Being busy at work is still the official excuse for the blog being updated on a quarterly basis. While the blog updates have indeed suffered, work on Plot IV has still progressed apace, with the highlight being some construction work by The Enabler. For the past three years gardening on open ground has been reasonably productive, but I’ve been longing for raised beds.
In my fantasy world, I would go on a massive shopping spree from those snazzy garden supply catalogues that sell expensive pre-fab raised beds and fruit cages. Then I could swan around the plot with a posh willow trug wearing a pretty dress, casually picking perfect, fresh produce. The current reality is rather far from that fantasy. With all the digging, weeding and lugging water around, I often leave the plot in a right state, so much so that people have actually crossed to the other side of the street to avoid the crazy woman with twigs in her hair.
While there won’t be much swanning this year, over the past few months we have made progress towards really taming the plot. On a random trip to Wickes (because that’s what we do for fun) we found a great deal on decking boards. Per foot it was the same price as the best deal I’ve ever spotted for used scaffolding boards on eBay. Given that they were already weather-treated, we went for it.
That was not quite three months ago. We are now the proud owners of nine new raised beds. Six are “regular” types measuring 8 feet by 3. I had hoped they could be 8 by 4, but that would have left me either with extremely wide paths and fewer beds, or alternatively, having to make a mix of sizes. Since the long-term plan is to grow all annual crops in raised beds, having just one size should make it easier to rotate crops and their coverings around the plot from year to year. Also, paths are necessary but I would rather have more space for growing. 8 by 3 it was then…
There are a couple of “irregular” beds as well. These are have been slotted around the fruit trees to squeeze in more plants by building over the trees’ footprints. The tree roots can extend under the beds, which will be mostly used for flowers. As long as I make sure they are well watered, hopefully the trees will be ok. The irregular size also softens things up a bit, because if everything is too regimented it could look a little severe.
The Enabler mostly followed instructions, except that he made the beds twice as tall as specified. This doubled the cost of the wood, obviously, but it also made filling the beds a real bugger. We thought we had loads of finished homemade compost, but that was barely enough for one bed. Then we used two daleks-worth of not-quite finished compost, got a few bags of leaves from The Builder on Plot 3 and chucked in any organic material we could find. That half filled four more beds. Since we can’t get deliveries up the narrow access lane, we had to buy way more bags of compost that we had planned. It took five trips, accompanied by a fair bit of grousing about how heavy the bags were…
All the effort was definitely worth it. There is one bed that we think might have gotten a batch of contaminated compost, but that aside, the plants are doing great. This is the first year that I’ve managed to have radishes that didn’t get nibbled by the slugs, and the lettuces look like what you would buy at the Borough market. The beetroot have also done very well. We’ve harvested a few when they were nearly the size of the palm of my hand, yet they weren’t at all woody.
Perhaps the best thing is that the amount of work needed to keep the beds tidy is way less than what I’m used to. Planting is much easier, there aren’t nearly as many weeds, and when there are weeds they can be pulled out easily. Putting up structures to protect the plants has been less faff, though it is still very obvious which structures were built by The Enabler and which ones I had a (cack-handed) go at! The beds do sometimes seem dry on top, but the compost does a good job of keeping in moisture, even during the recent dry spell. The Enabler also insisted on putting down membrane and bark on the paths, which has done its job of suppressing the weeds. All this bodes well for future swanning about.
Swans do look rather graceful, but underneath the water they are paddling like mad. We’ve already done a lot of work, and it will take several years to fully furnish/finish the plot. Hopefully though, the effort will become less obvious with time, and the plot’s transition from ugly duckling to gorgeous swan will be complete!