Making raised beds for a veg patch is quicker and easier than you might think. We mustered the troops this weekend and over two days managed to get the whole job done barring a couple of trailer loads of topsoil. Usually I end up with the lion’s share of veg gardening, but after seeing the hundreds of square miles of plastic barbed-wire fenced polytunnels on the Almeria coast in Spain a couple of years ago (An Apple a Day?) we’ve kind of gone off supermarket veg a bit, and are trying to grow more.
We started on Friday. Neil picked up 2.5m long larch planks from the sawmill nearby. That determined the length of the beds, and we made the sides 1m (so it’s not too far to reach across to the centre from either side). They’re 2 planks high, each plank being 16cm cm wide. At the 4 corners there are posts – were not digging them into the ground, to save them rotting. And finally, midway along the long side, there are offcuts of plank acting as extra support. Whilst Neil was cutting the lengths, Katie and I started screwing the frame together – electric drill made that easy. We got it down to 30 minutes per box by the last one.
In the off chance that any Education Nationale inspectors are keen gardeners, Katie checked that the lengths of the diagonals squared equalled the sum of the squares of the two sides before we started screwing. The boxes have been safely Pythagorified.
We read up a bit on how to fill the beds and visited a friend nearby who has an easy to maintain veg patch (thanks Lianne). That was the main thing: easy to weed, easy to water.
We’ve had plastic matting (you can get fabric too) kicking around in the garden shed for years – it’s permeable – so we covered the whole area with that first. The paths between the beds need to be wide enough to kneel between and ideally to let a wheelbarrow pass. Having the matting, then a layers of stones will save hours of path weeding. Our soil is quite clay-based so having the beds also helps with drainage.
We made four boxes altogether – different vegetable groups to go in each one, and for those bed groups to rotate every year. Box 1 is roots – carrots and parsnips probably. Box 2 is beans – haricot vert (or maybe yellow ones) and peas. Box 3 is potatoes? Box 4 we’re not sure about yet. The tomatoes are going in the greenhouse. Pumpkins etc directly on the ground because they take up so much space, herbs in a separate spiral (thanks Monique), rhubarb in a separate bed, and raspberries and blackcurrents down at the bottom of the veg patch. Strawberries where there’s space because we all love strawberries.
We cut a hole in the matting, about 6inches from the insides of the box to keeps weeds at bay as much as possible, but to allow worms up and into the bed. Then we added a layer of cardboard which’ll mulch. We scraped up twigs and leaves from the rest of the garden and added a layer about 4inches deep. In a couple of the beds we added bigger sticks.
We had a disaster last year putting woodchips too near to tomato plants – the wood sucked up all the nitrogen in the soil and the tomato plants started to shrivel up – when we moved the chips, they perked up and produced a bumper crop. So I was a bit wary about wood – it’s supposed to retain loads of moisture even during the driest of spells and it also slowly breaks down to release all the goodies back into the soil. We have a couple of months now before anything will be planted so that should give it a while to bed in.
In France, you’re not supposed to plant anything outside before the passing of the Ice Saints (Saints de Glaces) from 11-14 May. Apparently, this date shifted with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582, to 25 May. You get a funny look from local gardeners if you plant out before that date. For a couple of years I thought I was awaiting the passing of Saint Douglas. Juncture can kill you courgettes.
We’re lucky to live next to a goat farm, and these goats produced some of the finest poop last June/July which has been composting with the straw it’s mixed up with ever since. Vegetarian animal poop, especially horse or goat poop, is ideal. Meat-eater poop has bacterial issues. A few trailer loads – 5 wheelbarrows per box and we were sorted for poop. It looks fab, just bursting with everything a plant could possibly want.
Finally, friends of friends who are renovating a house nearby said we could have some topsoil. Sorted.
Whilst Adam, Matt and Neil made trips back and fore for poop and soil, Katie went inside to make poop and soil thank you cakes. Her poop and soil thank you cakes are great.
Now that the beds are full, I’m going to add some cane trellis circles to the centre of a couple, and have planted sweet pea seeds in a window box ready to move there when May comes and the Saints Douglas has gone.
Can’t wait for planting time!