I have raised beds on both of my allotments which for me makes gardening so much easier. They are what is known as ‘no dig’, simply meaning I don’t dig them over at all so the soil remains largely undisturbed, creating the perfect environment for healthy soil bacteria and other much-needed organisms such as worms. Each autumn or spring I simply top each bed with 2 inches of fresh compost or well rotted manure as needed, keeping them weeded throughout the year by removing weeds by hand. Stubborn weeds with a long tap root can be levered out with a hand tool to minimise soil disturbance. Over time I find I need to weed less and less, the soil is nutrient-rich which shows in the quality of crops grown. To go no dig you don’t need wooden sides for beds as I have, my plots tend to get water logged in winter so I find raised beds useful for keeping soil and plants happy. The principles for no dig are the same regardless. I used wooden scaffold boards and gravel boards to make my beds because they’re a decent depth, but any scrap timber will do.
Measure the area where the bed will go and cut your timber to size, screw each corner together to make a basic frame. Most of my beds are 4ft or 5 ft wide which is perfect for reaching into the middle to weed.
You can use corner posts (2×2 timber hammered into the ground as above) to secure or anchor your raised bed but it’s not usually necessary for smaller beds, however you may wish to do this for beds which are on uneven ground, or use posts to connect lengths of timber together for long beds that are going to receive a large volume of soil.
If your raised bed is being sited on top of lawn there’s no need to dig or remove turf, simply cover the ground inside the raised bed with cardboard to kill lawn or weeds by excluding light, each piece overlapping the other to prevent grass growing through gaps. Tuck it underneath the frame so that it’s just showing on the outside, this prevents lawn coming through on the inside edges of the raised bed. The cardboard will rot down naturally over time. I find wetting the cardboard helps the edges to lay flatter before adding the compost.
Then comes the exciting bit, filling it with compost! I mainly use homemade compost from the many pallet bins I have on the allotments, the earthy smell is incredible.
Treading the compost between each barrow load helps to firm it and you’ll get lots more compost in if you do. Compost doesn’t compact so it’s perfectly fine. Go on, have a little dance on your allotment!
That really is all there is to it, finished and ready for planting! Practically no skills needed and low in cost if you have materials and homemade compost to hand, otherwise it can be a tad expensive to set up but the ongoing workload is minimal. The key to no dig is keeping on top of weeding, pull weeds by hand when small or use a hoe to prevent them becoming established. Mulch with fresh compost every year if you can to keep the soil clean and revitalised, no need to dig it in just apply to the surface and worms will do the job for you.
As said previously, you can have no dig beds without the need to raise them, just cover the ground with cardboard or thick paper then add a thick layer of compost on top and plant away!