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All views expressed are the opinions of the author and are not necessarily those of the Society

  Updated:
  November 15th, 2018
Lichfield & District Allotments Society



High Peak

To Bed or not to Bed

Before we look at the "bed system" let us review the traditional plot.

The plants are grown in rows with strips of bare earth between each row so that the grower is able to walk along for weeding, feeding, harvesting etc. The spacing between plants and the rows is sufficient to enable the plant to grow to it's full potential, by this method the longest beans, the largest onions and the heaviest cabbages are produced.

Unless you want to grow bigger vegetables than your neighbour or win prizes at our annual show (not necessarily a bad thing) then this traditional plot may not be the best method for you. It is extremely laborious. The continual tramping down of the soil means that the whole plot has to be dug over every autumn, not to mention the bare pathways and large spaces encourage weeds which in turn means regular hoeing. This is obvious to every gardener who has tended an allotment - less obvious is the fact that the overall crop yield can be less than the harvest from using a bed system.

The Bed System:

The basic principle is to create a series of rectangular beds divided by narrow permanent paths. These paths can be grassed (not recommended) or a layer of weed suppressant material can be laid and covered with gravel or bark chippings. The beds should be narrow enough for the centre to be reached from either side and ideally run north to south.

The yearly round begins in Autumn or early winter when a layer of compost or manure is added to the beds, this can be forked in or you can let nature do its work for you. There is no need to dig deeply as we have not walked on the earth in these beds. When planting the beds then the spacing is the same in each direction, this is quiet close so that the leaves of mature plants touch each other and this is where the potential higher yields originate from. Looking after the crops is a simple task made easier by not having walkways between the rows and the fact that the closeness of the plants smother most weeds.

What type of Bed:

When I first acquired my allotment a few years ago I started using the "flat bed" system. This is the easiest to create but I found over the years that the soil level increased over the boards from adding compost/manure and it became more and more difficult to keep the beds and paths separate. I decided my beds needed walls! This year I have invested in a few used scaffold boards and now half my plot contains sixteen raised beds.

There are various other materials that can be used to create raised beds, you can buy kits made of various materials e.g. plastic, wickerwork, timber, these tend to be rather expensive, there are railway sleepers, bricks or blocks and even pressure treated planks (these would probably last longer than scaffolding boards but they obviously cost a lot more and we cannot be sure what chemicals have been used in their treatment).

Sizes:

The recommended minimum size for beds are:- at least 4 inches high by 4 feet wide and to a length that suits. As an example two 13 ft scaffold boards would give you an 8 inch high bed, 4 ft wide and 9 ft long.

Anyone wishing too have a go at the raised bed system can obtain old scaffold boards from Hadley Reclaimed, based near Yoxall, 01283 575248. Remember these are used boards and not perfect but they are generally in good condition (health & safety law to thank for that).

Ack: Ian Hickinbotham

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