Raise your garden’s prospects with new beds and some worms

ESIAH LEVY, @CroydonGardener on Twitter, suggests that using raised beds in small town centre gardens and yards is an excellent way to grow a range of healthy – and productive – plants 

Esiah Levy has used some recycled materials to make the raised bed in his small, central Croydon garden

Esiah Levy has used some recycled materials to make the raised bed in his small, central Croydon garden

Having a raised bed in any garden is a must, especially if, like me, your garden is on the small side.

There is a vast array of edible plants that can be grown in raised beds:

Soft fruits, such as strawberries, currants, raspberries and blackberries
Vegetables: almost any vegetable can be grown in raised beds
Herbaceous perennials: raised beds are a good idea for establishing a cutting garden for cut flowers
Alpines: the hardy and colourful plants are ideal for a well-drained small plot.

A raised bed is basically a large soil container – bigger than the largest pots, and usually rectangular in shape, they allow for the sowing of seeds for fruit and vegetables. They are a good way of providing improved drainage, especially in areas where clay is common, and so they can be used to introduce a different soil type to your garden. Raised beds are also a useful way to garden if you have restricted mobility, as they reduce the need to bend.

There are many gardening companies which offer to sell raised beds, or who market cleaned-up, old railway sleepers, which are often ideal for constructing a raised bed.

But it is also possible to make your own raised beds.

Common materials used for a raised bed include wood which is fine but there is so much more which can be used and, importantly, recycled. I used recycled galvanised metal sheets for my raised bed, which has the advantage that it will not rot like wooden raised beds (which need replacing every couple of years).

Making use of an old, discarded bath - with extra holes drilled in the bottom for drainage, provide an excellent raised bed

Making use of an old, discarded bath – with extra holes drilled in the bottom for drainage, provide an excellent raised bed

I have even used an old bath tub, which has holes drilled in the bottom to ensure good drainage.

Once you have obtained your material, all you need to assemble your raised bed is screws and bolts and a drill. It is really that simple. The only rule when deciding on the material to use for your raised bed is contamination, and for this reason one has to be careful when using recycled railway sleepers, which often have chemicals which will contaminate your raised bed especially if you are growing edible plants.

The Royal Horticultural Society offers some good advice on this. First, you need to clear the site of existing vegetation and make sure it is level. If placing the new bed on an area which used to be a grass lawn, you will need to dig up the area.

Mark out the area of the beds with stakes and string, and check the level to make sure the raised bed when completed doesn’t lean. This is important to make sure all plants are watered evenly.

For all but masonry walls, insert retaining stakes (2in x 2in timber is suitable) at the corners and then at every 5ft, sunk at least 12in into the soil to support the sides. Do not stand on the raised bed when completed.

Attach the sides to the retaining stakes with nails or screws and be sure to use industrial screws, which are hard-wearing and will not rust.

The RHS advises, “Once the sides are in place, cultivate and enrich the underlying soil with organic matter”. This can be from your own compost bin from your kitchen waste, or from soil around your own garden. Top soil can be expensive to buy.

A common mistake is just to put just garden centre-bought compost in a raised bed. Compost has no real structure, so it is best to use top soil which you can collect from around your garden; if necessary, it can also be purchased online or from local DIY stores. I tend to go for peat-free compost and top soil. Also, remember to add grit (or old crock) to help to ensure good drainage.

Enriching the soil

Worms are very important to every garden, and especially for your raised bed. I have managed to design a simple way of making sure you keep a healthy stock of worms in your raised bed, to provide the following benefits:

The worm compost (“castings”, or worm poo) are a general soil conditioner or as a constituent of homemade growing media. It is generally rich in nitrogen and potassium. The liquid drained from a wormery can also be used as a liquid fertiliser on garden plants. The mini wormery in the ground will already be feeding the liquid to the plants in the raised bed.

A simple, home-made wormery can help to keep a raised beds soil with soil that provides lots of healthy plants

A simple, home-made wormery can help to keep a raised beds soil with soil that provides healthy plants

To build a mini wormery, you will need: two plant pots, one larger, one smaller; some top soil; a recycled slate for the lid.

You will then need to dig a 6in hole in your raised bed, then fill one plant pot with top soil collected from your garden or shop bought and add compost as well. Add worms, which you may have sourced from your own garden or compost bin, or ordered online. Tiger worms are recommended if ordering online.

Place the plant pot with the soil inside the hole, and add the worms, which will immediately start to dig and disappear. With the other plant pot, cut a hole on the bottom to add organic food waste, as you would to a larger organic compost bin, and then place it on top of the plant pot in the raised bed, the larger plant pot will fit over the small one. The slate provides a suitable lid.

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