Digging your garden

Hand digging is the main method of cultivating the soil and although many gardeners dislike it, is is a necessary evil. It breaks up compacted soil and introduces air, allowing the water to drain away and roots to penetrate more easily. You can also add organic matter to the lower layers increasing the depth of the topsoil.Whilst cultivators are useful, they are no replacement for hand digging.

Different soils require different times for digging. If you have heavy soil then you should dig in the autumn before the winter rains make it too wet and sticky to dig. If necessary, cover your soil with polythene for a week or so before you dig to prevent it becoming too wet. Leaving the soil roughly dug over winter allows the frosts and rain to kill pests and weeds as well as leaving them open to the birds. In the spring the weather will have broken the surface down to a fine tilth and all you will need to do is rake it.

If you have light, sandy or chalky soil, then you should dig in the spring. The problem with light soils is that they drain very easily, leaching out nutrients. Also, the soil can be eroded by the winds. To avoid this happening, keep the ground covered during the winter by sowing a green crop manure in autumn and digging it in just before your spring sowing.

Whenever you dig, pick out any perrenial weed roots and put them to one side to burn them. Annual weeds can be dug back in but make sure they are at the bottom of your trench so that they add to the organic matter you are digging in and so that they will not regrow.

If not done correctly, digging can cause severe back strain. However, provided you use your common sense, it can also be a healthy, invigorating and enjoyable excercise. It is very rewarding to look at a patch of your garden which you have just dug and see it looking pristine and ready for sowing.

There are a few common sense rules which you should follow when digging. The first is the time for your digging. Never dig if your soil is wet enough to stick to your boots. It will spoil the structure of the soil.

Always use a fork and spade which are the right size for you. Using tools which are too large may seem like a good idea – you can move more soil at one time – but they will tire you quickly and you will consequently work slower. Never take spadefuls which are too heavy to comfortably lift. By taking smaller amounts you will not strain yourself and you will be able to work for longer.

Always take your time. Do not try to do too much to start with. By adopting a rhythmic and methodical approach to digging, being aware not to cause strain all the time you will find it much easier. As soon as you start to feel you have had enough or you start to find it difficult to stand up – stop! This is the stage when you start to hurt yourself. Take the time to do your digging in stages. It is better to take two or three days to dig over your patch than attempt to do it in one day and end up with three weeks of back-ache.

Last but not least, keep your tools in good, clean condition. Keep a scraper on hand when digging and use it regularly to clean your tools. When you finish, clean your tools thoroughly and rub them over with an oily cloth to prevent rust. Then stand back and admire your work.

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