‘To prepare and use the soil for crops’

The plot is now as weed free and clean as you can hope for in the first year. As I said before, deep perennial weeds will re-establish themselves again and again year upon year, unless you constantly dig their roots up / remove their green surface leaves by hoeing/spraying with translocated herbicides killing both ( political moment: I am organic bias but want all approaches to feel ok here).

Why? Because all plants need leaves to photosynthesise sunlight and convert into energy for the production of new cell materials; and roots to obtain the minerals and water to compliment that process, the gardener is constantly striving to inhibit that chemistry in the plants s/he doesn’t desire (weeds) and encourage the space released for the production/cultivation of those plants that he/she does want to proliferate!

To this end we cultivate the land to maintain optimum conditions for our vegetables. With this now clearly in mind; the next step is to get the land ready for planting. (See What to do now ).

What you have in front of you is land usually dug over either in winter or early spring depending on weather conditions. Land should ideally not be worked on if it is frozen or saturated with rain.

Many people use rotovators to clear land at the beginning; this is a very serious mistake! Unkempt land cleared with a rotovator only breaks up seriously perennial weeds into hundreds of more seriously perennial weeds! It may look good and with little effort but the long term consequences are dire! Only use rotovators when the land is clean! Also, the rotovator tends to create a very fine tilth which may compact on the surface and not enable the workings of weather. Preferably use a rotovator prior to actual planting and then firm rake and level the soil for planting.

After digging/forking the soil will still be in large clods ready for breakdown from the beneficial workings of cold and frost, or after the winter ready to be broken down by you.

But, when it comes to planting time it has to be reduced to a much finer ‘tilth’ (cultivated soil). This is done first with your cultivator; followed by the rake. The object being to have the soil particles small enough to permit the easy access of delicate seed roots into the earth.

Practical : How to make a fine tilth

Moving from top of the plot to the bottom one cultivates in a forward and backward movement of the arms and shoulders endeavouring to keep the soil level as you move across the whole plot. Do this first with the cultivator and then with the rake.

The end result hopefully is a level surface with smaller soil particles overall. In reality, until experienced, cultivation and raking into the desired effect takes much practise! Don’t worry, plants will try and live in whatever we plant them in but only a uniform small tilth gives them the optimum start!

I am reticent to mention the next bit because it sounds crazy, but here goes! This lovely piece of land is probably too light and fluffy now so gently walk all over it systematically to firm it up then rake the surface once more to a depth of say an inch to have it in prime condition to receive your seed sowings!

Why? After all that!? If the seed goes into too deep/open soil, especially the smaller ones, they can sink into the ground too far and rot away! Ok the land is ready.


Before you can sow anything you need to get some seeds! See Seed Purchase

Your tin of seeds ( keeping them dry and therefore inhibiting rot or premature germination) are in  front of you, it is the time of the year to plant XYZ as per the planting calender. Experience will show that global warming has changed some of the old book methods so these are only guides which do have some flexibility! E.g. parsnips traditionally planted in February usually fail; planting in late April after the soil is warmer has very good results!

Gardening has always grown out of experiment and experience. Now the land is clean level and well fed where required (see Manures, composts and fertilisers. You will also need to know where to plant seed on your plot, see Crop Rotation / Planning your plot.

Seed packets along with seed catalogues are great mini- teachers of how to garden! All you need to know is usually on the packet or in your catalogue! For all the years I have been gardening I never cease to have to remind myself each year what to do!

Putting them in the ground requires a bit of know how. Not all seeds can be sown directly into the groud, check your seed packed instructions and see Propagation.

Practical : How to sow seeds into the ground

You will need your garden line and a draw hoe (a stick will do)

Put your line down the length of garden you wish your plants to grow in, keeping it taught; then, following the line as a guide and keeping the hoe at an angle to the line draw a furrow all the way down the length of the line. Keep the furrow quite shallow for small seeds (.e.g. carrots) and deeper for larger ones (e.g. French beans). Repeat for as many rows as you think you will need as your final crop.

Crops come in many forms requiring different ways of propagation, planting, feeding and watering. See Propagation and Crop Rotation / Planning your plot

I hear the word anal! Yes I grow in straight lines to maximise my cropping and ease of maintenance. I do like the land to be well
cultivated and as well maintained as possible.

But allotments are also individualistic. Grow in circles if you wish or feel inspired by nature devas to plant with the moon or grow anthroposophically the biodynamic way, use chemicals(if you must!). Whatever; but please keep the land cared for, clean, nourished, healthy and well maintained.

This involves weed control; hoeing, watering, controlling pests and diseases throughout the growing season which requires you to be on site most weeks and preparing for the next during the winter rest!


P.S. do not forget to make more tea and have a social evening on site too if you need to! After all this hard work a tea or cider wine or beer is much appreciated! Or a nice book in the shade looking upon your good work until the sun goes down!

Next Guide: Crop rotation / Planning your plot

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