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Medwyn Williams

Hello. I'm Medwyn Williams – eleven times Gold medal winner at the Chelsea Flower Show, Past Chairman of the Royal Horticultural Society Fruit Vegetable and Herb Committee and President of the National Vegetable Society.

To Rotivate or Not to Rotivate?


Whether or not to use a rotavator directly on previously un dug soil is always a contentious question and it really depends on the nature of your soil. Heavy clay soils will cause the most trouble if you use the rotavator straight on it, particularly if the soil is wet.

There’s another fortnight to go before the clocks go forward allowing us an extra couple of hours of gardening in the evening. There is though enough light even now, after you have returned from work, to turn over the soil a little so that the sun can warm it up the following day. The vegetable plot can either be turned over to a fine tilth using a fork or by using a rotavator or a cultivator. Whether or not to use a rotavator directly on previously un dug soil is always a contentious question and it really depends on the nature of your soil.

Heavy Clay Soil

Heavy clay soils will cause the most trouble if you use the rotavator straight on it, particularly if the soil is wet. It”s during such conditions that you could cause more damage than good, such heavy soils are better deeply dug over during late Autumn prior to rotavating. The reason being that when the spinning tines get to work on heavy clay soils they will smear the clay underneath causing a glazed or polished finish which will leave you with a potentially serious drainage problem.

Medium Loam to Sandy Soil

If your soil is of a medium loam to sandy type, I don’t consider panning to be that much of a problem, indeed I have been using a rotavator on the same ground for many years without always having dug it first in the Autumn. There”s no doubt that the rotavator does a marvellous job on breaking down the soil leaving it nice and crumbly and ready for seed sowing. Don’t think however that using a rotavator is going to be light work, it can often be extremely tedious, particularly on light soil where the weight of the machine will drive the tines low down making it really hard work to move it forward. The secret is not to try and go down to the full depth in one go, run the cultivator over the patch three or four times and in different directions as well. Once you are happy that the you have the right tilth, you can then rake it level ready to mark out your rows. When I wonder, did you have your soil analysed last, if ever?.

Soil Analysis

Knowing what your soil consists of is certainly not trivial nor is it an extra burden; I consider it to be quite important if you are to get the very best results from your soil. You can do it yourself using a kit from West Meters or send it away to be tested professionally, Lancrop laboratories, who I use, do standard analysis for £16.45. When sending the soil for analysis, tell the Chemist what you are proposing to grow so that he can tailor the results to suit. When you have the result of your sample from the chemist, the report will tell you what your NPK levels are as well as your PH. It will also tell you how much of each component to apply to the square metre. It really is a sensible approach, what’s the point of scattering fertiliser on your soil if the existing level of any particular nutrient is already high, indeed you could be doing more harm than good. Start off from a level playing field, know what you soil consists of and then have another test in a few years time. I know for a fact that you will be more than amply rewarded for the money spent in having it analysed.


One vegetable that does require a good season to achieve optimum results is Parsnips hence the need to get the seed sown now. They are always a worry after sowing though as they can take anything up to five weeks to germinate and the slower they are popping their heads through, the more concerned I get that they won’t germinate, In fact, some years ago it was close to seven weeks before they came through, just as I was about to re sow the whole row. Put a straight line across the garden and open a shallow drill using the edge of a hoe or even just a short piece of cane. Parsnip seed are very light so be careful if there is a breeze keeping your seed packet well down and close to the soil. Sow four or five seed in stations about four inches apart along the row, in between each station sow a few seed of Radish as a catch crop. The radish will germinate first giving you the exact location of the row when you need to do any weeding. Cover the seed over by raking the soil over them along the length of the row and tamping it down against the seed using the back of the rake.

If you want to show off your skill and fancy having a go at your local show, then try creating some deep holes along the row using a steel bar, filling the conical shaped holes with sieved soil from your cultivated patch. It can be great fun and when you do eventually pull them, what a great feeling that is to wash and stage a set that match each other like peas in a pod. There are more varieties of parsnips available now than at any time with most of them being F1 hybrids giving stronger growth and larger roots. The first ever F1 hybrid was British bred by Dr Peter Dawson of Tozers Seed and is still one of the biggest selling parsnips. Dr Dawson’s latest F1 hybrid called Albion has just been released this year and is another variety that is sure to make it’s mark being even whiter skinned than Gladiator.


A row of early carrots sown now means that you could be eating them during late June, try Primo or Heracles from Marshalls both of which have a lovely sweet flavour. Just to add some real colour to you culinary choice, sow the very latest multi coloured carrot called Rainbow F1 from Thompson and Morgan. This is the result on a unique breeding programme giving you a range of pastel shades with a diversity of skin and core colours. I hope to be able to stage a dish on my Chelsea display this coming May.

Lancrop Laboratories – Tel N0 01759 305 116 – ask for a ‘ground work Kit’ which will explain how to take the sample as well as the costs.

West Meters Soil Testing kit for checking the NPK as well as the PH level is available at most Garden Centres, if you have a problem getting hold of a kit, you can order direct for £12.95 inclusive of P&P – phone 01490 412 004


Growing Parsnips

25th July 2007 I am often asked what is the best method of growing both long carrots and parsnips for the show

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