New Raised Beds - Planting Medium

aclumNovember 24, 2007


I am planning a brand new vegetable garden for the spring. The area is currently in lawn and I plan to cover the area with cardboard to kill the grass over the winter. While some of my beds will be at ground level edged with 2x4's for neatness, I will have mostly 1 foot high raised beds. As I'm somewhat physically disabled, I think it would be too difficult for me to fill the beds with layered (or mixed) materials (peat, manure, topsoil, etc.) and I'm wondering if it would be OK just to fill the beds with compost from our county recycling facility. The compost is affordable and labor costs to deliver the compost and fill the beds would probably be alot less expensive that doing the same with a variety of ingredients. I figure that I can selectively amend various beds to suit the particular vegetables I'll be growing.

Thanks for any comments or advice!


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I use Pro-Mix to start a raised bed, then add compost after it has settled. Pro-Mix is expensive, but if you can't add layers, you may need to "invest" to get it started. But since it is early (depending on your location), you may be able to find other materials to make it work.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2007 at 5:57PM
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Thanks for the response! Can I ask how much you're paying for the pro-mix?

I have some fairly ambitious plans (which I may end up scaling back) and will need about 15 cu yds of fill for the raised beds (as I'm disabled some of my beds will be 2' tall so I don't have to bend down so much to harvest or weed the shorter veggies). I can get the compost here for $15/cu yd. I've researched lasagna gardening (which seems pretty neat), and it seems that with the cardboard plus compost, I might be ending up with something similar but saving alot of time. I am planning on establishing a compost bin plus a vermiculture set-up. And I'll probably straw mulch the beds as things settle.

I'm in Merced, CA - just moved here from San Jose. We found a perfect place for all of our activities including more than enough space for all the vegetable growing I've dreamed about. I've done veggies for many years but never had enough space or the clean slate I have now. My main passion of late has been heirloom tomatoes plus eggplants and peppers (along with the usual beans and peas, etc.). I'm planning on many more different types of things in the new garden, including corn, onions, asparagus, artichokes, etc. I'm making "salad tables" for the patio - elevated beds about 6-9" deep that sit on 2x4 frames that can be wheeled around in and out of shade for lettuce, radishes, beets, carrots, and the like.

Anyway, after years of dreaming and planning, I'm just now looking for the most efficient and economical way to get things going the first season - and looking to improving the soil, etc. as time goes on.


    Bookmark   November 24, 2007 at 6:47PM
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anney(Georgia 8)


Since it's available, I'd use the county compost, bring it in ASAP if your cardboard is down, and then add your own compost to the beds as it's ready. I can get a compressed bale of Promix for about 25 dollars, but it takes all of it to fill one 8'x4' bed a few inches, not economical at ALL. My county also offers compost but it's free. You just have to haul it.

Sounds like you're on the right track. Just getting it done in the winter is a pain, isn't it? Even though I'm afraid that I'll be overwhelmed with too much to do if I wait until Spring (planning four more raised beds), I still procrastinate. I definitely don't like to do garden stuff when it's cold and windy, but I may force myself to be miserable unless we get some balmy winter days, and that could happen.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2007 at 7:08PM
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Anne, some folks have done just as you are thinking of doing and gardened in straight compost. Of course, not all composts have been made equal.

I often make compost with soil as an important ingredient. These piles usually start off by me digging out a bed, piling the compostables in this ditch and refilling with some of the soil in layers and capping the whole thing with soil. This pile is built during the Fall and may be about 3 or 4 feet high - which is about as high as gravity will allow since the beds are no more than 4 feet wide.

The next Spring, it is usually used to grow sunflowers or Winter squash. After that initial year, the pile has settled and I can use the bed for most any crop.

Method 2 - In one of my compost bins (there are 2), I pile material thru the growing season. Manure is an important component but soil isn't usually used. The bins are about 6 feet square and are made of concrete blocks to about 30 inches. Once again the pile can get quite high by the end of the growing season - to about 6 feet.

By Spring, settling has occurred and the pile is soon about level with the blocks. I've grown peppers, eggplant and basil on top of these piles the last 5 or 6 years. While vegetables are growing in one bin, a new pile is built in the neighboring bin. After a season of growing plants, the compost is pulled out and spread where it is needed in the garden.

I sometimes have some trouble with pests like earwigs and mice in the compost but usually, the vegetables growing on the compost (squash, eggplant, peppers, basil) do better than they would anywhere else.

I'll encourage you to find out as much as you can about your municipal compost and see if others in your town use it in the way in which you plan. Hope this helps and here's wishing you the best of luck.


    Bookmark   November 24, 2007 at 8:01PM
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Beware of the recycling center compost. I've used compost from both the municipal recycling facility and a local farm. The municipal compost had lots of trash in it - gum wrappers, styrofoam bits from coffee cups, cellophane. The farm compost was $20 a yard but no trash.
I am also somewhat disabled and I used a mix of sand, peat and compost for my raised beds. The initial setup was labor intensive but I think the trick is to set small achievable goals.
Good Luck!

    Bookmark   November 26, 2007 at 9:44AM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

g'day anne,

we start our gardens using spent mushroom compost from the mushroom farm, does wonders for us, it is cheap and relatively easy to get.


Here is a link that might be useful: len's garden page

    Bookmark   November 26, 2007 at 1:01PM
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Thanks again for all the responses. I guess my next step should be to go over to the county landfill and try to get a sample of their compost to see if it's even suitable. I do think that I could put up with the odd bit of styrofoam (picking it out over time like pebbles), but it would be nice to see that all the organic matter is broken down pretty well.

