Monday, November 06, 2006

Building raised beds

Being the type of person who likes things neatly organised and in a logical order, I have decided to build raised beds on the allotment.

People have different views on raised beds, some people think they are a waste of space, some feel they create more work, some say they drain too quickly and others think they just make the allotment nicer.

I prefer raised beds for a few reasons, but mainly they help you to organise your planting and therefore help your crop rotation.

Last summer I experimented with a couple of raised beds in the back garden (see the picture) and I found they helped me (the complete beginner) to control the planting and helped keep me orgainsed.

Therefore I decided to build raised beds on my allotment – so far I have built 4, and may squeeze in another 2.

They are really quite straightforward to build – the ones in the garden were built from rough cut timber I bought from a local timber merchants. But the ones at the allotment I have built from old pallets. As with everything once you have done something you start to spot things that you could recycle or re-use etc. If you get pallets then you will have to break them down which can take a bit longer but it is free!

Basically my mate Lukerman emailed me some simple instructions to build the raised beds and I just followed these. This is what he said

4-6' high beds usually enough unless you're disabled - any higher and they drain too quickly

Best to use rough sawn treated timber boards 150 x 25 (or better 32mm) in lengths as required. And make the beds 1.5m wide so you reach the middle from both sides

Secure boards with 600x50x50mm timber pegs and galvanised nails every 1-2 metres. All this should be available from any good fencing/builders merchant (cheap as chips).

Sleepers probably an overkill - new ones expensive, old ones full of creosote which is carcinogenic

To get the extra soil without getting extra stuff brought in dig out 4" deep topsoil from between beds and work in 4" of well rotted pooh every year and it'll look after itself.

Dig Dig Dig........

It has been an interesting couple of months on the allotment; work ground to halt in early September as I had a knee operation but things seem to be coming along. At my last post in August I managed to get a few seeds into the ground and we had a small crop of turnips and lettuce.

However, the area of ground I had prepared in the summer turned into a lawn of grass in about a week. So you can imagine what that felt like! I have to say it was bloody depressing as I have spent quite a bit of time on it in the summer. However I did have one small consolation in that someone else took over a similar plot to me about 3 plots up and they did exactly the same as me and they have the same problem. So I decided to ask some of my neighbours about what to do and I got a few suggestions/comments:

One chap said just rotivate it and see what happens.

Another said they had a similar problem and they rotivated it and the grass came back.

And another told me that I had to weed the whole patch - and that there was no short cut. So I have let the grass grow to about 6 inches, I fork it up, grab the grass, shake the soil out and dump the grass and roots in the compost bin! And I have to keep doing this across the whole patch.

Digging the whole patch like this is a lot of work and I wanted to make sure it would work. So I ran a couple of sample patches and left it for a few weeks and lo and behold no grass grew back - my neighbour also said that the best time to dig was in late Oct and Nov and to forget it in the summer. So I am now in the process of digging half of the allotment. It is actually quite hard work and after about 2 hours you really have had enough.

I have also decided to try a different approach on another part of the allotment - on this part I have put down some Roundup and sheeted it with black matting - I have been told that the combination of the weed killer and matting should do the trick - well, we'll have to wait and see.

From what I have picked up then there is no short cut and it is all preparing the ground and trying to stop on top of the weeds.

Still there is no great rush to have it all ready right now as there is little you can plant at the moment.