Vegmonkey and the Mrs.

Vegetable growing in a very small space in Cheltenham

How to build raised beds…by popular demand! February 11, 2008

Filed under: growing — vegmonkey @ 9:40 pm
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As a lot of people have enquired as to where the raised beds came from, i thought i’d develop that into a post about raised beds, and how to create them. It was quite a long process which we went through, when we first decided to make the beds, and even purchased the house based on the fact we could fit four in. If that’s not dedication to ‘growing your own,’ i don’t know what is!

We started looking at these raised beds but decided they were too expensive for what they were, didn’t look amazingly nice and didn’t look like they’d take the battering we were probably going to give them! We then thought about old railway sleepers like these but were concerned about chemicals such as tannins affecting the veg as we wanted to be completely organic. We finally decided on oak boards which are actually only available within a certain distance of Herefordshire but if you live in Kent you can also buy them.  These were a hundred times better than any scaffold planks we found. Email me and i’ll send you the link.

The cost was quite a lot but i think the initial investment was important as we intend to be in the house for a good few years. The beds were delivered on a large lorry, and took me and my best man (this is 12 days before our wedding!) two days to put together, using a very big drill bit, but a drill that really wasn’t fit for purpose!

The size of the beds are: 1.2m by 2.4m (the area in the middle being slightly smaller). The height is 250mm and the thickness is 60mm. They were very heavy, but untreated, from a sustainable source and organic. The bolts supplied were 4” long.

Once it all got together, it looked nice, but needed something putting in it. For the filling (i’m making this sound like making a sandwich!) we put about five 120 Litre bags of Westland Multipurpose compost in each bed, on top off a layer of cardboard to stop the weeds, and then the cardboard eventually rots down. Mixed in with this we put 2 big 20kg bags of sharp sand to help drainage and dug in some slow release organic fertiliser. The thinking behind this was that garden topsoil, which we could have got free from freecycle would have suited, but the quality wouldn’t have been as good as bagged compost and it would more than likely have been littered with weed seeds…which would have needed weedkiller etc!

After being on the ground for almost a year, the beds have held up very well. They are slightly damp at the moment but are beginning to dry out nicely with all this sun we’ve been having. 

The picture below shows what the beds looked like back in April.

Small beginnings…


Build – a – ball Brassica cage February 10, 2008

After the cabbage white butterfly decided to lay a load of eggs all over the purple-sprouting broccoli which led to an invasion of yellow and black caterpillars, i have decided to provide some protection.

The initial idea of something homemade really wasn’t very good (i got a bit confident after the creation of the cold frame!) so i splashed out on the Build-a-ball system from harrod horticultural. I think it cost somewhere around £40 for the balls and the metal parts. It was quite complicated to order, but i was happy with what i purchased. The size was 2.4m x 1.2m which is the size of our beds so i had to get the hacksaw out and chop the equivalent of the boards that surround the soil…if that makes sense.

The cage will be covered with enviromesh to prevent any beasties. We’ve tried fleece in the past to cover beds, but the enviromesh is a lot finer, so keeps more out, and is a lot tougher, so will last much longer.

I’ve since been looking on other websites and at other peoples’ pictures and have seen that some people have substituted metal poles for stiff rubber tubing or garden canes. I can see how this would be cheaper but i don’t know if it would be as sturdy considering we get quite a lot of wind in our garden (insert pun here!) or be strong enough to take the weight of the enviromesh at full height. I suppose it will also depend on if the canes fit into the holes on the balls.

Taking that on board though, i’m going to use garden canes to make a smaller cage for when the plants are young, building up to the full size one with the metal poles as the Purple Sprouting Broccoli grows.  The pictures show how the build a ball as i originally installed it and the ‘new’ adapted smaller version which will still enable the greenhouse to get some light…until things start to grow…!


             BUILD A BALL BRASSICA CAGE                            build-a-ball-2.jpg



Next job: Move August planted Winter Walcheren Cauliflowers from current Brassica bed to new one.


