This is especially advantageous for those whose property has hard-packed or clay soil, issues with tree roots, or concerns about pollutants.And since good soil is the foundation of a healthy garden, you want to make sure you’re setting your veggies up for success.The soil in a raised bed will remain loose and friable, rather than being hard-packed over time by footsteps.When I built my raised beds, I called around and ordered what I thought would be a good-quality triple mix.In Ontario where I live, triple mix is generally top soil, compost, and peat moss or black loam.All that rich organic matter is an important component that will hold moisture and provide nutrients to your plants.Topping up your beds with compost will add nutrients back into the soil to prepare it for whatever you plant next.To maintain the health of even the best soil for a raised garden bed, adding organic matter every year is essential.I find the soil levels in my raised beds are usually lower from the weight of the snow.If you have smaller containers to fill, check out Jessica’s recipes in her DIY potting soil article. .
Difference Between Garden Soil and Raised Bed Soil – Vego Garden
Humus is the dark organic material in soils produced by the decomposition of plant or animal matter.It is not designed for raised beds or containers because it over-compacts and has a tendency to become oversaturated with moisture, leaving limited space for roots to grow.It is a man-made material composed of natural substances, including decomposing bark, peat moss, minerals, and perlite.Garden soil also lacks ingredients such as perlite and peat, making it less expensive than potting mix.This is because garden soil contains a good mixture of contents that make it well-draining and fluffy, ideal for supporting moisture retention.Although nutrient rich, the moisture retention is inadequate to support plants and vegetables grown in a raised bed.Oftentimes the native soil in your yard is not suitable for growing plants, as it may have poor drainage or subpar composition.Raised bed soil possesses amazing drainage properties that help establish a favorable environment for your plants.It provides gardeners with well-maintained loose soil that results in adequate airflow and distributes a sufficient amount of nutrients and oxygen to the root systems of plants.Using poor quality soil can have detrimental effects on root growth, which in turn leads to a shortage of vegetables.Raised bed soil also has an ideal pH balance between 5.8 – 7.5, which is optimal for your vegetable or flower garden.Vermiculite, a hydrous phyllosilicate mineral, increases soil aeration as well, but also facilitates water retention.By contrast, sand reduces water retention, which you can add if you want to grow cacti or succulents, which thrive in sandier soils.Hugelkultur is the method of layering mounds of rotting wood and organic material to replicate an ideal natural environment for your crops.You can easily repurpose existing organic matter on your property, such as wood logs, grass clippings, and branches. .
Best Soil for Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening
If you’re wondering what the best soil for raised bed vegetable gardening is, that’s an easy answer – “Mel’s Mix”.I followed the advice for how to make Mel’s Mix, which he calls “the most important, productive, essential, necessary, critical” ingredient for square foot gardening success, and it worked!Mel’s Mix for square foot gardening adds in peat moss (or coco coir) and vermiculite which keeps the soil light and airy.Mel Bartholomew’s mix for the the best soil for raised bed vegetable gardening is simple:.It contains the correct mixture of compost, coco coir, vermiculite, worm castings, and basalt dust.The benefits of using this soil mix for raised bed vegetable gardening include:.In the years I’ve been gardening, I rarely see a weed inside the raised beds.Soil remains light and airy; it does not get crusted or compacted.You can also layer the ingredients (lasagne style) in the raised bed, mixing well after each addition.Make up a little extra raised bed mix to use in pots and containers This raised bed mixture also is a perfect potting soil, so I like to mix up extra of this soil mixture and store it in a large-lidded garbage can.It’s very convenient to have the mix on hand for filling pots and for other areas in the garden.[line] Add a balanced organic fertilizer to your soil mixture for raised beds helps give plants the food they need to grow and thrive in your garden. .
