Improvement due to lack of imagination!

Every ounce of new organic matter that is worked on by the still sparse soil microbes, creates opportunities for the microbe population to grow. As the soil is oxygenated the grass starts to grow more healthily, producing more thatch for the growing microbe population. Bio-liquid fertilisers supplement this organic material and present the microbes with an ever improving larder to feed on. The turf increases in health, puts down more vigorous roots, grows stronger and is more able to resist attack from fungal diseases and disorders. The increasing organic matter content of the soil allows for better moisture and nutrient retention, reducing the need for artificial fertiliser application and starts to turn around any problems with hydrophobic soil like Localised Dry Patch.

As the Performance Greens Program is applied and the old program of sand, pesticide and heavy Nitrogen fertiliser applications is left behind the wheel starts to whiz round in an ever increasing improvement to the health and performance of the green…reducing maintenance costs drastically as it goes.

The soil microbes continue to turn thatch into rich organic soil, but due to the vigorous growth of the grasses we are trying to encourage there will always be a need for us to intervene to keep thatch under control from time to time.

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4 comments

  1. robert says:

    Which bio-liquid fertilisers help nourish the bacteria we are trying to encourage John? Also, I know a couple of excellent golf greenkeepers who insist on using the traditional treatments of dried blood, ground hoof & bone, and seaweed on their greens and are achieving great success… do these have any advantages over bio-liquid fertilisers…. or are they an indulgence?

  2. John says:

    Hi Robert
    There are various products available. The key thing is that they should provide carbohydrate to the soil microbe population. This usually takes the form of simple sugars like mollasses, sugar beet by-products or seaweed extracts. Companies such as Symbio and Omex have liquid bio-fertiliser products which will do the trick.

    The thing to keep in mind is that a correctly managed soil already contains everything the grass plants need, we just need to manage the soil in order to release this vital plant nutrition.

    Of course most bowling greens need additional in-organic fertiliser due to 2 critical factors; the constant removal of the grass clippings and the high percentage of sand in the rootzone.

    With regard to seaweed, I think this is a good idea due to the organic material that is added by this method (better to get granular products into the profile by tining first) and the addition of micro-nutrients which help with a host of different processes in the plants.

    Using old fashioned straight fertilisers like dried blood and hoof and horn might yield good results in some cases but I wouldn’t advocate it. There can issues with quality/consistency, release rate, pH, scorching and user welfare.

    John

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