Essex club keeps greens green due to composting

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir October 11, 2011 15:59

Essex club keeps greens green due to composting

According to the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), there are a number of reasons why compost, produced from garden waste such as grass cuttings, prunings and leaves, has such good water retention properties and can be of considerable benefit.

The open and bulky nature of compost will, with repeated applications to soil, increase soil porosity, thus improving both oxygen diffusion and drainage properties. Compost acts like a sponge so the water holding capacity of compost generally exceeds that of soil. In a study carried out on maize crops in the South East of England, soil available water capacity was found to increase from 15.1 per cent to 17.1 per cent with incorporation of compost.

Furthermore, it has been shown that humus content plays a central role in soil structure and particle aggregation with the addition of organic matter encouraging the formation of soil crumbs. This process increases both the number and size of the pore spaces in the soil, enhancing the rate at which water can enter and increasing the volume of air and water that the soil can hold.

These factors combined provide an improved rooting environment for plant growth in both light and heavy or compacted soils. Improvements in soil structure lead to further benefits such as improved resistance to compaction, and reduced soil erosion and surface capping. Regular users of compost will see better and more rapid rooting into the soil and better growth. In dry conditions the water retentive nature of compost is especially important in conserving water, reducing stress on plants and keeping planting greener and healthier for longer.

Epping Golf Course has suffered from poor quality turf ever since its construction. The course was built from land left over from the building of the M11 and owner Neil Sjoberg was looking to find an environmentally friendly way to enrich the quality of the course’s 15 hectares of fairways and improve the playing of the course for members. Neil attended a trial by ReMaDe Essex on the use of compost and decided it would be the best way to improve the turf. Approximately 200 tonnes of compost was bought in bulk from Tree Fella, a local composting company on The Composting Association’s certification scheme for BSI PAS 100.

Just four weeks later, the results were already visible with darker colour growth and noticeably thickening grass. The fairways are now in far better condition than before. Members have commented that the ground is better to play off and the moisture in the compost has meant that the course has stayed in great condition throughout one of the driest spring and early summer periods in recent memory.

Neil Sjoberg is thrilled with the results: “We appear to be one of the few courses in Essex to have completely green fairways with no brown patches. Other golf courses across the county are asking us how we have managed to do this and we are more than happy to share our secret!”

Keen golfers at Loughgall Country Park golf course in Armagh, Northern Ireland have BSI PAS 100 compost to thank for the improvement in the quality of the fairways and tees.

Opened in 2000, the municipal 18 hole golf course is set in the grounds of the magnificent Loughgall Country Park and is one of the first in Northern Ireland to specify the use of compost. The par 72 course is set in mature woodland and includes strategically placed bunkers, sloping terrain and water hazards which add to the character and excitement of play.

Previously the site of a Department of Agriculture research centre, the ground had been subjected to different levels of chemicals, such as fertilisers, and its condition made maintenance a challenging task.

In 2004, Country Park manager, Greg Ferson, approved a trial of BSI PAS 100 compost after hearing about the success of the project at Epping. Sourced from quality assured producer Natural World Products, the compost was applied to three fairways and one sand based fairway landing area.

Greg explained: “We selected four different areas of the course with varying soils so that we could establish the performance of the compost in different conditions. On two of the fairways chosen we had an issue with the grass growth and colour and hoped that the compost would rectify this. The fairways also suffered from uneven and unhealthy growth as well as low nutrient levels.”

Compost screened to a maximum particle size of 10mm was applied using a Dakota 412 spreader.

Within a couple of weeks the results were already visible. The areas which had been applied with BSI PAS 100 compost displayed a significant difference in both growth and colour of the grass when compared to the areas where no compost had been used.

Loughgall Country Park golf course manager, Greg Ferson commented: “As we are a council-owned course, it is excellent that we can demonstrate our commitment to recycling by putting compost back into the course in a way which is improving its quality and playability.

“We’re delighted with the results of the trial, especially on the areas where there is a high clay content as the compost improves the soil structure by introducing more oxygen and improving growing conditions. We have already ordered another 100 tonnes for use around the course.

“We have also noted the water retention benefits of compost in very dry areas of the course and would definitely recommend its use to any greenkeeper experiencing problems with dry fairways.”

Compost provides nutrients, such as nitrogen, to the ground in a slow release form that greens up grass without leading to excessive grass growth. A good supply of potassium is also present that will aid grass hardiness and contribute to disease suppression.

Compost will supply organic matter that improves soil structure, water infiltration rates and water holding capacity.

The compost can also increase grass seed germination and regrowth in divots on tees and fairways, which is always a concern for greenkeepers.

Many of the microorganisms present in compost are able to suppress the pathogenic organisms that cause turf diseases.

The optimum time to spread compost is during the autumn or spring, when the weather is warm and the soil moist, stated WRAP.

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir October 11, 2011 15:59
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