Soggy, cloggy soil – Diary of a Rocket Gardener

So, I live in Cornwall and it has been a relatively mild winter, but a really wet one. I often go out in the morning to feed the chickens to find the poor things pecking around in a mud bath and the veg beds are in a horrible looking state. The soil is truly waterlogged, making it thick and sticky and nothing like the light, airy soil that we all aspire to. Digging up a parsnip leaves an enormous pothole in the bed as a thick layer of heavy soil sticks to the parsnip (making it particularly unenjoyable to wash and prepare). On top of this I’ve noticed 2 mysterious sounds of soil have appeared, but mole troubles are another issue.

In general, it doesn’t seem to be upsetting my growing veggies too much and I think this is because they got off to a good start in autumn. But I don’t think it bodes very well for spring planting. It’ll take a lot of nice sunny days to lighten the soil again and the new plug plants won’t enjoy going into heavy soil. So, this is something I’m going to be addressing over the next few weeks.

My plan, after some research, is very simple: I will pull up the last of my winter veggies from all but one bed, and fill the beds with a few inches of really good quality compost, then cover with weed membrane until I’m ready to plant in spring. I’m not going to dig it in, and I’m going to try and disturb the soil as little as possible.

There is a lot written that suggests that raised beds offer better drainage, and I think I’m missing a trick here. My own beds are sort of raised, but not very. The beds have been made using, ahem, a lot of empty wine bottles (collected over the course of several months/years, by me AND friends and family. Honest.). I haven’t really filled them though and I can probably squeeze in an extra 5 to 10 inches of compost in these beds.

One thing I learnt in my research is that you don’t really want to use topsoil to fill raised beds.  I think this is interesting, as the name suggests it would be the perfect thing to go on top of existing soil. I would guess a lot of people go out and buy topsoil thinking it’s the perfect man for the job. But basically, topsoil is not very rich in nutrients and it tends to be a little on the clay side, which worsens drainage.

The other thing I researched was the no-dig method. I have definitely found this winter that digging over my beds is a futile mission as I inevitably step on what I’ve just dug, and with the soil being so wet it just sticks together under my feet, squashing any air out and trapping all the moisture in. So for me, I don’t feel that digging over the beds will do much good at all. That’s why I’ll just be pulling up my winter veg (and any big weeds) and popping a layer of compost over the top.

Fingers crossed things improve. I’ll top all the beds up with compost again in autumn, and hopefully next winter will be a lot better.