Monday, 28 April 2008

The Other Half of Yesterday – the Rest

This is the soil in my saffron bed, apart from needing weeding you can see how it crusts and cracks as soon as it starts to dry out – the shadow is the nearest you’ll get to a picture of me too.

I decided to take a leaf out of Stonehead’s book and use the hoes that are common here rather than a spade or fork. Using the spade or fork is really difficult in my soil, which is a clay loam. I also figured that the locals must use the hoes for a reason and that reason is usually because they work in the conditions here.

Just before I got started on a trench for the potatoes I spotted this; it’s a field cricket and they are really common in the garden here.

I know the picture doesn’t really show it well but this is what happened when I tried to dig the trench. The soil is still wet just a couple of inches below the surface and I could only go down to the wet layer. Using the spade or fork would have not been any better, in fact they would have been a lot harder work and I would have given up before I’d have gone very far. The soil here is very fertile so I’m going to work on improving it from the top down. I hacked out a couple of rows and have added some rotted alpaca droppings. I’m assured by my friend SG that this is wonderful for the plants. She filled some raised beds she made with it and just and inch or so of top soil and had wonderful results, as did her neighbours who used it neat.

The sun was still shining and hot even though it was getting on for 6 pm and I needed a break. Following the old adage that ‘a change is as good as a rest’ I decided to try out this gadget I picked up at Lidl’s last week.

It’s a mauvaise herb (weed) extractor; the thing to determine was is it a gimmick or would it actually work. I have to say it’s the best-spent fiver on a gimmick that I’ve done. I don’t think it will be as good once the soil has set to concrete but by then I hope to have got most of the thistles out. I finally gave up on outside at 8:30, the chickens were thinking of going to bed and I knew if I did much more I wouldn’t have the strength or time to get everything put away; I could see the thunder clouds beginning to roll in from the west.

Patches though knew exactly how to spend a hot Sunday afternoon in France!


Anonymous said...

If you have very fertile soil, then you really only need to cultivate the top two to three inches anyway. If you gradually add lime as part of a rotation, it will help flocculation and gradually break up the clay. Manure and compost will increase the amount of organic matter of time, and also help break down the clay. It is a long-term thing, though.

If you're having to hack out a lot of thistles, bramble roots and nettle beds and want them out roots and all, look for a right-angled fork. This is like a hoe but with a heavy fork head. It both breaks up hard surfaces and pulls out the weeds with their roots.

Another tool that's very useful in dense soils is the broad fork. This is a very wide fork (3-9 widely spaced tines) with twin handles, one at each end of the fork head. You stick the tines in the ground, jump on the head's footplate to drive the tines in, then use the handles as levers to lift and break the soil. You then spread muck or mulches over the broken soil, without inverting it.

Broad forks were used in Holland and France, but I can't remember the French name. A picture of one in use can be seen at

I hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Something I just thought of—make sure you get the right right-angled fork. You want the one intended for digging and not the one intended for clearing out muck (aka a crome).

You can see the difference at