Beginning to Clear a Plot in Poor Condition


Don’t panic, even a half plot looks daunting to begin with but if you do a little each day ( 30 MIN STRETCHES / CAREFUL WITH YOUR BACK!) suddenly you have covered more ground than you realised in quite a short period of time. Remember no one is watching you ( except me! 🙂 )

OK here goes! There are tried and tested ways to fork or dig – just going at it without a system to start with usually ends up with a mess; the weeds will either not be removed efficiently or buried inadequately. This will come back to haunt you later !

  1. Place your line down the centre of your plot, making a small mark/furrow with your spade to show where middle is while digging. Dig out a 30cm trench at the end you are starting and move the soil to the same end on the side of the section you are digging first. You will then have a 30cm wide trench the depth/width of an upright spade on one half. (If it is only a small piece of land you can barrow the soil to the other end and use it to fill in the last trench there.) Keep digging, turning the spade over so top soil goes to bottom and  buries weeds!( and the soil turned over level) all the way down the first half. Then, go down the second until you come to the pile of soil you placed there at the beginning to fill in your last trench with great relief! Make 4th cup of tea!
  2. Use your garden line to keep trenches straight; one ‘spit’ (a spade deep and wide) otherwise it is really easy to create a wedge! With experience you can dispense with all this and do it by eye, be warned eyes do not do straight and level until experienced! First time your trench may look like a small mountain range but as you ‘get it’ the soil will lay level and where you want it weeds down the bottom of the trench clean soil on top!
  3. So to recap visualise a trench at the beginning that you will repeatedly maintain by digging out soil and turning over onto the  previous trench.
  4. ‘BASTARD’ TRENCHING! Yes it is! Your plot is a field! not just weedy. Two ways to do this; one is a ‘bastard’ and the second isn’t any better! either way the turfs must be removed. The first one is to dig a trench 60cms then fork over the bottom. Remove 5cm of the next trenches turf and place upside down on the forked soil and chop up. Then place next spit of clean earth on top having cleared thatpiece of grassland. Repeat until exhausted!?
  5. Personally I prefer the second way, remove turf in 30×30 x5cm sections- put in barrow and stack upside down in quiet corner of your plot these will rot down and give good top soil later. Once the land is clean, FORK it over as with same method as digging above; taking care to remove all roots as you go removing all grass and perennial weed roots . One will seldom succeed to get all the roots first year( if ever!) but with successive seasons the work will get easier and easier until a hoeing and forking over will do at the end of the year. Having said that a good digging/forking each years end stops compaction and allows the earth to breath and frosts to do their work on pests in the soil and maintain a recycling of the soil from top to bottom.
  6. DOUBLE DIGGING! ONLY REQUIRED ON VERY HEAVY COMPACTED SOIL! Summer Street should not require this you will be glad to know.
  7. NO DIGGING SYSTEM. VERY POPULAR! ONCE YOU HAVE REMOVED    PERENNIAL WEED AND GRASS ROOTS! This involves layers of ‘mulch’ vegetable matter/compost/ as a barrier to weed growth creating a rich surface of organic mater which you plant directly into.
  8. WEED SUPPRESSANT COVERS .If the soil is clean beneath; various commercial materials can be used to keep down weed re-growth. Carpets can yield chemicals and disintegrate leaving a sorry mess!
  9. WEED KILLERS (HERBICIDES) Of course one can spray translocated weed killers that penetrate the whole root system and leave all plant life dead. Then fork/dig the resulting clean soil. I personally do not use this method as it can leave long term residues that may end up in your vegetables. The organic method is more labour intensive but more environmentally friendly.
  11. FLAME THROWERS well not quite, but there are devices that burn off top growth but the perennials can still come back.
  12. BEGINNING IS HARD BUT SO SATISFYING ONCE YOU HAVE CONTROL OVER WHAT YOU WANT TO GROW IN YOUR GARDEN! This will mean a lot of hours on site to get established and on top of poor conditions. The weeds will come back. This is their environment naturally; you are the alien! Working on an allotment is regular work spread throughout the year, with hard times and easier ones but there is always the need to keep on top of it! In Norfolk the old ‘boys’ had a saying ‘keep the hoe a- going bor’.
  13. COMPOST arises from the breaking down of vegetable matter usually produced in compost bins/ heaps (more later) into a dark organic soil food (humus) that can be incorporated by forking into the surface soil.
  14. MANURE is the by product of animal waste ( more later)
  15. CHEMICAL FERTILISERS   Added to the soil to provide essential nutrients and minerals (more later!)

Next Guide : Cultivation

© 2012 Summer Street Allotment Association
Royal Horticultural Society
National Society of Allotments and Leisure Gardenersy