Monday, 23 September 2013

7 reasons why you shouldn't bother with raised beds on the allotment

My first raised bed - looked great and easy to net
If you've just got an allotment you might be weighing up whether to dig the whole thing over like a ploughed field or start with cultivating manageable chunks and using raised beds.

There are some great reasons for raised beds - they're quick to dig over, easier to net plus they're great if you need extra drainage. A raised bed covered in winter will probably get warmer quicker in the spring, giving you a head start with the growing season.

However, I recently went to Switzerland and saw how they managed their vegetable gardens - not raised beds, just well cultivated, big patches of earth, with vegetables and fruit divided up by different flowers including echinacea, rudbeckia and sunflowers.

Swiss vegetable garden in - neat a no need for raised beds

Compact, easy to maintain and pretty.

Having been a fan of raised beds since I got an allotment four years ago it made me rethink how I go about planning the plot in autumn ready for the next year. Here are some of the downsides I've discovered using raised beds.

1. They're expensive - yep, you may be a cost cutting pro cruising the local neighbourhood for skips filled with unwanted pallets in which to make your raised beds with, but I'm betting you're not. Purchasing wood for raised beds isn't cheap. When you're getting started it's a needless expense, wastes time too - save the cash and spend it on a shed. Now that you will need.

2. They're a pain to maintain - A plot full of neat raised beds looks lovely doesn't it? Until summer comes and the weeds and grass go mad and you're strimming round half a dozen 4-8 ft beds every weekend, when you could be doing something else, like planting seeds. You need to be a mathematical genius, too to ensure all your raised beds are neatly lined up. There's nothing worse than seeing a raised bed a foot higher at one end then the other,

3. They dry out really quickly - Like a giant window box they dry out faster than a large patch of cultivated earth. If you live 15 minutes walk from your plot like me, you'll want to cut down on the amount of watering you'll have to do.

4. They rot after a while - Even with some adequate protection a raised bed will start to deteriorate after a few years and you'll have to replace them.

5. Some veg is just better off planted straight in the ground - I had two 4x4 ft raised beds and planted potatoes tubers in them - big mistake. Have you ever tried harvesting potatoes from a raised bed using a fork? It's impossible to get into the corners without damaging the bed, or in this case, the potatoes.

Potatoes in a raised bed - really bad idea as it happens

6. You can't get that much in them - I can't count the amount of onion sets I've wasted because I'd filled up my raised bed and ran out of space. And take this year for example - I planted runners beans and marigolds in a 4x8 ft bed in the hope the latter would keep the blackfly at bay. However the marigolds were competing with the beans for space and winning.

7. They waste space - Turns out that most of my plot is pathways surrounding raised beds - there's a lot of unused soil which could be cultivated. Or used by someone else.

Lots of raised beds - lots of wasted space too
Still want raised beds? Go for it, but try doing a patch without them and comparing the results.

Now let's finish off on some swiss sunflowers... just because.

Sunflowers in switzerland - why not?

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