Last Updated on October 21, 2021 by Real Men Sow
With an achy back but a healthy dose of fulfillment and a renewed love of a long, hot bath, I present The Real Men Sow Guide to Digging. Unless you’re gifted with a beautiful tilth to sow seeds straight into, you’ll have to dig up a garden 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:
Best Ways to Dig Up a Garden
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.
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 much easier to handle, especially if you’re looking to loosen the soil to remove weeds or breaking up the rough stuff.
How Not to Dig Up a Garden: The No-Dig Method
You may decide after all this that digging up a garden 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.
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 the 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.
Digging up My Garden
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.