Since its set-up in 2008 the vegetable garden has undergone some changes to the layout and also the methods which we use to grow our veg. Originally the plot was arranged in large, open-plan beds, within which the veg was grown in long straight rows. In the winter of 2012 we changed over to a no-dig method of growing, for which we created permanent beds of four feet wide, with narrow paths in between for walking along the rows. The reason for the four foot beds is that all areas of the bed can be reached from the path, eliminating the need for walking on the soil and therefore reducing compaction. The change to no-dig methods is proving to be successful and works really well with our heavy clay soil.
This autumn has been no different in seeing changes within the vegetable garden. We have been working hard to boost the productivity of the plot through maximising bed space and reducing the space set aside for paths and ornamental beds. Below is the original layout of the beds at the bottom of the vegetable garden.
As you can see there is a large proportion of grass pathway within the area and not so much productive growing space. The idea to maximise growing space was to lift the turf from the pathway and create one straight path to the bottom of the plot. The beds could then be extended out to meet the path and thus make use of all of the available space.
Ordinarily, no-dig beds can be created simply by laying a sheet of damp cardboard on the ground and putting a good 6 inches of well-rotted manure on top. This will kill any weeds underneath and in a few short months will have settled and become ready for planting. However, because we were extending original beds and wanted to create the same levels in the extensions, we opted for a different method of making the beds. Once the new path had been marked out we used a turf lifter to carefully lift rolls of turf from the original paths for re-laying on the new path. The digger was then used to scrape up any excess soil to level the ground. This soil was mounded up, ready to be moved back into place where the beds were being extended to.
This next picture shows the four stages of extending the beds. Paul (using the green machine with red handles and red attachment) is rotavating the heavily compacted soil which was under the original pathway, to reduce the compaction and improve the tilth. Peter is using the digger to take soil from the pile which was earlier mounded up and placing this back where the beds are being extended to, where Paul has just rotavated. Bob is then raking this replaced soil level, ready for a top-dressing of green waste which the others are barrowing in.
This whole process was repeated on the other side of the path and the lifted turf was re-laid on the new pathway.
Now, just 5 weeks on, the grass has taken in the path and we have filled the twelve right-hand beds with garlic to grow through the winter. Overall this space should now be far more productive with its extended growing spaces and reduced pathways. The next area to see change in the vegetable garden is the herb garden – we are currently removing the original structure to make space for soft fruit and more herbs…so watch this space…
Helen Silver (vegetable gardener)