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Which tool to break soil the best

I am looking at 2 very different tools to help me in the garden. I am in Bicester and on very heavy clay. I have partitioned the garden to give me some space for a veg patch in addition to the lawn. Currently the area is lawn, I plan to either lift or glyphosate the area to get rid of the lawn . I then plan on adding a lot of organic multi purpose, top-soil and farmyward manure to the area. I have dug 2 beds to date from the compacted garden and although turning with a fork and digging in the aove cocktail does break down the large clay clumps I am still left with golf ball (maybe tennis ball) size lumps with a nice mix of compost/topsil etc in and amongst.

Has anyone any experience of either of the tools below and whether they will help break down the clay further, or am I better getting on hands and knees and brekaing it by hand.

The front bed looks horrible tpo be honest with the large lumps on the top, but hopefully the wallflowers will hide the worst of it in the summer. Once I lift them next year I plan to go to work on the lumps.

I want to start to prepare the veg patch later this year into next year - I should add I have quite a lot of stone in the garden, not builders rubble, but from the farmers field the house is now on. Stones range from small 1/2"-1" up to 5-6", am I going to have problems with either.





  • Tina_i_amTina_i_am Posts: 173

    I think I'd only get something like the tools you have suggested if I had a large area to work.

    I know this time of year is a good time to dig the ground over and let the frost break up the clay, I'm sure adding some organic matter will help.

    What about clay breaker

    Sorry not much help.

  • waterbuttswaterbutts Posts: 1,214

    Hello Rich, One of the best tricks I ever learned for dealing with really heavy clay soil, the type you could put on a potter's wheel, doesn't involve any machinery. Now is the perfect time of year to try it, too. 

    Build a bonfire, as for Guy Fawkes' night. Put chunks of the clay round the edge. Build up more chunks to make a sort of clay igloo. Light the fire and leave it all night. In the morning you will have baked the clay just as a kiln would do for a potter. You can then smash the chunks with a sledge hammer. Clay that has been cooked doesn't stick together again.

    Clearly, you have put a lot of work into sorting out some of it by adding organic matter, so it would be madness to do the bonfire trick on that part. Worth a try on the front garden, maybe?

  • What would you consider large? I have a bed to finish of about 1m x 6m. I have a half finished bed that is probably 1.5m x 3.5m and then I have a yet to be determined veg patch. Although the area I have put aside for the veg patch (es) is a triangle - 12m wide at the base with 2 equal diagonals, distance from base to apex is around 5m. Was thinking a tool might help with the initial breaking up but would also come in handy year on year to get some nutrients etc well distributed.

    Thanks for the link, I might have a look at that stuff for the smaller borders.

  • waterbuttswaterbutts Posts: 1,214

    I'm afraid I know nothing about the merits or demerits of different tools. If you want to have fun on Guy Fawkes night, the clay lumps could be from brick size up to rugby ball size - or even bigger. It just depends on how it comes out of the ground and what you can carry!

  • Waterbutts - thanks for the suggestion, you crazy, crazy person. image Sadly the front garden bed is under the front window against the house, as much as I love a fire for no reason I think it would likely lead to divorce or at the very  least it would before the wife would speak to me (not all bad news then.......). Might have to rely on mechanical means.

    I have so much clay I'd be as well spreading out a layer of charcoal over the garden and torching the lot!

  • I have just bought a petrol tiller for this exact problem so I will let you know how it goes if you want my soil is similar to yours even the pick axe is struggling to make any progress but that’s not what a tiller is for. A tiller is for breaking the dug over soil up after you have dug it over. I also live in Warwickshire and have lots of veggie bed to dig over the winter

    I’ve bought a recondition tiller however Blooms have a sale on, also a hire department now have a look as there hire machinery will be better quality than an most items you can buy,




  • No expertNo expert Posts: 415

    Don't know much about heavy clay but if you dig up the beds and let the winter do it's work I'm sure it will be fine, there is no better tool for the job than the humble digging fork. Do a small bit at a time and don't kill yourself.

  • Dave MorganDave Morgan Posts: 3,123

    Clay is held together by water - turning the soil and leaving it open to the frost freezes the water and breaks the clay apart. I wouldn't glysophate the lawn, lift the turf and bury it a spade depth down. The addition of grit and plenty of organic matter will improve drainage and the structure of the soil. It will be hard work, but there are no quick solutions to heavy clay soils.

  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Posts: 86,989

    I wouldn't consider getting tools like that unless I had a standard allotment of approx 250 sq metres, and then I'd hope to be able to borrow/hire a rotavator.

    Dave M is right, dig it over now (double dig if you can) and leave it for the winter, the frosts will break up the clods.  Then start incorporating as much organic matter, farm yard manure,spent mushroom compost  or home-made compost as you can.  That will soon bring your soil into good heart. image

    Gardening in Central Norfolk on improved gritty moraine over chalk ... free-draining.

  • Thanks for all the advice. I was going thinking of leaving the veg patch until springh, but by the sound of things I could do alot worse than letting the winter at it. Might mean I have a bit more work to do over the weekend.

    I am not afraid of a bit of hard work and appreciate the time it will take to get the garden up to a decent level, I am expecting this to be a yearly job, just wanted to find a way to avoid the acjing back and blisters from the fork. I have keyboard hands, not digging hands! image

    I might get out there and get it turned over with a fork and then look to get a tiller on it to brteak it, might look into hiring something.....

    Thanks again!


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