Monday 28 September 2020
Today was a really good day, and a great way to kick off the week. Between pandemic fatigue and not feeling very inspired, I needed a day like this to get me back into the swing of things.
I started off with a litter round first thing, while Laurence worked on stripping out one of the summer bedding displays. Then, we worked on raking off any leaves, stones or pieces of plants removed before. After that we began simple digging.
Unlike single digging – which involves digging a trench as deep as one spit length and backfilling the trench with the next row of soil – simple digging is not as time ( or back) intensive. It involved lifting and turning over the soil. This can be done by thrusting the fork into the soil and flicking it around using the shaft as a pivot. Otherwise, if the soil is more compacted, you can use your foot to push it in to a spit’s depth and lift the soil clear of the ground before dumping it in upside down.
Soil cultivation is important in gardens like the ones I work in, where sites see a lot of foot traffic and, as a result, suffer from compaction. Cultivating the soil also helps to aerate it and allows for gaseous exchange within the soil. When planting bedding – and in particular when planting winter bedding, which requires lower depths for bulbs – it is important to prepare the area by single or simple digging. Otherwise, if you are short of time, a rotavator can be used. Nonetheless, it is important to note that while rotavators quickly cultivate the soil, they cause compaction in the subsoil and should only really be used once per year, either for summer or winter bedding.
Once the soil had been dug over, we roughly raked it to get a decent level before treading. Treading is important in helping the aerated, ‘puffy’ soil sink down somewhat. Without treading, as soon as plants are watered in or it rains, the soil will sink down in an irregular way and could lead to water pooling in certain areas. You tread in by walking methodically across the soil, putting your weight in your heels. It should create almost a herringbone pattern when done correctly.
After that, we began to rake again. Initially, we were raking to collect up any detritus, such as leaves, rocks or dried clumps of soil. I learnt last week at college that you can use your rake to collect together any larger lumps of soil and bash at them with the rake and it breaks them down nicely. It also feels good to give something bit of a bash after digging and raking for two hours!
The final rake is the most important one, and what usually takes the longest. The aim is to create a level. Sometimes, it can be difficult to create a level if digging or rotavating has lifted the soil height too much. In this case, it is best to create a gentle gradient upwards towards the middle, as this will not be noticeable once planted and will help drainage towards the edges.
After lunch we worked on another bed, in exactly the same way. We stripped out and raked off any debris. However, due to time constraints, we used a rotavator to cultivate the soil. At the beginning of my apprenticeship – and on a chaotic day where everything went wrong and the shouting was WAY too much – I used a very old and very confusing rotavator that had about 10 levers too many and had bits falling off it as we used it. (If I have learnt anything in my nine months’ experience it’s that old machinery needs to get replaced).
Luckily for everyone involved, this machine was newer, lighter and very simple to use. Before our colleague started it up, he said, “Just to let you know, it’s quite fast,” and was immediately dragged about 5m into the bed. Important information: this man is the tallest person I’ve ever met and with legs twice as long as mine. Needless to say, I turned it right down to a modest Gear 1 before taking it for a spin.
To get the best out of a rotavator, it is worth bouncing weight down on the handles, as this helps the blades penetrate deeper in the soil. It is also advisable to switch off the blades when moving it back into position, or you’ll give Lili a heart attack as she sees the blades spinning over concrete – and your feet.
After that, we raked – following the same steps as above. Then we called it a day. I’m really glad the weather is changing and making hard work like today much more bearable. I didn’t even break a sweat while digging, raking, rotavating or lugging tools around in a wheelbarrow. I’ve got autumn to thank for that.