Here I am in Ye Jolly Olde UK, looking out my window at a glorious Halloween morning with its varied hues of orange and red, crisp leaves on the ground, bright snap in the air. Autumn in England is a beautiful thing – when you’re watching one of those old Pathe newsreels where people talk like posh Cockneys and everyone has the Blitz spirit of cheer and gumption.
In reality, it’s raining, grey, cold and decidedly miserable out there. I don’t mean to spoil any of your forthcoming dream holiday plans, but there you go. We live in a temperate climate, which sounds rather lovely and mild on paper, but is actually just cold and damp. Very cold and very damp.
We eat lots of root crops here and fly in tomatoes from countries that have a working relationship with that yellow orb in the sky. That doesn’t sit well with us organic grow your own types, so we love our raised beds. As I’m planting out some winter veggies, I decided it was high time I got down to building one or two of said beds.
Raised beds elevate the crops for maximum sunlight and insulate the soil inside to give the crops a better environment. It also makes square foot gardening easier and you can nail slug netting and horticultural fleece to the structure. The Hello Kitty side of me rather likes the idea of putting my vegetables in a bed with a soil duvet. I digress.
Again, on paper this sounds rather lovely and fun. Mel’s brother David, our resident scavenger, scored a dustbin full of wood from a skip, and I brought along a bag of nails for the proceedings. Thanks to my lovely dear departed Nan, I collect such things as nails, screws, bits of paper and assorted gewgaws – “because they might come in useful one day”.
I consulted the mystic calendar to find one of the six and a half days of sunshine we get, and set the wood out on the lawn to dry thoroughly. Never nail wet wood, or you’ll end up with an attractive yet useless sea anemone. Then measure everything 157 times, go for a cup of tea, and measure it 157 times more. “Measure twice, cut once,” say the old gardeners and carpenters. “Measure 157 times and go for a cup of tea,” I say.
Wood drying on the lawn - sun not actual size shown. Parts may vary. Contains gluten.
What you’re aiming for here is a box structure, either one or two planks high, with internal supporting struts that sink into the ground. Wood measured, cut and dried, I started to assemble the pieces and nail them together. Now, I have to point out here that you’re supposed to screw the wood together. Wood gets wet, particularly in a temperate climate, and screws accommodate the inevitable swell and stop everything falling apart.
At the Green Centre, we have a bag of rusty screws with damaged threads and an electric drill, which is only strong enough to tickle a kitten. Needs must when the Devil drives a bread van, as I like to say. Hammer in hand; I strode down the garden to start nailing away like a demon possessed.
I nailed two planks on each strut and stood back to admire my handiwork with the sound of frantic hammering still ringing in my ears. I was careful to stem any swearing because of the little girl who lives next door. Then it was time to nail the other side of the plank/strut combinations to each other, so I had another cup of tea and picked up the hammer.
Not bad for a beginner, and no swearing yet.
Patting self on back at this point - thinks: "Easy peasy." Famous last words.
Never nail sideways – I cannot emphasise this enough. If you nail sideways it will make you cry, and this isn’t a good look, even if you’re a girl like me. Short of dangling myself off the shed roof, I didn’t have a choice so I spent the best part of an hour nailing things sideways, trying not to swear and wiping the tears from my eyes.
Nailing sideways - biscuits optional.
I ended up with a four-sided structure with supporting struts that actually didn’t look half-bad. “Jesus Christ,” said Mel. “That’s huge.” Sitting on the lawn, it did indeed look less like a raised bed and more like a small raised house, but I dragged it down to Dave, praying inwardly and hoping that my 157 measurements were correct.
They were – but the struts were far too long. I realised this halfway through pounding the structure into the soil. Some of the nails started to fall out and I started crying again, but I grabbed the saw and began to fix things like a professional. Albeit a tear-stained and very tired professional. Never saw sideways either – it’s a lot harder than nailing sideways and things tend to fall on your foot, which isn’t good when you can’t swear.
You did say "measure 157 times", didn't you? Didn't you??
Nevertheless, the raised bed is now nailed and in place and looks rather spectacular. The extra compost is arriving at some point this week along with some leaf mould and bark chips. Now I know that I can make one, I’m going to do a smaller version for Sam the Balcony and grey, damp weather be blowed!
Soil duvet and saw not included. Contains small parts. Always read the label.