Last winter we converted a good chunk of the back garden to a kitchen garden – it was one of the reasons we bought the house. I wrote a guest blog for Richard (Sharpen Your Spades)) about our design for a kitchen garden back in September last year – 4 principals for starting your own kitchen garden. We are so pleased with how the kitchen garden has performed for us that we have squeezed in 2 more raised beds – one for rhubarb next year and one just for lettuce.
Why have we gone to all the trouble (and expense) of building 12 raised beds? I think that there are 4 simple reason
1 – Productivity
With a raised bed you plant closer than you would in traditional rows. The soil used for the beds was a mix of top soil, mushroom compost and well rotted manure. We were able to pack things in closely and get 2 sowings of things like dwarf French beans. The summer brassica bed was great – 3 different sowings of things like spinach, broccoli raab, radishes, chard and mizuna from spring to early autumn. We still have mizuna, chard and spinach cropping now. We had endless runner and climbing French beans and the tomatoes did brilliantly before the blight hit us in September.
Carrots and parsnips have done really fantastically. The beds are full of light, stone free soil which means they have grown long and straight. And being so high above the ground we have not suffered from any carrot root fly problems either.
2 – No dig
I have been keen to follow the no dig method of growing. As soon as I read about it, it just made so much sense – plants in the wild don’t need the soil to be dug over to grow well. With the raised beds we have added spent tomato bags, manure and compost in the autumn instead of digging and double digging row after row of an allotment plot. We will just add compost and manure to each bed every year. I am really looking forward to the development of deep rich soil over the next few year and reaping the benefits of no dig growing.
3 – Specific beds for specific crops
You can change the soil in some beds to suit different crops. We have used one bed for asparagus – the base is filled with gravel and the soil has a lot of sharp sand mixed in. This should give ideal growing conditions and we are looking forward to spring 2019 when we get to harvest the first time.
We have indulged in a bed specifically for lettuces. It is in an area that only get sun for about a third of the day in summer and that should work well for plants that wilt in the heat of a hot summers day – assuming we get any sun this year! Plus its only 1m wide and we can hopefully get a cloche over it for the winter.
4 – Ease
Lastly, but most definitely not least is how easy it is to manage and harvest a kitchen garden made of raised beds. We chose to build them quite tall, the top is at least 40cm above the path. I can reach the middle of the bed without breaking my back. There is no crawling around on your knees in mud.
You can see the weeds and pull them out as you walk by the beds. We were able to keep on top of the weeding like never before. You can also spot the slugs and snails quickly.
Apart from having to bite the bullet and empty your pockets there is only one issue so far. There isn’t really enough space to grow some of the things I would like. Mainly squash and potatoes. Both need more space to spread than we can really give them in the current layout.
It was a bit tricky to harvest the beans at the top of the poles as they were over 2m in the air. This year we will build the frame in a X rather that an inverted V shape which should help.
I can’t wait to get growing this year!