Digging can be hard work but need only be done once. If you have a virgin plot which has never been cultivated or has been neglected for a long timethen the following method for preparing it to grow crops is useful.
Any ground that you do not need to cultivate immediately should be covered in black polythene or bits of cardboard or old carpet to exclude light and thus kill the weeds. It is worth cutting down any tall weeds first using them to start your compost heap.
Ground that you want to use straight away should be turned over. Forget about double digging. The purists and gardening experts will say you must double dig virgin ground. I believe you can create more problems than solutions with this method. If you don’t have a lot of topsoil, putting the sub-soil uppermost reduces overall fertility and makes life hard for young plants and seedlings. By burying compost or manure underneath the fertile topsoil one enriches the top-soil at the expense of the sub-soil which needs organic material the most. Besides, how many of us have gardens with eighteen or more inches in depth of workable ground? Just dig the ground over with a spade being sure to turn the spits right over so that vegetative growth is well and truly buried. Remove the roots of nasty perennial weeds such as dandelion, couch grass, nettles and thistles and burn or compost as described or take to the tip. If you have very well rotted manure or compost available incorporate it into the soil and rake in fish blood and bone at the rate of two handfuls to the square yard and cover with black poly. You can grow cash crops such as lettuce, by planting young seedlings through the poly; also, onions, beans, brassicas, leeks, sweet-corn, courgettes and marrow, celery, celeriac, potatoes, herb seedlings and outdoor tomatoes.
Try not to dig too much in the winter. If the ground is wet its better left alone; besides, you should have done most of your digging as crops are removed. Some say rotavating is bad for the soil. I cannot in all honesty agree. I got more produce from my plot when I rotavated it than my neighbour’s, which was dug. A good time to rotavate is when incorporating manure and compost or to create a friable, well aerated bed. Heavy ground should be loosely turned over before rotavating. However, once you have soil in good heart it should not be necessary to rotavate unless you have a very large area under cultivation and wish to save time.