Building a raised bed

Traditionally, vegetables are grown in long rows on flat soil with space between the rows for access. A raised bed is a concentrated growing area, higher than the surrounding ground, and its sides are usually constructed of wood. Or you can even set up a vegetable border that is every bit as attractive as a flower border. I’ve written more about raised beds and their advantages here.

A couple of weeks ago we decided to build the ultimate raised bed, inspired by our trip to Edinburgh and a visit to the Gallery of Modern Art and their beautiful walled kitchen garden.

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For constructing the raised bed we bought nine sleepers (2.4m long, 200mm x 100mm) at a local builders merchants, it came to £155 including VAT. You’ll also need screws: 6-inch decking / hex head treated screws – 24 pieces and some galvanised brackets to hold the sleepers together. And here’s the process.

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Firstly measure out, clear and level the site the bed will occupy.

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The raised bed will be 1.2m by 2.4m, cut 3 sleepers in half to get the 1.2m lengths, take care doing this as it is essential to get a straight cut for a neat finish, now lay the first layer of sleepers in place, once you are happy with the level secure the sleepers together at the corners, repeat this process for the remaining layers, in our case it was a total of 3, now secure the layers of sleepers together with your choice of galvanised brackets, to ensure there is no chance of movement.

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Now backfill with some rubble etc, for drainage then top off with 150mm, or so top soil or your choice of compost.

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This post is for my wonderful friends Ruth and Helen and for anyone else who fancies giving it a go.

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Inspired… and in awe

Yesterday we spent a most enjoyable afternoon in Shetland’s Westside – namely in Sandness. Transition Turrifield held their third open day this summer and they also put on a small farmers’ market and teas, soup, bannocks and homebakes in Sandness Hall. A perfect reason for a little drive West, I thought, especially since the weather was lovely too.

It’s always great exploring different areas and corners of Shetland but the Westside must be my favourite as the lanscape is really beautiful. There are miles of quiet single-track roads with many hidden lochs that shine like gems, nestled in the hills. And sheep roam free. The vistas are juxstaposed with peatbanks with lovely dark peat and white crofthouses, dotted in the landscape. It feels like the Westside is Shetland in miniature. And then there are the egg and veg boxes beside the roads… it’s so exciting buying local produce and having the element of surprise as sometimes there can also be homemade cakes, jams or preserves. The whole experience feels like a little treasure hunt!

So after a plate of tasty soup and a spot of shopping at the hall (we bought some veg, Shetland cheese, pork, beer and fudge) we set of to the croft at Turriefeld. And what a busy place it was! Cars and people everywhere. It was great being back again and seeing how everything grows as the season progresses. In June we spent an ejoyable day with Penny and Alan learning how to build a polytunnel from discarded salmon cage pipes and plastic sheeting. Back then it was a cloudy day with a lot of wind so we didn’t get a chance to finish the tunnel and put the sheet on. (I’ll write about that experience another time.)

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This time the weather was just perfect, it was sunny, warm and there was very little wind. Everything looked green and lush. When we arrived we were given a lovely guided tour of the croft’s growing areas by one of the volunteers and in a few words I have to say I was in awe… Yes, it was amazing to see big juicy tomatoes, beans, courgettes, aubergines… but there were also pumpkins, corn… and melons too! All these were in the tunnels. Outside all sorts of brassicas, peas, carrots and tatties are thriving. And then there were the animals – hens, turkeys and ducks… and the pigs that help to work the ground.

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I could keep going on but basically visiting Turriefield and seeing the amazing work that Penny, Alan and their volunteers do is simply amazing and utterly inspiring. Visiting their croft is real eye-opener and it shows how with a bit of knowledge, some shetler and a bit of digging (or a lot) it is possible to grow many things in Shetland. And do so in a responsible, sustainable way.

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I’m totally inspired and next year I’m planning to reduce the lawn area even more to make space for a few more raised beds… just a shame we don’t have more space as I would love to have one of thoose big tunnels too… (the one pictured below is the one we built in June and it currently used for drying a great crop of garlic before it is used in the new season).

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Find out about my previous visit to Turriefield here. For further information and recipes click here.

More photos here.

Shetland Kale: Possibly the oldest Scottish local vegetable variety

Last year my colleague from work was very kind to give me some Shetland Kale seeds she kept that season. I was very excited about the prospect of growing an old Shetland crop and particularly because it would be grown from a heritage variety seed that was lovingly nurtured and saved unlike mass-produced commercial hybrid seeds.

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When looking for more information about Kale I came across this some interesting information at Slow Food UK:

Shetland Cabbage

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What are my special features?

Much variation can be found in this cabbage/kale (Brassica oleracea L) and the heart is a lot more open than modern cabbage varieties. The cabbage has a characteristic peppery taste and is traditionally cooked in a mutton stew.

What is my history?

Shetland Cabbage/Kale is the oldest known Scottish local vegetable variety and has been grown on the Shetland Islands since at least the 17th Century. Specific origin details of this landraceis unknown. The outer or dropped leaves were often used as winter feed for cattle and sheep.

Due to the extreme weather conditions on the Islands cabbage seeds were traditionally planted in plantie crubs, a small circular stone-walled enclosure. The cabbage seedlings were then transplanted into larger yards also often with stone walls. These structures can still be seen all over the islands despite many being in ruins.

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Why am I forgotten?

In the last 30 years, there has been a steep decline in Shetland Cabbage and competition within other well-known supermarket varieties is further problematic for such traditional varieties.

Don’t lose me… cook me!

Kale was immortalised in the Shetland poem “Auld Maunsie’s Cro” by Basil R. Anderson:

‘Auld Maunsie biggit him a Cro
Ta grow him kale fir mutton bro
Fir Maunsie never tocht him hale,
Withoot sheeps shanks an kogs o’kale’

I found out that seed of Shetland Cabbage is not sold commercially and the survival of this, and other, landraces is entirely dependent on growers saved seed. Find out more here.

I’m planning to try keep some seed this year if the plants succeed so if anyone is interested in giving it a go please let me know and I’ll get you some seed.

Photo No.3: Silent witnesses to intensive crofting in the past – plantie crubs and kale yards in Culswick. To see this magic place and enjoy a fine walk to Culswick Broch check Walk Shetland.