Mud to Clay.

The pigs have done their work and the proto-veg patch has been completed turned over. All the weeds and couch grass have been eaten, even the roots – this is very good news, we have been saved days of back-breaking labour trying to double dig the site over.


As you probably know if you like in the UK we have had a wet and mild Winter.  Up here in the peak district on the higher ground we haven’t seen the terrible floods inflicted on the West Country for which I am grateful.  But watching the pigs turn over the veg patch in the last couple of months has revealed something else I suspected… our soil is a heavy clay.

I have been reading about what this means for us and how to deal with it.

So it seem that clay soil is dense, heavy and really really good at holding water (did I mention the really wet Winter).  This makes it difficult to dig, gets easily waterlogged and means crops like carrots and parsnips perform poorly.  On the other hand it is also nutrient dense.   One book on smallholding suggested that clay was so good at holding water that if you had clay soil you could make a pond without a pond liner and I’m tempted to try it.

So it seems that getting the pigs involved at such an early stage was absolutely the right decision, double digging it over would have been even worse than we realised at the time.  But there are pools of standing water now which are worrying me and I’m seriously considering getting a bucket and bailing them out!

In terms of our immediate plans we are going to have to dig in far more manure than we first anticipated, to try and improve the drainage.  We are also looking at digging some drainage ditch to see if that helps. I’ll be starting a lot more thing off in pots at this stage in the hopes that by the time I need to plant them out the soil will have dried out (at this stage the peas and beans would just rot in the ground it is so wet) and I’ll put off planting the potatoes for a week to see if that helps dry things out.

Longer term we are going to start making as much leaf mould as we can, and digging in and mulching in a serious way. Estimates say 2 inches of compost/manure/leaf mould over the whole plot every year to improve the soil’s structure. That is a LOT of compost over a 30×30 foot plot (and we may even go up to 45×45 foot as we have plenty of space.

If we want to keep having pigs then raised beds are probably out which runs the risk of the soil compacting as we walk on it.  I can only hope that having pigs once a year digging it over will deal with the worse of the compaction and they in themselves won’t make it worse. All this digging over the soil isn’t great from a permaculture perspective (something I’ve been researching a lot lately) but it is a side effect of having pigs which brings so many other benefits I can’t complain.

I can’t wait to see what does well here – this is our first year of actually growing veg up here so it is very exciting.  I’m hoping the peas and beans do well as they have always been total failures for us before, I think once the wetness issue has passed the nutrient dense soil will be really good for them.


5 thoughts on “Mud to Clay.

  1. frugal in Derbyshire

    Hi there! We have put a drain into one of our gardens and added quite a lot of sharp sand and animal dung to help improve the structure. We were able to rotivate this patch a couple of weeks ago (then it rained again!). Mind you this has taken quite a few years, but well worth the effort.
    I like your John Seymour method of ploughing your plot! It’s a pity we can no longer follow his pig bucket method of feeding any more isn’t it?

  2. beckyannison Post author

    Hi Gill

    Thanks for commenting! J has been talking about digging drainage ditches round the veg plot so I think some form of drain solution will definitely be happening. I think this is just the beginning of a long term plan to improve the soil – luckily some of our neighbours in the field behind us keep horses and produce far more manure than they can use so that will be the immediate plan – but like you say it will take a few years. I’ve been looking at No Dig gardening and have a blog post poised for that and it might work in some areas of our plot… can you tell how much I want to avoid large scale digging in the clay!

    It was definitely John Seymour (our bible!) giving us the idea to use pigs to turn the land over. We originally had this idea that we would start our Good Life small with a veg patch and chickens and work our way up to pigs. But in the end we went straight for pigs to deal with the meadow and I’m so pleased we did. It was a great experience.

    It is a great shame that we can’t feed pigs kitchen scraps anymore but I must confess I am conflicted about it. I’d love to be able to chuck my kitchen scraps at the pigs and watch them turn the waste into tasty meat. But I have a good friend who worked on the front lines in the last foot and mouth outbreak. Her stories just make me cry and she said that it was all traced to a small farm where they didn’t heat their pig swill to the right temperature. I don’t know enough either way but I’d just hate to be the person who started another outbreak – I’d never forgive myself.

    1. beckyannison Post author

      HI Lizard100

      I first thought about getting chickens to do the same job but we just had far too much ground to clear in a short space of time (i.e. before planting season!) but we really want to get chickens now that the pig gone for a few months. Our egg bill is really high and needs to come down!


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