Building new pallet beds, Part 1 ~ Getting our excuses in early and planting late

If you have followed the weather at all here in France, particularly Northern Burgundy, you will know we have had rain. Rain, rain, rain. Plu, plu, plu. (Don’t you just love the French word for rain? It sounds just like a drop of rain hitting a surface.) Needless to say, all this rain has had a bit of an affect on the garden. Add in a deep frost at the end of April and storms in May, and I have to say I am so glad I have been really lazy this year where the garden is concerned.  Ah, what I mean is… I waited with due diligence until there was an opportunity to truly work on it.

I will use the excuses of the rain (1) and cold (2), amongst others (read on), for not getting in to the garden in January to begin our new raised beds. But I finally got around to it… in April… or was it May?

If you have read my previous gardening posts (Like a Garden Virgin ~ and yes now I have my own version of Madonna’s song in my head) you will know we built raised beds when we first came here, trying out various styles, from normal box to wattling to see what worked best. The honest truth, they were great ~ but. Both types lasted 2 years and then in both cases the brittle wood had to be changed. Enter this year…

We looked at the previous beds and determined how to improve them, and make them last much longer. First and foremost, raise them higher. The previous ones were about knee height. Sufficient, but not able to aid our backs, or knees, and they were still accessible to the chickens and weeds.  The watering system we had in place was also not very helpful.

We’ve been collecting pallets from before Christmas. I am a HUGE fan of pallets. I wax lyrical about them and always bring a wry smile to Pumpjack’s face (he of the more traditional method of making) when I mention yet another project I would like to do with pallets. I mean what’s not to like about the fact that someone has already partially built you a wall that can be made into something else with little or no fuss?  (For example, our Hanging Bed.) And we get them for free!

The Plan was to use the natural middle support of the pallet to hold up a central bit, thus raising the floor of the raised bed off the, um, floor. Think of a ‘H’, with a seperate pallet making up each element of the H. Our raised bed would end up being waist height, with the base of the bed about 2 feet (1/2 a meter) off the ground. Thus no chicken access (unless the devious buggers fly up) and weeds won’t come to life in the shade under the pallets.

This structure does mean a lot of pallets are needed. A pallet is roughly a meter (a yard) long, It takes 3 pallets to do one meter; one for each side and one for the base. We wanted each of our raised beds to be about 3 or 4 meters long. So, 9 or 12 pallets depending, plus 2 for each end. Which meant it took longer than planned to get enough pallets together for the 2 beds we were going to build on the first terrace. (Excuse number 3)

Getting stared on placement and building pallet beds

Getting stared on placement and building pallet beds

Then the tricky bit, we had all these pallets, 25 in all for the first terrace, stored all along the terrace, but also had the existing beds in situ. We had to remove the old bed sides, then the dirt, which was humped to the each end of the terrace for re-use, clear the space and level it and then begin to build. It took awhile, moving pallets around, making space, rearranging, trying to get similar sizes together, having to discard some, find some more. (Excuse number 4)

adding the permeable plastic to the raised bed

adding the permeable plastic to the raised bed

Once the pallet beds were built, we lined them with a permeable plastic, bathtub style, and re-used the old dirt along with some new and added compost. Because of the height of the beds now, we hadn’t really taken into account getting the soil, lots of soil (excuse number 5) up, up, up and into the new beds. Pumpjack came up with a ramp built from the bags of new dirt and a piece of wood from one of the old beds. So up we rolled the old soil (very clay orientated, so very heavy. Excuse number 6) and tipped it in, then once all of it was put into the new beds we then disassembled the ramp and added the new soil along with our own compost.

Planting celery and sweet potatoes

Planting celery and sweet potatoes

It was really, really nice, once it was all in place, to be able to work at the bed whilst just standing by it. No stooping or bending. And with the bed only a meter (yard) wide, and with access all the way around, it was easy to get it mixed in and ready for planting.

Luckily (excuse number 7), as spring never really came and we went straight from winter into summer, we were able to plant the earlier spring crops later with no discernible delay or affect in their growth. But then the deluge came (excuse number 8). Our potatoes, sweet potatoes, celery and celeriac weathered the storm. The onions decided it was the best thing ever and have shot up. But the carrots, swiss chard and green beans, those items we planted from seed, were all pronounced death by drowning.

Now we have made it to July. We have reseeded the carrots, swiss chard and green beans and await with baited breath to see if we were too late. We should be okay on at least the carrots as they can be planted even into August according to my seed packets (excuse number 9), fingers are crossed on the others.

Soil and seeds in place.

Soil and seeds in place.

We are now in the process of building the raised beds on the second terrace. We have collected another 25 pallets, cleared the weeds and much of the old beds (whilst working amongst piled up pallets), and are about half way done. We hope to have it all done by mid-July, barring any more excuses.

Oh, excuse number 10; if you are going to build something to last, take the time and do it right.

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