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.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.Growing cover crops is also a great way to add nutrients back into the soil. .
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.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.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.When you build your soil the right way – slowly over time – everything your plants will need will already be in the bed.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.Shredded leaves happen to be my favorite mulch and are just another key to the success of my or any garden.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? .
Raised Bed Garden from A - Z
The raised beds at the Garden Farm™.Are you building a raised bed garden, or are you looking to improve your raised bed crops?As a long-time raised bed gardener, I am thrilled to see how many of you are looking to start your raised beds for the very first time – and want to make sure you get off on the right foot.One thing is certain, the information available on the internet regarding materials, methods, risks, etc.It’s my goal to answer all your questions from A to Z, planning to harvest and maintenance, starting with this first episode in this raised bed gardening series.My Raised Bed Gardening Background.We’ve seen beds over concrete, lots of community gardens, just about everything.Six seasons later, the gardens are beautiful, incredibly productive and a little easier to keep in “television-ready” shape.The truth is, I feel that all these years televising my gardening techniques – regardless of the location – my garden has been … everybody’s garden.I’ve just been in charge of building and maintaining it.Why Use Raised Garden Beds?Raised beds provide you control over the health of the soil in which you are growing your plants.The goal is to create a deep, wide growing area that encourages plant roots to grow down and outward.When the bed is contained in a structure, you are better able to really get in there and work your bed without impacting the overall shape.Just that little bit of added convenience makes it easier to work in the garden, even on those days where I might be tempted to just kick back with a cold beverage.Raising the garden surface raises your plants above problem soil and can prevent plant roots from reaching those contaminants.So, no matter how bad the ground you’re starting with, anyone anywhere can grow a productive raised bed garden.Building raised beds can be expensive.For most, this is a benefit, but if there’s a possibility you will need to relocate your garden in coming years, a permanent raised bed structure will need to be deconstructed.The raised soil is more exposed to heat and cold than surface soil.Raised soil can dry out more quickly than surface soil.Garden Area Planning.You don’t need to have a lot of space to build a raised bed garden.Be sure to check out the Growing a Greener World blog on that topic and the considerations on this.It’s best if the garden area is relatively level.Get that area as level as you can before you build.If your spot isn’t level, and you don’t have the ability to level the ground, just bear in mind that your raised bed surfaces will need to be level once complete.If not, will it be practical to lay a garden hose from the spigot to the garden area?If at all possible, don’t site your garden in an area where water tends to pool on your property.(If you checked out last week’s podcast, you’d know that an 18” depth is also the perfect seating height.).It’s important that you don’t have to step into the bed to weed, plant, etc., as that will compact the soil and affect drainage and overall health.Solarize the area.Remember that this process kills the weeds down to about 3” of soil, so if you dig after solarization, you’ll be bringing those deeper weed seeds back to the surface to cause you more grief.One drawback to solarization is the ultimate disposal of the plastic sheeting.Bermuda grass is so persistent; it is the only time I might consider placing a layer of landscape cloth under my raised bed structures.I strongly encourage you to build some sort of border around the edge of your bed to prevent Bermuda grass creeping in from the perimeter.It doesn’t take much to kill a season or more of garden crop, so think twice before deciding to take this particular shortcut.I’ve received lots of questions about building raised beds on this.The deeper you build your beds, the less likely this will be a problem, and again if this is the best area you have to work with, don’t let that hold you back!Why do materials matter?Secondly, the soil you place in your bed will need to remain fairly moist, and the exterior surfaces of your bed will be spending a lot of time in the hot sun.The lifespan of your wood will depend on wood type and your environment.It’s more a matter of maintenance and realistically assessing what will work best for you and your family.I recommend against painting the exterior only of your raised bed structure.The wood exposed to the moist soil will wick up moisture, but the exterior paint won’t allow the wood to fully “breathe.” So by painting the exterior only, you will be trapping the moisture inside and shortening the lifespan of your wood.Treated Wood:.Treated wood has been infused with chemical elements to preserve the wood.They have a higher concentration of copper but don’t have the arsenic.When you (or especially, your kids) sit on or lean on treated wood, your skin or clothing is most likely to absorb the copper or arsenic leaching out of the wood to remain on the surface.In other words, really healthy soil with lots of organic matter does not take up arsenic by plant roots.At any rate, that would be a good indicator of a potential problem – in which case you might want to think about having your soil tested for metal concentrations.While we’re on the subject, root vegetables are at greatest risk of being impacted by leaching, as most metals (when taken up) remain in plant roots.Studies further show that those root vegetables are impacted most on their surface.In short: Keep your soil near neutral and add lots of compost (more on both of these later), thoroughly wash off the soil and peel the skin from your root vegetables, and avoid contact with the exterior surface of the treated wood.So, yes, those metals are in the concrete blocks that line your vegetable garden too.Then, it’s a matter of several factors that determine the potential risk to what you are growing.So, how much fly ash is absorbed by soil held within a concrete block structure?If you have beds made from concrete blocks, just avoid anything that would cause them to break to the point that the dust from pulverized pieces can come in contact with plant roots.If building raised beds over a concrete surface, the same risks and preventions would apply.There is so much information out there on the subject, and it will quickly take you in many directions.Composite Wood:.Composite wood is made of recycled materials and can last for years.Railroad ties are made with creosote, an oil distilled from coal tar.While there have been few studies on the impact of using them to contain edible plants, I’ll take the advice provided directly from the EPA on creosote:.One thing you should bear in mind, however, is heat and drainage.Whether you use metal sheeting or a trough, that metal will absorb and reflect heat from the sun – more than other materials.Some can be expensive, and the material with which they are made can vary widely.I recently built raised beds on an episode of Growing a Greener World, so check that out.If you use any of the above materials with the potential of leaching, you might be inclined to line the bed with plastic.Yes, this will provide a barrier between the bed material and your soil.But don’t lose sight of the plastic material itself.Don’t block drainage with plastic.Be sure to watch for next week’s podcast when I’ll continue the raised bed journey, discussing two of the raised bed topics that generated the most questions – structure material and soil.Episode 041: Small Space Garden Design joegardener Blog: No-Till Gardening: If You Love Your Soil, Ditch the Tiller.Episode 043: Raised Bed Gardening, Pt.Episode 044: Raised Bed Gardening, Pt. .
