Growing your own veggies in a “raised bed”

cucumber flowerI wanted to do this for a long time already and this year I finally found the time and motivation for it. A bed for growing vegetables, the special thing about it is, that it is raised off the ground. This has several positive effects and in my garden those effects are even required to grow vegetables. The garden is on the north side of the house and thus the sunshine-time is not as long as it could be otherwise. Also snails are a big issue, several neighbours also complain that it is impossible to grow vegetables due to snails which come in great numbers and devour everything humans also would like to eat :). Since I am not a fan of killing any animal without a really good reason and without considering all alternatives, I decided to go for the raised bed. This meant a lot of effort building it – it took me several weekends and some euros to finally have it standing – but I can keep my hands off any chemicals or other means to keep away snails and other pests. It is now two weeks since than and my first resume is quite good. All plants were able to start growing in their new home. They invested their energy in repairing and increasing the root-mass and now the first new young leaves are visible. Only one little salad was eaten by something… I don’t know what that was, but I will observe it. In the next chapters I will talk a little about details of several aspects of building and maintaining it and of course there are pictures again!

overview

Building the raised bed

I considered several designs for the bed and finally decided for a U-shaped version. The optimal area the bed could cover would of course be a circle, than I’d needed the least amount of wood for the maximum surface of raised bed. A downside would be, that I could only have extended it to a certain degree. Every part of the raised bed which is more than 60-80 cm into the bed is hard to reach and thus maintenance would be almost unfeasible. Also I did not want to put the bed in the middle of the garden so that I would be able to access it from every side. The typical form of raised beds one can buy commercially is rectangular, with about 80 cm height and something like up to 2 m widht and a depth of 80-100 cm. But since the surface from one of those would not have been enough for all the plants I planned to grow, I would have had to get several of them and since I decided beforehand that I would also like to built it on my own, I could modify the design still. When combining several rectangular shapes in an optimal way, one will eventually come up with a U-shape, since you can save some building-material and are able to access everything comfortably. A problem that arises with a raised bed is always that you have to fill it with soil which does not only want to fall downwards, but also side-wards. So it pushes the sides away from the middle. Especially with complex forms this becomes a problem, in a rectangular form each side holds two other sides and thus stabilizes it. I decided to mount a metal-rope to some of the posts that they hold each other in a similar way.

horizontal saladspumpkin

When buying the raw materials I had to calculate a lot to find the most cost-effective combination of materials. I came up with a combination of 120cm long sharpened spiles and laths for building floors. Each spile was placed on a regular grid of 1*1 meter around the outer border of the “U” and with a distance of 80 cm inside the “U”. In this way I could buy less material, since the laths came in 180cm and the surface becomes a little huger, but is still well accessible from inside the “U”. With the wood I also got a coating for rough weather, so that the wood survives longer than 1 year. I got the laths cut to 100cm and 80cm pieces and only had to paint and mount them. To get a form that can be filled with soil I bought a plastic sheet which is usually used for getting weeds away from a meadow or future bed. It is black and heats up really fast in the sun and thus kills everything which used to grow under it. This effect is than also used in the bed and the soil is always nicely warm to provide proper conditions for plants to grow.

I filled the bed with several different materials. The first layer consisted of twigs and branches, partly with their leaves still on. It was than filled step by step with different soil I got from different places in the garden. I used a lot of compost the pervious neighbours piled up already. Additionally they put all organic waste from gardenwork on a huge pile which turned to really nice soil by now. Sometimes you might also read about horse manure which could be one of the layers. Since I was too lazy to go and get some (and also didn’t want my car to smell like it afterwards :)), I decided to leave that out. After all I had enough soil.

Nursing the plants inside and planting

I started growing the plants I wanted to put out in March already. Maybe this was a little early, at least for pumpkin, cucumber and zucchini. They do not look so good at the moment, but I think at least the cucumber will start growing better. The zucchini and pumpkin are hard to distinguish as long as they do not have fruit yet. The cucumber grows vines and it needs to be provided with some opportunity to climb. Other plants I grew were: tomatoes, peppers, white cabbage, red kohlrabi (funny how this is pronounced in english ;)), beetroot, broccoli and of course carrots and salad. The tomatoes are some special breed which is called “Buschtomaten” in german. They do not grow very tall (50cm) and have presumably small fruit. However they are supposed to withstand also harsh conditions. I am making a little experiment with them. Some of them are under a shelter. Thats how you should grow tomatoes, to protect the from the harshest rains and winds. As soon as tomatoes get moist leaves, thy get prone to become victim to Phytophthora infestans, a fungus that destroys the whole harvest. We will see if the unprotected plants will really get eaten by someone else than me.

growing insidegrowing inside 2
growing inside 3growing inside 4

Two weeks ago I finally put all the plants to the bed. I chose to not put them in there in this orderly way that you will usually find in (german) gardens. First of all it is known that plants interact and that some don’t like others while some help each other and secondly I would like it to look diverse :). According to the list most of my plants come along well with each other and I mixed them just randomly. Can you guess which plant in the photos is which? Hover with your mouse over the image and you will get the names :).

tomatoescucumbertomato, white cabbage, pepper, beetroot, broccolitomato, white cabbage, carrots, pepperwhite cabbage, salads, red kohlrabi, pepper, zucchini

First quality checkup and evaluation

Today I was taking a first closer look at everything. There are of course things to improve but I am happy with the overall result so far. Most plants have fresh young leaves and will hopefully grow well. The soil is sinking in a lot, more than I expected and I hope this process stops soon. Somebody took off the flowers of my pumpkin or zucchini. It does not really look like a knife or like scissors, so maybe it was ants or some other animal. Fortunately those flowers were there too early anyway and new-ones are approaching already. Maybe the plants than invest a little more to leaves first and develope a second flower soon. The spiles are a little crooked but nothing to worry at this moment. One of the laths seems to be coming off. The pressure seems rather high and you can also see it one of the photos, the sheet it getting pushed quite a lot.

carrotbeetrootsaladstomato

For the next year I will grow some green manure to improve the soil-quality and add more (good) composted soil on top of the whole thing. Also I will set supporting herbs that can still help keeping all kinds of pests away. Maybe I need to incorporate some more of those metal-ropes to keep the spiles on the backside from falling over eventually. Also I would like to explore horizontal gardening more and will probably cut some more holes into the sheet and stabilze them in some way, that they don’t rip open.

Hope you enjoyed reading and if you have any questions or suggestions, don’t hesitate to write a comment or mail.
Here is a nice beetle for you, because you made it to the end!

Pyrochroa coccinea

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