Spring & Summer Catch-up – The Veg Beds

As you know we have spent some time this year setting up a few semi raised veg beds at the far end of the garden.
We chose this site as it gets a good amount of sunshine and is slightly sheltered from the prevailing winds, however it is sloping so the beds have had to be placed so they are raised on one side and submerged into the ground on the other.

We ordered timber from a local timber yard and the OH set to work creating the timber frames for the beds.
We had decided on 4 beds to start with so we purchased 6 lengths of timber that were 4.8 meters in length and cut 4 of them in half and the remaining 2 into quarters so that we had 4 equal sized beds of 2.4 meter x 1.2 meter.

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Cutting the wood and screwing them together was reasonably quick and was completed in a day.

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The following day we positioned the beds in their places and marked the turf around the edges so that we could move them out of the way and start stripping the turf for digging.

Getting the turf stripped was a bit of a beggar as underneath the turf were lots of roots and rubble. The soil looked very dry and lifeless, it was a little disappointing as the rest of the garden soil looks very different but we were not deterred and 2 days later the turf had been lifted and stacked elsewhere in the garden to rot down.

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At this stage I took over as the OH had lots of other things to do on the house and as the veg plot was really my domain I began the task of digging the soil so that we could slot the timber fames into place afterwards.

I wanted to dig to a depth of 8 – 10 inches as the timber was 8 inches deep, and this would give me a cultivated soil depth of about 16 – 18 inches deep, but this is where the real fun began.

Trying to get a shovel in the ground was impossible and the fork was only managing to scratch the surface and it was bouncing of the soil and causing pain in the hands and wrists.

This was due to the soil being very compacted with a huge amount of slate of all shapes and sizes that were lying in the soil in random directions and depths so the fork was hitting slate at every angle and getting nowhere.

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The first bed took me a week to dig out to a depth of 8 inches using various tools and riddling the soil to remove any remaining smaller pieces or slate.
In amongst the soil were bits of rubble, lots of broken glass & china, and all sorts of other bits of rubbish and roots from trees and weeds, but not a single worm.

The amount of slate removed from each bed was staggering, with anything from pea sized to dinner plate and bigger chunks being moved to a separate pile in the garden.

What did surprise me was that when I put the soil back in the hole I ended up with a hole that was still full of soil, it just goes to show how heavily compacted it was.

We placed the first bed into its position and over the next 7 weeks (we had lots of very rainy days) I managed to complete the remaining 3 beds with exactly the same problems with the rubbish and slate.

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Our farmer neighbour passed by one day and asked if I wanted any manure to add to the beds, which I gladly accepted as the soil was very poor and the beds needed a boost to raise the level into the frames.

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It was when he delivered me two huge heaps of 3yrs old manure that he mentioned that the original pre 1935 house used to be located where I was digging…… no wonder I had so much rubbish, I was digging where the old house used to sit !!!

Over the next couple of weeks I added layers of cardboard & shredded paper (moving boxes & packaging) to the beds and then added grass cuttings and the manure on top.

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This was left to settle for a month before turning the soil, the cardboard and paper was already rotted and to my joy I had an army of worms working away at all of the layers we had added.

We have continued to turn the layers each month and this is working in nicely, it will now be left alone until spring when hopefully the worms and frost (if we get any) will have done their work and the soil will be ready for sowing and planting without any need to dig.

The soil is still not at the top of the beds, but over time this will increase as we have loads of manure left as well as the compost heap and sacks and sacks of leaves that are rotting down along with the turf we removed.

Next year we plan on adding two more beds, we hope to buy the same timber but to make bigger beds of 4.8 meters by 1.2 meters so that we can grow crops with larger space requirements, so it looks like I will be having another few weeks of digging and riddling to look forward too, but I am sure it will all be worth it when I taste some home grown produce.

PS my OH kindly built the cloche that is shown over one of the beds, this was made from some water piping that the brother in law was going to throw away. He made it so I can slide the sides up to access the inside.

This has stood up to all the wind and rain we have had without any problems. I did not add manure to this bed, but simply added some compost and then I sowed some cabbages (Durham Early) which are growing away quite nicely so hopefully I will have some spring greens and cabbages to look forward to.

