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Autumn Digging

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

There are many good reasons for putting raised beds on an allotment plot but there are equally good reasons for keeping the plot as a single piece of cultivated ground which can be dug over once crops have been harvested. The no-dig system has many merits but this post is about the joy of digging. Digging on a crisp autumn afternoon with the sun casting golden light across the plot. Digging in the company of the ubiquitous robin impatient for his grubs. Digging with the knowledge that after this afternoon’s toil there is a down-season where allotment jobs are no more arduous than choosing next year’s seed varieties while sitting indoors listening to the wild weather ripping the skies and rattling the treetops. The sheer joy of digging.

Getting hold of the right spade is the key to making light work of digging. We’ve come a long way since animal bones were used to break the ground: stainless steel blades mean that there is less chance of soil adhesion; there are ergonomically designed handles which you may find give a comfortable grip. Websites offer vintage tools with spades selling for about £30. A spade is a blade with which you slice the soil. I use a vintage model with a wooden Y handle – it is my most treasured possession with a blade so sharp it can be used to cut chips. It goes through the ground like a hot knife through butter. Once you are in a rhythm, the soil can be turned over remarkably quickly. The Staffs and Worcester Canal borders my plot and I remind myself that the men who dug the cut with their shining clockwork shovels could shift twelve cubic yards of earth a day – that’s eighteen tons or the space taken by a single decker bus. Good technique and energy conservation is key: lift the soil only as high needed to flick the spadeful over burying small weeds as you go. Keep a barrow handy for larger weeds. Work backwards. Use a smaller size spade than you think you need. Keep off the soil in wet weather. Set yourself a time limit – say 30 minutes – it’s amazing how quickly the plot will turn into a level, brown carpet. And the robin will love you.


Vintage tools and ephermera:

Working life of a Victorian navvy

The TDHS Blogger

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