Layout of your allotment

What's the best layout for you?

By Bridgette Saunders

Photo:building a raised bed

building a raised bed

Draw a plan of your plot – write down what you want to grow, how long the crop is likely to occupy the ground and how much space it will take up, along with what you want to follow it up with.   Think about making a raised bed; firstly consider the advantages and disadvantages of this system.   

Advantages:  

  • the growing area is concentrated in a permanent bed with easy access from a permanent path
  • the fact that the soil dries out and warms up quite quickly is an advantage on cold wet clay, and also if spring is late. 
  • It is possible to work on the plot in bad weather, and for longer into the year.
  • you can plant things closer and get good yields, because the sowing and planting are done in deep soil with high fertility, and there is extra light from the sides.  
  • the beds will not become compacted as there is no need to walk on them, (the structure will not be damaged either which is a good thing as compaction hampers drainage, this makes it harder to warm up in the spring
  • because raised beds allow a good depth of soil it is possible to grow good root vegetables, even on a chalky soil.
  • You can fill the bed with appropriate soil for your crop
  • psychologically a raised bed is much less daunting to garden, so you can get more of a sense of achievement when maintaining your bed
  • you will tend to sow smaller amounts with a raised bed, again allowing for less waste and gluts of vegetables
  • they are brilliant for older or disabled allotment holders as they can be built to table-top height
  • they can be made to almost any shape – however, don’t forget it is much easier to weed vegetables that have been planted in straight lines.

  Disadvantages  

  • they can be expensive to build, (but don’t need to be)
  • they dry out more quickly than beds on the ground and will need more watering in dry weather.
  • they are not easily moved.
  • raised beds can provide a good hiding place for slugs and snails.

Ideally a raised bed should be no more than 1.2m (4ft) wide, allowing easy access from both sides.  It is best kept to under 3m (10ft) in length as it will be easier to move round.    

Construction of raised beds can be done simply by screwing together some scaffolding boards or boards of a similar size.  Try to ensure the wood has been treated so it will last for a good few years. Hardwood, such as cedar and oak will last you up to twenty years, softwood, such as pine, lasts about five years but is much less expensive.      

It is important that the raised beds are at least 20cm (8”) deep after you have buried the material in the ground, this will allow you to build up the soil in the bed, improving drainage and leaving space for adding organic matter to build up. 

If possible try to make five beds to begin with.  Don’t forget you will need a path in between; make sure a wheelbarrow can manoeuvre between the beds.   A pathway can be made from all sorts of different materials: gravel, wood chip, slate, old bricks, pebbles old tiles, or sawn-up logs to give a stepping stone effect.  It is perfectly possible to leave the paths as they are but weeds will soon spread so if possible use a weed suppressing membrane or old compost sacks to put on the ground before making the path.    

Weed suppressing membrane is brilliant – don’t be tempted to buy the cheap stuff from the £1 shop – it really is a waste of money.  Go for the trade name Mypex – it really is a good investment –it lasts for years, does the job and is able to used again and again.  It is permeable and so keeps the weeds down as well as letting in moisture.  It is possible to buy it from builder’s merchants which you may find cheaper than garden centres.  It is also possible to buy it from some allotment shops.  It is much better than carpet as it doesn’t contain lots of harmful chemicals.   

This page was added by Bridgette Saunders on 13/05/2012.