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I am looking at 2 very different tools to help me in the garden. I am in Bicester and on very heavy clay. I have partitioned the garden to give me some space for a veg patch in addition to the lawn. Currently the area is lawn, I plan to either lift or glyphosate the area to get rid of the lawn . I then plan on adding a lot of organic multi purpose, top-soil and farmyward manure to the area. I have dug 2 beds to date from the compacted garden and although turning with a fork and digging in the aove cocktail does break down the large clay clumps I am still left with golf ball (maybe tennis ball) size lumps with a nice mix of compost/topsil etc in and amongst.

Has anyone any experience of either of the tools below and whether they will help break down the clay further, or am I better getting on hands and knees and brekaing it by hand.

The front bed looks horrible tpo be honest with the large lumps on the top, but hopefully the wallflowers will hide the worst of it in the summer. Once I lift them next year I plan to go to work on the lumps.

I want to start to prepare the veg patch later this year into next year - I should add I have quite a lot of stone in the garden, not builders rubble, but from the farmers field the house is now on. Stones range from small 1/2"-1" up to 5-6", am I going to have problems with either.



Hello Rich, One of the best tricks I ever learned for dealing with really heavy clay soil, the type you could put on a potter's wheel, doesn't involve any machinery. Now is the perfect time of year to try it, too. 

Build a bonfire, as for Guy Fawkes' night. Put chunks of the clay round the edge. Build up more chunks to make a sort of clay igloo. Light the fire and leave it all night. In the morning you will have baked the clay just as a kiln would do for a potter. You can then smash the chunks with a sledge hammer. Clay that has been cooked doesn't stick together again.

Clearly, you have put a lot of work into sorting out some of it by adding organic matter, so it would be madness to do the bonfire trick on that part. Worth a try on the front garden, maybe?


What would you consider large? I have a bed to finish of about 1m x 6m. I have a half finished bed that is probably 1.5m x 3.5m and then I have a yet to be determined veg patch. Although the area I have put aside for the veg patch (es) is a triangle - 12m wide at the base with 2 equal diagonals, distance from base to apex is around 5m. Was thinking a tool might help with the initial breaking up but would also come in handy year on year to get some nutrients etc well distributed.

Thanks for the link, I might have a look at that stuff for the smaller borders.

I'm afraid I know nothing about the merits or demerits of different tools. If you want to have fun on Guy Fawkes night, the clay lumps could be from brick size up to rugby ball size - or even bigger. It just depends on how it comes out of the ground and what you can carry!



Waterbutts - thanks for the suggestion, you crazy, crazy person. Sadly the front garden bed is under the front window against the house, as much as I love a fire for no reason I think it would likely lead to divorce or at the very  least it would before the wife would speak to me (not all bad news then.......). Might have to rely on mechanical means.

I have so much clay I'd be as well spreading out a layer of charcoal over the garden and torching the lot!


I have just bought a petrol tiller for this exact problem so I will let you know how it goes if you want my soil is similar to yours even the pick axe is struggling to make any progress but that’s not what a tiller is for. A tiller is for breaking the dug over soil up after you have dug it over. I also live in Warwickshire and have lots of veggie bed to dig over the winter

I’ve bought a recondition tiller however Blooms have a sale on, also a hire department now have a look as there hire machinery will be better quality than an most items you can buy,




No expert

Don't know much about heavy clay but if you dig up the beds and let the winter do it's work I'm sure it will be fine, there is no better tool for the job than the humble digging fork. Do a small bit at a time and don't kill yourself.

Clay is held together by water - turning the soil and leaving it open to the frost freezes the water and breaks the clay apart. I wouldn't glysophate the lawn, lift the turf and bury it a spade depth down. The addition of grit and plenty of organic matter will improve drainage and the structure of the soil. It will be hard work, but there are no quick solutions to heavy clay soils.


I wouldn't consider getting tools like that unless I had a standard allotment of approx 250 sq metres, and then I'd hope to be able to borrow/hire a rotavator.

Dave M is right, dig it over now (double dig if you can) and leave it for the winter, the frosts will break up the clods.  Then start incorporating as much organic matter, farm yard manure,spent mushroom compost  or home-made compost as you can.  That will soon bring your soil into good heart. 


