Moving to the countryside: Part 13: getting to grips with the veg patch

The dos and don'ts of digging a vegetable patch

Published: December 5th, 2012 at 4:54 pm


A blank canvasses go, this one was sloping, green, covered in dock, nettles and dandelions. From the outlines in the grass, it was clear there were once terraces here, so we decided to follow the template. We could make five, roughly rectangular beds.

With no more planning than that – though with the fervour of a reborn evangelist – I dug the middle bed in about an hour back in June so that we had somewhere to throw in a quick crop.

I turned over the soil without any method or system.

“But shouldn’t we double-dig it?” My wife asked.

“Ah, that’s just for masochists who love digging – we don’t need to here,” I replied, fertilizing the soil with sweat. My wife smiled patiently… she had known me to be wrong before.

And no sooner had I sown some peas and runner beans than, like Desperate Dan’s beard, the weeds sprang up. After a few battles, I gave up. We did get some peas and a host of beans (until the sheep raided – see earlier blog), but the bed looked as if it had never seen a spade. (In the photo above, I've now redug it properly – and it's too cold for the weeds now.)

So for the others, I double dug. This involved digging a trench at one end of the bed and removing the spoil into a wheel barrow. Then you cut the turf off the next bit of the bed, the width of your trench. Bury the turf face down in the trench and cover it with spoil to create a second trench. You continue this all the way to the end of the bed where you find you have a final trench. This you fill up with the contents of the wheelbarrow.

I make it sound complicated – here’s a diagram. What the diagram doesn’t show is the claggy soil and my lack of fitness. After 20 minutes, I was wheezing like an asthmatic ant with heavy shopping, in the words of Blackadder.

Once my muscles warmed up and I got into a rhythm, it wasn’t so bad. And I found the slow, monotonous progress a welcome change from the fast-paced, mentally draining office life of deadlines, decisions, sales figure triumphs and disasters and ever refilling email inboxes.

I still have one bed to dig but we’ve now seen a bit of progress. In bed two, purple sprouting broccoli is looking good for a spring cropping, while we’ve had huge quantities of perpetual beet and a decent crop of beetroot. And there’s also a nice load of black kale (cavelo nero) – although slugs and caterpillars have wreaked havoc. In the greenhouse, the tomatoes never came to much beyond three jars of green tomato chutney.

On bed three, we’ve planted garlic and autumn sown broad beans. Bed four is the one that had to be re-dug (no one takes more pains than a lazy person) while newly dug bed five is going to lie fallow until spring. Bed one remains a wilderness…

And yes, double digging is worth it.



Fergus CollinsEditor, BBC Countryfile Magazine

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