My triumphant attempt at making a raised bed

Oh for years now I’ve been enviously eyeing up peoples neat raised beds and gravel paths! I have always wanted some, but have always secretly wondered whether they were slightly a waste of space. All those paths could be another row of peas etc etc. The plus points to having raised beds are having  improved soil structure, little digging, and being able to cram more crops in per sq meter.

I could never justify the cost and effort in my previous gardens, it felt like if I did install raised beds it would be purely aesthetic. This time it’s different though, my garden is on heavy clay and floods. When I’ve looked out of the window lately since the snow has melted, I’ve been a bit desperate to know how to conquer the problem to be honest. I could have moved the vegetable garden entirely, but that would mean months of lifting turf would have been in vain, and I couldn’t see where I could rehouse the patch where it would still get good sunlight for most of the year.

I have come to the conclusion the only option is to raise the soil level, so at last I have a real reason to make a raised bed. Now the next challenge, I have never made one before, nor do I know if I’m capable! I’m not terrible good at being accurate when it comes to woodwork, so I had visions of me swearing as I discovered each plank to be too short, or the nails wouldn’t drive in. I had a quick look online for a tutorial, and was so pleased to have come across this one from Gardener’s world.

So simple! really who couldn’t make a bed like that 😮 Inspired by this video I arranged for a local scaffolder to drop off some old boards, and went out to buy the extra bits, like corner posts and nails. That’s really all you need.

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I measured the boards by eye, by laying them over the existing vegetable patch, marking out two long and two short sides. Then I measure the thickness of the board, and added another half (to allow for what gets driven underground)  for the corner posts.

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I sawed all the wood and then used a spade to loosen the soil around the edge of the vegetable bed. My soil was very wet so this wasn’t difficult!

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I then laid the planks around the bed, slightly overlapping the edges to allow the nails to be hammered in. Next I hammered in the corner posts, and hammered nails all around the connecting edges, and into the corner posts for extra security. I then filled with a mixture of grit, topsoil, compost (bought and homemade) and manure. The bed size is 3.5m x 2m, which is very large, but I plan to intersect with a couple of boards so I can get in to weed and plant.

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I still need to top it up further, but I thought I’d leave it until nearer the time I’m planning to plant, then leave for a couple of weeks to settle, because the soil level will drop a bit by then.

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Here I am feeling very proud of my achievement! (apologies for the poor quality of the photos, they are mobile shots at dusk) I hope it’s not pride before a fall and this really does solve the flood problem. I will only use this bed for summer planting for this reason, as the two right beds don’t seem to get so much water.

Well now, one down another three raised beds to go, oh and some paths to gravel!

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Vegetable patch, 2012 – 2013 and something a bit different

Needless to say 2012 was a bit of a washout for all us veggie growers. None of the usual principles of vegetable growing applied, so it really was an ad-hoc experience. The dry spring heralded a dry summer, but as we are fast learning, nature has a way of readjusting and compensating for itself. The previous year had been pretty dry all winter and most of the summer, so I guess the rain of 2013 was making up for that. It was my first year watching my new garden. Most of the experts recommend you should leave an inherited garden for a whole round of seasons to see what grows (or doesn’t in my case!) I will talk more about that in my posts on the beds and borders, but there was no veggie plot to speak of here.

Back in March I marked out four squares in a grid intersected by paths. There were already remnants of flowers beds down each side of the garden, which I thought I could use to grow perennial veg such as strawberries, rhubarb and trained fruit bushes. I also had my compost area and comfrey bushes here.

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I managed to lift the turf and prepared three of the veg beds, all but the top right corner one (the one marked with diagonal stripes) The beds on the left are a good friable soil, black and workable while the ones on the right are heavy clay and will need years of improvement. I did manage to grow beans and peas though this year, but they took a while to get going because of the clay. I grew potatoes later in the year to break the soil up a bit and it’s definitely helped. Interestingly my soil test came back as neutral, but my no.1 weed is doc, which normally prefers acid soil.

The bed at the top right houses my asparagus (at the top) which I transplanted from my allotment. I also planted some young new varieties bought at the garden centre, and I also planted the white asparagus I grew from seed. I left them all alone last year, just mulched and weeded, but am hoping to have some success from the older crowns this year if they haven’t been too stressed. Lower down this bed I grew carrots and parsnips pretty successfully as the soil suits roots here. I also tried summer calabrese which was fabulous all summer, so will definitely try that again.

March -veg beds

March -veg beds

 

Veg garden in it's glory

Veg garden in it’s glory

In November and December we had floods that pretty much decimated my vegetable patch, ruining the soil, leaving a green slime and sodden ground that I could not touch. Since this has happened, I have learned there is a dried up stream beneath our garden that floods in heavy rain. Having sited my veg patch here was not the best idea. There really isn’t a suitable place to move it to, so I have decided to raise the beds and add topsoil in the hope it will avoid the worst of flooding if it happens again. I have bought some old scaffold boards which I’ll gradually use to build the beds over the year, which does mean I may constrained on what I can grow early on this year.

The beds down the side also flooded so they will need raising too, I will use these for salads and nursery beds eventually.

This year I’m planning to grow some unusual varieties and grains to supplement the larder next winter. We cook a lot of soups and stews, so the addition of grains, dried peas and beans would really be welcome. I’ve ordered Quinoa and a Latvian soup pea for starters, and I recently picked up a packet of dwarf berlotti beans from Jamie Oliver’s range called ‘Berlotto’. I’ve always had more success with dwarf beans than the climbing varieties.

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As for the other unusual things, here’s a quick list of new plants I’m going to try:

Beetroot Choggia – striped pink and white concentric circles inside

Jaune obtuse du doubs – carrot that’s yellow inside

Melothrie – small cylindrical climbing cucumber

Tomato Black Russian – Black plum variety

Other new things I’m trying this year are Kale, Chard (white variety) and Chicory. I’m also growing two types of chilli after a year off chillis.

Here’s to a fabulous summer growing season!