I’m a raised bed convertee, having used this growing system exclusively on my previous veg patch, and I’m beginning to build beds in our new garden in Somerset.
There are a number of good reasons to use raised beds, including easier access and higher soil temperatures, but a significant drawback is cost. Materials can be pricey, especially if buying new but if you’re happy to be patient and opportunistic you can pick up freebies as you come across them.
If you’re still keen and your eye for a freebie is equally as keen, here are 5 of the best materials for building raised beds.
Old scaffold boards are probably the most commonly used option for building raised beds, and can be easily found as scaffolding companies can’t use boards that are damaged or splitting. If you don’t happen to know a friendly scaffolder, try eBay for local companies disposing of their boards.
Unfortunately, an old 13ft board will still cost over a tenner, plus you’ll have to find a way of getting them home if you’ve not got a trailer or roof rack.
A much cheaper alternative is to construct beds out of pallets. I have seen this done before on a neighbouring plot, and although the timber is not as long lasting as scaffold boards, pallets are plentiful and there will be hundreds laying around any given industrial estate.
To build beds from pallets, you’ll need a crowbar to gently prise the lengths off. You’ll need thicker wood to make corner posts, and then nail or screw the lengths into the corner posts. Add extra posts for support, double the height by using more lengths if necessary.
Sleepers make for a lovely ornamental appearance, but are very expensive and also very bulky so you’ll need a big electric saw to cut. Don’t be tempted to use old sleepers that are coated in creosote.
When building my previous veg patch I was lucky enough to pick up some used sleepers that were being thrown out from an old garden, and they did look great. Being so sturdy the didn’t need any support either. Simply find a strong friend to help, cut the sleepers to size and plonk them in place.
Like pallets, free bricks are pretty easy to find, especially if you’re happy to do some skip diving or tip hunting. On the plus side they are strong and durable, but unless you want the earth toppling them over you’ll need to learn some basic bricklaying. I love old bricks, but don’t forget you’ll need to be completely sure about your plot layout as once the bricks are in there isn’t any moving them!
Oh, and if you’re thinking of using bricks on an allotment, sound the committee out first as they might not be too happy with bricks being cemented in…
Another durable alternative, paving slabs are relatively cheap but heavy to lift and require more effort to install. A good 9 inches of the slab needs to be buried in to the ground to keep it upright, and the soil must be packed back in firmly to stabilise the slab. You might want to consider joining each paving stone to align them too, or cementing them in. Again, have a chat with the allotment committee beforehand.
Of course, you can use a combination of all of the above. Combination can look a little on the higgledy-piggledy side, but allotments are naturally a place for unusual, resourceful solutions, so don’t let that put you off!