Thanks for all the advice. I was going thinking of leaving the veg patch until springh, but by the sound of things I could do alot worse than letting the winter at it. Might mean I have a bit more work to do over the weekend.

I am not afraid of a bit of hard work and appreciate the time it will take to get the garden up to a decent level, I am expecting this to be a yearly job, just wanted to find a way to avoid the acjing back and blisters from the fork. I have keyboard hands, not digging hands!

I might get out there and get it turned over with a fork and then look to get a tiller on it to brteak it, might look into hiring something.....

Thanks again!


If you want to avoid the aching back, then the best solution is to improve your technique when digging. I fractured my spine some years ago and had to adapt my technique to lift and dig. I dont get an aching back anymore, but my legs which you should use ache like crazy! Use gloves to keep the blisters down and after a while the hard skin will form to prevent them. Its tough being a gardener!


Richard, the job will be much easier with a spade.  This shows the  traditional way to dig a new veg patch - the nutrients from the turf are added to the soil.    If you dig your patch like this before Christmas and then leave it, it'll be ready for you to get sowing and planting in the spring with just a bit of raking over.

No expert

If I had watched that video before starting gardening i wouldn't have. Looks too complicated and hard to me. All I ever do in new ground is spray, dig and leave it for the winter to break down. As Nepoleon found out you can't beat General Winter. Fork or spade? Dont have a spade. I always dig with a digging fork and make drills, ridges and beds with a worn shovel. Any area of the veg garden that is not being planted over winter is dug over after the harvest and ridged up like a large beds and will be seedbed perfect in spring time. If you don't want to spray weedkiller then cover the area of groune with black polethehe and the vegetation will die off. Happy gardening!


It's not at all complicated, quite methodical and simple, and you only ever do it once and then whether you're growing salad veg that only need a few inches of decent soil or carrots and parsnips that need deep friable soil you can use all your plot with no worry.  

And if this 60+ year old woman (who spends most of her days either in an office or a car) could dig a totally new veg patch like that last year, 3m x 10m, turning in the turf and digging out the roots of mature ashtrees along the way, then virtually any gardener can do it. 

I find a  spade is best for digging; a fork is best for forking over 


No expert

Dove i've used this method myself and it is very good, don't get me wrong. It's the video presentation that gives no alternatives that is the problem. At least he could have mowed the grass a bit tighter before he started digging. I have seen double digging explained better. For our pal BT who is just starting it might be simpler to have the grass dead before he starts. Then you can leave the turning of the sod out of the equation. At 51 and after 30 years in construction my back is not up to long hours of digging. Wish I had an office job.


Pick axe and frost. You have done the digging so add organic stuff when the frost has worked. The black polythene over the top speeds up the worm action in Spring, incorporating compost, and also warms the soil germinating the weed seeds.


Sounds like a lot of hard work to me. Why not make raised beds, you can make them any shape/hight/depth you want, order topsoil to fill them.


a veg patch dug is free where a raised bed cost you money in wood and extra soil.


don't get me wrong I like raised bed's,If they are done right look nice

the reason why the sods are put back in the soil is free green compost the worms will bring it back up and down



Billy Goat

Firstly I don't envy the job you have ahead of you!!

I created a veg patch in my garden 2 years ago and after removing the turf I came across heavy clay which would even when hit with a pick axe a tiny amount would be broken.  The plot I had created is 10m x 6m, I needed a more radical solution.  I did have a tiller which went on my old Ryobi expand it strimmer but it wouldn't look at it.

I bought a 6.5hp rotavator which after several runs over and over it eventually started to dig into it and it it got down to the depth of around 12".  I have been gathering leaves from my entire street and making my own compost with all my hedge and grass clippings and it is paying off now. 

I would recommend renting a rotavator for a weekend and spend a couple of hours working with it then take a break for an hour then go at it again.  It is still heavy going using a machine, but a lot better than double digging.

When you are done plant potatoes and they will loosen it up even more, but the more leaf mould/organic matter you can put in the better.