Building a raised bed on lawn, and getting good production from t

jonhughes(So.Oregon)February 5, 2013

Hey there,

My name is Alli. I found you on the garden web forum place. First off, your garden pics are amazing!

I am a first time gardener with absolutely no experience. I pretty much know nothing about gardening and have no one to really teach me hands on.

I was thinking about doing a couple raised beds this year for veggies and herbs and I had a few questions.

I live in western Massachusetts, if that makes a difference? My lawn was built on top of a swamp so I'm told, so the dirt is a bit sandy. My questions are, what would I fill in my raised bed with? Topsoil or organic matter or fertilizer? I want to keep it organic.

I'm sorry if you're busy or whatever I understand. If you cannot answer my questions for whatever reason that's completely fine! :-)

However, if you have any tips or tricks for a beginner, I would very much appreciate it!

Thanks so much for your time,

Hi Alli, I will post your question and my responses to the forum (so others may glean from also)
The Title of the Post will be "Building a raised bed on lawn, and getting good production from the outset "

Hi Alli,
I'll post some pics that show exactly what I did and how I did it, and I will try to explain it as we go....the main thing for me is that you succeed , some people can get past failure , others...not so much...but we usually don't know which camp we fall into, until it's too late, so it behooves me to try to inspire you on to greatness and then hope for the best for you....

MY Opinion is raised beds are the best for home gardeners, most of us have no idea what transpired on our property before we owned it, plus the fact that loose deep soil is soooooo accommodating to most garden vegetables, if you give a plant the necessary components to thrive, it will do so, it is in it's nature.
Good Soil

I planted this small raised bed (8" tall), and was producing like crazy, within a month...

This is the lettuce that came off of that bed

This is all from that one little bed, built and planted just a few weeks before, heading off to the Food Bank to provide some fresh Veggies to some neighbors in need.

Now I am starting the "summer crops" in the same bed get the point....
if you are building your raised bed right over lawn, saturate it fully, lay down two layers of thick cardboard, (totally saturated), and put down your borders, (Cinderblocks are inexpensive and last forever), and fill with your acquired mixture.
45% Clayish soil
25% Compost
10% Pumice
20% Decomposed Granite

Now, that is what I used, if you don't have these available to you in bulk (from a landscape supply company), you will need to do whatever you can with whatever you can find, You really DO NOT want to be buying pre-bagged resources, it is just soooooo expensive, buying in bulk will save you a fortune, and if you can go pick it up yourself, you save trucking charges too ;-)

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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Might I add that if you have gophers, be sure to line the bottom securely with hardware cloth (NOT chicken wire! Too flimsy!)
I get my vegetable mix at our local dump. Ours is certified organic, but you'll want to check that out. I've also bought a nice garden mix (soil and compost mixed) at a landscape supply place, but it was 50% more than the dump.
Don't expect Johnhughes' success, but follow his lead! You should have some good luck! Nancy

    Bookmark   February 5, 2013 at 8:57PM
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Nancy is 100% right, If you have gophers, put down "rabbit cage wire", it comes in 4' widths and should be available at any large hardware store..

Check out my video link below to see what I mean.

Here is a link that might be useful: Gopher protection (see all 9 short video's)

    Bookmark   February 5, 2013 at 9:25PM
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The small flowers bordering the beds is a really nice touch! Goodjob jon!

    Bookmark   February 5, 2013 at 9:53PM
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Thanks so much for the response! Your garden is beautiful! When you said:
45% Clayish soil
25% Compost
10% Pumice
20% Decomposed Granite
Is there an all in one thing that I can buy. And if not which brands do you recommend?
Also, when you say 8" does that mean from the cardboard up?
Which veggies would you recommend planting next to each other out of these?
Spinach, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash, broccoli
And herbs basil thyme sage rosemary.
And corn asparagus and blueberries I read you've got to know what you're doing so I've counted those out, unless you could give me some advice on that?

8" refers to what a Cinderblock Height is, they are 8" tall x 8 Deep x 16 Wide, When I am building a bed, I want it to be good , right out of the gate, so I don't scrimp, I have too many people counting upon my garden producing a large crop, so as you can see by my early pics, I pile it high and it shrinks as the food web devours the organic materials (compost and such), try to find a Landscape supply company to buy your product in bulk. The choices to start growing this month is whatever is being sold in your neighborhood nurseries, unless and until you buy a greenhouse your options are limited to whatever someone else has pre-started for you....or that you can direct seed, things that can not be direct seeded are Tomatoes, Peppers, both of them need to be planted as "Pre-started"
8 to 10 weeks before your last frost date (when they get planted into your garden. The first things you are going to plant are (garlic...if you have any, plant now....should have been planted in September, but, it will just come in a little late, you can direct seed, Peas,Beets,Spinach as soon as you get around to building your beds, all of the other things you mentioned are summer plants and your best bet is too buy starts from the nursery.Lettuce starts can be planted in another month or so...all of your spices can be direct seeded in a couple of months.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2013 at 9:56PM
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Alysia wrote:I live in ma and currently, it's snowing. To plant the garlic, would I wait til fall?

Also, the topsoil/compost/pumice/granite mix does that exist or do I need to buy topsoil with pumice and granite and buy compost separately? If not, which order do they go in when putting them onto the cardboard?

For tomatoes, I can't just buy tomato seeds?

I do not know when the frost is done but I feel like it wouldn't be until late April? Maybe even May. What should I be doing right now to help my garden along that I have yet to build?

Where do you live? Is it kind of like the climate in New England?

