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Rise to the challenge with raised bed cultivation
7:18am Tuesday 26th June 2012 in Grow Your Own
growing your own is something everyone should try for better taste, healthier living and saving money and food miles into the bargain, writes Claire Hart.
Anyone can grow veg, in a wooden planter, grow bag or ideally a small raised bed. Advantages of using raised beds include less bending, easier maintenance and greater productivity as you can have a greater plant density. Plus you and can extend the growing season because the soil in a raised bed will heat up faster than the lower ground level in the spring and retain heat in the winter. Raised beds also make it much easier to set up a covering system to protect against pests. Try FIGO universal frame connectors which grip differing cane thicknesses, to build sturdy garden frames or cloches to whatever size or shape you need, over which you can drape fleece or netting. If you use a covering of fleece or polythene you can then sow a few weeks earlier and use the retained heat to extend your growing season too.
Building a raised bed To create a raised bed you can use a range of materials from old railway sleepers to bricks, paving stones and wooden pallets, although if using the former be aware of tar like treatments leaching out into your veggy patch. Make them at least 8/10 inches high above ground level and keep the width to around 4ft so that you can reach the middle from either side.
If you don’t fancy constructing one from scratch, why not try a kit, such as WoodBlocX™ which simply slot together like giant wooden building blocks. Back sufferers should consider The VeggyTables™ on legs- ideal for wheel chair users. An off the ground raised bed also means warmer soil and better drainage and alleviates pest and soil damage.
Whatever materials you opt for, when laying the bed, ideally take off the top two inches of turf and turn it over to kill off the grass and weeds. If digging up the grass doesn’t appeal, you can opt for laying down at least 20 sheets of newspapers or several sheets of thick card, before adding a good mix of 2/3rds compost to one third soil with some organic rotted manure mixed in for good measure.
No dig cultivation Once set up, you can employ the No-Dig method of cultivation within your raised bed, or indeed any border. This method involves a layering system and lets the earth worms do the work for you. Having filled your raised bed with a good mix, spread organic matter on top as a mulch. You can also layer with straw or hay, a bit like a club sandwich. Thus no matter how poor the base line soil is, you will always have a rich layer in which to grow veg and no need to keep digging. Just pile mature manure into the bed every autumn.
How To Optimise Your Raised Bed Productivity: Crop varieties to grow Avoid tall vegetable plants such as climbers and also plants which need support as the soils looser structure will not readily support them. Root vegetables like Parsnips, turnips and carrots are ideal for raised beds, provided they are deep enough to allow good root growth.
We’re seeing more and more varieties developed to produce a high yield in small spaces, such as Dwarf French beans like Delinel (stringless), Maxi, Soleon or Amethyst, or why not try new white Aubergine- Ivory, which is compact enough to be grown in containers. Other baby varieties include carrot “Atlas”, an early maturing type that has round smooth roots. “Baby Beet Action” is a very sweet and tender variety, and still retains its round shape if sown quite thickly. All varieties are available from kitchen garden seed specialist, Marshalls.
Raised beds and wooden planters are also ideal for spring onions, and growing salads on a cut and come again basis, harvesting the larger leaves by cutting them as required, leaving the smaller leaves to grow on for cutting later on. Then sow another crop about three weeks later.
Crop rotation Given you have a finite area in a raised bed, it is important to implement rotational cropping (change what you grow, where, every season). This is important to avoid certain pests and diseases building up and draining the soil of nutrients. Use nitrogen fixing legumes like beans and peas to release nitrates back into the soil, enriching it ready for nutrient hungry varieties such as brassicas. Then in the third year, in that section grow onions or carrots, which do not need such rich soil and indeed best avoided for carrots to avoid them “forking”. Keep plants of the same family together as they have similar requirements. (For example potatoes like lime but brassicas do not).
Sucessional sowing Sometimes, less is more, so, you should use successional sowing to ensure a steady, regular and appropriate supply of vegetable throughout the growing season, rather than a glut all at once. Basically, using the principle of little and often, it involves extending your harvest by sowing a row every few weeks or so. Quick growing crops such as Dwarf French beans, peas, spinach, salads and carrots lend themselves to this way of cultivation. In this way you can ensure a regular, fresh supply of vegetables that otherwise would perish quickly under storage conditions.
Other varieties that are prone to bolting (growing less leaves and moving into flower and seed production) such as rocket, spinach, broccoli, cilantro, basil, cabbage and lettuce especially need to be sown successionally.
If you sow the longer fruiting crops such as courgette, cucumbers and runner beans and sweet corn in two batches, spaced a few weeks apart, you can optimise produce availability well into the autumn.
If you want to keep a regular supply of salads going this summer, chose a range of varieties for continuous cropping. Lettuce “Little Gem” and carrot “Marion” are ideal for successional sowing.
Outdoor sowings can be made every one to four weeks, from mid-April through to late summer. Sow seeds thinly, in short rows, and if the seed is very fine, use shallow drills, watered first, prior to sowing. Don’t forget to label your rows, and space apart according to the instructions on the seed packet. By keeping an eye on how well the seeds are growing, you can work out when to re-sow. Don’t forget to keep plants well watered.
Some cultivars do not need to be sown successionally, such as as aubergines, peppers and tomatoes as they produce fruits over a long period, hence are self regulating. Similarly, those that store well, like onions and garlic, do not need to be sown successionally either, neither do varieties that need longer to mature, like sprouts and leeks, which are best left to over winter in the ground, for picking as required.
April is the busiest month for outdoor sowings of beetroot, broccoli, brussels sprouts, spring cabbage, carrots, dwarf french beans, leeks, mange tout, parsnips, radish, salads, swede and early turnip.
So go on-get growing veg and give raised beds a try. Not only will you save time and effort, you will enjoy an extended harvest and can try a much grater choice of varieties than in the shops.
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