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Raised beds - for and against

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default Raised beds - for and against

Post by Chilli-head on 12th March 2012, 10:45 am

I was going to respond to GB's suggestion in the tea room, but thought it needed a better place.

GB wrote:
freebird wrote:I'm absolutely cream crackered too. Still battling the couch grass, bindweed and brambles, and have decided to clear a new bit to start an asparagus bed. I think I'm winning. An absolutely glorious day here, but cool enough to work and stay comfortable.

Raised beds! Lay a THICK layer of newspaper or cardboard down and put your raised bed over it. It will keep all the hard to get ride of weeds out of your beds and the gardening will be easy Cool

Raised beds seem to be awfully trendy over here at the moment. Whenever an allotment becomes vacant, you can almost guarantee that the new plotholder will busy themselves with planks of wood and nails before they do anything else. I'll say straight up that I do not like them, so my views might just be biassed, but, begining with the positive:

Pros:
If you have little depth of decent soil, it can be much easier than improving the whole plot.

If you have raised beds, you shouldn't need to walk on them, so reducing compaction.

If you have an area prone to waterlogging, it can improve drainage.

You may find them easier to manage if you have a bad back, or other physical limitation,

Cons:
To raise a bed of any size more than an inch or two requires an enormous amount of material, far more than most people realise until they come to empty their 5 bags of B&Q compost into them and see that it barely covers the bottom.

Unless you have a waterlogging problem, you will make watering more necessary and more work.

Wooden boards around the sides can make the perfect slug and snail hotel next to the restaurant Very Happy

A layer of cardboard is unlikely to stop pernicious weeds. Couch will punch straight through it.

You can have beds which are permanent and never walked upon without raising them.

Constructing them diverts resources from actually growing things.

All IMHO of course ...
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default Re: Raised beds - for and against

Post by Dandelion on 12th March 2012, 11:12 am

It does seem to be a matter of taste and individual preference. The things I like about raised beds is that because I have arthritis in my knees it's a bit easier to reach the plants/weeds, and makes gardening more comfortable. The other thing which I've found is that having hens which free-range (sometimes farther than they're supposed to...) I can put supports in at the edges of the beds and protect crops with netting. The hens do wreak havoc with edges of the flowerbeds which are not raised beds, so for me raised beds give more protection. But I do agree that they need watering more, and plants at the very eges of the beds are less likely to thrive than plants further towards the middle. The other thing I find awkward is that if I want to dig a pit where my runner beans are going to be, to fill with compost, it's more difficult in a raised bed. But weighing it up, for me the convenience outweighs the inconvenience, and if I was starting another garden tomorrow I'd put some raised beds in.

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default Re: Raised beds - for and against

Post by freebird on 12th March 2012, 12:33 pm

Oh I'm so glad to read these opinions. I was most grateful for GBs input, but in my own mind am firmly with Chilli-head on this. I had already considered them, but my main reason against is additional cost: of materials to construct them in the first place, & buying in compost as I won't have enough of my own. I garden on a shoestring budget.

I hadn't realised that additional watering was needed (though obvious when you stop to think about it). I did know what an absolutely evil b******d couch grass is, so guessed that it would come right through a lot of base materials. If I were to put in a thick enough base material to stop the couch, I would be worried it may impede drainage - everything I have so far read about asparagus says good drainage essential. I am also rubbish at watering in a timely fashion, so my plants will be far better off in the ground. Slugs and snails are an enormous problem here, so again really don't need anywhere for them to hide.

I think I have pretty much decided that I will dig out the bed, and just keep working at the edges of it to prevent couch spreading in. But thank you all for your thoughts and ideas.
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default Re: Raised beds - for and against

Post by Chilli-head on 12th March 2012, 1:03 pm

I took on a very weedy allotment a few years ago. I have couch, comfrey and mare's tails as the biggest problems. I don't have bindweed there, but I do in the garden ...

So, if my experience is any use ...

