Author Topic: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.  (Read 962 times)

George the Pigman

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Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« on: January 24, 2021, 19:27:46 »
Well I have always been a fairly conventional allotmenteer - certainly as regards plot management. I have a standard sized plot with rather clayey soil and usually plant and sow things across it in rows. I have done this for nearly 30 years whilst most allotments on site have gradually moved to raised beds.The only raised bed I have is one I set up for blueberries so I could try and keep the soil on the acidic side.
Now, as age takes its toll, and digging gets harder I have decided to bite the bullet and to move to raised beds to make things a bit easier. I also can see the advantage of being easily able to erect netting and fleece on the beds where necessary.
But where to start! Should I set up raised beds for all my veg? Surely not for potatoes??
Should I have a mixed plot with raised beds and rows?
Normally I rotate the plot every year. How does rotation work with raised beds -particularly if I have a mixed rows/raised beds plot.
Anyone any advice or opinions?
« Last Edit: January 24, 2021, 19:29:29 by George the Pigman »

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Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« on: January 24, 2021, 19:27:46 »

pumpkinlover

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Re: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« Reply #1 on: January 25, 2021, 08:12:06 »
We did sort of in between system by putting pavers to divide the plot up into sections. The plots levels raise up with the addition of compost but don't have edges.



saddad

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Re: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« Reply #2 on: January 25, 2021, 08:30:42 »
Plastic pallet toppers, if you can source them are a good compromise... easy to move around for rotation and don't rot. Wooden ones even if treated each year usually decay in 4-5 years. If you have been digging the plot for 30 years you will have removed the perennial weeds. One of my bugbears is newbies who come onto the site and set up raised beds, at considerable expense, and then give up when the couch and or bindweed get in and can't be eradicated because of the heavy timbers.....

ACE

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Re: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« Reply #3 on: January 25, 2021, 12:45:01 »
I started on them with pallet toppers a couple of years ago, same reason after years of conventional digging and rows across the plot. I did find that it was alright for carrots and a few salad crops but I still needed some rows for spuds etc. Now I have got lazy and purchased a rotovator.  So ripped them all out and gone back to the old fashioned way with just a small nursery bed tucked in a corner. Before you all start shouting worm murderer, I have given the plot a little dig here and there are worms in abundance even after a complete deep plot rotovate.

Tee Gee

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Re: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« Reply #4 on: January 25, 2021, 12:49:27 »
I like how you wormed your way out of that one Ace :happy7:

George the Pigman

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Re: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« Reply #5 on: January 25, 2021, 20:00:04 »
I am I still get weeds saddad! Originally it was covered in couch grass and creeping thistle. With effort I managed to get rid of them  - sort of (the paths either side of the plot are couch grass so it keeps trying to invade the plot if I don't watch out). Now the weeds are mainly from seeding varieties although I have never been able to get rid of the mares tail of which we have in abundance on the site.

Deb P

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Re: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« Reply #6 on: January 25, 2021, 20:12:47 »
My plot is split into half raised beds 13 in total , and half without edgings but I still divide the space into 4ft beds. I rotate crops around the lot but have gradually changed from quite a strict group rotation to a more relaxed approach as a few of the raised beds have been used for permanent crops such as rhubarb or dahlias so it has forced me to be less strict!
In terms of raised beds reducing your workload, I think having permanent slab paths have been more of a timesaver than the raised beds as I do far less path weeding which used to take more effort than the beds! .I add a lot of compost and manure to the beds every year which needs lugging about so not necessarily a back saver. I do like the raised beds in terms of being able to reuse nets cut to size every year and it is nice to weed a few beds thoroughly so it looks neat quicker than a big space but when my latest edges rot away I not sure I will bother to replace them just use movable paving slabs to  defined areas....
If it's not pouring with rain, I'm either in the garden or at the lottie! Probably still there in the rain as well TBH....🥴

http://www.littleoverlaneallotments.org.uk

ACE

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Re: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« Reply #7 on: January 26, 2021, 06:14:31 »
I forgot to say I do not have defining paths either, never saw the point in wasting growing space.  Plant my rows, walk up and down the spaces for hoeing, picking etc and next year grow on that spot. A small area around the shed and poly door could be classed as a path but it is great place to chuck all the larger stones.

