This is our new bagging unit, based in the Sevenoaks depot. At this time of year, it is used especially for 25-kg bags of cricket (Surrey) loam, but it can of course be used for any material going into small bags.
At the back of the picture, you can see a grey bag hanging in place under a small hopper. This is fed with material from a conveyor belt, which is located outside the store, behind the wall. To the right of the bag is a weighing unit which displays how much material has gone in the bag, to ensure the correct fill every time. Once the bag is full, it drops down on the conveyor belt below and is moved, upright, to the sealing unit to the left (the grey box on the wall). The bag is heat-sealed and then moves further to the left and onto the upwards conveyor, ready to be placed onto the waiting pallet. Once the pallet is full, it is moved outside with a forklift and then shrink-wrapped for stability and protection.
The unit can be operated by one or two people, allowing for up to 1,200 bags on 30 pallets to be produced daily.
Here is a picture of some 1,700 tonnes of prime cricket loam (a.k.a. Surrey loam) ready for bagging at our Sevenoaks depot. It will be processed in our new bagging unit, palletised and sent out to waiting customers all over the Home Counties.
But what on earth (err...) is cricket loam and what makes it so special? The ECB (England and Wales Cricket Board) explains it in their maintenance guidelines document, which is the bible for groundsmen around the country.
Essentially, it is a type of topdressing with around 30% clay content, which is used at the end of the cricket season to repair wear and damage to cricket squares. The clay content ensures suitable and consistent bounce during play. A greater clay content gives higher performance but requires more maintenance, as it will be more liable to drying out and cracking. Therefore, the recommendation tends to be for a clay content of 28-35% for first class cricket, but more like 25-28% for school pitches. Ultimately, it is the soil's "breaking strength" which determines its suitability, and this is dependent not only on clay content, but also on the other components of the loam. The guidelines explain how to test your soil - please refer to them for details.
Most importantly, though, the loam applied must be compatible with the existing soil. If not, it will create layers where the different types of soil dry out (and therefore shrink) at different rates. Such layering affects the bounce, is prone to damage and provides an unsuitable environment for good quality grasses. Again, the guidelines explain how to check soil compatibility.
We have been producing and supplying cricket loam to a high degree of consistency over the last twenty years, and have it tested by the STRI to ensure its quality and suitability. This year's supply is now ready to be shipped. Full details on the Bourne Amenity and Gardenscape websites.
On July 4th, GreenBlue Urban invited us to a Contractors' Day to show their offices and production facilities, launch their new RootSpace 400 soil cell system, and give a practical demonstration of how to use the system when planting a young tree in an urban environment. It was a very impressive demo and a short blog post would not do it justice. So, to get the full story, head on to this special page for a longer read with many photos. We are grateful to Louise and Lloyd at GreenBlue Urban for the invitation and help with the article!
Updated 13 July: GreenBlue Urban's report from the day, with video, is now available on this page.
Last week, we were kindly invited by British Sugar to visit their factory in Wissington, Norfolk. It was not only interesting but great fun too, with our hosts having laid on a great package of study visits, ending up in a pub in Bury St Edmunds watching the football... but that's another story!
You may well wonder what the connection is between sugar and soil. It's simply this - every year British Sugar receive getting on for 10 million tonnes of sugar beet to their four factories in East Anglia. Although they beets have been cleaned to some extent at the farm, there deliveries still include something like 300,000 tonnes of soil, all of which is of course carefully washed off at the factories before the sugar production starts.
About twenty years ago, our generous host Andy Spetch came up with the idea of doing something better with this resource, rather than just dumping it. So now, the water used for washing the beets is pumped into big settlement ponds - you can see one in front of the factory in the picture above. In the pond, the washed-off soil separates into its sand, silt and clay components, which settle in different areas. These soil components are then excavated from the ponds, and laid out to dry on the fields. The drying process takes up to 2 years, after which the soil components are mixed in exact proportions, which results in a totally consistent standard product.
Wissington is the biggest of the soil production sites, and here Andy also mixes the standard product with sands and compost to produce a limited range of special-purpose materials.
All in all, it was both instructive and enjoyable (if a bit dusty when on-site) - many thanks to Andy and Kim for having us!
Constructing a new sports pitch for a school during term time presents its own special problems - like access to the site. Obviously, eight-wheeler lorries and schoolchildren should never mix. That's when a grab lorry comes in handy - here we are delivering topsoil for a project in North Kent. Interestingly, part of the soil is being re-purposed from another project where the re-modelling of the site left us with vast amounts of great soil. Reduce, reuse, recycle!