raised bed detail
construction finished, awaiting soil
These beds are a bit different to the ones that I have made in the past. To start with there was no wood, neatly cut into planks, waiting to be used, just the surrounding forest with trees aplenty. Secondly, the beds mustn’t look anything, not anything, like coffins. Sue had ripped out the last raised beds that had been constructed as they reminded her too much of death, the way they were laid out like graves in a cemetery, so not a regular rectangular shape then. On top of that, the ground sloped at a strange angle, so with the design I chose, to produce a horizontal planting surface, construction had to adjust to the slope on two planes. There is nothing like a good challenge.
Thankfully, almost by magic, Jordi (I think that’s how it’s spelled) came out of the woods to work to earn some money clearing the forest. He embraced the task of finding suitable timber for construction, rather than the usual firewood demands and before the day was out, had cut and prepared good straight trunks of a couple of dozen pine trees. He expressed concern that they were not going to be left to dry and harden for a year, but assured us that they would last a good eight years, if not ten or twelve, even if used immediately.
I hauled the timbers back to the garden area, sometimes with the help of Geoff, and set too peeling off the bark. This allows the wood to dry and harden faster and reduces the possibility of rot setting in, especially where the wood remains in contact with damp earth for any length of time. Improvisation is often required and the best tool I could find for the job was a scythe blade. I knew it was available as I had stolen its handle to repair a fork whose handle had disintegrated in my hands, absolutely riddled with woodworm. It’s no big deal, as Jordi will no doubt cut a nice length of chestnut and craft a new one sometime. The scythe blade worked a treat, just like a giant potato peeler, sliding under the bark, peeling it free from the wood in long strands. A bit tricky round the knots and sticky from resin, I peeled for a couple of days whilst working up courage to tackle the next stage of the operation.
Cutting and notching the poles so that they fitted together easily was going to require using a chain saw. I know that they look simple to use but I have avoided them till now, graphic descriptions of injuries and visualising the speed that flesh disappears under a fast moving blade has always been enough. Leave such tasks to the professionals and stick to hand tools when possible has been my motto. Here I was offered the full protective kit, so I thought I would give it a go. I consulted several safety videos on line then donned my kevlar trousers, heavy duty boots and gloves, face, head and ear defenders, checked over the machine and was ready.
(Kevlar is an amazing material, it consists of millions of threads, compacted into a thick cloth. Once it is cut, the threads expand to produce a mass of strong fibers that break loose and jam up the moving blade of a saw in moments, stopping it before it has time to do excessive damage. I wasn’t about to test it, but allowed it a small amount of my trust.)
Equipped with a tiny chainsaw I started with straight cuts and tidying up errant branch stubs that had been left during the felling. I soon progressed to forming the angled notches needed to stack the timbers and form the beds. Construction started with the lowest angled corner, building up level by level, adding longer lengths and additional corners determined by the lie of the land and the thickness of the branches. The aim was to build high enough to get one complete layer of wood, defining the outline of the planting area and then to fill the structure with soil. It was great. I enjoyed using the chain saw, progressing with more speed and efficiency each time I used it. (never forgetting how close I was to those flesh eating teeth)
I finished one bed then continued with another two simultaneously, using the offcuts from one to fill in gaps in the other, finishing the construction with a couple of days so spare. The notches were not always perfectly aligned and there were a few gaps here and there, but for garden beds I was more than happy with my efforts, as were Sue and Geoff. Jordi reappeared from time to time and took responsibility for completing the task. We discussed filling gaps in the structures with smaller branches, choosing juniper as there was plenty around and its durability was consistent with the life of the project.
The bark peelings were raked up and spread between the beds, acting as a weed suppressant mulch and a mud free surface to walk on. A trailer load of soil was gathered from the forest, a mixture of rain washed sand from the gutters and rich leaf mould from under the trees to fill a couple of the beds and my time on the project was over.
It’ll be great to return one day to see the rest of the garden beds full of soil and produce. By which time I’ll have taken a chain saw course, when I get back to England, and be ready to tackle some of the bigger tasks.