Updated: Mar 8
Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening for Beginners
I’m not ashamed to admit to it, I’m a complete novice at growing veg. I can live in hope that one day I will grow a monster pumpkin, you know the one that the neighbour’s kids gasp in awe at when they spot the astonishing sight, through your garden gates.
I’d heard of ‘square foot gardening’ but thought that was someone living with a postage size garden with nothing more than a large square foot planter!
Our garden was a nightmare and I decided the only way to grow anything other than tomatoes in our veg plot, or potager, that consisted only of stones glued together by clay, was to have raised beds. I put my husband to work over last winter and was lucky enough not only to get six raised beds built but a greenhouse too! No pressure on me then to produce an abundance of amazing healthy veg!
What have I learnt over the last few months? Rather a lot, so I’ll share 5 important tips with you in the hope they might be of some use.
#1 - Position planning: Keep a journal. Decide what you want to grow then find out what conditions they need such as full sun or partial shade. Then you can painstakingly plan what will grow in which raised bed.
I did run out of shaded areas during my ‘planning’ so used the haricot bean pyramids as much needed shade for salad produce.
#2 – Materials: I did so much research about which type of wood to use I thought my head would explode. It seems the jury is out about what wood treatment is used and whether it leaks into the soil and is eventually taken up with the roots of your plants. I eventually went with the untreated wood. Yes, I know it wont last as long but that was my choice. Only you can decide. For the base we lined the whole area with the green material stuff that lets water drain through but doesn’t allow weeds to grow up.
# 3 – Filling your beds: We stood there admiring the beautiful coffin-like empty boxes. I half expected to come out the following morning to find vampires sleeping in them.
My composters didn’t have a huge amount to use and certainly not enough to fill one bed. I picked out some worms and placed them in each bed. After much searching for the elusive good quality topsoil, we found somewhere that sold ‘vegetable soil’. You drive in with your trailer, they fill it up and you weigh and pay. A bargain we thought at 8 euros per trailer. Ten trips later all the beds were full.
The next two weeks the weather turned extremely cold but oh boy, did it rain? Then the rain stopped, and we had a heatwave or canicule, as they call it here in France. My seedlings were now encased in what seems like a bed of concrete!
So, next year, bags of compost will be going in the mix. Think carefully about what are going to fill them up with!
#4 – Mulch, mulch and more mulch: I kept reading on the online groups, that mulching was the secret to producing delicious home-grown vegetables. I decided the easiest thing I could use was straw. So, I bought a large container and after opening it and pulling some out, realised it had a mind of its own. It began expanding at an alarming rate so had to drag it into the greenhouse. It wasn’t easy to place around the small seedlings, as they disappeared, but where I did use it, I noticed how much the weeds were reduced and the top of the, ahem, concrete, wasn’t so set. So, it definitely helps keep the moisture in. I’ll keep the straw in the green house over winter so I can use it next year…and the following year…and probably the year after…
#5 – Seed sowing: I’m sure everyone is guilty of this at the beginning of their gardening hobby, whether it’s for vegetables or flowers. EVERY tomato seed grew. EVERY cabbage seed grew. Shall I go on? I didn’t think to stagger the sowing either! All my cabbages are at the same stage. Never mind.
I manage to sell my spare tomato plants as I really didn’t have the space for one hundred and fifty plants; that money will buy new seeds next year. I found a small garden centre closing down, not far from us, and he gave me about a thousand free plant pots. I’m going to spend Christmas creating a spread sheet of when to sow what seeds, when to sow the next batch etc, and stick to it!
Despite the concrete-like conditions everything seems to be growing.
I read about Hugelkultre – no dig and found it interesting so next spring I might follow this formula in one of the beds and compare. First you put logs/branches/twigs in the base, then organic materials, grass cuttings, leaves, straw, manure, compost followed by topsoil. It’s supposed to mimic nature. You can read all about it here;
I lived in Brittany for many years, before moving south, and the locals firmly believe in Luna Gardening. After reading about the concept it did make sense to me and it’s certainly something on my list to try out. You can check it out here;
To show you how much the Bretons live by the moon, my dentist explained my unexpected tooth repair pain on the moon. She told me not to go to her to have anything done if it was a full moon!
I found myself with some organic purple potatoes to plant but nowhere to put them. Then I remembered my supply of holed buckets in the shed. I stuck some straw in the bottom and then filled them with my ‘vegetable soil’. Great spuds and the straw had rotted and turned the ‘concrete’ into a superb bucket of compost.
I hope the above has been useful to some of you and I will read this again, myself, next spring when It’s time to start all over again.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. Chard. Really you only need two or three plants to keep a family of four going for the whole season!
Happy growing, everyone.