shall I use a rotovator on my allotment

Should You Use Garden Rotavator on Your Allotment and Soil?

Last Updated on January 6, 2022 by Real Men Sow

So, you got the call and an allotment is all yours. You head down to be shown the plot and your heart sinks. It’s a complete mess, but unfortunately, there is nothing else on offer.

What next? How are you going to clear the overgrown nettles, brambles, weeds, and grass and get yourself some lovely, crumbly soil? What if you’d been given the plot above, which happened to an RMS read Rob (thanks for the email Rob)?

A fairly straightforward answer to this question is to rip out the big stuff and then rotovate. Rotavators can be hired for a day, and before a weekend is out there is every chance you’ll have soil to sow into.

Advantage and Disadvantage of Rotavators in Your Allotment

Troubles of Rotavators

The trouble is, a rotavator has a number of downsides. For a start, the machine won’t kill off all the weeds. The soil is clean for a while, but rotavators cut up roots and actually multiply perennial weeds such as couch grass and bindweed.

Rotovating can damage soil structure too, especially heavy soils such as clay. A water-resistant barrier is often formed, causing poor drainage and preventing roots from growing deep enough.

You might not be popular with neighbours if you rotovate on a windy day if the roots from weeds blow all over the place.

Rotovator Positives and Getting Growing Quickly

The traditional approach to removing weeds and getting a plot back on track is good old fashioned hard graft. The obvious advantages of this are a weed-free plot, masses of satisfaction, and a retained soil structure, but digging out all those weeds and bushes is very, very time-consuming. Some of my local plots are in an almost non-returnable state, and this approach could mean no growing at all for the first year of rent.

And this is where I have sympathies with a rotavator. I hate seeing newcomers giving up veg growing as their plots were covered in weeds for the first season and they just couldn’t see when they were actually going to be able to sow seeds. A rotavator, however much of a shortcut, means beginners can get going virtually from day one and begin their journey towards the amazing buzz of harvesting homegrown produce.

The Importance of the First Year Allotment

Of course, weeds come back but clearing a plot by hand can take more than two seasons, and any decision should rest on how quickly you want a productive plot. But that first year is so important for a new grower as it defines whether they’ll continue or not. Spending months toiling with no light at the end of the tunnel can kill enthusiasm, yet a good first summer’s harvest and a grower is hooked forever.

The romantic in me loves the idea of taking time to return a plot to production, free of weeds and with a lovely, fertile soil structure. However, I also take great pleasure from seeing people growing fruit and vegetables and if it means newbies get some decent, usable ground then I’d absolutely consider a rotavator.

Rotavator Alternatives

Blimey, that’s as close to an opinion piece as I reckon I’ve come on Real Men Sow. Of course, I am into balanced advice, so later this week I’ll publish some non-rotovating methods I’ve used or witnessed to clear overgrown plots.

5 thoughts on “Should You Use Garden Rotavator on Your Allotment and Soil?”

  1. DON’T DO IT! All you are doing is making more weeds.

    Cover the plot with some kind of weed suppressant membrane and dig it over a bit at a time. Leave the rest and grow in pots if needs be until you are able to dig it over – when you can manage it.

    At our allotments a guy two years running just rotivated his plot. It looked amasing when he did it. All planted up with perfect looking soil. A month later you couldn’t see the veg for the weeds.

  2. After a year with my new plot, I have given in and rotovated it. I had to – it was simply not diggable by hand, even with a mattock to start things off. The soil is heavy clay, compacted after years of neglect and full of couch grass. Now it is broken up I have carpeted it and will return to each patch in turn to dig out the roots and manure it ready for planting. So while I agree 99% with the “don’t do it” argument, there is some value to it if it can get you moving.

  3. I’d love to be able to dig over my garden properly, but sadly I have ms and can’t do it. However, I have roses and various other plants I’d like to keep, but they are planted haphazardly and they are all mature so I’ve no idea how far the roots have grown.

    If I use a rotovator – the only way I’ll be able to ‘dig’ this garden, I think I’ll certainly end up chopping roots significantly.

    The garden was very neglected when we bought this house and horribly overgrown. We did get a gardening firm in who did the bulk of the clearing, but we can’t afford any more professional help.

    Any ideas as to what I can do?

  4. By all means rotate! We are on our third allotment in 20 years and i could not face digging the new plot back to usefulness over two years again.
    Rotovate and then put carpet or a light fast membrane down on the areas you are not planting that month, Leave the membrane down over as many areas as you can that are not in use and lift then rotovate regularly, Punching through the bottom of the rotovated depth with a fork helps a lot.
    We also had quite a successful use of green manure in areas not under cultivation. it out grew the weeds and rotovated into the soil nicely.

  5. In the ideal world hand dig, I used to like the speed of the terex spade (about £125 if still available) however arthritis (oh my knees! ) has caught up. Now I just rotovate my heavy clay and focus on weed control. I love my Chillington hoes for weed control, To rotovate the soil needs some moisture content to break up nicely – but not too wet and sticky. If rotovating in the autumn rotovated clay soil tends to pan over the winter and which is off putting in the rotovating cycle . However rotovating again in the spring makes the soil very workable – so much easier to trench out for potato planting compared with a baked clay in Spring which can so suddenly change from saturation to rock hard. I like the rotovator but whatever you chose means a lot of work (rotovate, dig or no dig) . Probably best to get a sandy or nice loam plot with raised beds for the easy life and avoiding the rotovator and digging. Still need to control the area between the beds though. No easy answers.

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