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Amazing Allotments! How to create raised beds.

Amazing Allotments - How to create RAISED BEDS

Advice for Lymington and New Forest Gardens

My allotment is amazing this year. Everything we planted in the winter and early spring has thrived, as one of the firest things I did when we got the plot was build raised beds. This enabled us to get our crops in early and so benefit from the warm weather we have had this year.  Nor were we affected by the flooding, as the soil was above the water table.

Raised beds are not difficult to achieve.

gardening with raised beds

I usually go scavenging in skips to see if I can salvage old pieces of timber that I can use to create the sides of the beds. Ideally I’m looking for a piece of wood about 10cm wide, 2-3cm thick and 1.2m long. But really an allotment is as much about recycling as growing vegetables so we have used any pieces of timber; for example, old floorboards, scaffolding planks and decking that was being thrown away.

Once I had enough wood, paths were dug out and the soil heaped up onto ground on either side to create the beds. Obviously I cleared these areas of weeds before I did this. I am aware that some people prefer a no dig method of cultivating but our plot has bindweed, which would become rampant if it was left. We also have nettles. Apparently they indicate that the ground is fertile, which is good to know, but they spread very rapidly and can take over. So they have to be removed. But they are not wasted as they are thrown into an old bath full of water and weighed down to create a very good liquid feed for the vegetables, (remember to dilute it; 10 parts water to 1 part nettle potion). The bindweed I will burn as it is good for nothing.

The width of the raised beds is really dependent on your height.

The idea is that you should be able to easily stretch across to the centre of the bed, from the paths, to weed. Generally a width of 90-120cm is about right; any greater, and you’ll end up standing on the soil in the bed, which defeats the object of having raised beds.

Boards are then placed against the soil, and held in place with a piece of wood or metal long enough to go into the ground as well as support the plank of wood.

scarecrow in vegetable allotmentAgain use whatever is at hand. We’ve used tent poles and other metal poles – really just anything that would be strong enough to stop the boards from falling out of position. And that was the raised beds made in situ. If you want something less ad-hoc you can buy the boards, nail or screw them together; then attach the pegs on the inside of the boards about 4 inches from either end. Position them in the allotment, them check everything is level using a spirit level placed on a piece of board lying diagonally across the edging boards. The soil/manure and well-rotted compost can then be added, and raked around to create the raised bed. Again if you are worried about levels you can wrap a piece of string around two weights (e.g. a brick) then stretch it diagonally across your bed to see if the soil is level. This can be done from various points around the bed. And there you have your raised bed.

But why bother with all this hard work? At our allotments lots of people don’t bother, especially those who have a large plot and like to rotovate the ground each year. But as I said at the beginning of this article many of these gardeners were unable to start planting until well into the season because their soil stayed wet and colder for longer.

Other advantages of raised beds.

  • You have designated paths so you are not walking on land that is going to be cultivated. That means the soil’s structure doesn’t get damaged. This is especially important if you are gardening on clay soils. With this type of soil, because the clay particles are so small, they quickly get squashed together if the soil is handled when it is wet. This results in a crust forming on the top of the soil which, when handled, feels like dust. In more serious cases the soil will just bake into large clods that become hard and difficult to manage.
  • You can put your manure or compost directly where it is most needed so none is wasted. That's an advantage and it's easier too.
  • With all this lovely nutritious tilth you have produced you can put your plants closer together and grow more crops. A definite win win!
  • You don’t have to bend so far over to garden; that's something I definitely appreciate as I get older
  • And finally there is a psychological aspect of creating raised beds. I feel more organised. It is easier to do rotational cropping. Also, instead of staring at a whole plot of weeds and wondering were to start, you can attack one raised bed, make an impact, feel you have accomplished something and so feel motivated to attack another bed in the near future.

So now we are picking and eating all this lovely produce.

vegetable gardening - shoots in raised bedOne of my favourite ways of using these vegetables is in a casserole. I use either 675g neck fillets of lamb or chicken breasts which I sear in a heavy bottomed pan with a tablespoon of oil. Make sure they are a nice mahogany brown as this gives the flavour, then remove them from the pan and put to one side.

If you need to, add a little more oil, turn the heat down and add 2 onions or leeks if you have them, roughly chopped. Let them gently cook until they are translucent then add as much chopped garlic as you like (I only add one clove but you could add up to 4) and 2 sprigs of rosemary. Let the onions go nice and brown as this will sweeten them.

I usually then add about 1 tbs of plain flour or cornflour as I like my casseroles to have a thick sauce, but you don’t have to. If you do add the flour stir it around so it absorbs all the oil and juices. Return the meat to the pan so they also get coated with the flour. Let it cook for a few minutes then add 175ml of dry white wine (this is optional), 400g of tinned chopped tomatoes, a bay leaf and enough chicken stock to make a good gravy sauce which is not too thick. Make sure you incorporate all those bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan, as they will add to the flavour. I like to pop everthing in the oven at a low temperature - say 150 degrees C, so it cooks and the flavours intensify. Alternatively you can let it simmer on the hob.

After about 1½ hours I start adding the vegetables. Just use whatever you have in the allotment. At the moment we have early potatoes and carrots. Clean and cut them up, depending upon their size. Aim to get them all the same size as the smallest one so they all finish cooking together.

After they have been cooking for about ½ hour, add broad beans and French beans, and maybe some courgettes (there are always lots of courgettes). The amount you add depends on your own preference, how much there is in the allotment and how many you are catering for. I’d let them cook for another 15mins, as they cook much slower in the oven.

You can test to see if everything is cooked by pushing a fork into the vegetables. If they are soft you know they are cooked. Then just before you take it out of the oven, throw in some spinach or chard so it wilts. This will take about 5 minutes.

It is now ready to eat. Enjoy.

INTERESTED IN GETTING AN ALLOTMENT?

If you are interested in getting an allotment, contact your local council and they will be able to tell you who to get in touch with and if there is a waiting list. Contact Lymington and Pennington Town Council here: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Alternatively, The Transition Group has a scheme whereby people who have big gardens, but can’t manage them, are paired up with people who are keen gardeners but don’t have the resources. Contact our local Transition Group here: New Forest Transition Group

 

This article was written by Debby Lockey our regular gardening blog feature writer.  Please feel free to share what I think is a lot of very useful local gardening information!  Ed 

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