Raised Bed Gardening
In case you missed it: I had invited my email group to send me any questions they hoped I would answer on the topic of raised bed gardening.I received a huge response, many from folks who plan to start raised bed gardening for the first time this season.If you would like to join the conversation and contribute to future topics, click the red “Get Free Updates” button at the top of this page.It was rich with information learned through my many years of raised bed garden experience (also detailed last week) and a lot of research.Concrete blocks, for instance, are pretty unforgiving in structural soundness on uneven surfaces.The moist soil and plant material being held will put pressure on your bed side walls.Depending on bed length and the material you are using, it may be wise to add some wall support.(It helps to cut the bottom end of the 2”x4” stake into a point to make it easier to drive it into the ground).Since wood has the potential to bow or warp, note the direction of the grain at the end of each board.If you don’t use mortar to adhere your concrete blocks together, I recommend using rebar, which can be driven down through the hollow cores or using some other method of staking to better hold up to the bed pressure.The healthy raised bed soil will infiltrate and improve the health of that subsurface over time, and regardless of how high you are building, it doesn’t hurt to offer your plant’s roots the opportunity to reach down even deeper.For those of you building on hardscape or over contaminated soil, don’t feel like you are missing out on not being able to break up the surface.Additional Structure Considerations: If you are dealing with gophers or other subterranean root-chompers, these burrowing pests are best prevented during the raised bed construction phase.Consider adding a layer of chicken wire or other metal mesh to the bottom of your raised beds.Stainless steel hardware cloth reportedly lasts even longer than galvanized.Burrowing rodents are crafty creatures, so extend your mesh barrier up, alongside the sidewalls of your bed structure.Yes, this can be a lot of work, but you’ll only get one shot at this preventative measure, without having to deconstruct your raised beds down the road.Regardless of the size you are building, the depth you are creating, or the material you are using; I don’t recommend weed cloth.You might think it’s a neat and tidy improvement to place that clean, black weed cloth at the base of your garden bed.Weed mat – regardless of material – provides no benefit and will hamper drainage as the pores eventually clog.The only time I would consider an exception to this rule and risk drainage loss is when fighting Bermuda grass.Instead, the soil is the environment that promotes a healthy ecosystem below the surface – that can facilitate (or hinder) the ability for air, water and nutrients to be utilized by plants and their roots at an optimal level.A healthy soil food web is busy with billions of microscopic organisms as well as larger creatures, like earthworms, all working together.A soil food web is complex, so building that healthy ecosystem doesn’t mean a trip to the home improvement store, buying lots of bags of garden soil to fill up all your raised bed space.Over the years, I’ve developed a mixture of elements that has brought me abundant gardening success.As mentioned earlier in this series, your soil is not the area in which I recommend cutting corners cost-wise.The U.S Composting Council encourages all gardeners and growers to “strive for five.” This refers to the goal of making the organic matter in your soil 5% of the total (by weight).The rough estimate to make that 5% happen is to include organic material of about 30% by volume to the total.It should tend towards the darker side of brown vs. gray or clay in color, and it should smell earthy – not rancid.If in doubt, look for a mark of certification from some nationally-recognized organization which indicates the soil contains certified compost.With certified compost as an ingredient, you can feel confident that the topsoil will be good quality too.30% High-Quality Homemade or Certified Compost: Use what you can make, but source the difference from a reputable supplier.Compost is fantastic (I’ve even lept into glorious piles of compost – don’t miss the end of that linked episode), but it doesn’t provide all the complex elements (like minerals) necessary for healthy, balanced soil.I shred the leaves, wet them down well and, in six months to a year, they are rotted and ready to be incorporated.Mineralized Soil Blend: Here’s another case where finding a good landscape supply company is important.Worm castings are significantly higher in all the primary nutrients your plants need to thrive.Mushrooms are grown in mixtures of natural materials like hay, gypsum, corn cobs, cottonseed hulls, etc.It contains about 3% nitrogen and potassium, a bit of phosphorus and other bonus elements, like magnesium and calcium.Although pine bark is slightly acidic, I’ve never found that to have much effect on the overall pH of my garden soil.It will break down over time, and its coarse texture provides space for the movement of water and oxygen through your garden beds.Ground bark brings a diversity of particle size that can really amp up your plant health.Composted Cow or Poultry Manure: