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Lisa

Will I regret rotavating?

OK, so this new allotment malarky. I know I was full of good intentions about digging it over properly and pulling out the nettle roots, but time is marching on, I have only cleared about 1/5th of my space and I *really* need (want) to get lots of things planted so I don't get disheartened. I've got lots of lovely seeds and some little plantlets already. I'm considering letting a friend of a friend have a go with his rotavator. I know it will spread the nettles but I reckon I can pull 'em up as they sprout, and then if it still needs it I can dig it over properly next Autumn when I'm not in late pregnancy/early newborn hell as I was this year.
Does this sound foolhardy to anyone? And who can tell me how deep a rotavator cultivates: will I have to dig it again anyway or can I just rake and sow from that point?
Thanks
L
AnneandMike

I think if nettles are your only perennial week problem you may be OK. Worse culprits are the dreaded couch grass, dandelions and the like which will be guaranteed to grow from the smallest piece of root, so each plant becomes dozens if you chop them up with a rotovator. If you don't mind using weedkiller, treat the plot with glyphosate ( assuming the weeds are now growing) and rotovate in a couple of weeks. Glyphosate is systemic, which means the plants absorb it through the leaves and take it right down to the roots so it should kill most of it. If you don't want to use weedkiller, there are no easy shortcuts if you want crops this year. Covering with old carpet or black polythene kills most things but needs at least 12 months. Whatever you do, if the plot has been weedy for a while, the soil will have plenty of weed seeds in that will germinate for years. My Grandad used to say '1 years weed, 7 years weeding'. He was right. Hope this helps.

Mike
dougal

Hi Lisa, have you seen the l-o-n-g thread about clearing a fresh allotment?

Rotovator depth: depends on the rotovator and the soil. The more powerful ones can go deeper. The heavier the soil, (and the more full of tangled roots) the shallower any particular machine will be able to go.

Here's a guess. (Cheshire.) Clay!

It depends on what the soil is like (composition-wise) as to what it'll need done to it. A nice lightish loose soil, turned over by a rotovator, might well need nothing more than raking level.
However, a heavy, claggy clay is likely to need more attention.
It could probably profit from having some humus added (like spent mushroom compost) and maybe some added clag-busting grit and/or lime. Digging it over, spreading 'stuff', and then digging it over again might be one way - with the rotovator subbing for the digging.
Its quite usual to make two passes with a rotovator - the first simply to break the soil, and the second to try and go deeper.
But that's about the soil - not the weeds!


I *know* how little impression digging alone makes on bindweed. And from how deep it can sprout. I have every reason to expect perennial nettles to be as bad.


I really think it sounds like you should be looking for alternatives to just digging and hand extraction of perennial weed roots. .

Three obvious ones are
- use a systemic weedkiller (or get someone that isn't pregnant to apply it for you) - even Geoff Hamilton (favourite uncle of most organic gardeners) thought it reasonable to use when initially clearing the ground. And really they are pretty safe and non-persistant in the soil.
- cover the area with plastic/membrane to exclude light from the weeds for a year or two.
- or an elaboration of that, using a mulch under the cover, and planting things through holes cut in the cover. Some folk (inc Brigit @ ITEBG) really believe in that route - and I think it sounds possible for you.

IMHO rotovate AFTER you have dealt with perennial weeds - NOT before!
JB

If nettles really are your only problem then I'd go for it. Nettles tend to be shallow rooted with long runners just below the surface so if it's been dug over (or rotovated) then as the nettles grow they're easy to remove (just dig lightly, find the root, pull gently and you can pull them out metres at a time).

If you have any other weeds then at least getting if dug or rotovated now will prevent them from seeding. If you do have any perennials or deep rooted weeds then I'd suggest this might be a case for using a systemic weedkiller for the first year. Not something I'd normally recommend but given the whole preganancy thing getting in the way it might be the better option.
dougal

Addendum: Nettles - there are annuals (nuisance) and perennials (total pain). They are different!

Use of systemic (like glyphosphate). Cut everything off at ground level.
Let stuff sprout.
Then hit it with the glyphosphate. And again a fortnight later.
Clear away the dead stuff.
If you have brambles, you'll probable need more repeats of the weedkiller, *after* it shoots again...
Systemics only work when the weed plant is trying to grow strongly. It works best on fresh leafy shoots.
You can add things like a little wallpaper paste to make it stick to non-absorbant stuff like brambles.

Things from seeds are unavoidable, but not too bad - a hoe deals with them.
But perennials shooting from deeply buried root cuttings will keep sending up new shoots.
You have to kill or remove those roots!
dougal

dougal wrote:
Hi Lisa, have you seen the l-o-n-g thread about clearing a fresh allotment?

