Recently we have had a lot of 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.) It’s a good excuse to build some new raised beds. This time out of pallets.
Getting in my Excuses Early
Needless to say, all this rain has had a bit of an affect on planting. 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 and cold, amongst others, 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?
Types of Raised Beds
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 moved to France.
We tried out various styles, from normal box to wattling to see what worked best. The honest truth, they were both 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, we needed to 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.
Enter the Mighty Pallet
I have to say, 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.
After all, 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 How To Plan
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 an ‘H’, with a separate pallet making up each element of the H. Now add another H beyond the next. Another after that if you wish a really long raised bed, though we do recommend, with experience, not to extend beyond 3 pallet lengths. (You can do this as 1 or 2 pallet lengths only.)
Strengthen with pieces of wood attached lengthwise along the interior, to keep the separate H’s bolted together. Add pallets either end, which also gives additional strengthening (and to avoid sway). And you have yourself a pallet raised bed.
The raised bed ends up being waist height, with the base of the bed, where the planting will take place, about 1/2 meter (2 feet) off the ground. Thus no chicken access (unless the devious buggers fly up) and weeds can’t grow high enough to invade your raised bed.
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 meters long. So, 9 pallets, plus 2 for each end to give us a total of 11 pallets required. (We recommend in hindsight trying to get pallets that are more or less the same size.)
Our Existing Garden Difficulty
For us there was a tricky bit. We had all these pallets, 25 in all for the first terrace, stored all along the terrace, but also had the existing wood box raised beds in situ.
We had to remove the old bed rotting plank 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. But in the end, we built two raised beds.
Once the pallet beds were built, we lined them with a permeable plastic, bathtub style, stapling it in place. Then we filled in with 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 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) and tipped it in. 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.
Ready to Plant
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, 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.
Second Time Around
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.
Oh, and we learned from the first pallet raised beds, due to the weight of the soil (or maybe it is just our clay heavy soil) we had to add additional planks of wood on top of the base. This gave additional support and stopped the pallet wood from breaking under the weight. The other option is to also fill it less. We filled it full to the top, giving a good 50 cm (18 inches) of depth. That’s a lot of soil.
This was our inspiration for this style of pallet raised bed…