Allotment Heavy clay heavy mud

Spent the best part of 6 hours on my allotment today trying in vain to break up the soil a little as it is so wet I wanted to help it drain but also as the weeds are starting to come I wanted the frosts we are supposed to be getting to kill them so I spent all day trying to rotavate my modest sized plot unfortunately the mud and clay soil I have inherited was so heavy it stopped the tines turning on the Howard gem tank I was clinging onto for dear life but also at times the mud was so soft it was eating the gem which must weight in the region of half a tonne and sank to maybe 12 inch making it almost impossible to retrieve....... Any help especially with hand digging (lol) would be gratefully appreciated


  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 11,939

    Why don't you wait a bit? I don't start until March. It's impossible on clay soil when it's so wet. Try to get hold of a large quantity of manure and compost.

  • Zoomer44Zoomer44 Posts: 2,909

    Now, particularly before a frost, isn't the best time to dig over veg beds in prepararton for spring planting and unless you know what the weeds are, rotivating the area would break up the weed roots and spread them over a larger area.

    It sounds like you are able to do heavy work and are keen to prepare the allotment for spring planting. There are different ways of approaching this and I'm happy to be wrong. but you could strim off the weeds and cover the area with either old carpet or black plastic.  This will serve two purposes, it will restrict the growth of weeds and warm up the soil come spring.

    Depending where you live, late March would be a better time to start preparing your soil for spring planting.

    You've missed the autumn window when veg growers would add fertilizer to beds and it's a matter of preference, some growers wait till March to add fertilizer. Clay soil benefits from adding humus to the soil by way of manure. Manure needs to be well rotted though before it can be added to your veg beds, in autum it can be obtained free from local farmers and then needs to be stored for several months to break down, an alternative would be mushroom compost but this would need to be double dug in, to improve the soil and you would need to wait until March time.

    Not sure if I've answered your question but others maybe able to help further.

  • Thanks for the replies and any help like I said is gratefully received other plot holders on the allotment have been rotavating and so I was eager to get on with mine also but my allotment has never been worked and no manure ever added so I think you are right in saying it needs leaving a month or two longer and in this time I will try to get a few tonnes of manure and or topsoil/compost but I do understand that if I get manure it will only really be good for next year now
  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 11,939

    If the manure is already well-rotted (almost black, crumbly, doesn't smell), you can use it this year. Chuck it about and rotavate in. I'm lucky having horses, so I put the old muck heap on the veg garden in autumn and rotavate it in in spring. If you have heavy clay it's best not to dig too deep but to try to get a nice layer on top, the way you do with a raised bed.

  • I have the same conditions - nothing for it but to wait for things to dry out a whole lot more - the plastic suggested above will help with that.  I'm just doing pruning jobs while I'm waiting.  

    I've also found that making raised bedsabout 3ft by 10-12ft  (without wooden sides) by heaping up soil from the paths has helped with drainage for planting areas. It also means  I can access the beds from the paths without treading the soil, so I can start turning them a little earlier than I'd be able to otherwise.  I don't do the wooden edging because I don't want to harbour slugs and snails and it also means I can re-organise the plot as I see fit and this keeps things flexible.  the weeds do creep up the sides though, which is a pain!

  • we have heavy clay soil and we do not touch it til spring now as it as water logged as can be and will only stick to the spade and leave great chunks of soil .You will need to lime it once every 3 years and put a lot of compost  into make it break down and become a useful plot.I have had a clay sodden garden for 34 + years and it took some effort to produce but it yields well when the weather is right.image

  • sotongeoffsotongeoff Posts: 9,806

    Oh Robertimage

    I think if i was sinking in 12 inches of mud with a machine would have got out of there sharpishimage

    As other have said it would have paid to have waited and might have done more harm than good-but gardening/allotmenteering is all about learning and experience -so put it down to that

    Don't get disheartened-you are in for the long haulimage

  • you never stop learning so join the club!image

  • Cheers everyone for the advice ????
  • I have heavy clay soil on my plot too. I inherited my plot in march last year so I had to make do with the soil I had (we did manage to raise the beds and manure 2 of them). I have found the soil is crumbly which shows it has been taken care of but it had been a while since it had a good composting. I dug some well rotted manure in about a week ago and raised a bed from ground level to about 6 inches above the ground. It takes a lot of work but I find it holds water better in hot weather, just watch out in summer when lumps of clay substrate turn to concrete (they are a pain to break down!). Good luck with it all!!

  • AtillaAtilla Posts: 1,493
    wildgirl12 wrote (see)

     just watch out in summer when lumps of clay substrate turn to concrete

    I have lost 3 spades to my clay soil drying like concrete and it beiong so heavy when wet! I only use forks now to blend in compost and manure.

  • I love gardening but i hate this clay,mug,bog soil,i have two massive neopolitan dogs who want to go out,they are both walked twice a day but want to go out in between,there is mud everywhere and you can imagine the state of my dogs and bungalow,i just want to concrete the whole garden,the guy who came to give me a quote for a patio say he was concerned that it might sink?Help i am going out of mind with the mop in my hand.The front garden i will work on.

  • Bunny ...Bunny ... Posts: 3,455
    Beverley2 , I too have mud/clay and a bouncing 2yr old labrador ...churned lawn and paw patterned floors image
  • You've had lots of good advice here and I can only give my experience. I got my plot a few years ago. Heavy clay, not much previous work done and waist high in weeds. I cut all the weeds down to the soil and covered as much as I could with heavy blue tarpaulin / plastic sheeting from a swedish company well known for selling furniture.... Meter by meter I worked that plot and took out by hand as many of the weeds that I could. It will take time but as has been said, using a rotovater only breaks up the roots, that is supposing you could get it through the mud.

    It won't be easy but if you take it bit by bit then you'll get there eventually. There is'nt any point trying to work wet clay. I don't know where you live so don't know if you're likely to get much frost. I'd be inclined to cover what I can, it'll help dry out the clay and the lack of light should help the weeds die down.

    As has been said, you'll need to add compost or / and manure to the beds to help make it more suitable for growing but there's still time for you to prepare a few beds for planting this summer. Don't forget that potatoes are good for breaking up the soil too, I grow them most years.  Best of luck.

  • The book "TINE" How to Garden Without Digging, available at, explains that less is more when we consider cultivation. A green manure crop hoed off, narrow drainage channels cultivated under crops sown or planted in bands, produces healthy crops and saves and awful lot of work. 

  • Caz WCaz W Posts: 1,353

    Are you the same Andrew Astle who wrote the above mentioned book?

  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 11,939

    Yes, it's in his profile.

  • When I started creating my veg garden in 2003  I had the most disgusting clay and builders rubble and more. I dug out every single bed down to about 30-36" (or more depending on what I found down there) and backfilled with topsoil. manure , sand, grit whatever was appropriate. Hard work but it has been worth it as I now have good growing beds. Fortunately I had somewhere to put the removed material which might not be the case for you Robert.

    Good luck, Janet

  • Thank you i am a new gardner and i love it,i am back at college doing a gardening course and really enjoying it,all the advice is really helpful.

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