Upcycled wood makes perfect new vegetable beds

Original vegetable plot

There’s a reason why a carol at Christmas is entitled In the Bleak Midwinter. It’s Anglicised of course, because Jesus was from the Middle East. But little has changed since Christina Rossetti wrote the poem of that name, published in January 1872. Winter in Britain is mostly bleak.

While it hasn’t been frosty yet – so I haven’t pulled up the sweet potatoes – the skies are often dull, the weather drizzly – uninviting for gardeners for example.

Yet some planning can take place for the growing season next spring, in anticipation of the season of hope, weatherwise. I am always impatient to plant my seeds, in the hope of growing my own edible produce.

As proper winter approaches, the last of the tomatoes have withered without the warmth of the summer sun. One of the wooden borders of a main growing area had fallen apart. It was time to reassess the border – and the space.

This presented an opportunity to revisit the area, that flourished with beans, sweetcorn and the odd potato this year. Growing your own can be satisfying hobby – a distraction from the world’s troubles.

Walking round my local area, I spotted several skips, from building works (have you noticed that Portaloos for workers have increased, because of Covid-19 concerns?). One had a thick length of wood in it, which I imagined would be just wide enough for the plot, as a border.

Now, a word on skips. If they are situated on someone’s property, you have to ask to take something out. If they are on a verge or public area, there is no need to ask. And don’t – just don’t – go dumping your own stuff in someone else’s skip without permission. It is annoying for the skip hirer, who might not have used up the space yet as intended. The skip is included in the work price – and might rise if extra space for disposal is required.

While a skip provided one piece of wood, I needed more than one had bought the others from a builder’s yard. I bought enough to straighten off the plot, instead of having it curved at the end, and to extend it slightly. I then painted the wood with winter protector. Outdoor upcycling, I like to call it.

The vegetable plot has been extended for next year
The vegetable plot has been extended for next year

A friend suggested reclaimed – or recycled – plastic borders as they last much longer. As readers will know, I try to minimise plastic. I also don’t like the idea of plastic leaching into the earth. I have read how roads made of recycled plastic might result in this problem.

I’d saved used compost from the summer’s produce to populate the new area. I had to dig up an area of grass – which was gratefully received by a neighbour for a bare patch under a tree – so the uncultivated earth will need further attention.

For now, I have dug in some used guinea pig bedding (a fully organic product) and topped up with the used compost. I anticipate using more of both, to break up the soil previously unused for growing, and adding in some fresh towards growing season.

Someone suggested growing winter vegetables, but it is a little late for that this year now and I have not had the best success with winter greens in past years. One experiment in the garden per year is enough. And the sweet potato plants, this year’s gamble, are safely tucked away in the greenhouse. “Harvest before the first frost,” say the sources I am following. Not knowing exactly when that will be, there’s a chance the greenhouse might protect them, even if November, as expected, brings a chill.