So there we were unpacking boxes and hanging pictures in our own place in Lara and haphazardly planning our garden. There was a neatly fenced off area, roughly the size of the house, with a water tank, a pump, one good lemon tree, one sickly lemon tree and a few mounds of soil that must have been used for vegetables…
Raised beds 101
I think I mentioned before that this area has some of the hardest clay soil I have ever encountered. The only manual tool that helps is a pick axe – and then at a very slow rate of progress. So we decided to do the sensible thing and build raised beds. And so started the process of “buying shares” in the local hardware store… The first few beds were built from thinnish treated pine sleepers. Relatively cheap, easy to work with, Bob’s your uncle. The first set of beds were built, filled with compost and topsoil bought in quite small quantities (read – expensive) and seedlings from the same hardware store.
But then started the big debate. Are the sleepers good to grow organic vegetables in? With what were they treated? Arsenic or not? So I trudged off to said hardware store and started my enquiries. The assistant on duty phoned the supplier and they reckoned, fine, the sleepers are safe to use. More debate at home, more investigations, and eventually another trip to the store for more enquiries. This time a more detailed response from the supplier, and we realised the sleepers were actually treated with arsenic. Small quantities, but arsenic nonetheless. And we don’t want arsenic seeping into our soil, and even less into our vegetable beds and eventually into our food….
So guess what next? There I was dismantling my new neat vegetable boxes, chucking the wood in a skip with other building rubble that was lying around and dumping the 20mm of dirt that was next to the wood onto the easement at the far end of the block. (Yes, soil is called dirt in Australia, the plot is called a block and the easement is a strip over the sewage and water pipes where you’re not allowed to build.)
Raised beds 202
OK, so by now we have learnt a little bit… and we’ve also been planning (only a little bit). So, next to arrive are two large trucks. One with untreated hardwood sleepers bought in bulk to replace the “poisonous” ones, but also enough to double the area covered in raised beds. And this time we didn’t make them one sleeper width deep, no, now we were going for double-depth boxes. Expensive option but in retrospect that was the right thing to do with the hard soil underfoot. The other truck delivered 10m3 of organic compost and topsoil. A few weekends of measure, saw, screw, hammer and hundreds of wheelbarrow loads later and our new beds were finally built and planted. This time we got organic seedlings from Diggers and supplemented it with seeds for certain vegetables.
Raised beds 303
But of course, that wasn’t the end of it. Since then there has been quite a few extensions to the vegetable boxes, paths laid and moved, and so on. But that’s another day’s story…
And hindsight is an exact science. If I knew what I know now, I would have made a few paths wider, put a few boxes in different places and put the greenhouse in a totally different place. In fact, this coming winter I have a double project to move two of the vegetable boxes, the one of quite substantial size… Planning isn’t our strong point – not because we don’t plan – but just we didn’t know enough in those early days…
- Plan the vegetable garden properly before you start, and in our case, plan bigger than your biggest expectations.
- Leave AT LEAST wheelbarrow wide gaps between raised beds.
- Research the source of the materials used, as well as the soil and plants used.
- Find a reputable organic plant and seed distributor, with a big selection and good service record.