Raised Vegetable Beds: How to Affordably Fill Raised Garden Beds

Vegetable Permaculture Raised Garden

Vegetable Permaculture Raised Garden

What is a Raised Bed?

Raised beds have been in use for centuries. They’re often elevated to higher levels than the surrounding grounds. Although a temporary bed is usually edged, permanent variations are enclosed or framed with various materials such as wood, concrete, bottles and metal sheets, among others.

The beds are built four feet wide for ergonomic reasons to ensure gardeners can easily reach across the bed for efficient access. The length of raised beds vary, but gardeners should keep them as short as possible for easy maneuverability around the bed. For instance, a bed measuring 4’ x 8’ isn’t just easy to build, but also walk around.

However, beds with shorter widths have a better ‘edge effect’ and thus higher productivity. Although more edging material would be needed for edging, it would be more beneficial than if fewer materials were used. Raised garden beds increase productivity, improve soil conditions such as drainage, increases flexibility and makes irrigation more efficient.

Vegetable Garden Beds

Vegetable Garden Beds

The beds also make it easy to tend to plants, give control over the type of soil to use, and make gardening fun and easier for beginner gardeners. With garden beds, weed and pest control become easier and space is used efficiently. Furthermore, the beds benefit gardeners with back problems and those without.

Building Raised Garden Beds

Raised beds can either be temporary or permanent. The former beds are often made from mounded earth soil. On the other hand, the latter beds are usually made from bricks, wood, metal, concrete, plastics or even stones. Semi-permanent beds can be made from pressed straw bales.

Container gardening or growing plants in pots is a representation of smaller beds with similar benefits. Ready-made raised beds can also be bought online or locally instead of making DIY beds. Plastic or metal watering troughs can also make instant container beds; they only require holes at the bottom to support plant growth.

Herbs and Vegetables in a Raised Pot

Herbs and Vegetables in Raised Pots

Before building a bed, it’s important to embark on the following tasks:

  1. Create a plan.
  2. Choose a site with proper drainage and safe from harsh weather elements such as strong winds.
  3. Choose an irrigation and drainage system suitable for the specifically raised bed – drip irrigation is recommended for raised bed gardening.
  4. Kill existing vegetation on site, especially weeds such as the creeping bellflower, kudzu or bindweed, or even rhizomatous grass. Cut back or hand-pull weeds, use an organic weed killer or lay a black plastic sheeting a couple of months earlier to kill weeds or vegetation on the site.
  5. Lay irrigation hoses beneath the foundation or edging.
  6. Build a foundation for the bed. A concrete foundation is ideal for concrete, stone or brick raised garden beds. It’s ideal for sites with clay soils for proper leveling and bed stability. If edging is necessary, it’s installed beneath the foundation on dug trenches.

Wooden Raised Bed with Weed Cloth Beneath

Wooden Raised Bed with Weed Cloth Beneath

Deep holes at the corners are recommended for wooden beds to accommodate posts. Consider metal flashing, metal edging, plastic edging, or weed cloth to deter weeds.

  1. Install irrigation systems.
  2. Fill soil in beds before planting.

Fill Soil in Beds

Whether the bed in question is DIY made or bought, it requires soil or any other growth medium. Plants require rich, nutritious soil with proper drainage to grow optimally. Here are four ways to fill a raised bed:

Raised Wooden Garden Beds with Soil

Raised Wooden Garden Beds with Soil

4 Ways to Fill Raised Garden Beds Affordably

Here's a Video Courtesy of Youtube on How to Fill Raised Beds

           https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAMf9JEckFI

  1. Collect Organic Materials

The method dictates that you collect various organic materials that can compost such as leaves, plants and grass clippings. The bottom layer of the garden bed should comprise of compost with soil in the top layer. 1 part grass clippings and 2 parts shredded or cut leaves are often used to make the compost for the bottom layers.

Organic Materials

Organic Materials

Mow your lawn to gather grass clippings and prune trees in your yard to get leaves. Visit a local gardening store or center for alternatives to organic materials. If possible, get them from your neighbors, friends or even colleagues.

  1. Lay Compost on the Bed

With a collection of organic materials, lay compost at the bottom of your raised bed. Spread the materials evenly to cover the entire bottom area of your bed. Make sure your bed is covered halfway with the compostable materials. If using all sorts of organic materials, use your hands to mix them up.

