IT seems vegetables are happier off the ground in raised beds. Most of us are now aware that the no-dig regime seems to be beneficial to the soil.
By digging we are disturbing and disrupting that mammoth population of beneficial micro-organisms, the fungi, bacteria and mini- beasts that are essential to the soil’s vitality.
No-dig, raised beds can be easy, beautiful and productive.
There are many ways to make raised beds depending on the depths of your pocket, skill levels and aesthetics. One of the first I made had soggy soil and lacked promise.
But by making brick- surrounded raised beds and filling them with fabulous muck at the base and soil on top, they were hugely productive instantly.
Brick or stone surrounds are the longest-lasting materials but sadly the most expensive.
Most of my raised beds tend to be 1m wide (the width I can comfortably stretch across) by 2m to 3m long.
I like a few 1m by 1m beds too for an interesting layout but also to house ornate cloches ideal for basil, coriander and other specials.
Every plot is different, so you need to devise the best layout for your needs.
At home I have 50m² of raised beds which have kept four of us almost self-sufficient. (John Seymour, a self-sufficiency guru, reckoned on 9m² per person).
Keeping them full, year round, takes about four hours a week, maximum.
We tend to pick/plant the veg, perching on the edge of the beds, chatting, weeding or thinning. It is not so much a labour of love as a very lazy labour.
The height of my beds is between 20cm railway sleepers and 45cm. Given time, I will adapt them so all are at least 30cm high, easier on the back and more productive.
My beds are “fed” almost entirely with plug plants. Tomatoes, cucumber, yacon and aubergine are in plug trays on my kitchen window sills as we speak.
In the cold greenhouse are my cabbages, leeks, Brussels sprouts, celeriac, onions, broad beans, salad leaves, beetroot, sugar snap peas and cauliflower.
I hate bare soil and shoe- horn in seedlings as old plants come out.
With well-designed raised beds you can plant or harvest pretty much whatever the weather. I add 5cm of compost a year.
Timber is usually the cheapest option for construction.
For this a local sawmill is less expensive than a timber merchant.
I line the internal sides of all raised beds with black polythene so the face of the timber is dry and lasts far longer (hopefully 20 years for treated softwood).
For beds growing moisture- loving crops like watercress, celeriac and celery, I line the insides with polythene and add a few holes in the base to drain.
For the do-it-yourself approach a gardening colleague recommends 50mm by 30cm by 2m planks of treated softwood for the long sides and 1m (same dimensions) for the short.
Put four posts on the corners with two vertical posts to brace the longer sides.
This timber cut to size and treated would cost about R1100.
Other options include railway sleepers, reclaimed timber, scaffold boards or old builders’ bags.
The latter look basic but I make them about 45cm high and wrap the flexible willow screening around the sides. They are made from softwood and come in a kit form and can be made up in any size or shape. I have filled them with local authority green waste – high in potassium, so they should be very productive.