Digging allotments – do you or don’t you?

We’re in the middle of a big dig. Plot #103 was neglected for years before we took it on, so the soil is heavily compacted. Packed down soil, that is largely clay over chalk, does not retain water, has little fertility and is inclined to crack in dry weather leaving channels which ants and other somewhat dubious creatures find useful.

As a result, we’re digging the plot, bit by bit, incorporating manure in some areas and compost in others. In five years we hope to only be digging small areas: maybe to lift the roots of old brassicas that have been cut off at ground level, and to released the hard-packed soil that allowed those plants to produce their crops. Of course we’ll end up digging where we plant root crops, as there’s a necessary amount of soil turning that goes on to get the crop out of the ground, but we don’t expect to be digging over where we’ve planted our peas or beans much in future, assuming we can get the perennial weeds out this year.

We also have to dig over the area that will become the asparagus bed, removing every bit of weed root that we can, without breaking things like these damned dandelions, lifting and breaking up the soil and adding some nicely aged manure as well as compost to create a fine soil that is rich in nutrients without being overly weighted in the direction of nitrogen.

It needs to be able to support the crowns for many years once they’ve been planted, as it won’t get dug again, so it’s important to ensure the drainage is good, the soil is of equal consistency right across the bed and any chunks of clay or chalk are removed so that they don’t form an impermeable area of ground which could lead to the crown planted above them being less productive.

I think no dig systems sound fine in theory, but rarely work in practice –while I do know some proponents of permaculture and no-dig who are making it work for them, they don’t grow the range of foods that I do – I want an allotment that is as productive as possible in fruit, vegetables and flowers, and that means working hard on soil quality, so I think we’ll always be digging around half the plot.

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Posted by The Allotment Blogger on Thursday, December 15, 2011

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