It’s no surprise that lockdown fuelled our interest in ‘growing your own’. It’s a simple way to become more self-sufficient, and has quickly become a popular DIY project. In this blog, our friends at the Blackwater Valley Countryside Trust explain why raised beds are a great way to grow veg and how you can use them to boost wildlife and sustainability in your garden.

Chilli plants in vegetable bed

YouTube is bursting with top tips for homegrown tomatoes and chillis

Why are raised beds good for growing veg?

Raised beds make an ideal place to grow vegetables as they have a higher soil temperature, good drainage and are easier to get to. The smaller growing area also means you can tailor soil conditions to the needs of your crops and maintain an area of protective mulch to suppress weeds and keep the moisture in. It’s fairly easy to make a raised bed with sleepers, decking boards, bricks or other common materials that will retain the soil.

Raised vegetable beds made from garden sleepers with grey path

With raised beds you can create the right soil conditions for different crops (photo courtesy of TAW Garden Landscapes)

Being nearer eye level makes emerging plants easier to nurture, so you can spot rather than spray potential threats. And if your beds are more than 60cm high, crops are less likely to suffer from carrot fly.

How can I get more vegetables for less effort?

The no-dig method has been shown in trials to produce a greater yield and also does your back a favour. Simply top up the beds each year with compost and soil. Let the worms do the work! They will take the organic matter back down through the soil and aerate it. With the no dig method, add organic matter and let worms improve the soil for you

Obviously, you will have to disturb the surface when planting, but mainly the soil structure stays intact. Because the beds are both raised and accessible from all sides, there is no compaction from human tread, allowing better water absorption.

Fennel plants in raised beds

The no dig method works well in raised beds because you can maintain them without treading on the soil

 

How can I make my raised beds better for wildlife?

If you allow a few vegetables to run to seed for next year, you’ll see bees and hover flies flocking for forage from your flowering parsnips and leeks.

Marigolds attract pollinators and repel pests that are harmful to tomatoes

Companion planting, such as marigolds with tomatoes, can deter pests without the need for chemicals, as well as looking attractive. You can also take a tip from the old monastery gardens by softening the edges with perennials; try forget-me nots, foxgloves and hollyhocks, to draw in pollinators for your peas, beans and courgettes.

How can I make my raised beds more sustainable?

To save on watering, consider investing in a solar powered pumped seep hose which keeps the beds from drying out once the growing season starts. This works from a rainwater butt which only need topping up in exceptionally dry weather.

Lettuce with water

A solar powered seep hose from a water butt will mean you rarely have to water your veg plants

Use a strict rotation system to keep the soil healthy and prevent disease. This in turn means you don’t have to resort to harmful herbicides, pesticides and fungicides.

Mulch your beds regularly to reduce the need for watering. You can use a variety of organic matter like woodland mulch, or mineralised straw which is a good option to protect young seedlings.

 

Moving to raised beds can make your garden greener, and not just because of your bumper crop of vegetables!

What you’ll need to make a raised bed

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