31st March

Hi All,

The last blog of March, how time flies when you’re self-isolated 🙂 Not…..

One week down, god knows how many to go and with no fly fishing, motorcycle rides, Costa Coffee, end-user calls and MotoGP, my world is occasionally a dull place, a bit like the weather currently, but at least it is dry for most of us.

And we are still able to exercise outdoors. I think if that ‘privilege’ was taken away from me,  I would personally struggle to cope as I need my ‘uppers’ from a run or cycle to keep me positive and reasonably trim !

Yesterday will probably go down in history as ‘Furlough Monday’, I keep calling it Furlong but that’s just me 🙁

I don’t know about you but self isolation does give you the time to reflect on what is important in your life because you can no longer do it. I’m not necessarily talking about the more obvious things like seeing other members of your family or going out for a meal. I like walking out in the countryside, but I like it even more if I know somewhere en route there’s a Flat White, a Flapjack and a friendly greeting to break up the journey. Not having that makes going out for a walk a very different prospect to me. Little things make up every bodies world I guess filling in the gaps between the bigger things…

I think nature is adapting already to the lesser presence of human beings out and about. It’s only taken a week. At 3 a.m. yesterday morning I was awoken by a hell of a racket downstairs in the garden. Looking out of the window I saw a big Badger attacking one of my Hedgehogs. I managed to scare it away but by the time I got to the Hedgehog, the Badger was back and bold with it. Luckily, I picked up a convenient axe handle (I have 3 strategically placed in the house for wood chopping of course) on the way so it retreated. It was bold though, much bolder than I expected. I didn’t realise that they have such poor eye sight so God knows what it took me for in a dressing gown brandishing an axe handle (Now that’s a mental picture most of you would struggle with hopefully 🙂 ) On a negative note,  the Hedgehog was mauled awfully and died shortly afterwards, it’s cries were bloody awful. Nasty buggers them Badgers.

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So in keeping with last week’s blog I’m going to do a short review of the weather dynamic for this week and next and then look at some of the practical considerations of ‘our situation’.

General Weather Situation

So as you know from last week’s blog we are currently sitting on the right shoulder of a high pressure. It isn’t just any high pressure, it’s one of the strongest for nearly 100 years (record high pressure was set in 1902 I think at 1053.6 mb). My Netatmo recorded 1046 mb at 22.30 p.m on Sunday night.

Since this is rotating clockwise it’s dragging down north / north-easterly winds currently and with it some sharp, wintry showers from The North Sea. These are principally affecting the east and south east of England currently.  As we go through this week, the high pressure system will move south east down into The Atlantic. This will have the effect of changing the wind direction from northerly, through to north westerly from mid-week onwards, not that it’ll do much to improve the disappointing temperatures heading into April with high single figures the theme for the week. As we approach the weekend, the high pressure will re-assert itself temporarily and will push in some warm air to the south of the U.K, so I expect temperatures to rise significantly through Saturday / Sunday with mid to high teens likely down south. This is a big change from the cold low pressure system that was forecast for this coming weekend a week ago, not sure if it is necessarily better though.

With respect to rainfall, expect some showers across Ireland and north west coasts through Thursday and maybe some pushing further inland. It looks dry for the weekend but we will have a north-south divide temperature-wise with the south of England / Wales picking up some pretty warm day time temps, particularly on Sunday. That said, the nights will still be cold so fortunately we will continue to have a handbrake on growth.

For the early part of next week (see image above) we see that high pressure ‘nerfed’ out of the way by an Atlantic low pressure system. This will have two pronounced effects on our weather. Firstly, it’ll introduce rain from Mon / Tuesday onwards (to the west first) and it’ll increase the night temperatures so I expect to see a significant growth hike next week as the GDD / G.P rises (more on that below…). Next week then looks like being a sunshine and showers scenario i.e good growing weather…sorry 🙁

Agronomic Notes

So in keeping with last week’s blog mantra, I’m going to continue to look at this period focusing purely on agronomics. Each to their own and respect at all times.

Growth outlook going forwards…

At first sight, the growth outlook for this week looks nice and low which is exactly what we want. Look closer though and you can see the ascending pattern of daily GDD / G.P with a particular hike on Monday next week. That coincides with the swing towards a south westerly air stream and milder night temperatures.

I think the real issue (potentially) is from next week onwards in terms of a moderate to strong growth spike so I’ve tried to do this for the four sites above looking at next week specifically. Obviously these are projected temperatures so they’ll be some inaccuracy here but it’s quite a spike as you can see.

Consequences of no play…

A couple of things came into my mind that maybe we haven’t considered as a consequence of no play on our surfaces. Firstly, they will build fibre / surface organic matter during this period because of the lack of foot traffic. We know this from areas on our greens that don’t receive regular foot traffic (non-pinned positions) they are often 2x the organic matter content in the top 0-25mm than areas that receive regular footfall. Think of a tournament tee and how soft that is because of the lack of foot traffic, well let’s say we have 3 months off in this stint, we can expect some much softer surfaces when we return.

I’ve had a few questions regarding the optimum cutting height for let us call it this furlough period. Cutting height is always a compromise of course when you have a mixture of grass species in the sward, like most of us do. If we come up to a higher cutting height we will definitely reduce plant stress and that is a big positive but maybe not as important right now as it would be during the summer period. It’s probably only a month before we go into Poa seedhead formation (late April / Early May is normal) and of course at a higher height of cut you are going to get much more seedhead expression because you’re not removing them by cutting below the panicle. So any thought that a higher height of cut will favour the ‘finer grasses’ goes out the window in my mind if you have Poa annua, like most of us do.

The other factor to consider is the different morphological expression of the grass plant at different cutting heights. Bentgrass cut at 3mm is a very different plant to one cut at 6mm, the leaf tends to be broaden and elongate leading to a woolly appearance on the sward. So what you might say ?

Firstly, I don’t think you gain any advantage by cutting bentgrass at 6mm and secondly, it doesn’t just miraculously morph back to the plant it was either, it takes a lot of work…..Just saying like. For my two pennies worth I’d be coming up on the cutting height for sure but maintaining a sensible balance between minimal maintenance and ability to revert to ‘in play’ conditions as soon as that option becomes available. I’d also be applying PGR regardless…regardless…no, I’ll just leave that one there….:)

Dry Down

It’s amazing that 2-3 weeks ago I was talking about the 5 months of incessant rainfall as being the challenge to overcome for our industry and then someone introduces Cov-19 into the mix just as the weather puts a foot on the “It’s Spring” step and it all seems so insignificant.

Well just for the sake of prosperity, it is amazing how quickly facilities and the countryside in general has dried out. Yes indeed, there’s still plenty of moisture under the surface, not a doubt about that but it’s gone from wet to dry so so quickly on the surface. You can see that in the E.T stats for the last week. Cold starts to the day give us next to no E.T but as soon as we heat up and / or the wind gets up and we’re moving quickly and drying out. Pity there’s nobody about to appreciate it.

OK, that’s it for this week, all things considered I should be blogging for the next couple of weeks and then I’ll most likely be off.

Stay safe, sane and healthy…

Mark Hunt