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Soil v raised beds – some ideas

By Sara Venn

Where do you grow?  Straight in the soil or in a raised bed.  Here we discuss the options…

There is often controversy around whether it’s safe for edible landscaping to take place and the immediate assumption is that Incredible Edible groups growing in the public realm will need to grow in raised beds. However, many groups do grow into the ground and are not reliant on raised beds so we thought it might be interesting to unpack this a bit.

Growing in the public realm can be quite challenging and it’s important that groups feel confident that the soil they are growing in is safe, wherever it is. Especially in our cities, there are a lot of controversial views about growing in the public realm and some people are very loudly critical. Many of the concerned stories we hear are literally urban myths but what’s important is that when there is criticism there is a well thought out response.

With that in mind the first thing to do when we start to consider a new space within the public realm is to get the soil tested. At Incredible Edible Bristol the group get their soil tested by their city council’s allotment team so there’s hope that most local authorities will be able to support this. And for Incredible Edible Salford, their local university do their soil testing, so there are options for who you could approach.  It is an expense but it’s worth taking the time so that you can respond to people correctly and know that the food people are helping themselves to is safe.

Other things to think about when contemplating whether to grow in the ground or to invest in raised beds are the likelihood of issues from passing dogs, cats or other creatures. For example, if a garden is next to a road it’s less likely to struggle with dogs visiting than a garden in a park where dogs will be off their leads. All these things are important to consider.

And so we move onto the raised beds. These are a serious investment for a group, as not only the materials for the bed will be expensive but filling it with soil and compost will also be costly. However, in certain places, in ground where it’s not possible to grow into the ground or where there is a need to raise the growing space, for example for older people, or for people with disability, or indeed in a space where the ground will be trampled, raised beds are an ideal way of growing. There are points to think about though, which include not just funding, but increased need for watering, as they are effectively huge containers, and ongoing maintenance of the beds, which of course won’t last forever unless they are made of brick and therefore permanent.

There are some spaces where raised beds are favourable. Growing in graveyards, school playing areas, car parks and other areas with high or mechanised footfall will definitely benefit from beds that are raised as crops are easier to protect when they are raised from the ground. And in many cases creating raised beds gives opportunity for creativeness, painting and art opportunities that will involve more of the community than just gardeners.

We’ve outlined here some things to consider when making your decision.  Whatever you decide don’t forget to tell us your tales by getting in touch, whatever you’ve been up to.  To find out if there’s an Incredible Edible group near you then look on our map here, and sign up to the website to access a whole range of resources for groups, including our Getting going resources for new groups.