I have never showed my vegetable patch on this blog as it was such a mess. Last year I went to a talk by Alys Fowler about permaculture. A few days later I went to another talk about growing veg in raised beds and I was hooked. The vegetables got neglected and weeds took over. I lost interest in my boring old vegetable plot.
I wanted to make a proper potager with raised beds full of wonderful compost. I wanted to grow onions like footballs rather than the ping pong balls I had produced. I wanted long straight carrots instead of the stunted, forked misshapen ones that I was ashamed to bring into the kitchen. I started measuring and planning the whole thing on paper and I got a quote for the job. It was just too expensive and I felt quite disheartened.
But then my Knight in Shining Armour stepped in. My lovely Pianist offered to make them for me. He is a very enthusiastic and very good cook and he has taken over all the cooking in our house. Although he doesn’t see the point in gardening I think he is quite interested in making sure that he has a plentiful supply of interesting fresh vegetables and herbs. I must admit that I had misgivings about him undertaking this job though. He has always maintained that he believes in the dignity of labour, but not manual labour. His only DIY so far has been a single shelf in the kitchen for recipe books. His only other attempt to be handy in the garden ended up in him falling from a tree whilst brandishing a chainsaw. An image that will stay with me for ever. The only other jobs he has done involved gaffer tape.(Duct tape in American I think.) He is a great believer in gaffer tape and I was quite keen that no gaffer tape should be involved in this project.
We decided to make the 8 main beds 2.4 metres long by 1.2 metres wide. Any wider and I wouldn’t be able to reach from both sides. We needed posts 75 mm square and 45 cm high to make the frame. The 2 centre beds were to be smaller. They were 1.8 metre long and 1.2 metre wide. We ordered the wood from the sawmill and had them cut into lengths the right size so that there would be no sawing. I wanted them three planks deep so we needed 120 planks. We had them treated with a non toxic preservative. We needed 60 90mm number 6 screws per bed (48 for the smaller beds) which seemed an awful lot. The screw holes needed to be pre-drilled.
I was rather worried about how he would manage the job. The wood arrived and there seemed an awful lot of it. I saw the look of panic on his face. I bought him some nice red overalls so that he would feel the part and enter into the spirit of the thing. I cleared the ground and made a bit of a trench for the wood to sit on and away we went.
Here is the Pianist in his new red overalls drilling. Behind him there is a nice pile of well rotted manure from the horse up the road waiting to be used. While we had a cup of tea the Vicar came to see what we had been doing. He peered in the box and then climbed on to the compost heap and went to pick an argument with the pheasant next door. This is a daily ritual at the moment. They spend ages nodding their heads up and down and showing each other their tails, saying mine is bigger than yours.
To my delight the beds were finished in less than three weeks. Now came the job of filling them. Here is where the Lasagne method came in.
Lasagne Vegetable Beds.
The trick is, as the name suggests to layer them. I had been saving cardboard for months and this went at the bottom of each bed.
The cardboard was soaked with water to encourage worms to take up residence under it and then came the layers of good stuff; any organic matter I could lay my hands on. You alternate green stuff with brown, such as cardboard, newspaper and fallen leaves; but it is not an exact science. I started with the stuff on the compost heap that hadn’t even started to rot down. I had a lot of turf because I am always digging up the lawn. I had masses of semi rotted leaves and plenty of grass cuttings. The well rotted manure from the horses up the road was an important layer. At last I could see the point of a horse.
I finished with good, well-rotted compost. I had an enormous compost heap which was encroaching on to the lawn, but it was all dug up. I had to dig carefully because I found that I had disturbed a very indignant resident. I was worried he might have a family still in there.
It’s all right, the only harm done to this handsome toad was to his dignity.
Instead of cursing the moles as I usually do, I was quite happy to see mole hills on the lawn. What wonderful pre-sieved soil the mole digs up for you. The job of filling all the beds is very hard work and it takes an awful lot of stuff to fill them . I got to the point where I was tempted to go round the brown bins that neighbours put out for the council. I certainly peeped into them to see what garden waste they were throwing away. Who are these people who throw away their grass cuttings and leaves?
The beds were eventually ready. They were not exactly full, and I know the level will go down when it settles, but in the autumn I will have lots more stuff to put in. I had already started vegetables off in the greenhouse to put into them. The potatoes were chitted. Carrots, broad beans and lettuces were waiting to go in. I replanted my strawberries and herbs in the two smaller beds. I bought some asparagus crowns. I have sown all sorts of leaves in the salad bed. I have sown French beans in one bed. Can anyone tell what is digging them up and eating them?
Notes from the Pianist.
Relax, this is a job for someone with minimal skills because that’s all I have. I know the beds are not all level with each other because to make them so would have involved an enormous amount of earth-shifting and for what? So that they look pretty? Sorry, I’m not that anal. Maybe you know that already, I don’t usually read my beloved’s blog. What has she been saying about me? The only thing I’m really proud of is that the order I made to the sawmill over the phone was exactly right. (Though some of the planks weren’t sawn accurately – pshaw!). It’s quite nerve-wracking ordering £700 worth of wood by phone. By the way, you need a corded (mains power) drill. Battery drills run out too quickly, even with multiple battery packs in reserve and they don’t have enough power for the screws.
Note from Chloris.
I didn’t know he was going to write all this, I only asked him to check the measurements.