Vinlander

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Re: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« Reply #8 on: February 09, 2021, 13:40:20 »
Raised beds are really good for clay soil - mine dries out and warms up significantly faster than it did - I now find that volunteer tomatoes appear early enough to fruit before the frosts (my general policy is that every edible volunteer is one less weed in that bed).

They are even better if you have a winter drainage problem (I have both problems).

The biggest disadvantage is the need for more soil - could be expensive - but you can solve that by digging all the topsoil that's wasted in the path onto the bed.

If your plot is well drained you can continue walking on the subsoil, but that would leave me needing waders in winter - fortunately our site gets free woodchip deliveries, so I can bring my paths up level with the beds and lift the boards so they are only a few cm deep in the soil - this massively improves the life of the wood, and if the woodchip rots down before you can replace it, the boards can be slid down the stakes (mostly cut from iron pipes with PET bottles over the tops) so they can continue to support the bed's edges.

If you regularly top up the wood chip you only really need one trench-worth of temporary planks either side when you are digging it out and for the first fill. 

In the really waterlogged areas (chip can go squishy) I find it much better to make my own very coarse chip by cutting woody prunings etc. with secateurs - if it's thin enough for secateurs you can chop it as long as 20cm, if it's thick enough to need loppers it needs to be cut to half that or less.

The big bonus (with unlimited chip) is that you can dig out the paths and replace the rotted chip completely after 2 years and use the 'rotchip' as a brilliant soil conditioner (it will look like  peat by then and there's no possibility of nitrogen theft).

Or fill builders' bags with it and grow fly-proof carrots. Plants that like a light soil and don't need massive fertility go absolutely nuts in them.

One more thing - if you have couch or bindweed it will go into the chip - but it's so easy to pull & fork out that a child could do it with a beach spade.

In fact I think chip works as a lure so the weeds are playing into your hands.

I find this method is a triple- or quadruple-win strategy.

Cheers.

PS. there is only one downside. Despite the fact that raised beds have always been found to increase plot productivity overall, most councils have a 75% cultivation clause. It is literally and mathematically (and topologically) impossible to have a "no treading on the bedding" system of usable paths, whether permanent or temporary without breaking this rule.

Yes, you can say that my version leaves no topsoil unexploited at all, yes you can say that other plots have more weeds than you have paths, but there will always be some jobsworth inspector who will quote percentages at you at some point - so a diagram may be necessary to prove that neat paths 30-45cm wide need to be tolerated, that sheds of the approved size need to be excluded, and that the 25% uncultivated should only apply to weeds, that perennial ones should count double (I think), and that volunteer crops (like land cress & salsify) don't count at all. Ideally, orchard and vineyard areas should be counted as 100% cultivated unless standard spacings are exceeded.

Phew! Sorry. Bit of a magnum opus this one...
With a microholding you always get too much or bugger-all. (I'm fed up calling it an allotment garden - it just encourages the tidy-police).

The simple/complex split is more & more important: Simple fertilisers Poor, complex ones Good. Simple (old) poisons predictable, others (new) the opposite.

saddad

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Re: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« Reply #9 on: February 09, 2021, 19:46:52 »
But well stated and sensible advice... may rot some down for carrots... are the builders bags "fly" proof?

Vinlander

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Re: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« Reply #10 on: February 10, 2021, 11:53:59 »
But well stated and sensible advice... may rot some down for carrots... are the builders bags "fly" proof?
Yes. It's the height that matters - the flies scout for roots in the ground, most sources say below 60-90cm - and barriers that high do work, so builders bags are too tall for them.

I must say I didn't invent them, but I think the rotchip makes them better, and having a "micronutrient mix" layer - about 15cm down makes them taste better (that's a fancy name for ~50% mix of rotchip and heavy soil - often the lower part of the bag is layers of rotchip and scalped soil with the annual grasses & weeds still in it).