Raised Bed with Organic Materials

Raised Bed with Organic Materials

  1. Cover the Compost with Newspapers or Cardboards

Use newspapers or a cardboard(s) to separate the topsoil from the compost beneath. A layer of cardboard or two to three layers of newspapers is recommended. Ascertain that the compost beneath is covered in entirety, from edge to edge.

Cardboards Covering Raised Beds

Cardboards Covering Raised Beds - Image Courtesy of Wikihow

  1. Source for Soil to Top the Raised Bed

Collect native soil in your yard to use as topsoil on the bed. Local gardening centers or stores retail topsoil and other substitutes such as potting mixes. Visit one near you to buy topsoil.

  1. Rake the Soil to Remove Stones

Rake the soil or run your hands through it to remove stones and break down large soil particles. The obstacles can easily obstruct plants roots from growing optimally.

Raking Soil to Remove Stones

Raking Soil to Remove Stones

  1. Fill Your Raised Garden Bed

Add the soil on the layer of newspapers or cardboard to fill your bed. Fill it to the brim or leave a few inches of spaces for fertilization if you deem necessary. If planting tomatoes, you might want to fill the bed to the top. However, flowers would need some space to ensure they bloom prominently.

  • Use a Mixture of Compost and Soil
  1. How Much Soil Do You Need?

Measure the width, length, and depth of the garden bed to determine its measurements. With the measurements, you can determine the amount of soil you need. Key in the measurements in the Gardeners Soil Calculator.

Alternatively, do a quick search in Google for other soil calculators online. The figure you get from the calculator is the total after mixing compost with soil.

  1. Find Soil

Native soil is the best for your raised bed. Use a wheelbarrow or bucket and a shovel to collect enough from your yard. Pour the heap of soil near your bed. Visit a garden supply center if you can’t find soil in your yard. Buy faux soil mixture or topsoil to mix with compost.

Loamy Topsoil

Loamy Topsoil

If there’s need to mix your yard soil with what you buy, make sure there’s consistency in soil properties. It ensures proper soil drainage after mixing the two. Buy topsoil with certified compost to get quality soil.

  1. Buy or Make Homemade Compost

Visit a local garden center to buy compost. Make sure it was made from food craps, plant matter, and manure. Buy compost from a reputable supplier that sells certified compost. However, you can make your compost to save cost. Collect organic materials to decompose in a bin or compost pit.

Preparing Homemade Compost with Organic Materials & Kitchen Waste

Preparing Homemade Compost with Organic Materials & Kitchen Waste

Source materials from your compost pile or build up one with kitchen remains. According to the U.S Composting Council, a growing medium such as soil should contain a minimum of 5% organic matter.

  1. Mix Compost and Soil in a Ratio of 1:1

Mix the soil and compost in a ratio of 1:1 for even output. Make sure the amount of compost is equal to the amount of soil. Measure the quantity of the two or simply make approximations to ensure none is more than the other. Wear gloves and mix them thoroughly. Remove any rocks in the soil and break down large soil particles.

Mixing Rotten Compost with Soil

Mixing Rotten Compost with Soil

  1. Fill the Raised Bed

After coming up with a proper mixture of the compost and soil, fill the bed with it. Depending on what you want to grow in the bed, fill it with the mixture accordingly.

Raised Bed Filled with Soil Ready for Planting

Raised Bed Filled with Soil Ready for Planting

What You Need

  • 1 part coarse vermiculite (use perlite to reduce cost)
  • 1 part peat moss (increases in size when wet)

Soil Peat Moss

Soil Peat Moss

  • 1 part compost made from organic materials
  • 1 part dry fertilizers
  • Two parts loamy soil (optional)

 Procedure:

  1. First, calculate the amount of soil mix you need.
  2. Make rich compost using animal manure, mushrooms and worm castings, including other organic materials. Make sure the compost has heated up and is completely composted to kill weed seeds and pathogens. Mix compost with loamy soil at a ratio of 75:25, with the former being more than the soil. Note that anything that rots can go into the compost.
  3. Add 3.5 pounds of lime to make the mixture alkaline because peat moss is acidic. Spruce duff and pine can reduce the pH of the soil if it’s alkaline
  4. Peat moss and coconut coir add organic matter into the soil, improving its drainage. Peat can be added within the first year or later. It makes soil light, promotes drainage and growth of roots. Perlite or vermiculite is used in a similar way.
  5. Add dry slow-release fertilizers such as greensand for potassium, bone meal for phosphorus and blood meal rich in nitrogen. They’re ideal for replacing leached nutrients.
  6. Mix all the materials with compost using your hands. Make sure you wear gloves.
  7. Fill your bed with the mix to the right level. Leave some spacing at the top for optimal growth and any other later additions.

