Permaculturing in Portugal

One family's attempts to live in a more planet-friendly way

Raised beds

I’ve been wanting to build some raised beds for the vegetable garden. Our experience last year proved that borderless beds were effective to a degree, but we had a lot of casualties at the boundaries despite basing the beds on a double-reach, no-dig principle. With no available mulch material and no difference in level, the proliferation of summer greenery soon blurred the boundaries and we were forever accidently straying into growing areas, so I wanted to distinguish permanent ‘growing areas’ from ‘treading areas’ much more obviously and effectively, especially with moving to a more diverse and mixed companion planting regime, with perennials as well as annuals.

The first year’s conventional-style plantings of annuals served well enough to see what grew well and what didn’t, to monitor the water and light availability across the plot through a growing season, and to gradually clear the soil of its impenetrable tangle of bramble and nettle roots, but it was hardly ‘permaculture’. And as we now have some home-made compost and mulch to add to the beds for the next growing season, I wanted to lay the groundwork for a more sustainable way forward.

I’d created a roughly triangular-shaped keyhole bed at the end of last year, just because it was the shape that fitted into the available space, and had also outlined a circular bed at the end of the yurt porch with herbs and salad vegetables in mind. But having dug the triangular bed out from under a carpet of chickweed (and in the process discovering a lot more worms than we found when we first dug out the brambles and nettles), and added boundary boards from our remaining pile of cheap sawmill offcuts to reinforce its presence, I was wondering where to go from there.

It was Chris who spotted it from his birds-eye view on the way up the terraces to fetch the sledgehammer. There in the ground just waiting to be revealed was the pattern of the sun and its rays, radiating out from the circular bed at the end of the yurt porch. As soon as he described it, it was obviously perfect. Even well-designed with irrigation in mind. But more so it conformed to a strong feeling that just because we’re engaged in a utilitarian activity like growing food, it doesn’t have to be devoid of an aesthetic sense. So this is what we’ve been working on the last week, along with clearing terrace walls of bramble regrowth and redigging drainage/irrigation channels.

Making raised beds in the yurt vegetable garden

Making raised beds in the yurt vegetable garden

Making raised beds in the vegetable garden

Making raised beds in the vegetable garden

Making raised beds in the vegetable garden

We’ve added compost and straw mulch, transplanted the remaining perpetual spinach and rainbow chard that the mice hadn’t eaten the roots off, the garlic that had sprouted from last year’s undiscovered cloves, a few onions that had escaped the harvest and sprouted, and a load of strawberry offshoots from the strawberry patch on the fruit terraces. Comfrey has been uprooted, divided and replanted in the wet patch.

Making raised beds in the vegetable garden

And sadly we now have to say goodbye to Chris & Em who are going back to Scotland in search of work. Thank you both for all your hard work and see you in the Spring!

Apparently I’m already too late for onion sets – struggling to transition from Scottish to Portuguese planting times still – but we’re off to market tomorrow to see what we can find.

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1 Comment

  1. Ofer El-Hashahar January 9, 2011

    Hi ,
    I really liked the photos, It is great inspiration to what ones can do.
    looks so great as it is like built to the landscape.

    I think it is one of the best things with raised beds, to my opinion, is that it create a very encourage start to keep and growing. ( just like having a pot with no plant. Even more fun when the raised beds are nicely designed- creating a nice garden- like yours.

    My name is Ofer, I moved to the UK nearly 4 years ago and since decided to go green and encourage green. With experience as a garden designer and agronomist I designed few products that we made from 100% recycled plastic.
    We grow in our front garden in raised beds made from recycled plastic: simple idea : 100% recycled plastic edging that supported by stakes so any shape can created.
    We loves it and so as many of our customers, sure it is long lasting and very easy to built.

    Lots of good luck, ofer

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