How to fill raised beds for the first time? Connecticut

janepodMarch 31, 2014

Hi! I have been an avid container gardener and herb gardener for 10 years. This year, for the first time, we're building fenced-in raised beds, just over 400 square feet of plantable area. It has been an expensive month -- building material, seeds, grow lights, everything. I've soon got to fill these raised beds and I'm trying to do it economically. I'm in Fairfield County, where everything is absurdly expensive -- there is no free compost or fill or anything anywhere. (I did start a compost pile about a month ago, but it won't be ready.)
So - my question -- I'm on just under 3 acres, where the back acre or so is lightly wooded. Can I dig dirt from there and wheelbarrow it over to the raised beds? If so, what should I mix it with or layer it with? It's nice, dark dirt that's usually covered in leaves.
Thanks for any suggestions.

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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Welcome , Janepod !

I have lived in Southern Fairfield County for about 15 years. Have done some gardening and landscaping over there. As far as I can remember the soil up there is very good and have not seen people buying bagged soil for their garden.

With 3 acres of property, you should be able to find good topsoil, dig it haul it (in wheel barrow ) and fill your raised bed with. If you have wooded lot you will discover a lot of leaf mold and composted organic matter.

You can further amend the soil with some purchased manure, pine bark FINE, compost (from HD). Some municipalities have dumps AND compost facilities. They offer finished compost at reasonable price. I know one such town, called WESTPORT. Look around, there might be others.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 2:22PM
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How deep are the beds? I'm assuming the beds are raised to make it easier to garden, and contain the soil, not b/c the soil where you placed them is no good? So they don't have to be deep?

Do you need to use all 400sf (need cf or cy to measure how much to fill) this year?

Are there any horse farms around, maybe (long shot?) dairy farms, people with goats or llamas or alpacas? You could possibly get really aged manure from them for now, and fresher stuff to compost for later.

Whatever you use to fill in the beds, get it tested - CAES does it for free (basic analysis of pH, NPK and a few others), I use Windsor site but there is also one in New Haven. Our soil tends to be acidic, I'd perhaps start small with compost and/or very well-aged manure, so you have some more neutral bed(s) and work on filling the rest and liming well, might have time to get in a fall crop or else next spring. Not a whole lot of time for lime to work right now if you fill all the beds with native soil.

I found a link to municipal composting facilities:

Here is a link that might be useful: Municipal Composting programs

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 4:23PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Agree with the above but please don't layer your additions. That creates drainige and rooting problems. Rather mix in all the ingredients you add well throughout the bed.

Your woodland soil should work fine but can't say for sure without seeing it. And adding in lots of quality compost can only make it better. It may take a day trip out of the coutny to find cheaper stuff.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 6:32PM
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It sounds like your beds are already in place but I'll say this anyway.

What I do to suppress cost of materials and soil amendments is to match the plant root requirements with box size. As a result, I have cost saving 5 inch beds on top of clay-ish soil that work out well for things like spinach and kale. From deeper root systems like tomatoes that love their roots well drained, I have higher beds.

For me, the main importance of raised beds is to keep soil from being compacted, to drain the water more freely, and to avoid weeding. Unfortunately my clay soil means I have to import compost, etc.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2014 at 1:18PM
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