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Taking up turf by hand

Hi people, was wondering /hoping, somebody may have some useful tips for taking up some turf by hand, without a turf cutter. We moved into our house in september last year, i've made room for veg, but the grassed area is all over the place with lumps and bumps and is patchy, i've been given the use of a lovely old ladys garden as well to grow veg, but the area she has given me to use is lawn, which looks a nice quality, i'd like to take that up and re-lay it in my garden. I don't want to hire a turf cutter as we're on a budget, any tips would be greatly appreciated


  • nutcutletnutcutlet PeterboroughPosts: 26,374

    A wide flat shovel and a strong back and shoulders is what's needed. Hard work but worth it if you've found some good turf

  • Haha, was worried somebody may say that!, i'm suffering with sciatica at the mo, but am sharing the land i've been given with a friend, i'm sure he'll appreciate it tho lol

  • Nuts right. Only thing to be careful is if your lifting turf for veg is wireworm and leather jackets. They will eat and deatroy everything. I have the same problem. I have had to leave the ground dormant for a year while regularly digging it over. I lost everything i put in last year to the wee buggers.
  • Cool, thanks O.W, didn't know that but will look them up, this is only my 2nd year doing this so have to research everything, so i know what i'm looking for! Is it likely that they'll be there? Are they common? Thanks

  • Gold1locksGold1locks Posts: 498

    I use a heavy  mattock. I cut into the lawn with a spade, parallel lines around 12" wide, and then swing the mattock between my legs. It results in a small carpet of turf being lifted up with an even layer of about 2 inches of soil, without having to bend down as you would have to using a spade. 

  • Thanks Gold1locks, havn't a clue what a mattock is, i'm hopeless!! I will find out tho, thanks for the advice, will definitely look into it

  • Gold1locksGold1locks Posts: 498

    This is one. My best value tool by far. 

    I bought mine years ago on a market stall for around £12 - you can pay a lot more in a garden centre so look around. You need a heavy one, about the same weight as a pickaxe. You can get ones a lot lighter but they aren't any good for this sort of job. I use mine a lot. Great for digging holes to plant stuff if the soil is tough and it is difficult to get through with a spade or fork. It is great for digging out shrub / trees where the roots are hard to sever. Yesterday I dug a 20 ft trench in my garden preparing for a beech hedge. After I had removed the turf I found the soil underneath was heavy clay down to 12" and then lumps of limestone. I used the mattock to break away clumps at a time and then turned the head round when i needed to break up bits of rock.  Once I had lifted out the rocky bits I ran a Mantis Tiller rotavator through it to mix in garden compost. (My tiller is my second favourite garden possession. It is light, manoeuverable, and has saved me a lot of back breaking digging. It started first time yesterday, 8 months after I last used it.) 

  • They are pretty common. They are a pain in the arse. If you see them...put them in a tub and leave for the birds.
  • BrummieBenBrummieBen Posts: 460

    I have just removed maybe 8x 5m (24x15') of turf, all by hand, I also have the worst soil possible, clay with about 40% of every shovel full as pebbles/stone. Reason I did it by hand was I figured the turf cutter would probably be damaged and I'd get charged. I used a spade, a border spade at that! I can't actually sink a border fork into my soil more than a few inches! I wasn't planning on using the turves for anything other than loam, but, your soil 'should' be better than mine. All you need to do is use the spade to cut into the turf a few inches deep, and then cut across every spade size on the turf. Then get down and take up the top 3 inches, roll it up and lay where you want it. As I was actually planning on growing veg on the lawn site, I actually dug over the area with a fork and removed all the grass roots/ pests, and then raked then trod it down, then raked again to get the level. After a few weeks (due to the weather) I have re dug the few pockets of grass/docks growing through and removed them. Again raked and trod down. Using a rotivator might seem like a good idea, but if you have dandylions/docks/couch grass, you are just storing up a massive headache for the future. G luck.

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