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Friday, 20 January 2012

Using the Azada and 3-prong fork on the allotment to remove the brambles and prepare the beds

I have now completed the second bed and developed my best method to tackle the Job

As I have now gained a lot of experience, I thought it would be worth while detailing the method I have arrived at which seems to be very effective. 

I originally set off using the slasher to cut down the brambles but I have found that the Azada is a better tool for this. In fact he Azada has proved to be the all-round multi-tasking tool of choice.

Step One - Cut down and clear the bramble top growth

Ensure the Azada is sharp, use a stone on the edge of the blade if necessary before you start and at regular intervals while you work. Work into the brambles, swinging the Azada down and towards your feet (without hitting them!) from chest height in a curving downward sweep so that it contacts the bramble stems just at ground level. This will sever the thickest brambles in one clean go. 

The bramble tops can then be fairly easily raked away into a pile using the 3-prong fork (and heavy-duty leather gloves!). I found the best method was to concentrate on one bramble plant at a time, ensuring all the stalks have been severed before moving on to the next as this prevents snagging of stalks still attached to the plant.

Step Two - Rake away the rubbish where you intend to dig

Use a decent rake to clear the ground of dead growth, rubbish, sticks, stones etc.

Step Three - Remove any turf
If there is any heavy grass growth beneath the brambles, remove it by chopping with the Azada and dragging the turf off the area you are working on. At this point you wll see the many bramble stumps clearly nosing out of the ground.

Step Four - Start to trench out

Use the Azada to take out a deep trench, the full width of the plot to be worked. Try to make this trench double the depth of the Azada blade as this will allow you to fetch up the very deep bramble roots. The Azada is very good at this double trenching, you swipe the first cut down from ground level and pull the soil back onto the top of the pile you are standing on, then swipe again at the base of the new cut you have made and the Azada will drive easily into the deeper ground. The long handle on the Azada makes this a very natural operation. Dragging the soil backwards onto the ground beneath your feet will have the effect of separating the bramble roots from the soil and you should then be able to pick up most from the top of the pile.

When you encounter a bramble plant it will probably be very large and thick and very firmly rooted into the soil. I have found that the best method is to chop away the soil on each side of the bramble root first as this severs a lot of the roots. You will be helped by the fact that the root is now teetering on the top of the deep trench you have made. A final swipe with the blade, hard behind the root ball will enable you to push the Azada handle forward and lever the bramble root out in one piece.

You need to constantly remove the roots as you loosen them to prevent them being covered again by the soil you are dragging out.

Step Five - Rake out and remove the roots

When you have made a few feet of progress up the plot, return to the start point and use the 3-prong fork to drag through the loose soil you have heaped up to recover any root stems which you missed or were buried on the first pass. This sounds laborious but in fact you will probably find the break from the trenching work with the Azada welcome as non-stop digging with the Azada will tend to tire your arm muscles.

Step Six - Rake again with a finer rake

When you have completed the plot, you can go over again with a close fingered rake to collect the smaller root stems which you will undoubtedly have missed.

That's it, level the plot with the 3-Prong Rake or Azada and you are good to go.

it is worth noting that the bramble roots will have many very thin hairlike growths which you will have little chance of removing completely in one go. My plan is to keep a sharp eye on the plot over time and to remove any new bramble top growth which develops from these very small bits of root as soon as I spot them. Hopefully, over time, this should have the effect of discouraging the bramble growth as without leaf growth, the roots should eventually expire. I am ready to accept that this may take several seasons on my very badly overgrown ground.

A final word, if you are facing a similar task to me, initially you may become a little overwhelmed by the scale of the task. Don't give up, as you progress you will get great satisfaction in reclaiming the plot. Take it section by section so that you can see some finished areas. I now find I can complete a plot 3 metres by 9 metres from start to finish in around 3 hours thanks to the tools.

Also, if anyone is wondering where to find an Azada or 3-prong fork, 
I bought mine online from a lovely helpful chap named Simon who has a very helpful website at: www.get-digging.co.uk

Two Beds down and three to go now for me!

Friday, 13 January 2012

double bed...

All the brambles now amalgamated into a single very, very big pile.... to make way for more beds.

