Problems with 4x8 raised beds

BobaFemmeMay 1, 2014

I've been struggling with my 4x8 raised beds to grow veggies ever since I put them in -- they are 2 feet off the ground and therefore filled with lots of soil. The idea here was to keep the dog and the toddler out. I have tried multiple soil/compost/etc combinations with little success. The basic problem is, seeds will sprout and then stop, not exactly dying, but not growing either. Things in the ground grow many times faster than in my raised beds. Currently, I have a high level of top soil mixed with compost, some pumice, and probably some old peat moss -- this was based on a nursery worker's advice, as my soil wasn't holding moisture for long. I also feed the boxes every 6 weeks or so. I live in Southern CA and water every morning to make sure they stay moist -- any ideas? I'm so frustrated and ready to throw in the towel with the boxes. TIA!

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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

Every time I hear someone having trouble and watering every day, my first thought is that the soil is waterlogged. Even in this heat, I'm not watering my containers every day.

It sounds like the 'soil' in the raised bed is composed almost entirely of organic material. Garden soil should only be 5-10% organic and the rest inorganic soil. Which nursery did you get the advice from? Can we see a pic of the soil? Did you test your soil prior to amending it?

I had a buddy that had tomatillos in 15 gallon pots. He was watering 2x a day in the heat of summer. He did so because the plant would wilt pretty bad during the day. I looked at the pot and told him that it really shouldn't need that much water everyday. When the season was over I went over to watch as he pulled the spent plant from the pot. Well as I had guessed, the rootball was only about 6 inches deep and the rest of the pot was soggy.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 4:06PM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

And what do you mean by "2 feet off the ground"? Are the beds 2 feet tall or are they not touching the ground?

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 4:13PM
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Thanks for your responses -- here is a picture of the boxes themselvesâ¦resting on soil, filled with soil/compost/etcâ¦more pics to follow; also, I have no idea how to rotate pics within this format, so sorry it's sideways ;-)

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 5:50PM
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Here's another pic of the problematic 4x8 raised bedsâ¦in which you can see soil and incredibly slow growing cucumbers and beans :-P The nursery that I go to (and got this advice) is H&H in Lakewoodâ¦I should clarify that advice was about using mostly topsoil for my soil instead of mostly compost as I had been using.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 5:54PM
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I know people have an optimum soil mix they like to use, but even in topsoil, something should grow. (An example is your comment that plants are growing outside of your beds). Not everyone was able to use raised beds or great soil mixes, but things should still *grow*, especially since it sounds like you have been growing at least 6-12 weeks now.

And it's interesting that you seem to have set up your beds for Square Foot Gardening but you didn't use the info from that for your soil. Of course, that might just be a method that many people use also, not really following the SFG method.

So I think, I would not focus on your soil mix right now. Is there anything else you have done? Do you plant the same plants outside in the ground and are they doing better?

Did the rest of the bed have plants that have died off?

What are those plants? That could be a clue also.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 6:06PM
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Yeah, I'm mostly using the grid just to make planting easierâ¦I had toyed with the idea of the SF Gardening soil mixture but a friend (who uses the same dimension boxes in the same area) told me to use Kellogg's All Natural Garden Soil -- they had had great results with that alone -- so I tried that with one box and had ZIPPO grow. From there, I just started playing with the mixture, occasionally having better results (like when I added more topsoil) but still eventually halting. I do have plants growing in the ground very well next to the boxes (in the backyard as well)â¦including tomatoes, herbs, peppers, flowers, etc. So, using them as a comparison things are growing incredibly slowly in the boxesâ¦tomatoes that started from seed in the ground started after my box tomatoes sproutedâ¦the ground tomatoes are already at least 1.5' tall and my box tomatoes are still sprouts. I'm truly stumped.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 7:38PM
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nil13(z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Washington))

