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11 Ways To Fill A Raised Garden Bed

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The history of raised garden beds can be traced as far back as the medieval period when they were originally built using wattle fences. This gardening concept evolved and gained more popularity in the early 1970s.

In these modern days, the raised garden bed has become one of the essential concepts of people that love gardening or anyone who is looking for creative and ergonomic solutions to raising beautiful gardens.

Wooden raised beds

When building raised garden beds, there are a few elements that need to be addressed, such as finding the best soil. Splurging for extra soil is not always the best solution because there are less expensive soils for filling the raised beds.

In this article, we will take a look at 11 ways to fill a raised garden bed.

1. Core Gardening

Core gardening is an affordable method that allows you to extract the most nutrients from your compost.

It calls for the creation of a sponge-like layer, or core, down the middle of the garden bed. The core holds water and wicks moisture equally in all directions.

Core gardening offers some benefits that other methods don’t. For instance, you don’t have to water the garden beds frequently because the foundational core is enough to supply the plants with the water and moisture they typically need.

Then, there will be fewer weeds due to the surface of the soil that is dry.

When there is no excess moisture on the surface, the plants are also less likely to be infected by mold, fungus, or mildew that could cause diseases.

Applying core gardening is quite easy.

  • First, dig in your garden in the middle section down to ten inches deep.
  • Then, put a few layers of cardboard down before filling the core with materials like grasses, leaves, old twigs, clippings, or straw bales.
  • Finally, fill the rest of the foundational core with a mixture of compost, potting soil, and topsoil.
  • You should water the core thoroughly to give it enough moisture for the wicking process that will nourish the plants. All you have to do is replace the core every year by digging another trench and fill it with a fresh mixture of all those materials.

2. Ruth Stout Gardening

Don’t be intimidated by the name. As a matter of fact, Ruth Stout gardening is quite easy compared to what you may have heard from any experienced gardeners.

This method was invented by an innovative organic gardener named Ruth Stout back in the 1920s. She was also dubbed ‘The Mulch Queen’ due to her method of using mulch in the garden.

In 1970, she also published a series of books and explained the benefits of mulching.

The first step for Ruth Stout gardening is by laying down at least 8 inches of hay for the bed. It is advisable for you to this during the fall so that you are well-prepared for planting in the spring.

Then, add a few inches of compost or manure to the ground before spreading the soiled hay on top of the compost, roughly around 8 to 12 inches deep.

This type of gardening will ensure that the organic mulch decomposes into the ground and provides nutrients for the plants. When the soil is covered, you are also less likely to experience erosion and weed problems.

3. Hugelkultur Gardening

Man making a Hugelkultur backyard raised bed made of compost and soil

Hugelkultur gardening is very similar to the core gardening concept. It also carries the same benefits to your soil and plants.

For instance, it fertilizes the soil with enough nutrients, allowing good drainage, and preventing weed infestation. The main element that separates hugelkultur gardening from core gardening is the way you build layers in your garden bed.

The first step to practice hugelkultur is to bury as much rotting debris as you can get beneath the soil. This includes:

  • sticks
  • logs
  • food scraps
  • wood chips
  • shredded leaves
  • other organic materials

When you use large organic materials, all these layers will last for a long time, meaning you won’t have to replace the soil often.

Don’t forget to fill your bed at least 10-12 inches deep and make sure that all gaps are filled with those organic materials. You also have to water all the organic materials first so that they are wet and able to provide ample moisture for the plants.

Over time, by creating these layers of organic materials, they will decompose to create a microclimate that will warm the plants in the cold weather.

4. Lasagna Gardening

The main idea of lasagna gardening is the same as hugelkultur. But what separates this method from others is the way of creating all the layers in the bed.

Lasagna gardening is done by creating layers of organic material that will decompose and offer nutrients as time passes.

You can start by putting down a thick layer of cardboard or newspaper. This is the foundation for all layers and the first brown layer, or carbon layer. It will also prevent weeds from growing up through the bed.

Then, add water to help the decomposition process. For the first nitrogen green layer, you can use twigs, green leaves, straw, and other organic materials. This layer should be at least 3 inches thick.

After that, add four to six inches of shredded carbon materials that would accelerate the decomposition process. Then, create another green layer with different organic materials.

Alternate in this brown layer-green layer manner.

Lasagna gardening comes with its own benefits. For instance, it is cost-effective because you are using materials that can be recycled.

You are also creating a good environment for the soil to absorb more nutrients and you don’t have to maintain it all the time. But most of all, you can leave the garden bed for months after setting all the layers up and use it when you’re reading for planting.

5. Use Composted Manure

If you raise chickens or other farm animals, you can use their organic waste and turn it into composted manure. Some of the good manure you could use are wastes from chickens, cows, goats, rabbits, horses, and sheep.

