Raised beds are really popular on allotments, but why? Read my mega guide to find out why raised beds and allotments go together so well.
Are raised beds good for allotments?
Yes, put simply raised beds and allotments got together like a horse and carriage. Raised beds have so many benefits that work really well when used on an allotment.
So raised beds can give you better soil, but how exactly? Well, this comes from the fact that most gardeners fill their raised beds with a compost mix. This helps improve the soil immediately. This is really important when taking over an allotment that is either new or has been neglected for a few years.
There could be a lot of problems with the soil, some you may not find out about until you have tried growing in it only to have a really poor harvest. By using raised beds and improving the soil you nip these issues in the bud before they even get a chance to properly manifest.
Having a nice compost mix sat on top of your normal soil will have numerous benefits beyond just the extra nutrition it will provide to any plant grown in it.
You will improve sandy soil and help it retain more water and you will also improve claggy clay soils that usually hold onto too much water.
Raised beds can help to reduce the number of weeds in your beds. One of the main ways they do this is by stopping creeping weeds like grass from being able to easily get into your beds. If you grow in beds on the ground next to grass you will soon find it creeping its way back into the bed.
This is not as much of a problem with raised beds because of the physical barrier, although it can still happen. one way to prevent it from happening is to use a plastic barrier down the side of your raised bed. you can then run this under the side and out.
You can then put bark or gravel over the plastic that comes out from under the raised bed to create a weed free path. if you have fewer weeds in your paths you will have fewer weeds in your beds.
Using this method of lining your paths followed by another raised bed you can end up with a much lower maintenance allotment, which is ideal. We all want to spend our time on the allotment tending our fruits and veg, not weeding!
Less soil compaction
This one is fairly obvious. The soil in raised beds won’t be walked on as it can be with regular beds. This will obviously reduce the amount of compaction in your soil.
This will make the soil easier to dig and garden in but it will also improve the overall health of your soil as overly compacted soil is not a good thing.
How deep should a raised vegetable bed be?
There are a few different considerations that should go into this, to put it succinctly, there isn’t a one size fits all answer. Another classic, it depends, an answer that pops up all too often in gardening. But if you are just setting out on your raised bed allotment and have no idea how deep to make your raised beds I will provide a few helpful pointers.
Is there soil underneath?
If you are building your raised bed onto soil or grass then you won’t need to go too deep as the underlying ground will eventually become part of the growing space for the roots of your crops. If you are building onto a solid surface like concrete then you will need to build your beds up a lot more.
If you only build a shallow raised bed onto concrete then first you will be limited in what you can grow but secondly, you will also use up the nutrition in the soil quickly just because of the amount of soil. Think of it like growing in a slightly oversized grow bag, then remember that grow bags are replaced every year!
How good is the soil underneath?
How good is your normal soil? The reason I ask this is to determine how much soil improvement you actually need to do. If your underlying soil is actually quite good then you don’t need to build your raised beds high.
You could just build them up to the height of a single decking board for example. This will give you all of the benefits of using raised beds without costing the earth.
What will you be growing?
If you are just planning on growing mainly surface crops such as leaf salads then you don’t need a deep raised bed. If you plan to grow root vegetables like potatoes and carrots then your bed will need to be much larger, at least a couple of feet.
Probably one of the biggest factors influencing how large you can make your raised beds is budget. If you are building a few of them then the price soon starts to rack up, especially with the price of lumber at the moment.
And that is before you get to the added cost of filling the beds with soil, if you are on a tight budget then you will definitely want to build shallower raised beds on your allotment where possible. If you want some cost saving ideas on filling raised beds then check out this article.
What is the cheapest way to make raised beds?
These are both cheapish wood and available from all the big DIY stores. If you want a really easy way to build a raised bed then make sure you have a look at my really simple raised bed build.
How do I make a raised bed allotment?
The first stage is to plan your allotment and plan how you are going to arrange your raised beds. One of the most important things to consider is sunlight, where on your allotment faces south. Once you know this then you will want to try and orient your beds to face that way as much as possible. Most fruit and veg love being in full sun.
Then you will want to think about walkways between your beds. I like to make sure my walkways are wide enough to be able to get a wheelbarrow down.
Next up on the list is what to use for your paths. Are you just going to leave them as grass and strim or mow it or are you going to do down the weed suppression path?
If you are going to try and suppress the weeds then running a weed barrier down the inside of one raised bed, under your path and back up the inside of the next raised bed can be a great strategy. you can then cover this weed barrier with something like bark or gravel depending on what is available to you and your budget.