Real Men Sow

The Real Men Sow Guide to Digging, Part 1

I’m making steady progress on the kitchen garden patch. I’ve now gone past the greenhouse and down towards the lawn, and within a few feet of The Border, over which my vegetables must not cross.

My allotment is fairly easy to dig, as you’d imagine from a plot of land that’s been lovingly turned over annually for many years, so I haven’t dug this hard for a while.

With an achey back but a healthy dose of fulfilment and a renewed love of a long, hot bath, I present The Real Men Sow Guide to Digging.

Unless you’re gifted with a beautifully tilth to sow seeds straight into, you’ll have to dig over in order to achieve a soil state suitable for sowing seeds and growing vegetables. Sadly, its nearly always a slog, but there are various different ways of doing this:

Single Digging
Single Digging is the method I generally go for. It basically means digging to the depth of a spade, and is the method most people that I know use. The single dig method has proved sufficient to turn the soil and loosen weeds enough to whip them out without much hassle.

The easiest way to single dig is to force the spade in with your foot, push the handle down and lift the soil, before tipping it back to whence it came. The soil will then be nicely loosened, especially if you tip it back in upside down.

If your soil is full of weed or grass, you can get hold of it and shake, returning most of the soil and goodness back to the ground and leaving you with just the weeds. I managed to turn this turf:

Into this pile of grass and weed:

Digging a Trench
You can also take single digging a step further, and dig a trench. This is done in the same way that Ailsa demonstrated back in December 2010, except you put the dug out soil from the trench in a pile or a wheelbarrow. Dig another trench next to the first one, and toss the soil from the second trench into the first. Repeat this until you get to the last trench, and fill this with the wheelbarrowed or piled soil.

If you’ve got turf to remove, these can be stored upside down and stacked up on top of each other. The grass will die off leaving a nice mound of soil to be put back on your patch.

Double Digging
If the ground has never previously been cultivated, needs drainage improvement, or you’re particularly energetic and love some Krypton Factor style logic, then double digging could be for you. Apart from not having the brain capacity to explain this method logically, I’ve never used it either, so instead I give you a link from the ever informative RHS website.

Of course, you don’t have to use a spade all of the time. A fork can be a much easier to handle, especially if you’re looking to loosen the soil to remove weeds or breaking up the rough stuff.

No Dig
You may decide after all this that digging is in fact too much like hard work. Which is fine, as you could just forget about it and, well, not dig. This involves covering your soil with lots and lots of organic matter (minimum of 2 inches), and then letting the worms and insects work it in for you. It also relies on your soil being passable already. Unfortunately, this process takes a prolonged period of time, and is best done in Autumn to give you a good chance of having something decent to show for the worm’s efforts by sowing time.

The idea of no dig becoming the future for me is appealing, but I’m some distance from that presently. Sorry back.

Lasagne Gardening
If you’re faced with a weed infested patch, lasagne gardening could be an option. This involves cutting down the large weeds, and then spreading layers of wet cardboard and organic matter in turn. Alys Fowler wrote a great column about this method for the Guardian, which is well worth checking out.

However, for me, I don’t think you’ll ever beat a good old fashioned, time-honoured dig. There’s something incredibly gratifying about a neatly dug over bed. I can stare at one of mine for ages, admiring the tidiness and soaking in my satisfaction.

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I’m a straight down the line, single dig, loads of manure kinda guy. This method has served me well thus far, and I’m hoping it’ll extend into my kitchen garden.

I don’t think my back could take another double dig anyway – unless I invest in one of these…

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  1. Alan @ it's not work, it's gardening!August 25, 2012 at 2:36 amReply

    I think no-dig is the way of the future. Something about the benefit of not disturbing existing soil organisms, fungal colonies, etc. Of course you need a decent soil first before you can think about no-dig, and I’m not really close to that stage yet.

  2. VPAugust 25, 2012 at 8:33 amReply

    I’m converting quite a bit of the allotment to no-dig this autumn. Another top tip from Alys if you don’t have cardboard (or enough of it) is to use a thick layer of newspaper instead. I’ve found it works a treat.

  3. HelenAugust 26, 2012 at 7:01 pmReply

    my allotment cured me of my enjoyment of digging! It was quite turanical! I wonder about the no-dig and lasagne approaches presumably these only work for crops which don’t need a long root run. I noticed at the plot that a lot of holders put in raised bed and filled them with council green waste but a year later their raised beds are as full of weeds as my non-raised hand dug/weeded beds. I think you need to have a very strong membrane under beds if you are going for the no-dig approach as even covering the ground, which I had dug and weeded with a good 6″ of compost the weeds came through with avengence.

    Happy digging – dont forget the radox

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About Real Men Sow

meIn 2007, I took on a redundant allotment plot with my gardening-mad mum Jan. As all good mums do, she went along with it, but I don’t think she held out much hope. However, over a decade later, and she now lets me do stuff without watching over my shoulder, so I must be doing something right. [ read more ]

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