Growing Vegetables in Raised Beds
16th Nov 2002
I was first introduced to vegetable growing by my father, all his produce were at that time grown in neat rows with the whole garden being dug over to accommodate them. At that time I was very sceptical about the term 'Raised Beds', to me they were just fancy ornamental things, designed for lazy people and surely not for real gardeners. It was after I got hooked on growing vegetables for exhibition that I really discovered the true value of growing vegetables above ground.
Making Life Easy
Ninety percent of my garden is now made up of raised beds and not only do they make vegetable growing a lot easier, the quality and quantity is eventually superior as well. Raised beds is really a loose term for a method of growing plants above the normal ground level. On a patio for instance you can have tubs and containers as well as small raised areas built up with either wood plastic or bricks and blocks. Most raised beds in the kitchen garden are normally constructed 4 foot wide and running the length of the plot. Any adjoining bed can then be built to the same width but with a path in between of at least 18 inches. They do not have to be too high, nine inches being adequate for most vegetable needs.
Drainage and Weeding
Raised beds are perfect for a garden with very poor soil, clay soil, wet boggy ground or just a hard standing and some of the benefits can be summed up as follows. Good drainage - the soil warms up faster in the Spring - the working area being above ground makes it much easier to work the soil - less compaction of the soil as you do not have to stand on the bed to work - perfect if your garden has a high water table or is prone to some flooding - as you get older, you can raise the beds higher making growing vegetables a joy rather than a chore. More importantly to many, weeding no longer becomes boring, you can easily hand weed your way through the bed, 2ft width at a time, from either side.
My first raised bed was built from wood and I grew some marvellous parsnips in it on my first attempt. However do ensure that if you intend to build your own raised beds from wood, and now would be an ideal time to start, make sure that you use pressurised treated timber. If you intend to use just normal soft wood then you must paint them with a preservative that is specifically formulated not to be injurious to plant life. Once I was happy that raised beds worked, I really got carried away, and most of my beds are now permanently built with concrete blocks.
The initial preparation of the beds is important as you need to work in plenty of organic matter such as good quality garden compost or well rotted farm yard manure to the soil below. Do trench the ground well initially incorporating the organic matter as you go along the bed. During early Spring you can then apply your base top dressing feed to kick start the plants.
Table Top Gardening
It was when I decided to grow for Chelsea that raised beds immediately had a different connotation for me, all at once the name changed quite dramatically to table top gardening, because that is effectively what I have to do. The fact is that there is no soil at all in the greenhouses where I grow, just a concrete floor and steel benches, so I really had to be inventive. How could I for instance grow my large exhibition leeks and onions, and the answer was on the benches but using a variety of different containers. Anyone can grow vegetables, they certainly don"t need soil provided they have the will to tackle the job and using the right compost mixes.
The answer was in using a variety of pots and pipes and would you believe, wheely bins? Yes, these are used for every Chelsea to grow my long carrots in. To grow the leeks and onions I used a product called Link-a-Bord which is an unique system of linking lengths of cavity plastic planking together with the clever use of corner pieces and doweling. The leeks and onions grew marvellously well in no more than eight inches depth of Levington M3 compost, hence table top gardening.
The beauty of this product is it's versatility, you can erect it quickly on either a patio, a greenhouse bench or even on top of the soil. You can go as high you as you like using various lengths of doweling. After the Summer has gone by, all you do is dismantle the whole product, clean it and store it over winter until the following spring. I can see this being a real boon for disabled gardeners who dearly want to work at waist level. It"s available in white, green or terracotta colour.
Link-a-Bord is available from Link-a-Bord Ltd, Colliery Industrial Estate, Morton, Derbyshire. Tel No 01773 590 566.