There is also some question of availibilty (they recommend calling in advance) as much of the county compost goes to a large dairy facility nearby that's been pioneering in the production of methane for power production using dairy waste products plus the compost (they've been featured on The History Channel's Modern Marvels).

Will look into the availibly of mushroom compost and "farm compost" in our area also. Again, thanks for all of the input. Could write more, but my computer keeps crashing on me so need to get this posted before it's lost .


    Bookmark   November 26, 2007 at 8:10PM
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Anne, compost/manure well mixed with perlite works for us growing vegetables in containers. It should work in raised beds too. It sounds like we may be similar to one of Steve's methods. Do you like kale, chard, black currants, strawberries? IF you have more than five hours of sun I think it's worth trying. Enjoy.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 2:14PM
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Anne, I did exactly what you are suggesting last spring. I planted a large variety of veg. and had no problems. Very successful spring, summer and fall garden. My beds are 6inch tall. The compost was inexpensive and worked great. I'll add some of my own compost to the beds each year. Good luck.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 2:47PM
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Thanks for the encouraging posts! I did a rough layout of my beds today. Will tweak it tomorrow and hopefully get the cardboard down. (As we just moved, we've got a TON of carboard!). After that, I'll try to get some compost delivered and just have it mounded on the cardboard for now. I've got a good relationship with the fencing contractor who put in our inner chain link fence, and I'm hoping that he might let me salvage some redwood or cedar fencing boards that he'd otherwise dump to use for the raised beds. (I'm pretty good at banging out nails, caulking holes, and squaring edges up with a table saw). If that's not workable, I guess I'll just go out and buy some boards, but that means less $$ for other stuff. Once the beds are done, I'll get whatever more compost I need and level things out in the beds so I can start planting after the last frost. Anyway, that's my plan and I'm sticking to it LOL!

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 8:42PM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)


you need to try and find out exactly what goes into that recycled compost at the landfill dump. in small localities that don't have lots of industry there may be no concerns then there maybe? i've seen documentry shows on the making of this product (hey and as always top marks for recycling but!) they use composted humus from the sewerage farms, and they also mix industrial waste liquid into the product so they can dispose of that liquid waste which could contain almost anything.

they are using this product in some potting mixes as well.


    Bookmark   December 2, 2007 at 1:49PM
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Hi Len,

Thanks for the heads up (and reminder of an earlier post). I'll check into it more thoroughly!


    Bookmark   December 2, 2007 at 4:21PM
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ole_dawg(7 UpCountry SC)

Check to see if there is a commerical "Potting soil" mfg. near you. I have one 45 miles away, but you can go there and for $54.00 you can fill any sized - whatever you bring. Dump truck down to Pick up. I good deal to say the least.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2007 at 8:31PM
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Hi Anne. There's some really good topsoil sold in the central valley. I got some sourced out of Knight's Ferry that didn't neeed amendments. Check around in Merced and Modesto and see what's available. I also personally favor horse manure which is available almost everywhere.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 3:34PM
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austransplant(MD 7)

Municipal compost can differ in quality. For example, College Park in suburban Maryland has a compost facility that only composts yard waste, which must be put out only in paper bags. This is a high quality compost. Prince Georges County also has a composting operation for yard waste, but collects it in plastic bags and you find lots of shredded plastic in it. The facility in question should be able to tell you exactly what kind of waste goes into the compost. They should also be able to tell what the result of a soil test on it is. For example, the College Park compost facility provided me with a fact sheet that showed it tested at a PH of 7 and gave the proportion of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

Although a cubic yard sounds like a lot of compost, in fact it is not. It can take a lot to fill a raised bed. You should be able to work out the volume of your bed to get a sense of how much compost you will need. Note that after a year there will be a noticeable drop in the height of the compost in the bed.

Your composting facility may be able to deliver compost in bulk in dump truck loads. The College Park facility, for example, will deliver a dump truck full (that's a lot of compost), for $70. You would need to hire someone or get friends to move this to your garden. You might look into this sort of possibility. (Prices may be less here on the East coast where we have a lot of fallen leaves to compost each fall.)

I did use compost for my 12' x 4' raised beds and it produced very good crops.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 6:34PM
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Thanks for the recent posts to the thread.

I finally called the local landfill and their compost is 100% green yardwaste - no "bags" involved as the yardwaste is put in trash cans that are emptied or collected unbagged.
I'll have to call again to ask about delivery. I was pleasantly surprised to find out when we moved here that they provide extra no-cost services for the disabled (like coming into the service yard to bring the cans out to the street for dumping and then returning the empty cans to the yard) that we've been able to take advantage of - so maybe they have something similar in regards to compost. I found out that if you get over 10 cu yds (which I'll need), the price comes down to $10/cu yard. So it's pretty reasonable. I think my main expenses will be getting it to the property and distributed to the raised bed areas.

I only found one company in the phone book advertising topsoil. I'll check them out. If nothing else, they might provide for the delivery of the county compost. I'm also interested in possibly getting some soil mixes (like a sandier or looser soil mix for things like asparagus and onions).

I'm still planning the garden so I haven't laid out my cardboard yet, but hope to get to it soon.

Thanks again for the responses!


    Bookmark   December 14, 2007 at 6:15PM
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