Do you have a model of your own garden that I could follow loosely?
I just don't want to mess this up! :-P

Hi Alysia,
Nothing is hard and if you have enough room, you can have a little of everything (in its season ;-)
Most people on these forums are very helpful, so feel free to ask lots of questions....we all want you too succeed ;-)

You can wait to plant Garlic in the Fall....if you want, or say like I do "it is always a good time to plant Garlic"
I grew 322 lbs of Garlic last year, I may not do everything "the right way", but I do get respectable results...regardless
So....if you want to wait and plant Garlic later (when the snow is gone), you may, or if I had a bunch of Garlic that was burning a hole in my pocket, I would just go out there and stick some in the ground right can't hurt, Garlic is one tough plant ;-)
As far as the soil mix, take tomorrow and call around, see what you can find, since the snow is still sticking , nobody is using any right now , so you may be able to get some bargains, .............I would mix it all up in the driveway and wheelbarrow it back to the bed (you want it all mixed up the first year, after that, you are going to alternate filling it back up every year with Cow manure and Compost.
Tomatoes and Bell Peppers....No, you can't just plant seeds, if you can start your seeds indoors 10 weeks ahead of time and keep them happy and Short (lots of Light), you will then have the ability to buy and plant lots of Heirlooms and other unique plants that they don't sell locally, is easier said than done, and it can get away from you in a hurry, you really have to treat them as your own little babies....I have been gardening for four years now, and I still screw up....but, you can always give it a shot, and if that part fails, you can buy tomato starts for a couple of dollars.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2013 at 11:13PM
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Interestingly, Jon recommends also some ground rock (for mineralization) when starting a bed. Have you done any side-to-side comparison, Jon? One would guess that with all the compost (your beds are essentially compost) mineralization would be all right.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 8:10AM
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whgille(FL 9b)

Hi Jon

It is great to see you back posting and showing your wonderful garden and harvest!


    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 9:02AM
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Thank You Sylvia and Ceth...
Glib, I have done Decomposed Granite from the outset, so I don't know any difference, I learned before I built my beds the possibility that it enhances Clayish soils while also contributing to the soil food web, this is my initial take on it and what motivated me to try it, so far ,it has worked splendidly ;-)
Decomposed granite is a rock powder and is an excellent amendment for clay soils. All rock powders are great sources of minerals and micronutrients. All growing soils need them. As the microbes and macrobes like earthworms, digest the insoluble minerals, they break down into the various soluble micronutrients that all forms of plants need.

For example, limestone rocks are rich in calcium. Granite rocks are rich in potassium, etc. Seaweeds of course are the king of micronutrient fertilizers and soil amendments. There can be up to 70+ trace elements in seaweed. In locations where seaweed is not readily available; rock powders is one answer to the problem.

Research continues to reveal that insoluble tiny particles like rock powder minerals, can be easily digested or absorbed via microbial activity, over time, into the anatomy of growing plants, thriving in the presence of rich organic compost.
Obviously a heavy clay soil is very difficult to initially dig, whereas a sandy loam is much easier. Heavy clay soils can be improved considerably by adding a lot of sawdust and mason's sand. DO NOT use beach or river sand! Mason's sand, being crushed granite, has sharp edges and actually loosens the soil.

One of the least understood aspects of gardening is that of capillary action of the garden soil. It is a proven fact that compressed earth has a better capillary action than undisturbed soil. That is why gardening books tell you never to walk between rows in a regular garden, as that encourages weed growth. And of course people are told never to step in a French Intensive bed and thus compress the soil.
But the capillary action is absolutely necessary to bring water up to the roots of growing plants to promote good and deep root growth. In regular garden rows, it is easy to roll a heavy 2 or 3 inch wide weighted wheel (mounted on an axle and handle) down the row directly over the freshly planted seeds, which will then promote deep root growth along that line. The spaces between the rows are than rototilled to eliminate footprints prior to the initial watering.
The basic concept of French Intensive gardening is that raised beds are created which have humus added, and the whole bed is light and fluffy to a depth of two feet to promote fantastic root growth. The beds are typically 4 feet wide and 12 or more feet long, with 3 foot paths between the beds.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 11:38AM
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WOW! GORGEOUS garden and produce. I'm drooling on my keyboard!! I'm definitely going to have to read this entire thread. Looks like some valuable info here!! THANKS!!

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 6:07PM
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John: do you grow organic? or do you use chemical fertilizers/pesticides? Either way, fantastic work! What zone are you in?

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 10:23PM
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yukkuri_kame(Sunset 19 / USDA 9)

Here in los angeles our soil IS decomposed granite...but I wish it had a finer particle size. It's a bit silty, with lots of grain sized particles that are sharp and unpleasant to dig in with bare hands.

I read one report that said the big thing with california soils is to just add organic matter and nitrogen, as the minerals are fairly abundant already. I have yet to do a formal soil test.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 3:44AM
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Looks like you got all the information you need on the reaised bed. Love the pictures all and the info!

@johnhughes - have you ever seen the site/ I saw So. OR in your name and I know that site is run by someone who lives in the area. Thought you might enjoy it. There's a good discussion on raised beds over there as well

Here is a link that might be useful: Rogue Valley Gardener

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 10:53AM
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Hi katydid85 ,
Yeah, Everything is as organic as I can make it, I don't use any fertilizers......yet......but everyone says I can grow more with them...maybe I will give it a shot this year ;-)

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 6:25PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Yeah Jon...You need to grow more! LOL ;)

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 8:48PM
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