Where to put a veg plot? February 6, 2008

Filed under: growing — vegmonkey @ 11:14 pm
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planting plan - where to put a veg garden 2   


planting plan - where to put a veg garden 1

A friend of mine has a nice, grassy, back garden which is just begging for a veg plot, so that he can grow some veg with his littl’un. After asking for my advice…(i do what i can!) i went round and tried to give him the benefit of my knowledge. There are a couple of pics of the space above that show the space.

I would like any advice that i can pass on to him about where would be good to put the plot and what to grow, would be much apreciated, as it’s always good to get a few opinions! It’s important to know that his other half doesn’t want the plot to impinge too much on the garden and that the patio will be covered with a greenhouse, pretty soon. Plus he doesn’t want to spend a huge amount of time on it as he works long hours!

Now there’s a challenge!


‘Feltham First’ Peas Planted February 3, 2008

Filed under: growing — vegmonkey @ 2:34 pm
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compost in feltham first pea trench from kitchen caddy 

I thought i’d take the opportunity to sow some peas today. I know they won’t come up yet but it’s nice to get them in the ground and get a plant label in (i got some nice new wooden ones for Christmas..which will slowly disappear as the plants grow!). I planted a variety called ‘Feltham First.’ It can be planted in Autumn but i have chosen to put it in prior to Spring and I’m keeping it covered until the weather warms up a little. Either way, another row or two will go in, in March. I’m assuming that as the temps warm up, that won’t take long to catch up.

I planted 2 rows of the peas 5cm apart and about a metre between rows. The theory is that the rows should be the same distance apart as the plants grow high…if that makes sense. I also planted a few seeds in some old guttering so that if i have any gaps, these can be filled by the spares. I’m not sure how i will support the plants yet. I think it will depend on if i can get hold of some sturdy hazel sticks, otherwise it will just be canes i feel, with some sort of netting strung between them.

As you can see from the delicious waste above, before i planted the peas, i dug a nice deep trench and filled it with the a mixture from our kitchen caddy. This has been slowly rotting over the last week and filled the trench nicely. It’s mostly veg peelings, crushed eggshells and teabags.  I added some organic fertiliser slow release pellets to this. The roots will have a nice supply of goodness as they grow as peas like a deeply dug rich soil.

I really wanted to put the mange-tout in but am going to hold off until the start of March i think so that i don’t have to give them any protection.


Potatoes – buy, chit, plant, earth up, eat – with weetabix!? January 27, 2008

This is the first year of us attempting to grow potatoes. Due to the lack of space we have plumped for a variety called ‘Ulster Sceptre,’ which is a first early. ‘Ulster Chieftan’ and ‘Swift’ were the other options i thought about but the former has relatively poor resistance to disease (not usually a problem with earlies as they aren’t in the ground long enough) and the latter i think is too common!

potatoes chitting in the cinema

The first step to home grown potatoes is debatable. Chitting involves putting the seed potatoes in a light frost free place such as a covered greenhouse or a windowsill so that they begin to sprout. The purpose of this is to give them a head start so that when they go in the ground, they have more of a chance. The sprouts appearing should be green – not white as this indicates they have not had enough light, and should number no more than 3 or 4. If they do appear too early or are white, according to they can be rubbed off up to 5 times before it has any adverse effect on the sprouts that replace them, which is interesting. Timing is everything! However, through reading i have done myself and discussion with other gardeners, it seems it is only necessary if you want a really early crop. It’s also interesting to note that commercial potato growers don’t chit at all.

close up of baby sprout

I am using an old apple holder whatsit that was no longer needed by Morrisons to chit mine in as i didn’t have the foresight to save egg boxes. Silly, i know!

Potatoes should be planted in early March. I am going to dig a trench about 10cm deep, and place the potatoes in the trench about 25cm apart with about 50cm between each row. This will then be covered over by hand, so not to damage the sprouts.  The recommended distance for earlies is 30cm by 60cm but i really do not have the space to plant any closer, and don’t mind the smaller potatoes that will result.  As the potatoes grow, they will need to be earthed up – the RHS describe this as the drawing up of soil around the plant to prevent the greening of tubers by light and to prevent the onset of blight. I am aware that i may have to build some sort of structure to enclose the soil around the plant as it grows, as the beds aren’t hugely deep – a chance to buy more tools methinks!

