First Steps: Tackling the Plot and Clay


Okay, plot acquired!
The chairman suggested I leave the plot for two weeks to “let the weed killer do its work” and as it had already been one week since I was supposed to view the plot, this meant that from the following weekend, I could start investigating the soil and tidying the plot.

 “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

Benjamin Franklin

The first steps I took planning the plot:


1. Positioning:
Check the compass directions. Traditionally it is advised that for vegetable beds it is a good idea that you try to run (if you plant in rows) with the rows running North to South. This allows the maximum amount of shared sunlight on rows as the sun follows its East to West path.


2. Drainage:
My plot is on a slope, so I dug a number of holes around the plot at top and the bottom. I filled each hole with a few buckets of water to see how long it takes them to drain. This lets you figure out the drainage of the plot. If the water remains for more than a couple of hours, the soil is waterlogged with poor drainage. Waterlogged soil is generally not great. It causes conditions like root rot and will not be ideal for growing. To improve you will have to open the soil up and possibly dig in some rocks/stones or sand (be careful with sand as this could have the adverse effect). If the hole drains too quickly (like immediately), you have too much drainage and in summer, plants will dry out very quickly. To remedy, organic matter is your friend and possibly a surface mulching will help hold in moisture.


3. What is your Soil PH:
Next thing should be a simple PH and soil test. Depending on what you wish to grow, different plants do better in different PH levels. You can get a kit online for cheap – thank you Amazon! Ideally, for an all-round grower a neutral or slightly acidic soil suits most things (so around the 7PH mark is what you should be aiming for). You can add soil improvers or lime if you need raise your PH and rainwater is slightly acidic in nature. If you have a very alkaline soil, then some sulphates are a good way to raise it or regular doses of manure/watering with rain water is a good way to adjust over time.

4. Determining Soil type:
There was not a real need to see what kind of soil I had…it was obviously not sandy, it was very, very much clay. To test your soil, just dig up a bit and just squish some soil in your hand, if it falls apart it is sandy, if it rolls into a ball it is clay. If it easily forms a ball it is very clay like. Changing a heavy clay soil into something nicer to grow in or a sandy soil (into one which holds water better) is pretty much the same process. Add organic matter by the barrow! I would not advise mixing in sand to clay as this could simply result in turning your clay patch into something closer resembling cement! For the amount of sand needed to clear a clay area you need a lot more sand than clay and this is not generally economically viable. I will talk about changing your soil and soil care later in the blog in more detail.

5. Observing your Sun spots or Shady traps:
Next, just simply watch or take a time capture video. This will show you which areas which receive the most sunlight and which areas are shady. For me I figured about 100% of my plot received the morning sun and in summer at around noon, the southern side was in shade and only 30% of the plot had sun for the afternoon. So the North east side will be the best place to grow any sun-loving veg like cucumbers and tomatoes. The southern side will be better for plants, which appreciate a bit more shade or are sun sensitive like lettuce or garlic.

6. Plotting the area:
Lastly, measure your plot. I simply took a tape measure out and measured my plot areas. My plot was around 17m long and 7m wide, it was not quite square as it was wider at the top than it was at the bottom but at least this gave me the gist to be able to estimate the number of plants we would be able to grow in each ‘growing section’.

7. Designing your space:
Okay, so now I had a good idea about the directions, soil conditions, scale, drainage and light conditions. It was time to design the plot.On a simple piece of paper where 1cm = 1m I drew up a number of designs. Next was back to the research. It was time to find what I wanted to grow; looking at the soil types and number of plants to figure out what could go into each ‘growing plot’.

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