How to improve your allotment soil –  Brian Kidd

Treat your soil right and your allotment could look like this.
Treat your soil right and your allotment could look like this.
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I was pleased to receive letters from several readers who have been allocated an allotment, each one asking for advice on how to make a start on what seems to be an area half as big as a football pitch.

Chris at Fareham has been offered an allotment on solid brown clay.

Most allotment holders find a place for compost bins because with the rise of wheelie bins there are lots of surplus dustbins around. You quickly find lots of material put into a dustbin will rot and if it will rot it’s ideal to dig it into the allotment.

The first job is to use a stainless steel half moon grass edging tool or a  sharp stainless steel spade to ensure there’s a foot-wide grass path all around the plot. I have had allotments for more than 60 years and will never buy any tool unless it’s stainless steel. Why? They are easy to use and easy to clean.

It helps to plan ahead because we need to get the digging done before Christmas and we need to manure or incorporate well-rotted compost where potatoes, beans, peas, onions, garlic and the marrow family will be planted.

Winter digging can be done quite quickly. Make sure the wind is in front of you because it will prevent back ache. 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 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. Leave the clods as large as possible so winter weather can turn the clods into a lovely tilth by next spring.

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

Do people do this? No. Why? They prefer to moan about clay! But if you’ve tried this you’ll know it transforms clay.

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

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 on it during winter because in spring, when there’s a lovely tilth, fertiliser must be applied – blood, fish and bone, four ounces per square yard and raked into the surface 10 days before sowing seeds.

It’s imperative to rake to a depth of about three inches for these crops. A plank is useful for walking on the ground particularly if conditions are sticky. A light forking, before leaving the worked surface for a couple of hours, will reduce moisture and makes raking easier afterwards.

A good book about vegetable growing is The Vegetable Garden Displayed, published by the Royal Horticultural Society. An excellent Christmas present for the love of your life.

THIS WEEK’S TOP TIP

Fork around parsley and thyme plants to perk them up and ensure you have proper stuffing for the turkey or chicken on Christmas Day.