It looks like there is a lot of wood chips mixed into the soil. That could be tying up nitrogen and inhibiting growth.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 8:17PM
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Seems to me you have too many plants
I have raised bed I filled to the top with soil -my own mix
just old garden soil with manure and added Epsom salts and miracle grow fert- turned it all over to mix well then planted =each yr I rotate the crops and add other soils
on top - from what I can see it looks like leaves are parched
from hot sun--also I water around base of plants and not leaves - 8 hours of full sun when it is sunny in N.E. ha ha
I think this maybe last yr using the bought garden - just not standing up in snowy cold wet weather
Not sure what I can say to help u , sorry

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 8:20PM
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Tried to locate a few pictures
not sure how to upload 3 or 4 at 1 time

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 8:29PM
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First picture strawberry plants -went through winter and spreading like crazy-did not intend this
trying to find shot showing the entire bed -its high and low
this is the lower part-will take some tomorrow -I have lettuce growing if it did not drown -supposed to have some sun - this is side view somewhat -crazy rose bush I was too tired to plant in ground so stuck it in pot- covered it with straw -it came through our deep freeze and snow

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 8:50PM
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johns.coastal.patio(USDA 10b, Sunset 24)

Maybe I missed it ... but are these beds sealed on the bottom, or are the plant roots free to go deeper than the beds? Also, how do you water, with soakings or sprinkling?

As someone else in so cal I know the big news this week is the heat, drying everything out. I'm feeling it now.

If the beds are open on the bottom, and old organic gardening trick is to plant a thick crop of peas, fava beans, etc in the fall to let their roots dig down and open the soil. Those crops would also add nitrogen for the spring crops. Could even be done "no till."

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 9:40PM
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johns.coastal.patio(USDA 10b, Sunset 24)

(Oh, that is a good row of beans in the one picture, isn't it? Those could be doing well, and beating any nitrogen problem (as nil13 noted) by fixing their own. They just look a little parched or wind-blown? in that picture.)

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 9:53PM
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Kippy(SoCal zone 10. Sunset Zone 24)

Have you tried a moisture meter to see just how moist the bed really is?

How do you water? Hose? Slow drip might help

And does that wall reflect heat? Looks like the wall is in the sun and that can really heat things up. Guessing that is a big part of the problem.

What type of "Top Soil" did you use? Some from around your yard, purchased garden soil or export from someone else?

    Bookmark   May 1, 2014 at 9:55PM
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Thanks everyone for your 2 cents! I truly appreciate itâ¦to answer some questions, at this point, I water daily with a wand, avoiding leaves, in the morning before it gets hotâ¦watering of the two boxes takes around 8-10 minutes I'd say (?) and the top generally seems to stay moist all dayâ¦this morning I didn't water long, because the soil already seemed moist (as it usually does in the morning) and I started wondering if I was watering too muchâ¦that's why I think things look dry here. But, there's the rubâ¦most of the advice I'm given polars between too much watering and too littleâ¦I used a soil meter for awhile, but I will try going back to it and see if it helpsâ¦and the beans DO look better since I added more top soil (mostly nursery bought, can't remember the brandâ¦)â¦not as yellow as they did before, but they've been at the same height for a couple of weeks now :-/ And yes, the boxes are open on the bottom, free to root deeper if need be. It should also be noted that I am seriously considering an irrigation system for the boxes, but I don't want to go to the effort if nothing will grow in this soil :-P

    Bookmark   May 2, 2014 at 12:17AM
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johns.coastal.patio(USDA 10b, Sunset 24)

All soil gets better over time. We added a lot of compost to our San Gabriel Valley clay when I was a kid .. until if we left a shovel out over night it would sprout .. ok that is an old one.

With our weather I think many of us started in the spring pretty dry. If you think you've watered down deep, it should just take maintenance.

Some mulch will help the plants at the surface. Patience, mulch, and legumes. (and maybe a little fertilizer)

    Bookmark   May 2, 2014 at 12:25AM
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johns.coastal.patio(USDA 10b, Sunset 24)

(If you live near a feed store you can get a bale of straw for mulch.)

    Bookmark   May 2, 2014 at 12:34AM
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