Get down to the dirty work for fine growing

Raised beds
Raised beds
Dahlias - one of the boldest plants you can grow .

GARDENING: Brian Kidd is planning for summer with dahlias

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Thank you so much for reading my gardening features every week and for all the Christmas cards and letters.

I would like to wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy new year and thank you for reading The News!

Now, I had an interesting letter from Chris who lives in Fareham. He is struggling with a heavy clay soil at his allotment.

He says: ‘Brian, I think it would be a good idea to open a brickworks on my allotment, the clay is over a foot deep on over half of the plot. What would you suggest I do?’

This is the best time of year to tackle clay soil. The best idea is to dig the ground to the full depth of a spade and leave the clods as large as possible burying the weeds as work proceeds.

Once the digging is done, scatter a layer of two to three inches of sharp sand over the clods. I know this is a tremendous amount of sharp sand but I will explain what happens.

During the winter the water in the clay freezes. The ice expands and when it thaws there are fine fissures left in the clods.

The tubes fill with water after rain and the water freezes again and this process continues all through the winter. Due to the pressure of the ice, the clods swell and break down and the sharp sand falls into the clay.

The wind blows, it freezes, it rains and all of these processes cause the sand to penetrate the ground. The sharp sand ensures a permanent improvement and is very worthwhile.

Another idea is to work over the top of the clay by installing raised beds. Don’t take any notice of the advice on TV programmes where they suggest using former railway sleepers. These TV presenters earn thousands and in any case the raised beds only need to be four inches deep.

The idea this time is to mark out the area for the bed which must not be wider than eight feet. If you have a look at Wickes treated timber, eight planks about eight feet long and four inches wide are about £12. They can’t be expensive because I buy them!

Keep the planks in place by using inch square pegs about 15 inches long knocked into the ground with a hammer to make a kind of frame. Dig the ground and leave it rough for the winter adding the sharp sand.

Use well-rotted compost or well-rotted manure and top up the raised bed with this during the spring.

You will now be working on top of the clay and will find that root crops such as carrots will start off well.