My soil was heavy clay, which means that digging out the weeds was hard work, and some soil improvement was needed. I went for the option of having permanent paths and beds, though not (deliberately at least) raised. I started by covering the ends of the plot with black polythene for a year, because I hadn't the time and energy to tackle it all in the first year, and made 5 beds in the middle of the plot, which was less weedy. I skimmed the grass/weeds from off the paths and stacked the turves upside down, and wrapped the pile in black polythene to prevent the weeds growing. The paths I then covered with landscaping fabric, or (when I had run out) a thick layer of corrugated cardboard, and topped it off with woodchip (I can get shredded conifer for free from the local tree surgeon).

As years went on, I slid the polythene back a bit to make space for additional beds. The loam from the stuff I'd skimmed off the paths went back on once the weeds had rotted down.
In all, I probably have dug in maybe 4 tonnes of manure too ... the soil is getting a bit better now !

I think I'm starting to win against the weeds; the couch is shallow rooted so not too bad to dig out; it also seems to die after a year or so under black polythene. It will however grow through both cardboard and landscaping fabric. (It is is very susceptible to glyphosate too if you are in despair). The mare's tail is the weed from hell; it cannot be dug out, will survive over a year under black polythene, and is even largely immune to weedkiller. I'm resigned to living with it, and will no doubt be hoeing it off for the rest of my days ...
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default Re: Raised beds - for and against

Post by freebird on 12th March 2012, 6:18 pm

It probably sounds as if I am a bit of a newbie to this - I've actually been growing veg in this garden since 1981! The problems started when I had to leave the house and let it 12 years ago, and the garden became totally neglected. Then a garden clearer came in with a rotovator (I had to do something because of the tenants, but I bitterly regret it) - so bindweed and couch chopped up and distributed around the plots. Since I moved back in, with sheer hard work I am reducing the brambles (the entire back half of the garden, about 75 feet was one huge bramble thicket), and each year make a little more headway (sort of 5 steps forward and 4 back). I also have to be vigilant for broken glass (again courtesy of the garden clearer) - I never turn up less than three pieces each digging session. And I never have found my chicken house and feeders ....

I have, and always have had, 4' wide beds, so accessible from either side without having to walk on them. That's the theory, though when yet another bramble emerges right in the middle of a plot, it is impossible to dig it out without walking on the soil. I have decided for the time being to give up on permanent paths, until I have got the pernicious weeds under control. I find that otherwise the roots just spread under coverings that are difficult to take up. So this year I am digging over the entire area, then tramp down the bit where I want the path, and keep it hoed.

I have had some areas covered in black plastic. This has been a problem in itself, as the local foxes like to come along and rip it up. I searched for something heavier duty, but anything available for gardening seemed to be far too flimsy. Then hoorah hoorah, I discovered that a roll of damp proof membrane was cheaper than buying the equivalent length of flimsy plastic, and is plenty strong enough to deter the foxes - mostly (I have found one puncture hole).

I did try skimming the grass a couple of years ago, and doing exactly as you said - heaping it, turning it over and covering it. I thought it was usable as compost but I have a feeling that there were still some viable bits left in it. I used it to improve the soil where I planted some raspberries last year, and I've had a horrible amount of weed in amongst the plants. I've decided not to chance that again, so it's going down to the council recycling centre.

I don't have mare's tail, though, thank goodness.
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Post by polgara on 24th March 2012, 3:09 pm

Although I do not have raised beds, I grow in pots. There are only 2 of us & although we sometimes get a glut, it goes in the freezer. The reason for pots, too many cats think this garden is the local loo. Even the pots are at risk * some of the troughs end up with mushroom trays on top till the veg comes through. It also means that crops can be moved about easier.

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default Re: Raised beds - for and against

Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 24th March 2012, 3:20 pm

To raise a bed of any size more than an inch or two requires an enormous amount of material, far more than most people realise until they come to empty their 5 bags of B&Q compost into them and see that it barely covers the bottom.

But the same applies to adding organic material to any large area. We have an area of some 3/4 acre under cultivation this year. It has been fertilised by pigs for two years and I have unlimite access to wll rotted cow and horse manure, which I collect a ton at a time and it is like spitting in the ocean. I can load my trailer using a tractor fronloader but have to unload and distribute manually, without driving across the turned soil. I sat down and did some rough calculations on it the other night whilst weeping with back pain and realised it was going to take most of teh growing season to get an adequate amount in.

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