Monday, December 13, 2010

Filling Raised Beds

I have been a huge proponent of raised bed gardening for most of my life.  My father gardened in raised beds and taught me all of the benefits you get from gardening that way.

Recently I have listened to several podcasts and read a few blog posts from people advocating building raised beds.  Great!  The one thing I was less than happy to hear / read was when they finished building their beds.  They then went on to recommend going to the local garden supply to buy peat moss, steer manure, topsoil, etc... to fill their new beds.

My Little Garden

Now, I don't know how the rest of you are sitting financially, but I can tell you there is no way I would be able to fill my raised beds that way - even before the economic downturn!  It would cost me thousands of dollars to purchase enough soil to fill my beds.

Many of us have read (or at least heard of) the book by William Alexander "The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden"

If you are on a journey to spend as much money as you can to harvest a few vegetables then this is the path for you!

But, it doesn't have to be that way...  Here's how I did it.

I built my raised beds (with scrap lumber) and dug the pathways between the beds down about 2".  I put the soil I dug into the beds.  Every fall I add all of my unfinished compost to the beds.  I put newspaper and grass clippings in the walkways to keep the weeds down and about every other year I dig it back out and put it in the beds.  I have not bought any soil (or fertilizer - compost is great!) for any of my raised beds.

My way does not offer the immediate gratification - but hey, what chores in gardening do?  It does give you peace of mind knowing where all of your soil came from.  One of my friends built raised beds and filled them with "compost from the recycling facility" ~ which happens to be next door to - you guessed it - the sewage treatment plant!  Guess what he has in his garden beds? Just a hint: more than just sewage.

Get your hands dirty!


  1. Matt, we also have a couple of raised beds, albeit the floral ornamental variety. Not to feel guilty, I now refer to my gardening style as food for the soul. Mind you as the years are passing by, raised borders will have other benefits regarding the aching bones.

  2. I agree on putting in the local soil and amending it with your own compost. These store bought additives and bagged soil would cost a fortune.

    We have a local sewage plant and as a Master Gardener am not 'allowed' to promote it, but the sewage is treated with repetitive processing to remove any impurities. A friend and fellow MG who is also a rosarian, uses it exclusively and swears by it. I never tried it (ick factor) but did see his prize winning roses. Wow.

  3. Impressive garden! I agree about the expense of buying soil amendments at the landscaping supply places. I get most of my compost from rotting my neighbor's leaves... as you say, it takes a bit longer but it is worth it.

  4. Im about to start some new raised beds for my vegetables, I do really need a lot of soil to fill them in, quite costly as you said. I might try your recommendation to fill them with scraps, cut grass and home-grown compost. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I go around in the fall and pick up all the bags of leaves (get the lighter weight ones - less sticks) and add to the walkways. If I am starting a new area later I will just pile the leaves in place and let them rot on their own. When I get around to the new area I usually find happy earthworms greeting me.

    What a great view of our beautiful garden space!

  6. Compost is my cure for everything! Your garden is awe-inspiring, by the way. Gorgeous and functional!


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