Here it is ! Very Happy
http://forum.downsizer.net/viewtopic.php?t=5963
65,000 reads... WOW! Shocked
Lisa

Thanks. I have read the LONG thread (several times): I suppose I was just hoping somebody might say nah sod all that nonsense, just rotavate it, plant loads of stuff and you'll get a lovely harvest (even if not maximum yield/quality) to give you a boost, then dig it properly next year...
Anyone?!
I' not pregnant any more, but I rarely get down there without the children - maybe the odd hour at a weekend - which is the main thing putting me off using weedkiller. It's one thing spraying nettles, quite another spraying your precious babies! I have had carpet down for 4 months and there doesn't seem to be too much green stuff happening under there.
I don't think I have many weeds apart from nettles and grass (proper grass not couch grass) - and I'm sure there will be a few dandelions. It hasn't been used for at least 7 years but fortunately not too many nasties seem to have invaded in that time. The area I have dug was not very weedy or rooty, just heavy heavy clay. Quite the clayiest clay I have ever seen: I could make plates from it. Another reason the digging has progressed so slowly - it's just been so wet and it is so heavy.
Thanks for your replies. I thin kI might give it a go but book him to go over at least twice. And try to get my hands on some mushroom stuff (where from, please?)
L
dougal

Still think your most sensible (immediate & long term) route is to chop it down, let it sprout and get someone else to Glyphosphate the new growth for you. And wait a week or two for it to work. Allow time for it to be taken right down to the roots - that's what you need to happen.

Then by all means rotovate it. (Though another cycle of systemic, before rotovating, would be much better for nettles IMHO.)

Spent mushroom compost may be in Garden Centres in 40 litre bags, but it can often be obtained cheaply in tonnage quantities (delivery the main cost) from commercial mushroom growers - check the Yellow Pages (maybe even Google).
Sometimes allotments have buying groups to share such bulk purchases. Ask around the folk that are there!

Lime and grit do also help the clag-busting. Again ask around the neighbours!
Incidentally (wood) ash is a good source of lime & biodegradable 'grit'!

Good luck!
Lisa

dougal wrote:
Sometimes allotments have buying groups to share such bulk purchases. Ask around the folk that are there!

Nothing like that here, unfortunately.

Quote:
Incidentally (wood) ash is a good source of lime & biodegradable 'grit'!
Now *that* is a great tip - I have a wood-burning stove.
L
JB

Lisa wrote:
dougal wrote:
Sometimes allotments have buying groups to share such bulk purchases. Ask around the folk that are there!

Nothing like that here, unfortunately.

So why not start one?
mark

Re: Will I regret rotavating?

Lisa wrote:
OK, so this new allotment malarky. I know I was full of good intentions about digging it over properly and pulling out the nettle roots, but time is marching on, I have only cleared about 1/5th of my space and I *really* need (want) to get lots of things planted so I don't get disheartened. I've got lots of lovely seeds and some little plantlets already. I'm considering letting a friend of a friend have a go with his rotavator. I know it will spread the nettles but I reckon I can pull 'em up as they sprout, and then if it still needs it I can dig it over properly next Autumn when I'm not in late pregnancy/early newborn hell as I was this year.
Does this sound foolhardy to anyone? And who can tell me how deep a rotavator cultivates: will I have to dig it again anyway or can I just rake and sow from that point?
Thanks
L

start sowing inthe 1/5 of the space you have and clear another fifth
(ignor crop rotation fot the first clearing year) sow in april that fith and you have got half you plot working
use anoth fifth roughly cleared for potatoes - by the tiem you lift them it wil be pretty clear.

rough clear another big area - and dig out some nice clear circles to plant squash and corgettes and the like that wil spread block out light for everything else

in the meantime you can be clearing the last section for your brassicas to get planted out when their time comes - and you've more or less got it sussed.

Its the way i broght my plot into action - a bit at time whien the rest of my life was VERY busy!

Mark
bernie-woman

As others have said, if nettles are your only major weed problem then I would rotovate but I would ask around other allotment holders to see if you have any couch grass or bindweed (which would be an absolute nightmare if rotovated) on the allotments. The main reason for this is that many of the weeds die back completely and won't be visible yet Confused

The other thing that rotovating does do is bring loads of annual weed seeds to the surface so get the hoe ready Very Happy
judith

Do I have different nettles to everyone else then? I've just spent the last n weekends clearing a large patch of the swines the hard way, and I wouldn't dream of rotavating it. Not all the roots run along the surface - some go down a couple of feet or more. It is so easy to leave bits behind and new nettles grow from quite small pieces of root. One of my real pet hates is putting my hand into a row of peas or beans to harvest only to encounter a clump of nettles that escaped the fork and has grown up mid-row. I imagine it would put off the kiddies too.