The Dirt on Dirt – Raised Gardens
While it would be comforting to have a specific all-purpose recipe that is the only one to use, real life rarely gives us such cut and dry instructions – at least when it comes to plants.Mixing soil has a lot more in common with making soup, which is a very forgiving form of cooking, versus baking angel food cake where ingredient proportions must be exactly right.While we might tend to think of fungi, bacteria, and insects as problems to solve, they are usually a great addition to your soil.Compost is organic matter that has decomposed and transformed into a soil-like substance that is great for growing plants.These locations can be great options to find inexpensive, bulk compost to use in your raised beds.The good news is that adding compost also adds nutrients that your plants will use to power growth and flowering.Peat moss is used to add structure and water holding capacity to your raised beds.Oddly it both promotes great drainage and holds water that plant roots can access as needed.There are lots of different types of peat moss sold in garden centers and box stores.You can tell the quality of the peat moss by two different parameters: fiber length and dust content.The higher quality peat mosses are compressed in bales and usually expand 2-3 times their volume once they are unpackaged and have absorbed moisture.Some alternates to peat moss are composted bark (preferably made from hardwoods), Coir which is coconut fiber and rice hulls.While rice hulls are pretty much on size, it is best if you choose coarser versions of composted bark and coir.Like peat moss, larger fibers will take longer to break down and will give more porosity to your soil.John’s raised garden bed mix is about 1/3 native soil, 1/3 well-aged compost, and 1/3 peat moss measured by volume.She has, as she has calls it, “crappy soil.” Rather than using her native soil, she buys premium topsoil in bulk when she creates raised beds.There are many ways to create soil for your raised beds, but the main components included in the mix are reasonably similar.Finish up by gently and slowly watering in the soil until it is moist and leave the bed to sit overnight, or longer. .
Filling, or Refreshing, Your Raised Bed Garden – City Grange
Soil.For a garden of this size, you'll need 0.8 cubic yards, or 21 cubic feet, of a basic mixture of topsoil and compost at a 2:1 ratio.So you have to do a little math to divide your bag size into 21 cubic feet.If you have multiple beds you're going to start thinking in cubic yards of soil (the equivalent of 27 cubic feet per yard).For this reason, no product that contains topsoil can legally be called organic.Manufactured soils: These soils are a combination of non-topsoil ingredients.Another option for houseplants (and other plants) is...You can buy worm castings (City Grange carries them) and they are good for houseplants and containers.Well, it's too much to go into depth here but a simple answer is fungi that work with the plants roots to help them uptake soil nutrients more effectively.A fungi for trees isn't going to do much good for your veggie garden. .
10 Tips for Successful Raised Bed Gardening
Plus, the soil in a raised bed warms earlier in the spring than in-ground garden beds, so you can get planting sooner.Of course, there are a few drawbacks to raised bed gardens.Plus, you'll want to consider the width of the raised bed when building it to ensure you can easily reach the center when planting or maintaining your garden.If you plan it ahead of time and install your irrigation system before planting, you can save yourself a lot of work and time spent standing around with a hose later on.Install a Barrier to Roots and Weeds.If you want to ensure that you won't have to deal with weeds growing up through your perfect soil, consider installing a barrier at the bottom of the bed.Cover up Your Soil, Even When You're Not Gardening.Add a layer of organic mulch or plant a cover crop at the end of your growing season.Plus, by adding a cover crop, you can increase the soil fertility as the crop breaks down after it's turned into the soil.A little planning up front can enable you to grow earlier in the season or extend your growing season well into the fall. .