Worm cast woes...
As many of you may already know back in late 2017 new legislation under EU guidelines introduced a change in the law, that now means there are no chemical controls for casting earthworms that are approved for use on a golf course.
What does this mean?
As the temperature of both the air and the soil dropped with the arrival of a particularly wet autumn and with the rapid approach of winter, the ground has become wet and muddy with subsoil retaining its moisture making the course sticky and prone to mud spats. This has then been exasperated by the casting of earthworms which is where we see the real damage.
The leftover casts are problematic for numerous reasons. First and foremost because it causes smearing. The casting is smeared by machinery when maintaining the course, as well as foot traffic, buggies, and trollies. This will eventually kill off the grass by smothering it, producing areas of mud. Left untreated it can affect both the game and the maintenance of the course.
Behind the scenes, we are having to battle with damage to the bottom of blades on mowers and re-planning and navigating different heights of cuts due to the build-up on mower front rollers. It's not all bad news though, this past week has seen colder, drier weather for which we're thankful for as the harder frosts should drive the earthworms down into the ground where the soil temperature is higher.
What actions are being taken?
We have already purchased and put into action an alternative to Carbendazim. Angus Downcast irritates the skin of earthworms which encourages them to stay below the surface helping to amend the local soil surface environment. We have also purchased a tractor-mounted brush that disperses the casts and helps to avoid a build-up of sticky and often slimy casting.
With all our best efforts and action on a daily basis, we are seeing improvements from some short term ruin to the playing surfaces even when it's longevity is masked by wet and cold weather.
Looking ahead at a long term solution, we'll be introducing abrasive materials like sand through top dressing. Earthworms do not like the grit found in sands, and the application will not affect the course or how it plays. We will also begin to aerate the course. Hollow tining will reduce the layer of thatch and help with the compaction.
There's no beating around the bush, worm casting isn't great and it does have implications that affect both players and those maintaining the greens but with a little patience and a sprinkling of good luck on the weather front there is light at the end of the tunnel. We receive regular updates and information from BIGGA and work is underway to find a solution to this problem on a national scale.
In the meantime, there are small things that we can all do to help weather the storm. We recommend avoiding the use of buggies on wet days and in slippery conditions. Where possible opting for carry-bags instead of trollies. Educating a friend or a fellow member will also help our plight, the more awareness there is to this issue, the better the chance we will have of overcoming it. Knowledge is power and thats why we will endeavour to keep you informed with regular updates and you'll also find handy information sheets available to browse in and around the Clubhouse.
Earthworms are an important element in the health of soil ecology and earth casting is not an indication of poor or unhealthy turf in facts it's quite the opposite. This paired with your continued support and fortitude provides the vehicle in our determination to maintain our wonderful course, so Thank you.
Want to find out more information? Visit https://www.bigga.org.uk/resource/00194-bigga-earth-worm-leaflet-4pp-a5-web-pdf.html