Well-composted animal manure has been a mainstay of organic soil fertility for thousands of years because of the nutrients, organic matter and variability of particulate matter that it adds to complement overall soil make–up.Many people have poisoned their soil with killer compost (including me), by inadvertently adding herbicide–tainted ingredients usually found in horse manure.It passes through the horse’s digestive system and goes through the composting process without losing any of its killing power.The traces of herbicide (no matter how minute they may be) will kill or severely disrupt the normal growing habits of many garden edibles as effectively after being composted as the day they were manufactured.Perform this simple test before you ever let the manure come into contact with your plants, soil or compost pile.I didn’t perform a bioassay test on the horse manure from my GardenFarm, and I suffered the consequences for four years.Over time, they will break down, and the surface of your garden bed will sink, requiring you to add more soil later.Fill Dirt: This, too, might be tempting as a cost savings, but it will hinder all your other efforts to build that healthy growing environment.I’ve only recently begun adding it to my garden, so it’s too soon to give you any personal observations.It’s a pure carbon source that doesn’t break down, but it does help make existing soil nutrients available to plants.Don’t use charcoal fire ash, as that can include some ingredients that aren’t good for your organic garden.As with containers, raised beds can leach nutrients more quickly; so as a final step, it’s a good idea to add some slow-release, non-synthetic, nitrogen-based fertilizer – like Milorganite – to the mix.It’s like the dash of cocoa powder on a great latte – adding a little extra kick.Building that initial raised bed garden environment with quality ingredients will provide you good results the first season.Amend your soil once or twice each year with organic nutrients (like those I described above) – not synthetic fertilizer.In early September – before I plant my winter, cool-weather crops – I topdress with an inch or two of compost.If I were to “disturb the party” by tilling in my compost, I would be doing a disservice to the existing soil food web.On the off-chance something undesirable has made its way into those mediums, compost works as a buffer to help neutralize any potential negative effect.Perhaps, you are working with existing raised beds that have been depleted and don’t have all of that microbial action going on.Instead – using a pitchfork or a broadfork, stab the garden soil deeply and wobble the fork around to create a little space around the tines.Here again, I highly recommend you start with a soil test, so you have a better understanding of what you need to “deposit” into those stale beds to get them ready to be available for “withdrawals.”.If there isn’t any debris to remove, but your bed is filled with organic soil and materials; don’t worry about amending this season.What’s more, mulch improves the soil by breaking down slowly over time and adding the resulting nutrients.We all like our garden to be beautiful to look at – even if we don’t all broadcast our successes and failures on national television.A one– or two-inch layer of wheat straw, arborist wood chips, shredded bark, grass clippings, composted leaves, etc.- anything natural is okay here.So, having a good watering system in place will make it much easier to reap abundance in the garden.Myself, I go a step further and take full advantage of some quick, easy and inexpensive tools to automate the irrigation of my beds.Depending on your set up and spacing; emitter tubing, soaker hoses or a drip system will provide the perfect moisture level.Soaker hoses are porous, allowing the water to seep out slowly along the entire length into the surrounding soil.Most soaker hoses are made that way, but I have concerns with chemicals from that recycled rubber leaching into my soil.A bonus tip: Place your soaker hose under mulch for extra water efficiency.If you’ve ever used soaker hose and had it spray up onto your plant foliage, you’ll be happy to hear that non-porous emitter tubes don’t have that problem (although if you add a layer of mulch, errant water spray won’t occur from soaker hose either).Most commonly, drip kits include a lightweight, flexible tube with an emitter at its end so that you can direct water to a certain plant or small area.The wand attachment provides a gentler spray than most other sprayers, and the extension pole makes it easier for me to get that water delivery right down at the base of the plant.Since I don’t have to stoop over to target the base, I’m able to multitask and spend watering time looking over new growth and inspecting the plants for signs of pests or disease.If that’s the case, just be sure you are watering in the early morning to decrease evaporation and allow your plant foliage the remainder of the day to dry off.There are still some questions that need answering in Part 3 of this series, so I encourage you to check back next week for all that information.Joining is easy and fast – just scroll to the top of this page, click the red “Get Free Updates” box, and enter your email address.May I suggest you listen in while you start diagramming out your raised beds and plant locations? .