I've often thought that the turbulence caused by a solid barrier may explain why 60cm is the minimum - I'd like to see an experiment putting a windbreak mesh around a lower barrier - but I don't have time to do it myself. 

Working around this subject - I find yellowstone carrots get much less fly than orange ones, so I sow those direct in the soil. I sow very quick carrots (mostly ball ones) in the soil too, but the maincrop orange ones (and especially red/purple ones) go in the bags.

Cheers.

PS. Builder's bags are made to be thrown away (a sad and unnecessary waste), so they vary enormously in terms of UV resistance - they are all pretty bad & the white ones seem to be worst. Anything that can clad them & shade the sides, especially the south side, will save you a lot of work in a year or three. Old lino and other floor coverings are handy, carpets work if you hang them securely and dump them before they disintegrate. I also use oddments of old black plastic sheet that I got before they stopped bothering to inhibit it.
With a microholding you always get too much or bugger-all. (I'm fed up calling it an allotment garden - it just encourages the tidy-police).

The simple/complex split is more & more important: Simple fertilisers Poor, complex ones Good. Simple (old) poisons predictable, others (new) the opposite.

saddad

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Re: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« Reply #11 on: February 10, 2021, 14:28:14 »
Excellent advice... had some good results from half barrels but potential for larger crop with a builder's bag or two...

boydzfish

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Re: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« Reply #12 on: February 13, 2021, 16:42:04 »
There's  a chap called Charles Dowding on You Tube who uses raised beds to grow crops and is an absolute font of knowledge on the subject. I have just converted one of my plots to raised beds just covered it with cardboard and dumped a load of compost on it in November. I have planted onions, garlic and Broad Beans on it and covered a portion of it with weed suppressant fabric till I am ready to use it. We have one guy on our allotment who simply has three raised strips the entire length of his plot (Bit like the old strip farming from way back) and it seems to be pretty low maintenance, the theory being if you don't disturb the soil you won't uncover new weed seeds.
Boydzfish

George the Pigman

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Re: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« Reply #13 on: February 13, 2021, 20:02:22 »
That's great advice. My plot is very clayey (it was once a river bed a few thousand years ago!) and drainage in winter is a real problem. At the moment with all the rain we have had this winter it looks like pictures of the aftermath of the Somme (no dead horses or unexploded munitions though!)!
We also get a good supply of wood chips from the Council or sometimes local tree surgeons.

What groups of plants would you say are suited to raised beds and what are aren't? I would need a lot of raised beds to grow the equivalent of the 6 rows of potatoes I grow at the moment!!

JanG

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Re: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« Reply #14 on: February 14, 2021, 07:06:55 »
I think raised beds are suitable for all crops. I’ve always grown all my veg in beds four feet or so wide.
Your main question I think is whether to have wooden edges to the beds or simply build them up with compost etc and have more sunken paths - of woodchip perhaps - between them. I think there’s a lot to commend the second approach. Again Charles Dowding’s videos show how exceptionally successful that can be especially when practised with ‘no dig’ and lots of mulching instead.

George the Pigman

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Re: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« Reply #15 on: February 15, 2021, 21:06:37 »
I am still concerned I would not have enough spuds (we love our potatoes!). Usually I grow two rows of early potatoes with 21 spuds in each row, then 4 rows of maincrops with 15 spuds in each. That's a total of 102 spuds (In a good year they last us until Easter!).
How many raised beds do you think I would need for that number?

Tee Gee

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Re: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« Reply #16 on: February 16, 2021, 00:15:04 »

My beds were usually around 5-5.6” wide and I placed the tubers around 9-10” apart.

The reason I planted out across the bed rather than along the length of the bed was if I was growing say early/main crop like you do, and  using your numbers I would form four rows of earlies (4 x 5) then 12 rows of maincrop (12 x5 ) rather than say 1 row of earlies along side say 2 rows of maincrop.

