Life Home & Garden

Sunday 18 August 2019

IN THE GARDEN: The pros and cons of lifting your game

Most newbie vegetable growers put in raised beds. Is this a good idea? Gerry Daly has the answer

Raised beds add decoration to your garden but harbour slugs and snails – are they worth the expense?
Raised beds add decoration to your garden but harbour slugs and snails – are they worth the expense?

Many home-owners now grow some vegetables, salads or herbs. Strangely, most of us seem to think that vegetables can only be grown on supported raised beds and we spend money on timber to make them, something which may not be necessary.

Traditionally, a raised seed bed was made by piling up soil to make a bed about 1-1.2 metres wide. The extra soil can be taken from two shovel-width pathways on either side of the bed, and the paths marked out with string.

This method of making a seed bed was the way that the old-time potato 'lazy beds' were built up. A range of vegetables can be grown in a bed of this kind, or raised as plants for transplanting to wider spacing in rows elsewhere.

Carrots, parsnips, onions, radish, lettuce, white turnips, chard and French beans can be grown to maturity where they are sown on the bed. Still other kinds are not really suitable for growing on a bed as they are too large, including peas, sprouts, cabbage cauliflower, broad beans, sweet corn, courgettes and pumpkins.

A 'raised bed' is usually taken to mean a bed, similar to a seed bed as described, but with material of some kind to retain the sides.

A raised bed with sides can be made in the same way as a traditional seed bed, piling in soil from the paths beside the bed, or if preferred, from other soil from the garden.

In addition, well-rotted compost or farmyard manure can be spread on top or dug into the soil and mixed in. If you spread a soil enricher on top, the layer can be maintained as a 'no-dig' bed. The compost rots down over a couple of years so should be given a top-up regularly. Well-rotted compost is easily tilled by raking or loosening with a fork. When weeds are removed, seeds and plants can be sown directly into the soil without digging.

Raised beds are helpful in a vegetable plot early in the year, or when wet weather means the rest of the garden is not capable of being tilled. They can be used for early crops and crops that like to be started early in the year, such as shallots and garlic.

It is also an advantage not to have the effort of digging. However, cleaning up a no-dig bed can be just as much effort if weeds are allowed to take hold. Having a raised bed requires a semi-permanent path alongside which can give access in poor weather without the risk of compacting wet soil.

Semi-permanent raised beds can be particularly useful on heavy land where raising the bed and using plenty of organic material can make the soil easier to work and workable earlier in the year, simply because they drain better.

But on light soil, and even medium loam, there is a danger that a raised bed will dry out more quickly and require regular watering. If the sides are made of wood or other material, they tend to provide a harbour for snails.

On the plus side, raised beds with sides are decorative, as they make a pattern that adds an ornamental value year round, and this is possibly the most valid reason for them.

PAINT: Hurry along to Coolwater Gardens in Co Limerick where artistic licence reigns - painters and their easels are welcome free of charge today. More information: 087 258 4716/ coolwatergarden.com.

VISIT: Rare plants, horse tilling, no dig gardening, scything and upcycling - it's all happening at the Clare Garden Festival today at Ennis Showgrounds. Talks, demos and more; claregardenfestival.com

READ: Now that the sun has returned, tricking out your garden for summer seems like a good idea. Steal inspiration from this new book - RHS Design Outdoors (Octopus, €35) by Matthew Keightley - which features 35 designs from showstoppers to family to minimalist gardens with plans, planting and photos by experts such as Jo Thompson, Andrew Wilson and more. It's out now.

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