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14 Responses

  1. VegVamp says:

    Wow! You have been busy Ali. This all looks wonderful and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it about it all. I moved to raised beds in 2007 and have never looked back, and you have made a brilliant start on your veg garden. After all that back, arm and wrist breaking digging I would strongly recommend you thinking about a no dig system for your raised beds – it works really well. ;-)
    Thank you – what a great read. :-)

  2. AliCat says:

    Hi K, thank you :rose:
    Hopefully we will be no dig from next year, we have only turned it this year as there were no worms to start with, but they have taken over big time now, so there should be no need for any digging or working on the soil.
    The only problem we seem to have at the moment is the darn slugs :angry: that and the odd weed which as its so wet are easily removed.
    I might have to alter the PH level in spring as we are working on quite acidic soil, but I will wait until then to try and get an accurate reading of the soil before making any changes

  3. gertie says:

    Brilliant … bravo Alison and OH, brilliant :dance: :good:

  4. Ali, well done!!! What a fantastic project – the raised beds will repay you many times over – and the worms obviously love what you’ve done :-) I loved reading your blog and can only echo Karen about no-dig. Your slugs are just exploring – the birds will have them soon enough :good:

  5. dixon says:

    Looking good Alison, love my raised beds, well worth the work. :good:

  6. dandlyon says:

    Brilliant Ali or as the raised bed Guru mickyp would say “bostin”. Its certainly the way to go, hard work to set up but well worth the effort

  7. Beanstew says:

    You have certainly laboured mightily, Ali – and you will be repaid mightily. I am not sure that raised beds ever fill up completely – mine certainly don’t seem to, in spite of everything I add. Quite where it all goes to, unless into the veg, I am not sure. This is a great blog, and I am only grateful that I did not run into your problem with slate, while making mine. I might have given up.

  8. Yewbarrow says:

    Now that is what I call a project – with knobs on me thinks, what a joy it will be when you harvest your veg next year worth all the hard work, sweat and probably almost some tears at times – well done both

  9. cilla says:

    Ali, it is quite incredible what you have achieved in such a short time. It all looks great and you should have some super crops. You will be able to sell the surplus at the garden gate. :lol:

  10. Veggiepatch says:

    Well done Ali, loved your blog and the photos really showed your progress, I can’t imagine how hard it was to clear the soil but it’s now alive with micro-organisms and beasties.

    That was a lucky break with the farm manure.

    You deserve lovely veg next year, I can never quite make y mind up if the first baby potato, the first baby carrot or the first pod of peas taste the best, what I do know is whichever it is, you’ll enjoy the rewards of your hard work.

    Well done.

  11. roly says:

    when I read this topic I thought it was brilliant having spent several weeks last year making and installing 12 razed beds on our allotment that proved for most veg crops well worth the effort

    never had such a good crop of cabbage onions didn’t get it rite for celeriac or celery but produced good swede the razed beds where really on a trial basis following all the info from our fiends on this site because I was so anti razed bed because I had always been brought up to garden the old fashioned way and basically I was stuck in my ways

    but that all changed last year when I took the advise to use razed beds instead of my traditional way I was lucky having bought a load of reclaimed timber cheap its one of those things being in the rite place at the rite time

    made some hoops to fit the razed beds bought some insect netting never looked back definitely have to thanks to all on this site that made me make the change and I’m going to increase my razed beds this year because it has also cut my work load in half on the allotment

    most of my razed have had a good layer of farm manure and because the beds are netted I can use plenty of slug pellets without worrying about the wild life so it win win all round

    good luck with your razed beds this season :good:

  12. dandlyon says:

    Have a look at the video I posted Mick Poultneys raised beds,it was filmed a few days ago on Micks allotment

  13. karenp says:

    Really enjoyed reading through your blog, and how amazing that you were digging where the old foundations of the old house would’ve been, a bit of history in those slates and bits of china ;-)
    But how good those beds are looking and do like the cloche your OH constructed too, bet your so pleased with yourselves :good: :-)

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