I’d never really understood what bastard trenching was. I had heard the term on TV programmes and read it in some books but never truly ‘got it’. Anyone can dig a trench right? But to use trenching correctly as a form of cultivating the soil – well, now we’re in flat-cap territory.
But I picked up a book in an old bookshop called ‘ABC of Gardening’ by W E Shewell-Cooper. It was written in 1940 and contains a great description of bastard trenching.
So it’s basically like a conveyor belt of soil. You mark out an oblong of land (or bed) into small squares (you can do this mentally if you like). You dig out the first square to a depth of one spit (spade depth). You dump this in your wheelbarrow and take it to just beyond the end of your oblong and empty it. Then you proceed to fork up the bottom of the pit that you’ve just made, add some manure and dig it in well. Then you move to the next square and do the same again. But instead of putting the removed soil in the wheelbarrow you dump it in the first square.
This is genius – why? Because all the soil stays in the right place. The top-soil stays on top, the sub-soil is cultivated and manure is added in the right place. Then everything is put back in the right order like a giant jigsaw. Now I realise that bastard trenching is what some people call double digging – now I get it!