Gardening: Piglets are a good idea, but wire bread baskets are better: Magnus Miles tries out an odd gardening technique

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The Independent Online
MY brother-in-law has a good way of getting his vegetable plot dug. He sections it off with an electric fence, puts two or three small pigs in there and leaves them to it. A couple of months later he kills and eats the pigs, and takes down the fence. What he has left is a piece of pristine ground, freshly manured and ready to rake and sow.

Now if I were to try this trick up at the allotment I'm sure I would get evicted. So last winter it was spadework as usual. My digging took several successive Sundays, but when I finally finished it I was well pleased with the result. It looked as if someone had been through it with a plough. I had dug the entire plot from end to end, clearing weeds and working in compost. I now had a great untrodden wodge of chopped- up soil, all ready for the winter frosts to make nice and crumbly.

I had done the same thing the previous year with good results (I practically lived on potatoes last year, I had so many). But when I'd finished digging this time, my back told me that enough was enough. My impatience to get the task done had led me to dig during the wettest part of last year, when every spadeful seemed to weigh a ton.

It was nice to have a ready-dug and weed-free plot at the start of spring, but I'd had enough of digging. I was determined never to dig my plot again. I could only do that, however, if I never walked on it again either, because it is when you walk about on soil that it gets compacted, which reduces the air supply and restricts drainage.

In the past I have always been guilty of walking around on my plot. Maybe not at the beginning of the year, when I would carefully keep to little pathways between the crops. But at the height of summer, when the digging season was still several months away, I would tend to wander all over the place, carelessly treading all the soil underfoot.

This lax behaviour was going to have to stop. From now on there would be a self-imposed imperative: KEEP OFF MY LAND]

The other allotment-holders were doubtful. 'Wait a minute', said one, when I was in the middle of telling him my plan, 'you'll have to have some paths, or how are you going to get on to your plot?'

How indeed? The edges would be all right; I could work around them. This would be an advantage because it is at the edges that weeds tend to accumulate. Clever, eh? But getting to the middle of the plot posed a problem.

It covers 121sq yds, so there's a large part I couldn't get at. There were a few options. I could put down stepping stones or planks, but these would again reduce the space for planting. And wielding planks is no better for your back than digging. How about an overhead gantry? Or stilts? Hmm.

I was on the point of abandoning the plan altogether when I came across the ideal solution: a pair of large wire bread baskets. I found them lying around in the street where a market had been, and whisked them away.

So now I could put my plan into operation: I would use them as portable stepping stones, standing on one while I moved the other, and so on. (No, I did not strap one to each of my feet and use them as snow shoes.)

So far the idea is working fine. The two upside-down baskets spread my weight perfectly, they hardly leave a mark on the soil, and I can move among seedlings without disturbing them. Mind you, it is a slow process.

Making my way across the plot takes ages, especially if I am carrying tools. And working with a rake or hoe can be a bit of a balancing act. Worse is when I get halfway across only to find that I've left something behind. But, in return for the slight inconvenience, I have a beautifully aerated piece of land which should yield great things this year.

I have not yet figured out how I'm going to lift my potatoes, but I'm sure I'll think of something.

Anna Pavord is on holiday.