Crafting the Ideal Soil for Raised Garden Beds
One of my biggest challenges since I launched my business in 2012 has been finding the ideal soil for raised garden beds.The science behind soil quickly becomes complicated and variable, which is simply a reflection of the beauty and complexity of the incredible natural world under our feet.I often wonder why I’m not focusing all of my attention on marketing, scalability, networking, my revenue model, and all the other traditional entrepreneurial things.You can literally influence the vitamin, mineral, protein, and essential oil content of your food by how you amend your soil.The traditional two approaches are to get bagged soil from a garden center, or to get bulk “Planters Mix” from any landscape company.They’re composed of a peat moss or coco coir base, then amended with various goodies from compost to perlite.Topsoil weighs 3-4 times more than peat moss or coco coir, and it’s just not financially efficient to ship something that heavy around the country to different Home Depot’s and garden centers.Peat moss doesn’t have all of those minerals like topsoil does, so growing truly healthy and nutrient-dense plants is an uphill battle in a soilless media.Plus, it says something that plants have evolved for over 400 million years growing in mineral soil, with good structure, consistent moisture, a spectrum of micronutrients, and…clay!So large landscape companies put loads and loads of compost into their topsoil to break up the clay, and they sell it very inexpensively as “Planter’s Mix.” Planter’s mix actually grows plants pretty well, especially if you get a lucky low salt batch.But there’s one gaping problem…every industrially produced compost in Colorado has a shockingly high potassium content.All of these sources bring in tremendous amounts of potassium and other salts, not to mention chemical residues from persistent herbicides, antibiotics, and other industrial farming inputs.Having way too much potassium creates “antagonisms”, preventing the plant from uptaking other nutrients such as calcium and magnesium.The plants grow and look lush and large, but they are much more susceptible to pests and will show a low brix reading with a refractometer (a tool that very roughly correlates with nutrient density).A black color, or a friable feel, or the existence of worms are all good signs, but they really aren’t sufficient in determining if a soil is going to produce truly nutrient-dense vegetables—remember, that’s the goal of food!Compost, rock dust, biochar, worm castings—they all have their place and are great tools in a gardener’s toolbox, but adding them indiscriminately is not going to improve nutrient density (unless you get lucky).As an aside, strong biology is the trump card in gardening and farming, and is essential to healthy plant growth.We’re utilizing diverse and creative sources of “inert” organic matter while maintaining a topsoil base.This specific batch will be amended on site with gypsum, a slow-release nitrogen-heavy fertilizer, rock dust, and humates.We spend so much time and money working on soil, and our goal is to now quantify the nutrient-density differences so we aren’t doing it all for naught!This season The Urban Farm Company’s new Chief Operations Officer Kylie Manson will be developing and implementing extensive soil, irrigation, and fertilizer experiments at our “headquarters”.We will be building about 15 raised beds with different soil mixes in them, and we’ll be taking numerous measurements through the season to compare them.We’ll be taking refractometer readings through the season to track dissolved solids in the vegetables, which are correlated with nutrient-density.All of our information and knowledge comes from a long history of farming and in-ground gardening research and literature.I feel like I’ve personally only scratched the surface of how plants and soil work together (with biology) to create amazing vegetables.And of course, I’ll be trying not to spend too much time on soil for raised garden beds so I can grow The Urban Farm Company to reach more people around Colorado. .
Soil for Raised Garden Beds: What Do You Need to Know?
There’s no need to transport soil onsite (or in situ, in Latin) in a car or plastic bag.You can also put some soil into a jar with a small amount of detergent, shake it well, and leave it overnight.They aren’t nearly as accurate, and will only provide information about a limited number of soil nutrients.You can mix soil with up to 50 percent compost and get great results from your raised beds.There’s no good way of determining whether this dirt is “clean” or not, so buying it can be a risk, especially if you’re an organic gardener.Another question we get is how much soil it takes to fill raised garden beds.But here’s a great suggestion to decrease the amount of dirt you need to dig up or buy for your raised beds.Over time the straw will break down and contribute to the fertility of your raised garden bed.Fava beans, crimson clover, peas and similar types of cover crops (sometimes called “green manure”) fix nitrogen in the soil and draw nutrients up where plant roots can access them.The cover crop can also be folded down into the soil prior to planting, which provides rich organic matter.The Cornell University Extension Service has a great guide to using cover crops.Another benefit of cover crops is that they keep rain from falling on soil and compacting it.Compost continually “builds” soil health, which ensures your raised garden beds will be a great place to grow for years to come. .
Raised Beds: Soil Depth Requirements
Mulches are also ‘top-dressed’ throughout the growing season, and gradually decompose into the top layer of soil adding additional nutrients.Taproots will travel deeper into the soil if nutrients and water are available, and this also brings more trace minerals to the plant.Large-leafed, shallow-rooted plants such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower will still require staking to ensure they stay upright as they grow to maturity.Knowing the average root depth for your garden vegetables will help you decide where to plant each crop and how deeply to prepare your soil.For example, in our garden we may plant shallow rooted crops like lettuce in beds where the subsoil has more clay and does not drain well.Deeper soil provides additional nutrients and trace minerals, which further facilitate plant growth. .