Dig for winter victory now to get perfect veg

Make sure the wind is front of you when doing the winter digging ' it will save you from backache.

Make sure the wind is front of you when doing the winter digging ' it will save you from backache.

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I was pleased to receive letters from several readers who have been allocated an allotment.

Each one asked for advice about how to make a start on what seems to be an area half the size of a football pitch.

One of them, Chris at Fareham, has been offered an allotment on solid brown clay.

If we plan ahead it helps because we need to get the digging done before Christmas and we need to manure or incorporate well rotted compost where the potatoes, beans, peas and the marrow family are to be planted.

Winter digging can be done quite quickly, but make sure the wind is in front of you and this will prevent backache.

A trench is taken out, a foot wide and a foot deep and the soil either set to one side or put into a wheelbarrow.

Manure is put into the trench and then digging starts. Try to twist the spade so the upper part of the clod is buried. This gets rid of annual weeds and buries the seeds. The clods are left as large as possible so the winter weather can turn the clods into a lovely tilth by next spring.

On heavy clay, dig in lots of straw or strawy manure and leave the clods as large as possible and spread an inch of sharp sand all over the surface. During the winter this will work its way into the clay and there will be a permanent improvement.

Do people do this? No. Why? They prefer to moan about the clay! If, however, you have tried this you will know it transforms clay.

The next area to be dug will be where the cabbages and Brussels sprouts are to be planted. Manure is not incorporated, just dig the ground. Once dug and left rough, scatter 4oz of garden lime over the surface. All the cabbages respond well to liming.

The root crops such as carrots, turnips, swede and radish mustn’t have manure or compost. The ground is dug rough and it’s important not to walk over this during the winter because in spring when there is a lovely tilth, fertiliser needs to be applied using blood, fish and bone meal at a rate of 4oz per square yard and raked into the surface 10 days before sowing the seeds. It is imperative to rake to a depth of three or four inches for these crops and a plank is very useful for walking on the ground, particularly if conditions are sticky.

A light forking with a prong leaving the worked surface for a couple of hours will reduce the moisture and makes raking much easier afterwards.

A very good book about vegetable growing is The Vegetable Garden Displayed published by the RHS. Go on line. An excellent Christmas present for the love of your life.

TIP OF THE WEEK

This is the best time to plant tulips because the colder weather encourages slugs to be less active. Don’t forget, tulips look great in tubs and pots.

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