|Some of my new raised beds - with alliums, peas, lettuces and the globe shaped kind of carrots|
My biggest and best project of the year so far has been converting part of my allotment to a no dig, raised bed system. A few sources of inspiration all converged last year to persuade me to finally take the plunge:
- My visit to Charles Dowding and seeing no dig in action
- Listening to Alys Fowler talk about her Edible Garden at a study day at Holt Farm last year and then reading her book. Inspirational stuff which has got me thinking very hard about the way in which I garden and keep my allotment
- Finally getting around to using the raised bed kit I received as a giveaway from Garden Answers a couple of years ago and realising that little patch is soooooo much easier to maintain
So I invested in another six raised bed kits last summer. Unfortunately the bad weather meant I didn't get round to setting them up until late spring this year. I roughly cleared the allotted space of weeds and then laid a thick layer of cardboard with wetted newspaper on top to suppress any further weeds from coming through. I assembled each raised bed and then emptied out the contents of one compost bin into it. Luckily I have plenty of compost bins on the allotment. Unluckily the emptying bit was very hard work, but thankfully no worse than digging over my heavy clay.
The raised beds work well for me because my allotment's on clay and on a slope which faces in a southerly direction. Thus the soil I have in these beds warms up much more quickly and is easier to work. I planted out my new strawberry plants and onion sets in a matter of minutes this year and my allotment neighbours were so impressed by what they saw, they bought some raised beds too! Later this year I reckon I'll be able to plant out my garlic directly, instead of my usual over wintering in pots.
|If life gives you weeds, then let them be useful red oak-leaf lettuces|
Weeding the beds has been a revelation. When I mentioned I was converting to raised beds Helen Gazeley left a comment saying she has to question every seedling which pops up very severely. She's right, especially if like me you've used your own cold compost making to supply the bulk of the growing media. However, weeding is like going through butter. I've been reduced to tears some summers when trying to weed my concrete-like limey clay. Now I can whip through all seven beds in a mere afternoon.
|Strawberries with their grass clipping mulch|
In time I reckon I'll be able to reduce the time taken for weeding still further. I'm experimenting with mulching a couple of the strawberry beds using the grass clippings from mowing my allotment's paths. This was to see if it was a suitable straw substitute (the usual material placed around strawberry plants) and a possible way to reduce the amount of watering needed. It's worked for both of these, and with the added benefit of me finding only a couple of weeds in each bed, when the other 5 were awash with them. As a result I've also started using the clippings to help maintain a weed-free area around each raised bed.
|A moribund set of crops because I used up the dregs from my compost bins - contrast with the|
couple of onions you can see in the bed next door which were planted at the same time
It's not been a total success. Here is a visual warning about using up the dregs of all your compost bins to provide the growing media for your final raised bed. It wasn't as crumbly and was much more clayey than the material I'd used for the other ones. As a result the crops in this one aren't growing so well and need much more watering than my other raised beds do. Serves me right for being so impatient to get everything started and too mean to buy something better ;)
Raised beds like these aren't the full solution for my allotment. As you can see they're only six inches deep, so I'd need much deeper ones if I were to include no dig for growing my potatoes and other deep-rooted crops. They're not suitable for the areas where I have couch and bramble either unless I do lots more work to clear them out first (this also applies if you have bindweed, horsetail or Japanese knotweed on your plot). If your plot has a sandy soil, then you'll also need to weigh up the reduced advantages of raised beds (your soil will be far more workable than mine from the outset) plus all the extra watering you'll need to do.
However, on the whole and especially in my GYO circumstances, raised beds get a huge thumbs up from me.
What's your most successful project so far this year?