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Digging a vegetable Plot

JaynJayn Posts: 6

I moved to a new house and wanted a vegetable plot.  I did not read about digging it properly and now have a plot with turned over sods of grass, some reasonable soil and a lot of clay.  It looks a bit of a mess. I have turned the grass upside down and now read I have done it all wrong and have probably messed up all the soil structure.  What can I do now to rescue it?


  • BookertooBookertoo Posts: 1,306

    Land - and plants - are very fogiving, you did a good job as far as you knew.  All you neded to do is (sorry) dig again, and bury the grassy sods grass down, under the soil.  All will be well, and to be honest, evern if you didn't do this, in a year or two it would all be the same - but you can't work on it while you wait.  So, if you have the strength and want to do it, get digging, and you will still have time to plant vegetables.  This year is running late due to the horrd winter and early spring, so go for it - and trust the earth, it knows best and will forgive you nearly anything except a cncrete mixer!!  Enjoy. 

  • TopbirdTopbird Posts: 5,517

    Hi Jayn - know what? - we all get it wrong when we start - I've done much worse than you (but I'm not saying what!). As Verdun says - you've already done more good than harm by just working the soil.

    Agree with the advice about trenching - or you could make a turf stack in a disused corner if the garden is big enough (gather the grass sods and stack them soil to soil / grass to grass) - in a couple of years you'll have a nice pile of lovely loam.

    I would add a load of bulky organic material (spent mushroom compost or well rotted farmyard manure) if you can get hold of it. Dig it in (or rotovate? - you can hire a rotovator if the plot size warrants it) and, while you're at it, why not add some grit to improve drainage. You can then plant into the mix. Over the course of the next year I would dig the soil a couple more times to keep mixing the organic material in and breaking the clay down.

    Please don't be disheartened if your harvest is not great this year - it is asking a lot of young plants to battle their way through clods of clay and sticky manure etc. By next year the organic matter will have boken down into the natural soil and you will have a really lovely soil to plant into. Hard graft this year will reward you for years to come - honestly!

    Good luck & welcome to the world of veggie gardening - it really is worth it!!!


    Heaven is ... sitting in the garden with a G&T and a cat while watching the sun go down
  • Rather than use grit, I'd add some sharp sand, it all helps to break up the clay and aids drainage, it's also cheaper and you can get a massive bag from a builder's merchant.  Carrots in particular love free draining soil, so add plenty of sand (a 50/50 mix) to the area you want to grow carrots in.  Any compost you can add to the soil (even if it's cheap grow-bags) will improve the soil, and like others have suggested, well rotted manure, most stables will be very happy for you to take it away!  The best time to do it is autumn/winter, as the cold helps break down any big lumps, and it you keep raking it, you will have lovely soil next year.

    In the meantime, why not try putting things in planters?  Most stuff will happily grow in large pots, some things are better (in my opinion, strawberries do better in pots as they're easier to protect from slugs - they are every fruit and veg growers nemesis).  Have a look around places like Aldi, poundstretcher etc, they often have very big pots at reasonable prices.

  • BookertooBookertoo Posts: 1,306

    Even if you don't want to use pots, there are lots of plastic and netting type bags especially made to grow various veggies in, potato bags, carrot and beetroot bags - pound shops are a good source of these, so are Wilko's - you'll find you don't need to dig the veggie patch at all, just keep the bags and pots on it!!

  • fidgetbonesfidgetbones Posts: 14,204

    I took over next doors garden last year. The veg plot had not been used for 10 years. All the clay subsoil that had been dug out while landscaping for a conservatory had been dumped on top. I initially sprayed the lot with glyphosate to get rid of the perennial docks, bindweed, thistles and nettles.   My other half then rotavated it, because it was too heavy for me to dig. I dumped a trailer load of  Horse manure on a plot 4m by 15m.  (a good 6inch deep) I then planted potatoes.  Despite the blight last year we got a good crop.  This year the soil is lovely, I can fork it over and have just planted beans in it. Clay will give good crops if you can get enough humus into it. FYM, compost or cheap growbags all useful.

    My old veg plot at the side of it is hungry sand, despite lots of humus being dumped on it. However it warms up fast in spring, and I only ever use a fork to fluff it up, it doesn't need digging.

    You don't stop doing new things because you get old, you get old because you stop doing new things. <3
  • BookertooBookertoo Posts: 1,306

    I'll bet you can grow good carrots, beetroots and other such like root things in there - sounds as if you've got the best of both worlds, great stuff. 

  • fidgetbonesfidgetbones Posts: 14,204

    I've always had most success with stuff I start as plants in the greenhouse. Anything that went in from seed such as carrots, and beetroot, seem to succumb to slugs or the wood pigeons. Even the parsnips last year died, but then it was a dire year. My fault,  I put leaky hosepipe around everything to make it easy to water in dry spells.

    Courgette and cucumbers did well last year as well.

    We had a gorgeous crop of sweetcorn. I got it before the squirrels. One year they pinched 100 cobs in an afternoon, dragging them off into the old orchard and wood next door where they live.  they only did it one year though. This year theere is one squirrel who fancies flowers. He's eaten all my camellia flowers, and is now starting on the  magnolia.

    You don't stop doing new things because you get old, you get old because you stop doing new things. <3
  • JaynJayn Posts: 6

    I am feeling much better after reading all of your comments and don't feel such a complete clot!!  Thank you so much.  I think I will try and make a turf pile and then re-dig and add compost/well rotted manure and a little sharp sand over the plot.  Then I can see what happens!  I've managed to get a second hand greenhouse so going to dig a foundation for that.  I will also be doing a couple of planters - Can I use some of the turfs I dug out which are not too bad soil wise upside down to line the bottoms of planters (I got a reduced slot together wooden compost bin and made two good size planters in which I used compost and manure bags to line sides to protect wood from rotting) to cut down on the amount of compost and planting material in it?

  • If you have large planters, it's a good idea to put broken up bits of expanded polystyrene in the bottom of them, it means you don't need as much compost, plus you'll be able to lift them!  Not always possible if you have a mega sized planter and then have to move it when it's full!  The turves should be fine, just make sure you don't have any weeds in it, or bits of root from weeds - weeds are great at spreading themselves around, and can regenerate from a surprisingly small bit of root.

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