With the house now in a reasonable state following our renovations last year, this year’s focus was always going to be the garden. We completed a patio area at the back of the house late last summer and our big plan for this year was to add two large railway sleeper raised beds at the foot of the patio. We have one raised bed right at the far end of our garden, which we’ve been growing veg in for a couple of years, but I really wanted to have more growing space. We’d cleared the space for the new raised beds over the winter, and luckily had ordered all of the materials we needed just before lockdown hit, so it’s been a great lockdown project for us in getting it all put together.
And here they are – our two large raised beds! I’m really pleased with how they’ve turned out, and although railway sleepers are definitely one of the more expensive ways to do a raised bed, I wanted something that would last a long time and also look attractive, given how close to the house they sit.
Planting Plans for the Raised Beds
The raised beds expand the space we have for growing significantly and I’ve really enjoyed putting together a planting plan for the year, researching what to plant when, harvesting times, and how much space things will need. But I’m also conscious of going with the flow a little bit and not getting too stuck to a planting plan – particularly right now, when things can be difficult to get hold of. If you’ve tried to get hold of any seeds since lockdown you’ll know just how much is sold out and the long wait for the things you can order.
My biggest focus on growing is to grow things that we love to eat. Max, my 6 year old, is a very keen gardener, and he’s been very involved so far in choosing what we’ll be growing, and I’ve tried to get a balance of things that I know he likes, alongside things that he’s not so keen on (but that I love), in the hope that it might inspire him to try new things if he’s grown them himself.
So, in our left hand raised bed we are going with mainly root vegetables. Beetroot is a huge favourite of mine, and we’ve grown it very successfully in previous years. I’ve gone for Bolthardy, which is a reliable variety, supposedly unlikely to bolt, but we’ll see! Alongside beetroot we are planning carrots, which are one of Max’s favourites. I have to admit that they wouldn’t be my choice, as they are so prone to pests, but carrot is one of the few vegetables that both my boys eat, so it seems like a good bet. Next to the carrots I’m planning a row of chives and then spring onions – a bit of companion planting, as I read that the smell of onions can deter carrot fly. I don’t have mesh to prevent the carrot fly, so I’ll just have to hope that works! We’ve had quite a glut of beetroot in the past, so I’m planning on sowing a row every couple of weeks, and I’m also using Charles Dowding’s multi-sowing technique, with 4 beetroot seeds sown together in a clump. Once everything is harvested, I’m planning on sowing a mustard green manure and leaving over winter to improve the soil.
Our second bed is situated in a bit more of a sunny spot, so I’m planning a courgette. I’ve chosen ‘Soleil’, a yellow skinned variety, as it should make it easier to spot them early and prevent any marrows. I’m also growing some peas in this bed, which I’m sowing successionally to spread out the harvest. I’ve chosen ‘Eddy’, which is a variety which should keep producing late into the year, until October or November. I was planning on sweet peas mixed in with these as I really wanted the pop of colour and scent from the flowers, but sadly not a single sweet pea has germinated from my packet, and I was late sowing them anyway, so I’ll have to give up on those I think. Ideally I’d have created a better frame for the peas – taller and with more support – but lockdown means that you have to go with what you have right now.
Later in the year, around June, I’ll pop in some leeks that I’m growing in a pot on the windowsill, and then right at the end of the year I’m planning to sow some garlic in place of the courgette to grow over the winter.
We also have our previous raised bed at the back of the garden. Max has claimed this for himself, and is growing onions, which we sowed back in March from sets. These are Centurion, a large-ish white onion. This bed needs quite a bit of work in topping up the soil level and improving the fertility, but we found ourselves quite short on compost and topsoil in creating the raised beds by the house, so that will have to be a job for once the onions are harvested. Max is a big fan of talking and singing to his vegetables, and I often find him down there making up a song for them, and telling them jokes – and it seems to be working, as they’re doing brilliantly!
Patio Growing when you’re short on space
We have grown potatoes in bags for the last 3 years and I think it’s a great way to grow them if you don’t have a huge amount of space to dedicate to growing. You simply fill the bags with a few inches of compost, pop in one or two seed potatoes, and then cover with more compost. Keep an eye on them, and whenever you see the green stems peeking through, top up the compost level a bit more. If you plant two seed potatoes, you should end up with lots of small potatoes, or you can plant one seed potato if you’d like fewer but bigger ones. We usually grow maincrop potatoes, but this year I’ve gone with Charlotte, a second-early. I chitted them earlier in the year (which I’ve never bothered with for maincrop, but I understand is a better idea for earlies).
I’m also planning on growing tomatoes. Tomatoes are a classic for growbags and I’m popping two large growbags in the sunniest spot on our patio. I’ve not grown tomatoes before, so I’m sticking with the tried and tested varieties this time in the hope of more surefire success! I love cherry tomatoes, and I hope that the small size will appeal to the boys too, so I’m growing a few Sungold (a super sweet orange cherry tomato), Gardener’s Delight (another cherry, and prolific fruiter), Moneymaker (a salad variety and tolerant of poor conditions) and Alicante, a bigger variety that I may use to make passata and other sauces.
A Herb Garden
We use a lot of herbs in our cooking, and I think there’s nothing better than being able to use fresh herbs rather than dried. I’m planning on growing herbs in lots of pots on our patio, in the hope of being able to just walk out of the back doors and snip a few herbs for our dinner. I’m planning some mint, rosemary, basil (will go on the windowsill rather than outside), and chamomile. Most herbs are highly fragrant too, so putting them right outside the back door seems ideal to me.
So there we go – our first year of ‘proper’ growing, and I hope it’s going to be a successful one! No doubt there will be lots to learn, and ups and downs along the way.
I know that so many people are starting out for the first time with growing their own this year – I’d love to know what you’re planting this year, so do leave me a comment and let me know how it’s all going for you.