Grow your own in raised beds to enjoy larger yields of tasty, nutritious crops and get that warm glow of pleasure from picking your own fresh harvest.

Start by deciding whether you want to make or buy your bed or beds. I’ve done both, building my own at home and using bought ones in a public garden I was managing, so have seen and experienced the best and worst choices.

Home-made beds are always cheaper even if you are restricted to using wood or recycled plastic. And you can tailor the size and shape to suit your space. But for speed or because you have neither time nor equipment to make your own, you’ve got a wide commercial selection available, some good, others poor or very poor.

A raised bed should be 1-1.2m wide. This lets you weed and tend plants from a path at either side, rather than having to compact the soil by standing on it. ‘Airy’ soil lets roots spread and absorb nutrients easily and means the distance between plant rows can be the same as plants in a row. So you’ll fit in more plants per square metre than in the open ground.

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You need to treat the ground well to get good results from this closer planting. When filling the new bed, any additional material should be 50: 50 soil to home made compost or composted muck. If using commercial compost, you should maintain fertility by adding fertiliser such as pelleted chicken manure.

Raised beds dry out more readily than the open ground, so an irrigation system may be worth the investment, otherwise regular watering is essential. I’ve got drip hose, serviced by my spring overflow for eight large, [10m long], beds in the kitchen garden.

Whatever the bed, ensure it sits level to avoid straining and eventually breaking joins. Ideally, beds should be placed on soil to allow for good drainage and to let plant roots sink more deeply. You might just about get away with a pebbled path, but never use a patio or slabbed base.

The height of the bed depends on how you’re using it. If placed on good soil, you may simply want a low perimeter, say around 15cm, to stop soil spilling onto the path.

If placed on hard compacted ground, the sides should be at least 30cm, preferably 45cm tall to allow for good root development.

Treated wood is the most versatile material and usually carries a guarantee of up to 15 years. Published dimensions of raised bed kits rarely include timber thickness but you should enquire. The ideal is 3.5cm, but accept nothing less than 2cm.

Wood ensures a steadier soil temperature than metal or recycled plastic, both of which can make the sunny side of the perimeter very dry and warm.

The Herald: Narcissus ‘Paperwhite Ziva’Narcissus ‘Paperwhite Ziva’ (Image: free)

Plant of the week

Narcissus ‘Paperwhite Ziva’ is an early flowering narcissus with white star shaped flowers that have an incredible fragrance. Bulbs can be forced to flower indoors in the middle of winter where they will fill a room with their heady scent. The blooms last for weeks but can then be allowed to die down and the bulbs stored for planting outdoors in autumn. They need very sharp drainage so are best for pots or containers so they can be sheltered from the worst of the winter’s rain.

It is best to use new bulbs each year for forcing.