Raised Garden Beds Ready for Planting

Raised Garden Beds Ready for Planting

  • Botanical Edging

If your yard has good, fertile soil or you’re working with a large space, botanical edging can also help save costs. Instead of using a constructed bed, you edge the soil on the ground to form a raised bed. Use a half-moon lawn edger or sharp spade to cut out soil and create edges. Here’s how to cut a botanical edge:

Botanical Edging

Botanical Edging

  1. Mark out the edges. Use a string or wood plank for straight edges. A thick rope or a garden hose can help mark out curves.
  2. Push the spade or edger into the ground and step both edges to drive it underground. Lift it towards your bed once it’s in the ground to scoop out soil. Repeat the procedure all round to create a vertical edge. Each time, toss the soil in your garden bed.
  3. Rake the soil on your bed to level and break it down. Make sure you remove grass and weeds in the soil as you rake. Your edging is complete at this point. Add mulch or soil on the bed to raise it further if you deem fit. Slope any material you add inwards on the bed to stabilize the edges.

How to Push the Edger in the Ground to Scoop Out Soil

How to Push the Edger in the Ground to Scoop Out Soil

Top 6 Organic Materials to Mix with Compost and Topsoil

When making growing medium for your raised bed, topsoil should make up 50%, organic matter 30% and sources of minerals 20%. Here are materials you can add at a rate of 5% to compost and topsoil until you get the 20%:

  1. Mineralized soil blends such as granite, granite dust, and azomite.
  2. Shredded leaves to add bulk. Wet the leaves for about six months until they rot.
  3. Worm castings (vermicompost) to add nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
  4. Ground bark such as pine. It’s an excellent source of carbon. It also adds texture to the soil for better aeration and water drainage. Let it age and rot before using it.
  5. Dark brown mushroom compost with a neutral pH. It’s rich in nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium.
  6. Composted poultry or cow manure

Worm Castings

Worm Castings

Top 3 Additives

  • Mycorrhizae – Although it’s often found in native soil, it’s harmless.
  • Charcoal fire ash – often contains elements not ideal for organic gardening. Opt for wood-based ash in small amounts.
  • Biochar – rich source of carbon with high nutrition value.

Charcoal Biochar

Charcoal Biochar

What to Avoid

  • Artificial fillers – hamper drainage
  • Fill dirt – found beneath the topsoil and isn’t healthy.
  • Peat moss – Although it has high water retention ability, it doesn’t rehydrate once dry. Therefore, it’s unsustainable. Opt for the recommended alternative.
  • Horse manure – often contains herbicides because horses feed on hay sourced from fields sprayed with the chemicals.

A Raised Garden Bed with Herbs

A Raised Garden Bed with Herbs

Conclusion

Choosing the right soil or growing medium is key to developing a productive garden. Raised beds give gardeners the ability to control what goes into their gardens. Soil determines how much food yield your garden can produce. The best soil helps in Ormaximizing growing space in gardens for maximum productivity.

Therefore, take time to research before creating your garden bed to ensure you come up with the best. And, when reducing costs is necessary, learn to be patient because your bed would need time to fully decompose and give the best output. Forego the topsoil to grow your plants in an organic growing medium.

Raised Garden Beds with Vegetables

Raised Garden Beds with Vegetables

Add compost annually, grow cover crops in summer and fall and apply lime if the soil is too acidic for the best soil your crops need. When making compost, water it properly for the best outcomes. Furthermore, only use organic materials free from herbicides. Good soil promotes the development of a proper soil food web with all the nutrients your plants need.

Developing healthy soil is cost-effective and key to building an optimum growth medium. Soil gets better with time. Expect the growing medium in your bed to improve season after season. Make sure you add organic material or compost every year to replenish lost nutrients. Invest in a soil test to determine deficiencies and pH of your soil before making any additions to it.

Balance your soil pH because plants take up the most nutrients if it’s neutral. With an efficient irrigation system in place, your raised bed is ready for planting. After planting your edibles, mulch your bed to reduce the loss of water. Enjoy gardening in your raised bed!

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