Before moving into the cottage we had grown very little; we managed to kill the orchid and herbs we had in our first flat and had grown tomatoes and strawberries in hanging baskets in our three bed semi (although I doubt their success had much to do with anything we did, more they seemed to thrive on our neglect). However, we are both really keen to try and grow some edibles in the cottage garden. So the first job has been to create a vegetable patch. We’ve opted for raised beds for many reasons. I have a hip problem which is under control in the short term but will inevitably lead to a hip replacement and so having raised beds should make gardening a bit easier for me and enable me to keep gardening for as long as possible. Raised beds keep the soil warmer so you are usually able to plant things earlier and crops are protected from a late frost. Although I think for J the deciding factor was that Monty Don uses them, ergo raised beds are the only way to garden.
Now a simple Google search brings up hundreds of images of raised beds, all different and all with their own pros and cons. We are aiming to stay in the cottage for life so we want something which is durable and ideally that we won’t have to replace, repair or repaint frequently if at all. We also want something which is going to blend in and look natural in our garden. So after much research J has designed our raised beds. Each bed is made from 6 railway sleepers. Each bed is two sleepers high, one sleeper long and half a sleeper wide. All held together with some ginormous screws. Each bed was constructed on top of a ‘base’ of chicken wire (to prevent moles as we’ve had a couple of those tell tale mounds on the lawn before) and then a fine membrane to keep weeds out and let water through. Then each bed was lined with a waterproof membrane which has two purposes; firstly to prevent any treatment from on the sleepers from seeping into the soil and tainting the soil and veg, and secondly to lengthen the life of the sleepers by keeping them from being rotten by the soil. Finally, at each corner and in the middle on each side are some ingenious plastic clasps which will hold hoops of pipe over which netting can be hung, thus keeping the birds away from our crops.
Each bed is filled as follows: on the bottom 15 bags of gravel (each weighing 20kg), then topped with about half a tonnes of top soil, followed by six 20kg bags of horticultural grit topped with seven 100 litre bags of compost. We made sure that the grit was well mixed with the soil and compost. Hopefully this will ensure decent drainage and a good balance of texture and nutrients. So far we have all six built and most are lined ( although when I see we I should really say J as he has been responsible for the building process) and are about halfway through filling them (my contribution to the endeavour). C and I planted up the first one with two rows of beetroot and two of turnip. I had planned to sow my rows at two weekly intervals but I forgot so we will inevitably end up with a glut later in the year but I will work out how to deal with that later! I’ve sowed the seeds quite closely, mainly as I’m sure not that not many will take and so this will at least ensure I get something grow. The turnip seeds have started to sprout (see picture below) but no sign of any beetroot.
Eventually we may expand the number of raised beds as we look towards retirement, which is unfortunately a long way off yet, and as the climbing frame becomes redundant. But for now six beds seems to fit just right. I’m planning to plant another bed up this weekend with cauliflower and a pumpkin in the end just for fun. I do need to get round to filling the others soon but the thought of moving more bags of anything has my back and arms crying out in protest!