Saturday, 27 February 2016

Raised garden beds for vegetables

To go with our gorgeous and hopefully very fruity orchard, we want to be able to grow our own vegetables and greens. I love organic vegetables but here in the Netherlands the selection is tiny, and in our more isolated neck of the woods, it's often pretty tired looking. So, I've opted to grow my own again - and believe me, fresh off the stem veg are WONDERFUL!
We spent a lot of time thinking about where to put our vegetable garden,There is a lot of space that has no plan yet, but I am still playing with lots of ideas and I didn't want to block off any potential options.  W finally pointed out that we have two large areas  that have no particular use in the foreseeable future - the riding ring and the starvation paddock. We don't want to remove them, as they are part of the value of the house as a horse property, but we don't have horses. Just perfect for raised beds, with a good sand base to make sure the drainage is good and lots of sunshine.
We did a lot of research on different ways of making raised beds. I was particularly looking at how to limit the need for watering in the middle of summer - I don't mind doing it once or twice a week, but I know from past experience that I don't have the will power to water every day. Two different types appealed : one is based off 'hugelkultur'  and one that had a water retention base layer. So, with lots of space to play in, we decided to try both!

 A hugelkultur based raised bed has a core of natural materials that absorb water and decay over time providing a continuous flow of nutrients into the soil. You can make the raised bed by heaping soil over a long pile of branches and sticks or over straw bales, but as we have lots of branches and twigs in a giant heap in the garden (the last owner really wasn't a gardener type) wood was going to be our base. With W's passion for wood working, the beds were going to be made in wood, and as I'm not getting any younger, I wanted them to be tall enough that I didn't have to do all of the maintenance on my knees. W chose a white deal plank which hasn't had any chemical treatment. We both realized it means we will need to redo them again in about 5 years, but I don't want any preservative chemicals leaching into the soil. Each bed is 240 cm by 120 cm and is made 3 planks in height. His first task was to cut and prepare all the planks to the same size, something that the Makita mitre saw made quick work of. He also used a kreg jig to pre-drill holes for screw in the end planks, two per plank edge. The long planks had a square piece of wood attached into the inner corners as strengthening, indented just enough to make room for the cross planks to run across the front. ,

With all the preparation complete, it was time to move out of the workshop and start doing assembly in the starvation paddock.The sand is pretty uneven, so the assembly was pretty difficult - we quickly decided to move back to the concrete to find a flat surface to work on. In this picture you can see the placement of the crossbracing corner piece., Each of the short planks on the rectangle are screwed in to the long planks on the interior diagonal courtesy of the kreg jig. It is then double secured with two screws from the outside into the cross bracing post. Rinse & repeat until all four corners are complete and you have a wooden rectangle without top or bottom.

We then used a weed control membrane to line the bottom of the box and tacked it into the box using a staple gun. I decided to go with a porous fabric rather than a waterproof liner, as I have learned the hard way just how much water the Dutch weather throws at us here. In a drier climate, I suggest you use a waterproof base, but make sure you pierce it below the root level. Capillary action will keep the upper layers of soil moist enough, but a few punctures will make sure you don't saturate the soil to the point that roots rot.  We lipped the membrane quite high up the side of the box, mainly because that was the width of the membrane, and I decided it wouldn't hurt to leave it like that.

Once the frame and membrane was complete it was time to fill the lower layers with branches and rotting wood. This was probably the most exhausting part of the day! Not because it was hard to collect and fill with the wood, but because every branch is perfectly designed as a dog chew - and Luca wanted to play - continuously!

One afternoon of focused work and the first three beds are assembled, lined and have their wood filling. We need to get soil delivered, spend another afternoon with a wheel barrow and spades doing the final filling - and then it's planting time! Tomorrow it's time to do the other beds and those will be with a water retention base style. For the rest of today, it's time for a hot shower and a relaxing drink whilst watching the sun go down in blazing colors.

No comments:

Post a Comment