This article first appeared in The Landscaper magazine in November 2019
The nights are drawing in, the leaves are falling thick and fast and the temperature is certainly starting to drop - there’s no doubt about it, winter is just around the corner.
Hours, or sometimes entire days / weeks lost to weather, potentially some clients dropping off until Spring and …all contribute to make this season quite daunting and bleak for some, however with a bit of careful planning and preparation, things certainly don’t need to be all doom and gloom.
Some within the industry, will plan for winter by simply working longer hours Spring though to Autumn to be able to afford a period of shutdown, to consolidate and get prepare for the year ahead.
Others by contrast will do quite the opposite and take full advantage of the opportunities winter brings, other seasons cannot. It is of course, the perfect season for planting - particularly barefoot and rootball varieties, it’s also a great time for hard pruning many varieties of trees and shrubs.
For those within the industry who look to simply plough on and work through the months ahead, here are a few tips to keep you going until spring.
KEEP OFF THE GRASS
A common scenario for grounds staff across the country - the grass is is still growing, but constant downpours mean mowing the pitch could be detrimental. Dan Prest, Head of Technical and Learning at the institute of Groundsmanship (IOG) shares his advice.
As winter sports are now in full swing this is the time of year, post renovations, where any maintenance activities can make or break the rest of the season. This year in particular has seen some continued mild weather so soil temperatures will still enable grass growth, which will need to be kept under control so that a suitable height of cut for sport participation is maintained.
However, the seasonal wetter periods mean that access to the playing surfaces with machinery should be limited. Planning is key and an assessment of the surface should always be carried out. Ultimately, we are all trying to produce a suitable and safe playing surface for the level of sport that is being played.
Take a moment to think about the task you want to carry out, with what machine and the expected outcome. For example, can your weekly schedule be re-worked if the weather is bad? If you do go on the surface will it impact on future works over the coming weeks? Perhaps a little hand forking rather than mowing could make the difference.’
The author Alfred Wainwright once wrote “There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” Although in the depths of winter, when one day you can’t get a spade into the soil because the ground is frozen solid and the next day you struggle to get your boot out of it because a month’s rainfall has hit overnight , this might be difficult agree with - the right clothing can certainly make the winter months slightly more bearable.
It is generally agreed that the best way to dress for cold and wet conditions is to use the layering system. The benefit of using a layering system is that you can prepare for any weather eventuality.
The base layer
This is the first layer that sits directly against your skin. This will have two main functions - to drive moisture away from your skin and to regulate your body temperature. The base layer should be tight fitting and made from a suitable material such as Wool, Polyester or Polypropylene.
Cotton clothing should be avoided as a base layer, as it will soak up any moisture that may build up but it won’t dry out - therefore making you very cold.
The mid layer
The mid layer primarily acts as insulation. A mid layer will guide any body heat that your base layer didn’t retain back into your body and will also help stop cold air passing through. Micro-fleeces, soft shells, merino wool tops and thin insulated jackets are all popular examples. A good mid layer will also be breathable and wick any moisture way from the base layer out to be evaporated.
It is this layer that will provide most of the protection from the elements.This will usually be waterproof and breathable. Allowing sweat and water vapour to escape the body and keep you dry. The thickness of this outer layer will depend on the weather and the task in hand. However a shell jacket is usually sufficient, but If it is particularly cold then you may also wish to consider a second mid layer.
SERVICE TOOLS AND MACHINERY
For many, winter is a time when the summer machines, particularly lawn mowers, will be put away in the shed until Spring. Jim Upson from Upson Mowers recommends booking any machinery in for a service, sooner rather than later.
“Forward planning is always going to put you ahead of the game and machinery servicing is no exception, if you wait until spring time you’ll find every mower shop is fully booked for weeks
If you get them sorted before Christmas the machines will be waiting for you serviced and sharpened ready to go when you need them, if it comes dry early and the machines aren’t ready you’ll be pushing piles of grass around for weeks.”
KNOW WHEN TO STOP
We’ve all been there - up against a deadline to get a project or particular task finished -all could be going well, when suddenly the weather changes and wrecks havoc to all of your plans.
If weather becomes dangerous or simply unproductive. Left with a dilemma - to grin and bear it and plough on, or simply pack up and either call it a day or move on to another job which can be competed. This will of course depend on the work involved and most of the time will require leaning on your experience and a trust of instinct. Carrying on for the sake of carrying on can lead to a whole host of issues - can compromise the quality of the end product, damage tools, create more clearing up to do when the job is finished and in some cases, increase the picking up injuries and illnesses. Employers also have a duty of care concerning the health and safety of their employees, so risk assessments should be carried out prior to any work which could be affected by the weather.
Hopefully the ‘write- off days’ will be few and far between, but as the one predicable thing about British winters is their unpredictability, it won’t do any harm to diversity your skillset and services your company offers.
This could be anything from getting the training and equipment to provide gritting and snow clearance, to setting up an online shop selling relevant products and services. The more you are able to offer potential clients, the greater the scope for potential income.