Another week of torrential rain, including another downpour overnight, so no digging again. There’s not much to be done on our original allotment (pictured) that we’ve had for a few years. It’s all raised beds and was all dug and manured before Christmas. However, just behind the polytunnel, at right angles to this plot is the additional half plot we signed up for late last autumn after being abandoned by its previous tenant. I carried out an inspection this morning and it’s completely waterlogged, neatly illustrating one of the main advantages of raised beds.
When we took on our original plot, it hadn’t been cultivated for over 25 years. The weeds were as tall as me and it was full of couch grass, docks, horseradish and other entrenched perennial weeds, so it was two years before it was completely cleared and all the beds in. We did it in stages, covering areas with tarpaulin for several months, then digging deep so as to clear out every scrap of root we could find. The beds were made out of old scaffolding planks, held in place with lengths of steel reinforcing rod sourced from one of Birmingham’s many metal bashers around Digbeth. We dug out the paths and put the earth into the beds so that they would sit a good eight inches above ground level. A huge trailer load of farmyard manure was mixed in with the soil to improve the structure and fertility. The paths were lined with a double layer of weed proof membrane then mulched with wood chippings donated by a neighbouring tree surgeon. Several compost bins, a small tool shed and polytunnel completed the project.
I cannot deny that this took a huge amount of effort. To clear a piece of ground 30 yards by 10 by hand is back breaking work and I’m not planning on doing it again any time soon. But after this initial investment of time and effort and a bit of financial outlay on materials, it’s paying dividends. It’s much easier to maintain - I can dig over a 12’ by 6’ bed in under 20 minutes. Their size means I rarely have to tread on the soil so it doesn’t get compacted. The paths are wide enough for a wheel barrow and easy to weed. Crop rotation is much easier to plan as I treat the beds like miniature fields on a farm. They drain much quicker after heavy rain and warm up sooner in the spring, although the price paid for this is that extra watering is needed in the summer.
On the whole, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages with the overall result that two busy people can maintain a large plot, get excellent crops and still have time to sit under the apple tree and listen to the birds while eating cake. That’s got to be a good thing.