Raised bed update: successes and failures

This post originally appeared on the Sustainable Witney website.

A few people have mentioned recently the raised bed we built out of pallets at the start of the year; a couple have even inquired as to how we’re getting on with it. So this is a quick post to keep people updated.

carrot

As you can see in the image here, we grew some mighty carrots, with little or no trouble. Some of them did turn out remarkably small – one or two grains of rice, or at a pinch kidney-bean sized – but generally they were fat and healthy, if occasionally stubby. The height of the bed – 40cm – might be the reason why we’ve avoided carrot-fly.

Anyway, here’s an earlier photo taken in May, showing the bed really starting to take off:

raised_bed_leafing_20130512

The vibrant-green leaves are (perpetual) spinach; the grey-green ones are broad beans; the little jagged ones are carrots, and you should be able to see some coloured stalks of rainbow chard (it took much longer to come through.) Overall, we had great early success from leafy veg. The broad beans, on the other hand, were tasty, but not very many of them given the number of plants.

Later on, we made the mistake of planting two tomatoes in the bed: Gardener’s Delight and Alicante. When we got them from the stalls at the front door of Cogges, they were rather small and unassuming. After a week or two after planting, they had gone wild:

carrots_and_tomatoes

The tomatoes have since grown much, much bigger. We’re pruning them like crazy, to try to stop them from branching. But along with the now straggly carrot leaves, they crowded out pretty much everything else. But there are at least a large number of (still green) tomatoes on them, so we’re looking forward to a decent crop. And then rapidly getting rid of them.

The biggest failures have been brassicas: curly kale and purple sprouting broccoli, two of each plant given to us as presents. Because of the crowding from the rest of the plants, we were simply unable to protect them from butterflies with any netting or structures early enough. First we noticed eggs under the leaves, which we dutifully got rid of; then we noticed caterpillars, which were flung to the far end of the garden; but then leaves started disappearing. In the end, we gave up the fight; a few days later, they were all stripped to stalks.

We’re ending the season with a squash plant, running slightly late (it had a check when we transplanted it into the bed; not sure why), many radishes which should happily be ready in a month or two if we can keep the caterpillars off them, and a number of leeks, which I’m hoping to winter but – as they’re still seedlings – might simply expire.

It’s all been a big experiment, and for every disheartening development there’ve been two or three moments of glee, as we’ve picked, cleaned and cooked our own vegetables in mere minutes: as fresh as you can get them. And there are bound to have been setbacks in our first year of growing. Next season, I keep telling myself: next season we’ll get it right. I’m sure of it.

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