Rubble and clay
When we moved to the Sticks in 1988 it had recently undergone major modifications and the previous owners had dumped the building rubble just where we wanted to build our vegetable garden. During our first winter in residence, when the weeds had died back and we could more easily see what we were doing, we set about clearing the rubble. It was a time consuming and back breaking job but we realised the rubble was actually useful. The plot was on a slope, falling sharply at the lower edge, and by shifting the rubble from the upper to the lower sections we could build up a base which would provide reasonable drainage and reduce the severity of the incline at the lower edge.
There were also three crumbling bases for what must have been tool sheds or other snall outbuildings. They weren't stable enough to use again so we demolished them, keeping the reasonable sized stones to one side and useing the rest as additional rubble to level the plot. It took many weekends to clear but by the end of the winter we had finished and were ready to dig the now exposed soil and level the top section of the plot where we planned to make three vegetable beds.
We started to dig and found almost entirely solid clay. There were a few patches with a reasonable depth of good top soil but not many. Mostly it was a thin layer, barely more than a sprinkling. We surmised that the builders who had renovated the house has simple dumped the clay with the rubble. We kept digging. Maybe we should start a pottery works! This was harder than we had expected, we couldn't just dig in this amount of clay. We put lumps of it in with the rubble. As the rubble broke down it might mix with the clay. We would need to buy in a load of top soil.
It was too late for sowing seeds this year. We spread hay from old bales we had found abandoned in the barn over the rubble at the lower end of the plot as a mulch to supress the weeds. We hoped it would keep the docks and nettles down over the summer. In the meantime we decided to move to another area of the garden and postpone further work until next season.
New soil and the first vegetables
Before the next sowing season we took delivery of 20 tons of top soil, barrowed it and spread it across our designated vegetable plot. To deal with the slope we built terraced gardens. We also planted a few fruit trees in the corners. For a couple of years we got good crops of potatoes and spinach but didn't do so well with the carrots, which we found difficult to keep free of weeds. Those that did grow were very misshapen. We grew tomatoes, radishes and herbs in grow bags on the patio.
We were in a contant fight against the weeds. Within a few weeks the whole garden could be knee deep in nettles, and despite constantly digging and pulling out roots we couldn't win. After a a few years we decided we needed a new strategy.
To beat the weeds we decided to cover the whole patch with a membraine. It allowed water but not light to pass through. After about twelve months we thought we might stand a chance again. This time we decided to go for raised beds and to keep the membraine as blankets, only uncovering that part of the garden we wanted to plant.
In the mid 1990's we built three raised beds each 16 feet by 4 feet separated by gravel paths. Of course we put strips of membrane under the gravel to stop weeds growing through. At least that was the plan.
In 1999 we were ready with the new raised beds. We planted two of the beds and left the third covered over. We were very successful growing peas, broad beans, raddishes, lettuce and sweet corn. The winter brocolli was less successful but we still managed to harvest some. We did plant any potatoes this time but a few came up from tubers remaining from a previous year.