Cheryl’s Plot

Those of you who are paying attention will remember Cheryl from Episode One of intoGardens. For those of you who are newcomers, allow us to explain.

Pictures: Corin Ashleigh Brown

Cheryl Cagiola (seen here with her inseparable companion Rocket) is the proud owner of an allotment in South East London – and a new pair of fine Hunter wellies. She is, as you can see, very keen and enthusiastic but in need of a little guidance.

Never fear, we can help.

In the last episode Alys Fowler (she of the red hair, interesting dress and vegetable based wisdom beyond her years) came to visit and gave Cheryl some invaluable and labour saving ideas.

It is after all the winter and none of us want to spend too much time on an icy allotment so Alys’s advice was all about labour saving and easy options. This will leave more time for Cheryl to sit at home, makes plans and order seeds ready for the spring. However, there is still some work to be done so Cheryl has been out there getting everything ready.

The main message that Alys left was that Cheryl should not dig over her hungry and poor soil. Time was when any gardener taking over a new plot would have to start by double digging the whole thing. This process is also known as Bastard Trenching and required a methodical and backache inducing approach. First, dig a deep trench and set that soil aside. Then put a layer of compost of manure in the trench and dig another trench next door to the first. Turn all the soil from this second trench into the first trench. Repeat until you get to the other side of your plot or collapse from exhaustion.

The soil you set aside from the first trench is then barrowed round to fill in the final trench.

Phew. Even writing about it is hard work!

This is a good thing to do it you have a rubble and weed infested plot as it cleans the soil pretty thoroughly, however, few of us are that energetic and there is a much easier way. The No Dig Movement began in 1946 when F.C.King (head gardener at the magnificent Levens Hall in Cumbria) wrote a book called “Is Digging Necessary?” The answer to his rhetorical question was a resounding “No”. In fact his argument, and that of many others since, was that deep digging actually does more harm than good to the structure of the soil.

Alys is firmly in the no dig camp and her advice to Cheryl was as follows:

  • Cover your Borders with cardboard. Just normal cardboard boxes which have been wetted (either artificially or by the rain). This will have the added bonus of smothering some of the weeds.
  • Apply a good thick mulch of organic matter – Cheryl has a stables nearby and her allotment association buy in a good supply of horse muck for their members. You could just as easily use bagged or home made compost bearing in mind that you are going to need quite a lot.

And that is about all she has to do. Now it is just a matter of waiting for the worms to latch on to this new and exciting food source which they will draw down into the ground giving it much better structure and enriching every corner.

Just in time for all the vegetables that Cheryl will be sowing in the springtime. We will be back to see how she is getting along.