Never use manure from animals like cats, dogs, and other non-farm animals.

Before putting or mixing the manure with the soil, you should compost it for at least one year. All you have to do is wait and use it when it’s ready.

You could also use compost manure as mulch. It has the property of releasing nutrients slowly which helps in providing the plants with nutrients over a long period of time.

There are some benefits to using composted manure. First, you save a lot of money from buying any fertilizers.

Then, it helps with the process of conditioning the soil with carbon, which is essential for plant growth.

Composted manure also helps in water retention, reducing runoff, and leaching of nitrates in the soil.

6. Apply Peat Moss

Peat moss is dead fibrous plant matter that forms through the decomposition of mosses and other living material in peat bogs. It comes from a specific type of moss called spaghnum moss.

Sphagnum moss is a plant that grows on top of the bogs. Peat moss is also called spaghnum moss. Most peat moss that you can get in the United States is imported from Canada.

You can buy peat moss in large bags at garden stores nearby. Then, add it to the soil.

Peat moss is suitable for plants that can thrive in soils with higher acidity like peppers, azaleas, camellias, sweet potatoes, and blueberries.

Don’t use peat moss on plants that love an alkaline-based environment because it could stunt their growth.

There are many benefits of using peat moss. For instance, it retains moisture and is able to hold nutrients that are needed for plant growth.

Peat moss is free from weed seeds and any harmful microorganisms that could infect the plants. It is also less expensive than any other organic fertilizers.

7. Try Worm Castings

composting worms

Worm castings, also known as worm poops, are an organic fertilizer produced from earthworm waste that enriches the soil with nutrients.

Organic worm castings resemble small ball-like particles that help to increase drainage and soil aeration. The method used to create these organic fertilizers is called vermicomposting.

In this process, boxes or worm bins are used to place the worms into other materials like manure, compost, or leaf litter. You can also add garden waste or kitchen scraps to create an organic-like environment for the worms to decompose all these materials.

Once you have accumulated enough worm castings, you can add them to the soil.

There is also another method to harvest worm castings called the ‘dump and sort’. All you need to do is lay out a newspaper or a plastic sheet and take out all the contents of the worm bin.

Then, put the worms inside a fresh vermicompost bin and collect the remaining worm castings so you can use them on your soil and plants. Repeat this process until the worms aren’t able to produce any more waste.

8. Purchase Soil in Bulk

One way to avoid unnecessary spending on soil is by buying it in bulk. Purchasing soil in small bags could put a dent in your pocket. It could cost you between $3 to $5 for one small bag, depending on your location.

Many nurseries and gardening stores are willing to sell you cheaper soil if you buy by the truckload or the yard.

9. Use Homemade Compost

Homemade compost can be produced if you want to avoid spending your hard-earned money on bagged compost. You might have to spend more time to produce it, but it is totally worth it.

All you need is organic materials that you can find in and around your houses like kitchen scraps, newspapers, grass clippings, twigs, shredded leaves, and many more. Leave the compost for at least one year before using it on your plants.

10. Use Mushroom Compost

Mushroom compost is a substrate that has already been used to grow mushrooms. This includes a mix of materials like hardwood dust, gypsum, wheat straw, coconut coir mixed with vermiculite, and chicken manure. Mushroom compost provides an ample amount of nutrients for the soil.

It also increases moisture and the ability of the soil to retain nutrients needed by the plants.

The best ratio to use this compost in would be 25% mushroom compost and 75% soil.

Also, the pH level of mushroom compost is around 6.6, which is neutral and suitable for most plants.

11. Back-To-Eden Gardening

Back-to-Eden gardening or Eden gardening is a method developed by Paul Gautschi. It uses wood chips along with composted chicken manure effectively as mulch. All you have to do is find good soil with a 50/50 ratio of compost or aged manure mix with topsoil.

Fill the garden bed to about 6 inches deep before adding wood chips on top of the soil to act as a mulch. The wood chips can be applied as deep as you want, but around 4 inches deep is all you need.

As time passes, the wood chips rot and create healthy soil for the plants. If possible, you can add some organic fertilizers or worms to increase the amount of nutrients in the soil.

Worms play a critical role in creating a healthy environment for the soil.

They also help with breaking down organic nutrients, moisture retention, increasing aeration, and allowing oxygen flow to the roots of the plants.

You can also add a thin layer of chicken manure and compost to enhance the nutrient composition or use a dusting of diatomaceous earth for calcium and natural pest control.

Final Thoughts

Above all, no matter which method you use to fill your garden bed, make sure to provide good aeration within the soil. You can use materials like coarse sand, perlite, lava rock, and pumice to create air spaces.

Aeration that promotes good airflow throughout the soil could assist the plants in absorbing nutrients and water at an optimum rate.


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