A lot of people ask why I love raised beds so much! So here are my top reasons:
- Controlling the Soil Type – I have heavy dense clay which is hard to work with and doesn’t give a lot of oxygen to the roots. By constructing raised beds I can fill them with a mixture of compost and manure.
- Waterlogged Plot – Every Autumn, Winter and Spring the whole allotment site gets waterlogged and makes it difficult to work in. By raising my soil and plants above ground level by just a few inches, I can still work the soil and the roots don’t get waterlogged. I can grow crops though winter where as other plots are like big puddles.
- No Soil Compression – By having clear beds and pathways I don’t accidently tread on a growing area which saves my plants getting squished and also the soil! Oxygen is key for roots to thrive and there’s plenty of it in raised beds!
- Easy Management – A psychological benefit is I don’t get that daunting feeling when I look at my plot. Instead I make a goal to weed one bed every visit or a “to-do” list that involves one bed at a time. One big area of soil seems like a bigger challenge to me personally.
- Crop Rotation and Planning – Each Winter I draw up a plan of all my beds and compare this to the years before. I then make sure that I am rotating my crops. This is really important to myself as it reminds me not to plant hungry squashes in the same place which will deplete the nutrients in the soil. Having beds makes it a clear and easy system.
- Recycling – People ask me which shop I get my wood from. I have not brought one piece of wood for my plot. The last lot I got was from a house that I worked at. She had a big pile of it at the front of her house so I (politely) asked if she wanted it. Apparently she had been trying to get rid of it for ages as it was left over building materials. I also keep an eye out on Freecycle, it’s amazing what people give away!
**Before making your raised beds, do some planning! Think about the size of the bed. I have long narrow beds for things like legumes, cabbages and root vegetables. Big square beds for potatoes, sweetcorn and squashes. And double deep beds for carrots and parsnips. I also think about how the sunlight travels across my plot and where to put beds depending if the crops will need full sunlight or some shade**
I make my raised beds using stakes driven into the ground in each corner and screw the boards to that. I also add some stakes along the longer lengths of the timber to add stability. I find stakes are the cheapest and easiest way, although you can buy metal brackets to secure the wood together, but of course you have to pay for them!
My new plot was covered with a ton of weeds! And I mean a ton! They were originally waste high so I strimmer them all down to see what I had to work with. After planning the position of the beds and making them I started to dig out all the weeds. After a backbreaking and almost pointless afternoon I gave up. Even after hours of picking out roots I wouldn’t get all of them. I started researching alternative options and realised I was actually doing more damage than good! If you want to find out more check out Charles Downing who is an innovator of the No Dig concept.
Here is the alternative method to filling new raised beds and keeping those weeds at bay!
Line the ground with cardboard. Take off any plastic tape or anything that won’t break down in the soil. By the time the cardboard degrades the weeds and roots will be dead.
Fill with any organic matter you have. I had a big store of leaves that I emptied into the bed. It will turn into gardeners gold soon enough!
Empty your compost bins! Even chuck in the stuff that hasn’t had time to rot down yet. I did this last year on my first plot and was worried it would burn the roots of the plants. I made the bed in late summer and planted squashes in it the following spring. They thrived on the nutrient packed soil!
Finally fill with any soil or manure you have to fill the bed. Over fill the bed as the soil will settle over time and sink down. If you plan to plant in the bed soon, make sure the manure is well rotted otherwise it will burn the plants. I normally visit a local stables about twice a year to fill up bags, buckets, trugs and anything else I can find! Its hard work but most stables will let you take it for free. This year I treated myself to a delivery from a local farmer. He delivered a cart load for £35 which is pretty good!
The last thing you need to do is cover your beds. Anything sheeting that doesn’t let the light and water through is ideal. This will stop the weeds growing through and by next spring the roots of the weeds will have died as they have no light and little water for such a long time.
Happy Growing Guys!!