How to dig the garden, digging is the main working of the soil that is carried out in the vegetable garden. It is a work to be done cyclically, very important to keep the soil loose and draining.
The tool used is the spade, as the term itself suggests, although as we will see there is also the digging fork which often turns out to be better.
To cultivate, there is no obligation to dig: there are valid methods that involve not working the land, such as the synergistic vegetable garden. However, a good classic vegetable garden is based on land worked in the traditional way by digging. It is therefore worth trying to give useful advice on how to do this job well. Those who choose organic farming must be careful to dig without upsetting the balance that is created in nature, avoiding burying organic substances too deeply and overturning the clods.
Digging the garden is useful for having a well-structured and permeable soil. This benefits the roots of horticultural plants, which are free to develop in the subsoil, but also facilitates the rainwater, which drains out, impregnating the soil evenly, without the dangerous stagnations that often cause crop diseases.
The preparatory tillage of the soil is also an opportunity to clean up the seedbed, so it allows to eliminate weeds, and to level it, cultivating a uniform surface.
We must not confuse the digging with the hoeing: the spade reaches the bottom, while with the hoe in fact a secondary, more superficial processing is carried out. Hoeing the soil is used to shred the clods preparing the bed in which to sow or plant.
When to dig and how many times to do it
The main moment in which it is necessary to dig the garden is before planting the crops, therefore before sowing or transplanting. It involves moving the entire surface of the plot where you want to plant, which will be totally free. With the spade we cannot afford to “dodge” plants, seeds or roots, since we have to go to the bottom and work the whole area.
We can decide to dig just before sowing or transplanting, but also a few days or weeks before. In deciding when to dig, first of all, the time available to us controls. Those who garden in their free time often cannot wait: they remember to dig when it is already time to do the transplants. It is not serious, but it would be better to think about it a little earlier.
Planning the garden in advance would be the best thing; in this way we can dig a couple of weeks before planting, so the soil has time to begin to settle, but without compacting too much.
If we have the garden free for a long time we can do a double dig, one a couple of months before sowing, a second passage 10 days before. This is typical of spring sowing: spade in autumn and refresh the work in February or March. The soil of the vegetable garden that has been dug several times is better loose and draining, and is optimally structured. When the soil is well prepared, a large part of garden diseases are avoided, since water stagnation does not form, the formation of mold and root rot is discouraged.
The typical period in which to dig is autumn: in fact, in this season the garden is often largely empty and we can take the opportunity to work the soil and fertilize it. In this case, in spring we will do a second, faster dig, to proceed with sowing.
How to spade
There are many ways that digging can be done.
The first tip for digging a good organic garden is to get to a good depth, ideally about 30/40 cm, since some garden plants develop their roots a lot and also considering that the deeper we go, the better the water drains.
The digging consists in planting the tool deeply, and moving the blade by breaking the clods. Often we choose to lift the slice of soil, overturning it. It continues with a more or less wide working front, then going back in an orderly way, without forgetting pieces. Overturning the clod is useful for suffocating weeds but it is not always ideal.
By climbing with your foot on the blade, you can use your own weight to go deep. It then comes to leverage through the handle to tilt the blade of the spade into the ground. Doing all movements correctly and taking care not to overload the back is essential: the tool must be ergonomic and the appropriate work style: we always try to bend the legs and help us with the whole body to avoid finishing the dig with backache.
Why not turn the clod upside down
The traditional use of the spade involves turning the clod, bringing over what was underneath and vice versa. Most horticulturists do this, but in reality it would be better to proceed differently. In fact, any overturning would be best done only in the first 10 cm of the surface, in this way the soil remains optimally fertile. The best soil tillage for organic cultivation therefore moves and breaks the clod but never turns the soil except in its most superficial layer, which we can also do by hoeing afterwards.
The soil of the garden is full of very useful microorganisms, their activities allow the life of plants and enter into symbiosis with the root systems. When the clod is turned, organisms that live in depth and do not want oxygen often end up on the surface, while those living close to the air are suffocated. This can have a negative effect on soil fertility.
For this type of work without turning it is useful to use a grelinette or a digging fork.
Clean the ground
We said that the tillage is also important for the control of weeds, as it creates a clean surface, ready for sowing and transplanting. If you approach an uncultivated land starting from the lawn before digging, it is better to remove the surface rind with the hoe, removing roots and seeds of any weeds.
Always to improve cleaning it is worth removing stones as you work.