This should make a very big fire soon! I have now decided that I can fit 5 plots on the allotment with a path between each. As the bramble pile is lying on plot 2, I measure up and move on to plot 3 and make a start with the Azada...

So another plot begins to take place...

Hard going but satisfying to see the allotment taking shape!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Off to bed...

Hooray! First bed is turned over although it will still need going over with a rake and fingers to remove the smaller bramble root strands. The soil is great and the Azada is a miracle tool for this job. I have had no back strain or pain whatsoever and completed the bed in around 2-3 hours. Lots of very tenacious bramble roots removed, again, a surprisingly easy task with the Azada.

The bed extends about 4 metres x the full width of the allotment, around 8 metres. The rough area at the front in the pic will be the location of the path and shed when sourced.

We have also harvested our first crop...

3 small healthy potatoes growing amongst the bramble roots!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


First plot underway today and a chance to see how the Azada and 3-prong for perform....

The enemy....

Vanquished by the 3-prong fork...

A vital piece of equipment...

Result... Nice clean soil which looks in excellent condition. Still waiting for post 4pm daylight to set fire to the enormous stacks of brambles seen in the background.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Onwards and Upwards...

On to stage 2 now! 

I cannot yet burn the bramble heaps as the allotment rules state no bonfires before 4pm, by which time it is nearly dark at present so that will have to wait for 2 or 3 weeks. In view of this I intend to amalgamate the 3 large heaps into one enormous heap so that I can continue with the root clearing on the rest of the ground. 

I tested the theory today using the 3-prong draw fork to slam under each root ball and push the long handle forward to lever them out. It works very well but will not be a quick job as they are numerous. Nevertheless I managed to clear an area of soil around a couple of square metres in around 10 minutes. I will not try to remove all the smaller fibrous roots at this stage, I see this as an ongoing task which will probably need to be repeated several times over.

My initial aim is to establish a starting bed where some planting can begin to provide encouragement and then extend this as I go, progressively cleaning the soil of roots.

I have picked out as much of the plastic rubbish on the site as I can from between the brambles to form a separate heap which will be going to the tip. I have also leveled off the large overgrown hummocks of soil and grass which someone had dumped alongside the path so the whole site is beginning to look as if someone owns it now.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Made it!

Another session and I have reached the end of the allotment. I now have 3 huge piles of brambles drying out. Ready for the next phase now, getting all those root balls up!

I will try to lift the rough turf growing on the right to lay down again as paths between the beds.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

A glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel

A few more hours put in and I can see the finishing post as far as the bramble top growth is concerned. I now have about 20 square yards left to clear and have 2 substantial bramble stacks drying ready to burn. It will soon be time to start fetching out the root growth which I think will be a slow process....

Thursday, 5 January 2012

First steps today 4th January 2012

OK, so this is the story of the taming of a totally overgrown allotment which is 5 rods and 5 feet deep in brambles. It looks like this as of the 4th January 2112...

To tackle the brambles we have invested in some strange new heavy duty hand tools which are completely new to me but are reckoned to be effective at dealing with the vicious brambles.

Top left is an Azada which is used like a pickaxe to break up the soil and lever it backwards, easier than a spade (on the back!) on very hard ground. This will not come into it's own until the brambles have been ripped out and burned. Centre is a 3-prong draw fork which is great for ripping bramble roots out of the ground after the top growth has been cut down. On the right is the primary weapon for hitting the brambles, it's called a slasher and whacks down the bramble growth quite easily with dashing sweeps of the blade.

So.... after 2 hours I have an area about 10 yards by 10 yards clear of bramble growth and a substantial heap of bramble cuttings ready to dry out and burn! The slasher proved to be impressive and effective, it made me feel like a Ninja felling an army of viciously armed opponents!

No... not a miracle! ....this is not the completed thing already, it's the allotment next to ours. We have not yet met or seen the owner but I rather suspect they will be happy to see what we are up to as they appear to have had a battle to stop the brambles creeping onto their very tidy and weedless plot.

Back for another session today 5th January...

Another 2 hours has almost half the area finished...

The pile of brambles drying ready to burn is getting quite large...

Hopefully I should start clearing the roots and a chance to try out the 3-prong fork after a few more days like this ...