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New raised beds – railway sleepers


I just looked over our old blog posts to see when we installed the raised beds and it gave me a bit of a warm glow. I love going back over the old posts to see how the garden has changed and grown over the years.

Turns out we installed the beds very early on in our gardening adventure.

Back then, we were VERY new to gardening, in fact, this is our first garden ( my balcony doesn’t count), so we were working things out and learning as we went. Still are to be honest.

When we moved into our lovely new home here at Ar Bruadair, we new nothing (you know nothing Jon Snow!). We had seen the raised bed thing on TV and thought it sounded like a convenient thing to do. Boy were we shocked by the amount of work it took to get them going.

Kate putting in the old raised beds way back when…

However, nothing compared to the work that’s gone into replacing them. Sigh, and we’re not finished yet.

So why have we replaced them?

Well simply, the old ones were very cheap and have started to rot, split and fall apart since they were put in. It has been 7 years! We’ve been saying for the last couple of years that we needed to do this, and dreaming that lovely railway sleeper raised beds would be great. We just never got around to actually doing it. Then, with the new greenhouse meaning we no longer needed the sleepers under the greenhouse, an opportunity arose, so to speak.

So the plan….

Well we’ve so far only replaced two (we mentioned in a previous post that we’d made a start). The third is full of strawberries so that will wait until next year when those strawberries are at the end of their life cycle anyway.

We did bed one a couple of weeks ago before the carrots and beetroot were ready to be planted out. Bed two we did last weekend as the courgettes will go in there in a few weeks.

So what was the process?

Boy, was it backbreaking, really. I’ve spent most of this week struggling to move. Why? Well let me tell you.

First job: cut the sleepers to size

Kate took care of the hard work here, but through this we have learned one awesome piece of advice to give you guys so you don’t suffer as we did.

So we had sleepers already, most excellent, meant for the first bed we didn’t have to buy anything. However, they weren’t the right size so had to be cut. Railway sleepers are solid oak and 200mm by 150mm. We (actually Kate) cut the first bed by hand. It was a killer and her hands and shoulder were killing her for days. First piece of advice for you guys, if you are doing this, buy a cheap electrical saw!

Kate marking out where to cut on the railways sleepers

Once the sleepers were cut, we put the first level together on the patio so we could make sure it was square and level. Then put the next level together and squared it all up. We didn’t attach the two layers though.

Next piece of advice: this job is so much easier to do on a nice flat accessible space rather than trying to do this in situ. Oh yes!

Kate building the raised beds from railway sleepers

Job two: empty the beds of soil

You want to completely replace the beds, well it’s gonna be easier if they are empty, so all that soil had to be dug out and put somewhere. A big tarpaulin on the lawn did the trick.

Eli emptying the soil form the raised beds

YAY! Now we can get the new ones in right? Well no… if you go read the original story of us installing the beds, you’ll hear about how uneven the ground was and the half arsed job we did of levelling the original beds.

We decided this time we would try to make a better job, while we had the opportunity. That was a killer.

Job three: level the ground for the beds

We ended up having to dig the back end down about 6 inches on average, it was way more at one side and less at another, as this side of the garden slopes quite a lot. It took forever and our soil is clay so it’s hard going to dig. In the end, the first bed looked awesome, properly level from all angles.

There were gin painkillers that night, let me tell you. So what’s next?

Eli levelling the ground for the raised beds

Job four: put it all back

Now things are level you can put the new beds in place and fill them back up. Hurrah!

A handy, dandy tip for you guys on this. We build the two sections separately, it made it manageable (I won’t say easy) to carry them and put them in place. Once the first layer was in and level, we added the next layer and fixed them in place with huge, big, carriage bolts. They are all nice and securely fastened together now and nothing is going to move these suckers!

So two beds done, third will get done next year. Oh we’re looking forward to doing all of this again! NOT!

new raised beds made from railways sleepers

Our beds have done us so well over the years, we’ve had bounteous harvests of carrots, beetroot, courgettes, salad, broccoli, sprouts, chard, kale, strawberries etc. Here is our homage to our raised beds…


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