I would go with Dougal's method over rotavating if you don't have the time to dig properly.
Mrs Fiddlesticks

Re: Will I regret rotavating?

mark wrote:
Lisa wrote:
OK, so this new allotment malarky. I know I was full of good intentions about digging it over properly and pulling out the nettle roots, but time is marching on, I have only cleared about 1/5th of my space and I *really* need (want) to get lots of things planted so I don't get disheartened. I've got lots of lovely seeds and some little plantlets already. I'm considering letting a friend of a friend have a go with his rotavator. I know it will spread the nettles but I reckon I can pull 'em up as they sprout, and then if it still needs it I can dig it over properly next Autumn when I'm not in late pregnancy/early newborn hell as I was this year.
Does this sound foolhardy to anyone? And who can tell me how deep a rotavator cultivates: will I have to dig it again anyway or can I just rake and sow from that point?
Thanks
L

start sowing inthe 1/5 of the space you have and clear another fifth
(ignor crop rotation fot the first clearing year) sow in april that fith and you have got half you plot working
use anoth fifth roughly cleared for potatoes - by the tiem you lift them it wil be pretty clear.

rough clear another big area - and dig out some nice clear circles to plant squash and corgettes and the like that wil spread block out light for everything else

in the meantime you can be clearing the last section for your brassicas to get planted out when their time comes - and you've more or less got it sussed.

Its the way i broght my plot into action - a bit at time whien the rest of my life was VERY busy!

Mark


I'm sort of with you Mark on advice. Lisa if you're busy at the moment why not just plant up what you've got and gradually clear the rest.

We took three years to clear our overgrown plot and we'd planned it that way. We knew it was too much to clear in the first year and we'd not be able to keep on top of it if we did.

If you clear it you've then got to find time to plant it and tend it. See if what you've got is manageable and just work on that bit til the babes are bigger. There's nothing worse than clearing a patch then not being able to do anything with it and it getting overgrown so you have to do it all over again.
Lisa

Now you're all just being mean!
Sorry, what I mean to say is thanks for the advice. I'll re-plan my plot so I can get something in to the bit I've already cleared (it was earmarked for spuds but if they can get away with a less-cleared bit then that makes sense) and I do want to grow squashes as they are my favourite thing to eat.
So: beans and garlic in to the fifth I have cleared. Get the next area up, the bit that has been carpeted so far, rotavated for potatoes, and get to work clearing the rest. If it ever stops bl**dy raining.
Re starting a bulk buy group: very subversive! The rest of the plot-holders are Very Old Boys who have been growing there since time began. They have their ways of doing things, and have yet to be convinced that "a girl" will manage.
L
judith

Lisa wrote:
So: beans and garlic in to the fifth I have cleared. Get the next area up, the bit that has been carpeted so far, rotavated for potatoes, and get to work clearing the rest. If it ever stops bl**dy raining.


Sounds like a plan!
But do you even need to rotavate the section you have earmarked for spuds? I would just dig a trench and chuck the spuds in - you could then "earth them up" with straw or summat like that, giving you more time to tackle another bit of the plot.
Lisa

judith wrote:
But do you even need to rotavate the section you have earmarked for spuds? I would just dig a trench and chuck the spuds in - you could then "earth them up" with straw or summat like that, giving you more time to tackle another bit of the plot.

Really? Even better!
judith

I did it last year in a bit of field that wasn't nicely dug over. It wasn't the best crop of spuds that I've ever had, but that probably had as much to do with lack of watering during the early Summer as anything else.
mark

judith wrote:
Lisa wrote:
So: beans and garlic in to the fifth I have cleared. Get the next area up, the bit that has been carpeted so far, rotavated for potatoes, and get to work clearing the rest. If it ever stops bl**dy raining.


Sounds like a plan!
But do you even need to rotavate the section you have earmarked for spuds? I would just dig a trench and chuck the spuds in - you could then "earth them up" with straw or summat like that, giving you more time to tackle another bit of the plot.


i would folow same trench strategy with bean - just slicing off tops of surrounding weeds - they'll grow above surrounding weeds

then use your cleared bit for carrots parsnips garlic and onions
carrots like to be grown with the oninons, shallots garlic
LynneA

Nettles are one of the best indicators of fertile soil, so look on them as a blessing as much as a problem.

You may even be tempted to leave a patch to harvest or use as "security".

We treated ourselves to a Mantis rotovator late last summer, and it has proved a blessing. Instead of chopping the couch roots, it seems to draw them out and wrap them round the tines. Howard does a second dig after so we don't get a soil pan, but it has speeded things up substantially.
gil

I've heard that it is only the orange-yellow parts of the nettle root that re-grow. Though I try to get as much as I can of all the root. Anyone else think this works ?

I'd agree : couch and bindweed are by far the worst. Also ground elder. At least dandelions don't spread by the roots, and creeping buttercup spreads above ground.
dougal

Further to my comments on mulching and planting through a mulch you might find this interesting.
http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/organicgardening/plot_clearing.php
VSS

The worst weed to rotovate over is DEFINATELY the dock. Our garden had been a horse padock for 10 years and the dock population was quite heavy. We put some pigs in to do most of the digging but the dock seed bank is so full that the blighters poped up again, and rotovating just multiplied them.

Now i've virtually given up on hoping to clear them. We just rotovate the ground to clear it, and keep hoeing all summer. Eventually the dock will give up - if i dont go mad first!

www.viableselfsufficiency.co.uk
Bodger

With docks in fields, we just whip the tops off to make sure they don't seed.
When we are desperate we spot spray.
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