Fertilize by digging
Digging could be a great time to bury manure, be it manure, earthworm humus or compost. In doing so, the attention is always to not send the nutrients too deeply: in the first 10 cm there are microorganisms capable of processing them and therefore they should stop there.
For this reason, it is generally better to use the hoe and not the spade to incorporate the nutrients.
The correct sequence would be:
- Dig deep.
- Spread the fertilizer.
Choose the type of spade
The spades are not all the same, which type to use depends on the type of soil we are working on: pointed is perfect for compact soils, since it sinks better, while if a soil is soft and already worked it is inclined to a spade. flat tip, which has a wider action.
Often the best choice is the digging fork, and there is also an intelligent technological spade with a mechanism to bend the back less. We can learn more about this topic in the article dedicated to the types of spade.
The digging fork and the grelinette
The spade fork is perfect for less fatigue as the teeth sink in easier than a wide blade.
The further evolution is a French tool called grelinette, really very useful. I invite you to find out: it is a two-handled digging fork and allows you to work comfortably and quickly.
How to dig without too much effort
Among the various jobs in the garden, digging is one of the most tiring activities for the back. Let’s try to suggest some tricks to make less effort and avoid back pain.
Use your weight
When digging, the first thing to do is to make the tool penetrate deep into the ground, for a job well done, almost the entire blade must enter. It is important to use the right spade, and the choice may depend on the type of soil: if the earth is compact, clayey and heavy, the pointed one or the fork is better, the square spade on the other hand is good for an already worked vegetable garden or with soft soil. . For easy penetration into the ground, you help yourself by putting weight on your body, even better by climbing with your feet on top of the blade. This way our body’s gravity does most of the work.
The principle of leverage
After having sunk the spade you have to break the clod by opening it and then turning it over and it is the most tiring part. Archimedes rightly said “give me a lever and I will raise the world”: sometimes malice in work makes more than brute force. For this reason, the right movement can help you turn the sod without too much effort. Then leave a pivot foot on the head of the tool and pull the handle towards you. This movement should be accompanied with the legs and especially with the arms, avoiding to stress the back muscles. An ergonomic spade with the right curvature helps a lot, and with a height proportionate to the horticulturist who has to use it, and a suitable handle that facilitates the work of the arms. There is also the tecnovanga, already mentioned: with an ideal mechanism to exploit the best leverage.
The lightness of the tool
It seems trivial to say but with a light tool it is much less effort. Each time the spade sinks into the earth, it is then necessary to lift it and sink it again: reducing the weight of the tool also reduces the effort in working.
Do the machine work
Digging has flaws: it takes time and causes fatigue, sweat and back pain, so it is useful in many cases to automate the job. If the digging work of a small vegetable garden is done by hand, motorized machines are used for large extensions to do the spade work.
Many think of replacing the spade with milling with machinery such as a motor hoe or rotary cultivator, but it must be taken into account that the tiller does not perform exactly the same function: it works the soil more superficially and creates the working sole.
On the other hand, there is the spading machine, a less common motor tool that recreates the working of the spade and allows a better working result. There are models applicable to the walking tractor, also called motovanghe, also suitable for small plots.
Insights into soil and digging
On how to spade I have tried to give my advice so far, I conclude by leaving some useful resources for those who want to deepen or clarify some aspects better.
For those who are completely inexperienced, it may be useful to see a video explaining how to work also showing the work, on YouTube you can find many. I do not mention any because those I have seen all follow the idea of overturning the clod, which I do not agree with.
Turning to paper readings, each garden manual explains the digging, I recommend reading the part dedicated to the soil of Luca Conte’s manual on the organic garden, very useful for understanding many logics on the relationship between land and cultivation. If, on the other hand, you want an alternative point of view and understand the reasons for not digging, you can read The revolution of the straw, a splendid text by Masanobu Fukuoka.
We have also published many articles on soil processing in our website, some of which we have reported gradually within the text. I add that you could go and see the general page on soil and fertilizers, which is a useful index of the content, a text that I care a lot about is the one that explains why it is better not to turn the earth, a theme mentioned in this post and too often neglected.
You may be interested to read about the Carolina reaper grow guide/ Naga morich pepper grow guide/ Calabrian chilli grow guide/ Habanero pepper cultivation/ Jalapeño pepper blogpost/ Pasta With Peppers Cruschi Recipe/ Stuffed baguette with peppers recipe/ Italian roasted peppers recipe/ Hot pepper jam recipe/ Jelly with pepper recipe.