Learn the right way to dig and compost

A runner bean trench
A runner bean trench
Leptospermum scoparium also known as Snow White Tea Tree. An evergreen shrub with small white flowers.

GARDENING: Your questions answered and tasks for the week ahead

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I’ve had several letters about digging and making compost, so I thought it was a good time to offer some advice.

Allotment-holders are now getting on with winter digging. The compost bins need to be sorted out, but do a little bit every time you go to the allotment.

Plan ahead, as we need to incorporate compost or well-rotted manure where potatoes, peas, beans, marrows and onions are to be planted.

For years, I always dug my allotment in rows 30 feet long because this is the width of most allotments. But I was never really happy with the progress, as it seemed to take ages to get right across the plot.

So I decided to dig the plot in strips instead and use a garden line to guide me. My word, what a difference this made. Now an area 8ft wide and 15ft long only takes a couple of hours.

Take out a trench, 1ft wide to the depth of a garden spade on a strip of ground 8ft wide and put the soil into a large wheelbarrow, or on to a plastic ‘tarpaulin’.

Fork the base of the trench to a depth of about 4ins and then incorporate the compost. Take out the prunings and old cabbage stumps and set these aside for a bonfire, or preferably take them to the recycling centre.

You will, however, find quite a bit of compost which may not be well-rotted. But if this is put into the trenches as you dig over the ground, you will have got rid of it and the winter weather will ensure it rots down into the ground.

Leave the surface of the soil in huge clods, making sure the weeds are buried. But remove any suspicious roots of bindweed and couch grass. The winter weather will break up the clods of soil and the surface will be lovely and friable by springtime.

If the plot is covered in weeds and grass, use long canes 3ft apart across the plot, with another set of canes 3ft apart, and spray the weeds with Roundup. The canes will ensure all the weeds are wet from the spray.

Once the first strip is sprayed, move the first line of canes to indicate another strip of weeds and spray, moving the canes after each application.

The weeds will start to discolour in about two weeks, but after three weeks they all turn brown. This means the seeds, roots and underground stems will all be dead and can be dug in.

Other readers may have a similar problem of the compost not rotting down correctly. Well, get rid of the unsuitable compost by digging out a trench for runner beans and dig the compost into the trench.

We must get into the habit of composting properly.

A good tip is to dig over the soil where the compost bin is to be placed – this is essential because if the soil has been dug over, the bacteria will start to work as soon as the first waste is put in.