raised beds at my allotment

Raised beds: How I built them, how I filled them and what comes next

They say March winds and April showers make way for sweet May flowers.

Well not this fucking year. We’ve had snow in March and no rain at all in April. None. It hasn’t rained properly in Dublin for the guts of five weeks now. The soil is hard and cracked, everything is wilting, stinted or just hasn’t bloody germinated and just for an added bonus, it’s also freezing cold at night.

It’s typical. This spring, my plot looks better than it has in many years, but there’s no rain to help my plants along. I’m still putting fleece on seedlings with just days to go until May. There’s always some bloody disaster to overcome in a garden. Not that I’m melodramatic or anything.

But let’s backtrack a bit. Last time I shared a post about progress at the garden, I was beginning to redesign the allotment for 2021 after the ravages of 2020 (and the great unmentionable) devastated my plot. I had ripped up the old beds, built four new beds – and by ‘built’, I mean ‘I watched Simon and our friend Phil build them while I cat-called and wolf-whistled’.

The four beds turned out amazing (humble as ever, Fiona), but it was just the beginning of a total overhaul of the plot that has taken six weeks, four tonnes of compost, piles of wood, days of digging and lots of me admiring Simon’s butt while he was digging. Plus some beers, of course.

Actual footage of me objectifying Simon

Raised beds are a love/hate thing among gardeners. Many of us use them because they look neat, are easy to weed and give some structure to a garden, plus, there’s little to no digging involved, which is always a bonus. But there’s also a lot to be said for lovely rows of veggies in the ground, especially for crops like spuds and peas. I’ve always had a mix of raised beds and regular beds at my plot. For many years, I had six large, blue beds, which I made from scaffolding planks. But after many years of providing me with lovely food, they began to fall apart. It was hard to part with them but it gave me an opportunity to clear the slate and give myself a fresh canvas to work with.

After ‘building’ the four initial new beds, I decided I wanted some more. See, I had this vision of raised beds of different heights around the plot, almost like steps. I wanted tiers of different veggies, colours, textures to give the plot a new dynamic. I like to think of myself as a fancy bastard. Just a fancy bastard who drinks cans of beer on the allotment and who’s always covered in muck.

I bought some treated wood (very important if you don’t want your beds to rot) and got to work. The planks were 16ft long, 9in tall and 2in thick. I remember this because Simon told me about 900 times. We used them to build another three raised beds, a square one, a longer bed with a higher tier at the back and then an even taller one behind that. It all seemed like a great idea until we had to fill them, but more on that in a minute.

The idea was to have at least two really deep beds for crops like carrots and parsnips, and the lower beds could grow the taller veggies and I could plant in such a way I can see lots of colour building throughout the plot.

Building the beds was pretty easy, but, of course, when you have raised beds, you have to fill them full of soil before you can plant anything. They took – and this is the scientific term – a fucktonne of soil. The two tall beds alone took about a tonne each. And I didn’t get the fella to do it all, before anyone makes a quip about that (I realise I brought it on myself).

I ordered four one-tonne bags of compost, but because my allotment is nowhere near an access road on site, the soil was left about 100m away, meaning countless trips back and forth with a wheelbarrow, shovelling soil into it, then wheeling it back to the plot to dump it into the beds. This is zero craic when some of the beds are more than three feet tall and you have to MacGyver yourself a ramp out of pallets and rocks to reach them.

I made the whole back-breaking, muscle-building experience a bit of fun at least by wearing wildly inappropriate clothing and absolutely blaring Donna Summer. At this stage, my neighbours are used to my allotment dancing, but I’m not sure any of them were prepared to see me in a skimpy crop top that I do not have the body for, shovelling piles of muck onto a wheelbarrow while singing Hot Stuff at the top of my voice and pouring with sweat.

I apologise to nobody.

With the raised beds built and filled, it was time to get planting and I took to it this year with quite a bit of enthusiasm. After struggling to find seeds early this year, I went a bit mad when I sourced some and bought enough seeds to feed myself, my family – and possibly everyone we know – for the next ten years.

I’ve vastly overestimated how many plants I have room for and now I’m trying to figure out where to put everything. It’s like organic Tetris.

However, without rain, it’s been difficult to get things to germinate outdoors and has meant an awful lot of work. We can’t use hoses on site at our allotments, so it’s a matter of filling watering cans for hours on end and lugging them back and forth to drench the plot. I’ve been using my wheelbarrow and these deadly water cooler bottles my Dad left in my polytunnel.

It’s some amount of bleeding’ work, having an allotment. The forecast promises some rain tomorrow so I’m eagerly awaiting a downpour.

Anyway, with the raised beds built, I wasn’t content and am now ripping apart another section of the plot… the dreaded messy corner, but more on that, the polytunnel, and all the sexy crops I have growing next week.

By the way, my website went on fire

I want to mention one or two things. It’s been a busy few weeks on the plot and in my personal life. Some of you may have seen my website was down for a few weeks. This was because – and this is no word of a lie – the data centre where my site lives actually went on fucking fire. Who knew the internet was so flammable. As a result, my site went down, and it took weeks to fix. I apologise for the hiatus. Thank you to my friends Mog and Johan for saving it.

This happened on the same day that I lost a dear friend to an illness. Jim was a gorgeous human, who I met while collaborating with GIY. We became firm fiends and bonded over our love of nature, plants, music and festivals. Jim was a free spirit, he lived in his hiking boots, grew peas on the windshield of his van, loved a dance in a field, the odd pint of Guinness, juicing, cycling, foraging and festivals. He loved travelling and adventure and meeting new people. I can not stop thinking about him when I’m at the plot.

My mam has this wonderful rose garden at her allotment, and many of the rose bushes are to remember dearly departed loved ones. It’s a beautiful idea. So I took a leaf out of her book and planted my first ever rose bush for Jim. It’s a climbing variety called rumba, now his memory will be dancing forever on my plot.

On the same day I got the sad news, and my website went down, the Irish Independent published a little piece I wrote about cultivating hope by growing food in lockdown – it was an eventful day. Thank you to Mark Condren for the lovely photos he took for the piece. It’s been a while since I had a photoshoot at the plot.

Anyway, I’ve absolutely piles of lovely veggies growing so I’ll share them all with you in the coming days.

I’ll also be digging up the new seating area and drinking more cans over the weekend so follow me on Instagram for regular updates.

I’ll just leave this here…

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