Love the look of raised garden beds but haven’t had luck in the pasts? Odds are, it all comes back to your soil. This post will guide you through how to create the healthiest raised bed soil you can while also sharing tips for your raised garden bed soil!
The Key to a Great Raised Bed Garden
Spring is an exciting time, everyone is itching to get out there and start their gardens and they all gave such high hopes. Things start off well usually but then by summer I always hear complaints of the garden petering out or getting overrun by pests and disease. Sometimes this is inevitable no matter what you do but sometimes you can combat the mid-summer tiredness and pest wars by doing one simple thing early on –
Starting with the HEALTHIEST raised bed soil possible!
Treat soil like your newborn baby, giving it a healthy, nutritious start. Quality is of the utmost importance as your plants will be feeding off this for months to come! I always say if you don’t start with a healthy base, how can you expect your garden to flourish? Soil health is truly the most important thing you can focus on in you want a successful, bountiful garden.
What to Put in Your Raised Bed Soil
There are several options for filling new garden beds: the most natural way involves layering branches, wood chips, and paper between straw, grass clippings, and compost. Sound a bit complicated? It really isn’t, and it packs a big punch, but if you start this way, you will need to let all the ingredients in your beds simmer for a few months before your garden is ready to plant. Read more about this method, called Lasagna Gardening, here.
Impatient? Me too! Below is my tried and true method for how I get my beds started and up and running in just a few weeks. You can also use this method to amend beds that already have soil and just need a boost of nutrients! I use this recipe for raised bed soil for my cut flower and vegetable gardens alike.
Add compost first to your raised garden bed soil
Start with a good compost, one that’s been sterilized to prevent weeds from growing and pests from ambushing your garden. You can buy compost in a garden store or go to your local landfill, and with a little muscle, fill you own bags, usually for free. This is a great option if you are just starting out. Composting your own green clippings and veggie scraps is ideal but you may not have enough to fill a new bed. Compost should make up about two-thirds of the soil in your raised bed garden, the rest you can fill with “Garden Mix” or Top Soil which you can also find at your local garden center.
Then add amendments to the garden soil
Many amendments contain both organic and inorganic ingredients like perlite, manure, mulch, gypsum, and peat moss—we’ll talk about this in a minute. This combination helps to aerate your raised bed soil, hold moisture, improves texture and structure of soil, reduce the chance of disease, and adds nutrients. In other words, an injection of super health!
I usually add in about three 1.5 cubic feet bags into each of my 4’ x 8’ raised beds. This mix from G&B Organics contains: recycled forest products, arbor fines (finely ground tree trimmings), composted chicken manure, gypsum, oyster shell & dolomite limes (as pH adjusters), vermicompost, bat guano, kelp meal, Mycorrhizae – all the good stuff. Notice there is no peat moss!
Mix your amendments into the top quarter layer of the compost of your raised bed soil. As the completed soil ages, the nutrients will filter down into the rest of the soil.
Next up, adding worm castings to your raised bed soil
For good measure, I add a thin layer of worm castings to your raised bed soil. Mix this into the top few inches of your soil. You want your seedlings or seeds to have immediate access to all this goodness! Worm castings have SO much benefits for your soil I had my friend Jord write a whole post about it here for you!
Finally, to keep your soil healthy, be sure to water it well
You are done! Water in the new soil mixture well and leave it to rest for a week or two. This gives everything a chance to activate and brew into a healthy, complex, biodiverse and symbiotic ecosystem perfect for growing your garden in.
Why I Say No to Peat Moss for Raised Garden Bed
Now—a word about peat moss. Peat moss does have its benefits in the garden, it is an excellent moisture and nutrient retainer, but many sources have documented its impact on climate change from over-harvesting. Peat bogs trap carbon. When these bogs are dug out for the peat, and exposed to the air, carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas, is released. Besides contributing to climate change, peatlands take a long time to establish, making it a limited resource, almost to the point of non-sustainability. Canada is the number one provider of peat and is regulated by the government. Still, the bogs have been in existence for millions of years and even sustainable harvesting doesn’t tackle the question of the impact on the surrounding ecosystem. In the UK, where the bogs have suffered severe damage due to over-harvesting, the government has planned to ban the sale of peat moss for use in amateur gardens by 2024.
I’ve decided to take a stand and eliminate all forms of peat from my garden. There are many other sustainable substitutes like coconut coir, pitt moss, wood fiber, sawdust, composted bark, rice hulls, pine needles, and decomposed leaves. Read the ingredients the next time you purchase a bag of compost or soil amendments and choose wisely for your raised garden bed soil. I’m all for doing my part to protect our planet. Are you in?
Whew! After all that, it’s time to fill your raised beds so you can get planting and enjoy the journey of watching your garden grow! I hope these tips for building up your raised bed soil leads you to a plentiful year of gardening!
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