After spending six years battling the weeds on our vegetable plot we decided enough was enough. Trying to keep it under control was taking up too much time and the rest of the garden was starting to suffer. Something drastic had to be done and we decided raised beds were the answer. We mapped out the area and costed up the membrane, wood, bark mulch and loam required.
It's a good sized plot, fenced to keep out the chickens. Bordered on two sides with fruit trees, the rear and front fence had empty borders. To prepare the area, we firstly transplanted a holly hedge which surrounded the old asparagus bed to line the rear fence. The hedge was originally made up of seedlings found around the garden and was doing so well we're glad we had somewhere to transplant it to. We grubbed out some of the fruit trees which were sadly failing and could no longer stand up on their own. We lifted the crowns of two large trees to the rear boundary to let more light in and chopped down a fir tree which gave little pleasure. The wood was of course reused in our wood burner.
The plot was now empty apart from the compost area and we were ready to start work. First we rotavated, then laid a black, breathable membrane, pegging it in place. Next, as we were completing this project over the winter we placed bark mulch bags on top of the membrane to stop it ripping in the wind.
We worked out that we had plenty of room to install 14 boxes, 2.4m by 1.2m. Yes, you might recognise those dimensions as standard lengths of wood. That made the job easier. The boxes were made on a flat area near the house, then transported perched on a wheelbarrow up to the plot and manhandled into place. They were just stood on top of the membrane which should help to delay the wood rotting and there is no way they are going to be blown over or move anywhere! Bark mulch was then laid between the boxes to protect the membrane and hopefully deter more weeds.
A few months earlier we had shredded lots of hedge cuttings and stored it in bags. We used this as a base layer of composted material in the bottom of the boxes. A mixture of Rolawn Blended Loam and Hallstone Topsoil was duly ordered and delivered in bulk bags and then emptied with spade and our trusty wheelbarrow. The soil was easily worked and proved an excellent way of burning off the calories from Christmas and New Year celebrations!
Everything was completed in time for the growing season. We planted two boxes with strawberry plants and one with rhubarb that we had potted up last autumn. It is now July and we had a small crop of rhubarb, not surprising as it will need the full season to mature. We have eaten our fill of strawberries which were extra successful as the beds are so easy to net. Cut and come again lettuce has proved its worth as have the spring onions and radishes. New potatoes are in abundance as are broad beans and the courgettes are about to go mad. We roasted our first beetroot which was delicious and have had the first of the sugarsnap peas. Yet to come but on the way are french beans, parsnips, carrots, garlic, onions, main-crop potatoes, leeks and successional sowings of broad beans.
We've had failures of course, the kale was eaten by the pigeons and the replanted asparagus gave up on us; Sumo pumpkins are in that bed now and we have big, nay huge, hopes for them. Turnips have also been sown as we have lifted the new potatoes.
Our crops have been much better, with higher yields than in the last couple of years before we built the raised beds, not to mention weeding being a lot easier. We have enough beds to allow for easy crop rotation and the personal pleasure and satisfaction of ‘grow your own’ vegetables has come back. It was a lot of work but the results have made it all very worthwhile.
Davina Turner, @digthatgarden