We will also have some in large black pots that i purchased at the potato event last weekend. They have drainage holes in the bottom, and will each take 3 of the egg-sized tubers, producing no less that 15lb’s per tub! That’s pretty good going in my book. I need to remember to add some slow release organic fertiliser at planting as i always forget ‘in the excitement of planting…’

In the grand scheme planting plan wotsit, the potatoes will be occupying about a quarter of bed 2, the one that houses the roots. I have already manured most of the bed and will be ‘sorting’ the PH at the beginning of the Spring. When they are removed in June, Leeks or Parsnips will go into their space, depending on which have been the most successful in the mini-greenhouse. From past experience, it’ll be the Leeks!

The only problem with earlies is that they don’t store hugely well. Might have to find some interesting ways of cooking them…potatoes with weetabix anyone?


Planting Plan – Updated! January 2, 2008

winter veg planner amended 4 year rotation

Being a primary school teacher means i get more extended holidays than most people. This enables me to spend lots of time out in the garden during the main planting time of Easter, but also to get on top of things during the Winter season. The last day or so has been spent looking at the successes, failures and ‘missing parts!’ of last year’s veg planting plan and doing lots of scribbling and crossing out to improve it.

The main changes are:

1. The plot will be a lot fuller (i forgot to plant many ‘leaves’ this year and hardly any winter veg that grew.)

2. There will be no flowers growing in the beds (they will have their own pots…somewhere as they seemed to take over, particularly the sunflowers, as the beneficial insects are only good if there is space to grow!)

3. Potatoes will be added into the rotation (i’ve decided that First Earlies can go in before the leeks need the space.)

4. The colours have been changed to make the plan easier to read.

I have included the ‘winter veg planner’ below. Click it or print to make it easier to read. This is the best quality i could get it before it became too large for the page! Things like tomatoes, sweetcorn, lettuces etc and herbs will all be grown in pots, hanging baskets or in the beds where there is space (!?). I will add a section for these later next week. I know a few people have been following some parts of the plan. I hope that things have worked, and would love to hear about any successes, failures, questions or recommendations!

I know the plan may look a bit ‘much’ but i know that this way, we are more likely, via the 4 year rotation, to have less diseases in each veg family, to know exactly what and where we can grow and to grow plants in an order so that the previous years plants prepare the soil for the next years!

 Winter veg 4 year rotation planting scheme

 Happy planning!


Be gone, feline fouler! November 14, 2007

sonic cat scarer 

The worst pest in our garden is slugs. Without question. But that wasn’t always the case. In fact, up until 2 weekends ago, the worst pets was cats (i do like them when they aren’t pooing, we used to have two little men ourselves). I had plans to build huge cane frames to go over the beds, to cover them in enviromesh and to remove them when we were home. The purpose of this was going to be to keep the cat off the beds.

Every morning, after my cup of tea and toast i have a wander out back, only to usually find a new piece of dirt turned over and a pile of crusty turd.

Two weeks ago i bought a sonic cat scarer. It has a very high frequency that we can’t hear, but the cats can. When they walk across in front of it, it sets the alarm off, and the cats run away. I make sure i turn it off when i’m outside so not to waste the battery but every now and again i leave it on. I know i wouldn’t want to go to the loo in a garden with a shrill siren ringing in my ears!

The result is that we are able to keep the beds completely uncovered! No expensive covers and no poo!

(There was one mess last week, but i’ve found that if i move the ‘machine’ every couple of days it confuses the little blighters!)

It did cost £30 and i will need to replace the battery every now and again but that is a small price to pay for seedlings that are actually allowed to grow!

I’ve read lots on forums and in magazines and think this actually works!

 Now, to work on those slugs…more nematodes  think!