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I have recently acquired some land that needs a lot of work doing to it. I am hoping to construct a framework before Christmas so I can jump right in next year.

Trouble is I have never done anything like this before,owned greenhouses or grown my own, so it will be a steep learning curve.

I hope to share it with you and ask for your expert advice too.

This is my land. It needs a bit of work.

I am going to start with the back breaking job of lifting the turf up. It is full of nettles and grass. 

My idea is to lift off the top surface then smother in manure. I fear that if I use a rotivator I will be propagating all the nettles roots as well as the grass.

Is my theory right? As my dad has said not to use manure. But if I don't I am bound to get lots of weeds.

Then I intend to mark it all out for beds and place the greenhouses east to west.

Obelixx

You can hire turf cutters but they do only lift turf and some roots so won't deal with nettle roots altho these aren't deep and are easy enough to pull or fork up when the soil is damp.  The good thing is that you can stack the turves in a quiet corner - alternating grass to grass and soil to soil - and they will rot down to make wonderful friable soil for you new beds or for potting on seedlings.

I suggest you start by measuring the space and noting the orientation so that you can play with plans on paper on cold wet nights.   Then cover as much as you can with cardboard to cut the light to any weeds and seeds and cover that with a good thick layer of well-rotted manure.   Leave it all to rot down over winter and be worked in by the worms while you get on with layouts and structures which should include compost heaps fro recycling waste and feeding your soil.

Come spring, it'll be ready for a light forking or hoeing and your first plants.

scroggin

Agree with Obelixx. Also don't worry about getting everything done in the first year. If you're new to veg growing, then choose a small selection of the veg you like to eat and prepare enough ground for that. A greenhouse and a couple of cold frames are invaluable for starting off tender veg like courgettes and sweetcorn indoors ready to plant when the frost risk has passed. Keep a diary of what and when you plant, it will help you to judge the best planting times for your climate in future years. 

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For me, the effort of digging out the turf far exceeds the effort of rotavating, raking and and any follow-up weeding.  A rotavator will turn deeper than your spade/fork getting air into the soil, and you can use it to turn in manure too.   I rotavated a weed-ridden allotment twice before planting it (with raking, it's very important to rake and collect up the weeds) and it was fine.  New weeds are being delivered by air-mail on a daily basis anyway, but you can stay on top of them with a (dutch) hoe.  You may also benefit by pulling out nettles and bindweed etc. before rotavating. With that all said, I own my rotavator (£120 well spent!) so if you are only hiring there may be better things for lifting grass, as Obelixx points out. 

You will never be weed-free, whatever approach you use, and all approaches have their merits.  But, don't expect that you can rotavate once and never see another weed (I swear some people have this expectation of rotavating). 

Has your Dad said not to rotavate or not to use manure?  I presume he said to mulch with manure rather than rotavate?  That will certainly improve the soil, so if it's one or the other the manure may be your best bet.  Mulching will slightly reduce the digging you have next spring but grass won't die off and fully decompose in 6 months with no air getting to it.

Good luck.  This is a fine plot with great potential, you'll really enjoy harvesting your own produce.

I have access to a rotivator but didn't think to use it because of the potential to make the weed situation worse.

So this is what I think I will do.

Rotivate the land. Take out any big clumps of roots or weeds. Cover with cardboard. Spread with manure. Measure and plan the area. lay down slabs for path and for the base for greenhouses. Plan beds with fruit and veg and do research. Buy bare root blueberries and Apple trees. Enjoy Christmas!

Does this sound like a good plan?

Last edited: 18 September 2017 16:13:09

scroggin

Blueberries need acid soil so you will need to test the PH first, they need 4.5 to 5.5. Don't worry if it's too high, they grow very well in pots of Ericaceous compost. Try and water with rainwater aswell.

Obelixx

Yes, a good plan and yes, check acidity for blueberries.  You can always grow them in raised beds or pots filled with ericaceous compost if needed but remember you'll need to collect rainwater for watering if your tap water is hard.

I have raised beds and water butts. I have access to braken to add to the compost.

I am excited 

If i was you Cotty I would forget the cardboard and manure, let the frost and the winters weather do a lot of the work for you, if you see weeds coming up over winter period and the weather permits give it another going over with the rotovator.

In your first year if i was you,  i would restrict myself to vegetables that you can get the hoe between, such as the bean family and cabbage family.

Remember the roots of the cabbage family are good breakers up of soil.

good luck in your venture

scroggin

I would also get yourself some reference books for reading on dark winter nights. Charity shops are a good source of books aimed at allotment gardening.

These slabs are going to go under the greenhouses as their base. I was tempted to level the ground and put the slabs down then the greenhouses on top. But I am concerned about it moving and the glass being under pressure.

What is the best method of laying down the slabs? Do I need a trip to my local builders yard for some sand and cement? If so what is the process?

scroggin

It's best to lay the slabs onto some sort of 'bedding' medium, I use a dry mix of sand and cement. It enables you to lay the slabs flat without any rocking. So long as they are flat you shouldn't have any stress on the glass panels.

Get the ground as level as you can. Put a thick layer of damp sand or dry sand/cement down (it'll draw moisture out of the ground and the air). Go over it with a whacker plate (you can hire powered ones) to get the surface as level as you can. Lay your slabs and brush dry sand or sand/cement into the joints. If you only use sand, rather than sand/cement maybe put a membrane of some kind - a sheet of polythene, an old tarp, a bit of old carpet - because if weeds try to come up under the sand they can cause it to 'heave' and the slabs will start to lift. If you use a sand/cement mix, once it's 'gone off' it should be stable enough on it's own. If you have access to a rotavator, another option is to rotavate dry cement straight into the soil then whacker it and leave it for a few days. It will form a weak concrete that you can lay your slabs onto (with a sand bedding over it for levelling).

Last edited: 19 September 2017 08:59:01

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Raising Girl 

Your tip on mixing the soil with the cement took me back many years, its how we used to lay the paving slabs in our towns and streets and they have stood the test of time, only we used to use a rake and not a rotovator .

We used to mix the cement with the soil, using a heavy rake, then put sharp sand on the top, then level with the back of the rake, why sharp sand i have no idea, but it worked as the many people that have walked on them can testify.   

So basically the sand and cement is dry?!

But it forms a solid base?

I like the idea of rotivating it in the soil.

My mum and dad have just retired and want to keep fit and active so it has gone from myself deciding what to do to three of us debating. Which I don't mind. It is good to have ideas to discuss.

I am meeting them later for a plan of action.

scroggin

A dry mixture of sand and cement will absorb moisture from the soil and atmosphere. It's advantage is that it gives you more time to lay the slabs and less effort. Perfect for low load application like greenhouses and sheds 

after you have got the slabs settled and level scatter a shovelful of dry cement over the slabs and sweep in very robustly until the cracks are filled in.

As willbara said its the way councils used to do it and their work still stands.

I went up to the allotment today with my parents and discussed a plan of action. We had a look at the soil and it looks really good as it has been fallow for years.

Now here is my issue. My dad is adamant that it doesn't need any manure, but my opinion is that if we are getting rid of the top growth then rotivating it, we will need to suppress any new plant growth from the roots left in. Am I right in thinking this?