The reason for this was for ease of harvesting that is my earlies were at one end of the bed and my maincrop were at the other meaning I didn’t interfere with the maincrop when I was harvesting the earlies. The other advantage was; this method freed up an area of ground at one end of the bed once I had removed my earlies and I could get in a around a dozen late calabrese
 So as you see I was able to get in a catch crop after the earlies which would not be so practical if I was planting my catchcrop in a single  row alongside my maincrop variety.

I hope that helps,


Paulh

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Re: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« Reply #17 on: February 16, 2021, 09:55:29 »
"How many raised beds do you think I would need for that number?"

Depends on the spacing you use for your potatoes and the size of the beds!

A bed that is 6' wide will let you have four rows at 18" apart or three rows at 24" apart.

So for 60 maincrop potatoes at 12" in the row, you would need 20' in length - say, two beds 10' by 6'.

That size bed would also conveniently hold 40 early potatoes in four rows.

So that's three beds measuring 10' by 6'. That's perhaps a bit bigger than most people make raised beds, but if you make them much smaller, you risk wasting space oddly, and also because you have more paths in between them.

Remember to make the paths wide enough between them - not less than 18" in my view.

Disclaimer - I don't use raised beds but I have made wood chip paths to divide my plot into three areas of roughly 20' by 12' and plant it up in blocks within that, so there is space for succession planting.

Tee Gee

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Re: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« Reply #18 on: February 16, 2021, 10:46:42 »
Here is my formula for deciding the width of the beds and footpaths. Length Is arbitrary they can be as long as you have space for.

Width;

Kneel on the ground bend you self forward as if you were on your hands and knees weeding.Stretch forward to a comfortable distance as if you were trying to remove a weed/s.make a mark on the soil then measure the distance it is from the edge of your planned path then double it.

Example: measurement 2'-6" (75cms) x 2 = 5'-0""(150cms) meaning you construct the bed to this width and as I mentioned previously the length is as long as you want it.

This means you have a comfortable width to work with choose which side of the bed you are working from.


Footpath

Again kneel down as before with your knees just touching the edge of the bed make a mark in the soil behind you at a point where your toes rest.measure this distance and that is the most ecconomicall width of your path/s.

This ensures that as you are kneeling down weeding your toes are not in the adjacent bed doing potential damage to the plants therein.

Having said that. As an alternative is to measure the width of your barrow and make your path that width. This is of particular benefit to those people who have short lower legs!

I find that these measures work for any size of people  be they dwarfs or giants.

I hope that all makes sense!
« Last Edit: February 16, 2021, 10:50:28 by Tee Gee »

Vinlander

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Re: Switching to raised beds-advice and opinions please.
« Reply #19 on: February 16, 2021, 12:32:38 »
I do have short legs, but having paths wide enough to kneel across would still make them 60cm or more wide.

That's a big reduction in cropping area compared to the 30-40cm paths I use*.

I need convenience and some comfort, but they have to be balanced against productivity.

Most of the time I'm using long tools, but if it's occasional trowel work I will bend over to reach the middle of a 1.2m bed, and a 30cm wide path is the minimum to shuffle my boots round without lifting them (any smaller and the edging traps them and I fall over).

If I really have to stay closer I can kneel along a 30cm path - then twist right or left to reach near halfway across without cramping myself...

However, with my knees I prefer to put a mat along the path and lie on it - no problem.

A 30cm path is fine for running a barrow along and tipping it sideways, but that assumes you don't have anything tall right next to the path.

I would never sow or transplant into the soil within 10-15cm of the path anyway - a month later you could be kneeing it every day. Also, that bit can get dangerously dry very quickly in hot weather and is much more difficult to re-wet because the water can escape onto the path so easily.

*And I don't want to break the 75% rule too obviously.

Cheers.



With a microholding you always get too much or bugger-all. (I'm fed up calling it an allotment garden - it just encourages the tidy-police).

The simple/complex split is more & more important: Simple fertilisers Poor, complex ones Good. Simple (old) poisons predictable, others (new) the opposite.