Archive for the 'allotment' Category

Building raised beds

This project took a couple of weekends, mainly because I’m a late starter and I end up working until the light truly fails. My Kiwi friend Alistair, keen to get his hands dirty and who was taught horticulture at school helped with plank and plant moving, which was very useful because I was pretty ignorant of moving plants before then.

I usually fork plants up and hope they’ll get on with things, and then wonder why their leaves wilt. Alistair insisted that we move the fruit bushes properly, by digging around them with a spade to help protect the fine ends of the roots and transferring them to containers. I have him to thank for the crops that I got last year, yields would no doubt have been less without his root saving tips.

The raised beds were made from a mixture of long planks and short planks, both kinds were bigger than me which is about all I can say about them. They were handily delivered by Jewsons, as it was expecting too much of my Polo to fit them all in the back, or on the top, and with delivery in the region of £15 it wasn’t too pricey. All told, I think it cost in the region of £250 for all the materials.

The planks are pressure treated timber, no toxic wotsits in them that could contaminate the soil; they were joined together using regular timber stakes at the right angles of the structure. I later used the off cuts to build two planters that are about 50x50cm in the back garden.

I use two compost bins, subsidised ones from Camden Council, which you can see in the top right. We also have a huge water butt that is connected to the downpipe for our block of flats. This was a freebie, left outside a cafe on Upper St, Islington for anyone who wanted it. I’m planning on covering it with sweet peas this year, as it’s a hideous green one.

The beds were double dug, and the bricks and rubble removed. We filled them with peat free compost, around 8-12 bags from Homebase, which were topped up with compost from two local city farms:

  • Kentish Town City Farm: the compost is kept right at the end of the farm, and you need to bring a spade and dig it up yourself. Please leave a donation to help their good work.
  • Freightliners City Farm: around £5 per rubble sack, which are ready filled for you. You can keep or return the sacks, I found them useful for moving compost and rocks around.

You can find City farms in London by following the link, but most have a web presence.

In the months to come I’ll regret leaving the rhubarb where it is (top left). It will thoroughly enjoy all the extra compost that was added and flatten all the plants around it. Still, it did feed us and neighbours got plenty of stalks.

That’s history taken care of, the next post will be about getting sowing for the year ahead.



Where on earth did I get the idea to start growing fruit and veg? I guess the proliferation of cooks like Nigel Slater and HFW in the UK media talking about edible plants was the start, with my colleague Simon’s enthusiasm setting the stage. I think being given Sarah Raven’s The Great Vegetable Plot at Christmas culminated in the clapping of the clapperboard.

This is all moving ahead of the start though, and that’s what I turn to.

We had moved onto our first rung and had started the tidying and general renovation of the house and with the back garden, it was summer after all. A year later we pondered the front garden. It had been left alone because the deed diagrams seemed to indicate that it wasn’t technically part of our property. Eventually though, when it ended up waist high in grass and with little indication of council interest, we started sketching out our project.

The grass was all hacked down and put in a compost heap. Simon advised us to carefully remove the turf from the garden, using an awkward slicing motion with the spade. This he said, once rolled up and left, would turn into a lovely loamy soil in about 6 months. I have no real idea of what loamy meant, but it sounded like a good soil to have. Another task that he and the books suggested was the arduous effort of double digging. This they all insisted would make it easier for plant roots to search within the substrate. It was a very tough couple of weekends, and I see why it’s done only once or twice – there was a staggering amount of bricks hidden beneath that claggy clay. We lost two prongs on a garden fork to the resistant rubble. So, in Veg Garden Mk1, we went a bit ‘Wombley’, ‘making good use of the things that we find’…and so on. Weeds and muddy shoes were all suppressed with compost bags and a torn carry mat covered with the bloody brick bits that had come out of the depths.

Out of our paltry 5.5m x 4.5m plot, year 1 and year 2 saw purple sprouting broccoli, tomatoes, rainbow chard, pumpkins, early and main potatoes, beans, a few handfuls of raspberries, a handful of blackcurrants, redcurrants, courgettes and more zucchini. These were all impulse seeds or special offers, spotted at nurseries and garden centres.

We didn’t see onions and shallots, beetroot, or carrots despite repeated attempts.  The stunted gooseberry bush was kept on out of pity rather than productivity.

Overall, it was a good start, but slightly scruffy. On the horizon lay better ideas, and for Year 3 a firm plan.

Circles in the top right are compost bins, the lower circle is a water butt, grey squares are the picturesque manhole covers, the largest being 1 sq metre.

Building details to follow…

the idea

I converted my front garden into a vegetable/fruit garden a year or so after moving into our ground floor flat. Living in a slightly less than salubrious area of north London, many of my neighbours took me aside for a kindly, “I wouldn’t grow things in your front garden dear, people will steal them”, a sincere look of warning in their eyes. The thought of scallys scrumping through my plot certainly sounded ominous, but then, judging from the fox strewn scraps of their bin bags I’m sure that they’d only recognise a vegetable if it was frozen or wrapped in polythene.

The garden over the last few years has been so splendidly productive that I’ve barely noticed the effects of scrumping. In fact, the odd passer by has stopped to own up to the nicking of a handful of ripe raspberries. An Italian neighbour rang my doorbell late last summer to ask if she could use my courgette flowers, I agreed with the proviso that she drop me the recipe. I never did get it, but maybe she’s eager for more next year.

I’ll shortly be sticking up some of the ground work photos, and I’m happy to elaborate on where I got the materials. Abi was adamant that it wasn’t to be made of odds ‘n’ ends, but should look nice. Keeping up apperances and all that.

Back to thoughts and dreams though, I’m intending on photographing as I go, and doing my best to put in some recipes or ideas of what I make out of what I’ve grown. Hopefully this will bolster my pitiful attempts to use the current crop of spring greens, I’ve not been wanting to cut down the small amount of greenery that’s left in the broad areas of brown.

There, that’s good for a start I think.

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