Best soil for raised bed?

tatianahdzMarch 6, 2008

Hi all! I'm new to gardening and to GardenWeb, so please forgive me if this is a stupid question, but what is the best type of filler for the raised bed vegetable garden I'm about to make? I am looking for the best type for the lowest price, if there is such a thing?

I keep reading that sandy loam is good for the types I will be growing - peppers, cucumbers, cantaloupes, tomatoes.

Also, where would be the most affordable place to get this? Should I have it delivered from a garden place, or is it best to get it bagged from Lowe's or WalMart?

Again, I'm sorry if this is a retarded question! Thanks for your help!!!

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crabjoe(z7 MD)

Many may not agree with me, but for cheap, I say go with 50% red clay and 50% compost. Just mix it real good.

Compost can be had cheap from your town, county or state waste water facility or landfill. Clay, you could probably find it most anywhere. Then again, I don't know where you live so it might be hard to find.

Below is a picture of my garden form last year. It's all grown in that 50:50 clay/compost mix.

BTW, I just picked up 2 yards of compost for $10 today. Can't knock that price with a stick!!

    Bookmark   March 6, 2008 at 11:23PM
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You cannot buy good soil, that must be made by you.
What type of soil you currently have?
How well does this soil drain?
Putting a raised bed on soil that drains really well will present more problems for you than you want since that raised bed will drain even faster.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2008 at 6:52AM
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If you need to import soil (and many do, despite frequent admonishments from this site that it is unnecessary), it will be far cheaper to do so in bulk than purchasing bagged goods. If you have bulk goods suppliers nearby, look for products labeled as 3-way (or sometimes 5-way) planting mixes - these generally will include some sort of compost as part of the mix as well as a good, loamy base.

If bagged products are your only alternative, make sure you get a planting mix rather than a potting mix. Potting mixes are typically formulated for containers and include products like perlite or vermiculite that are expensive additives and unnecessary for inground planting situations, including raised beds. Mixing bagged soil 70-30 with some sort of compost product (your own, municipal compost, well composted manures, etc.) should provide an immediate optimum growing medium for just about any plant.

In my area, one can purchase high quality bagged soil mixes that already include a variety of well composted organic matter, often labeled as "harvest blends" but I doubt these are widely available in all parts of the country and they are not inexpensive, running about 5-10 times the price of a similar bulk product. You are paying for convenience, primarily :-))

    Bookmark   March 7, 2008 at 9:11AM
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GG gets a VoR!

The other guy, not so much.....

"You cannot buy good soil, that must be made by you."

So, by this logic, if I can make my own "good soil", why couldn't somebody buy it from me?

Lloyd HRC

    Bookmark   March 7, 2008 at 9:20AM
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I get compost free from the county dump. I think a lot of places do the same. I would be careful about getting anything made from treated wastewater if you plan to grow food in it, as I have heard that there can be a lot of heavy metal and chemical contamination in it.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2008 at 9:21AM
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crabjoe(z7 MD)


I don't know where you live, but here in MD, compost from a county wastewater facility or from the dump has to meet the same State guidelines before they can be released to the public. I would think it's the same where you live.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the dump compost might make you feel better, but the odds are, it will be the same quality as the wastewater compost. No worse or no better.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2008 at 9:55AM
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curtludwig(New England)

I always wonder why people feel like the dirt they have isn't good enough... I guess its my New Englander heritage that makes me cheap. It probably doesn't hurt that pretty much everywhere I've lived you stick seeds in the ground and they grow. Even the heavy clay of southern Maine is pretty productive, and when I was a kid we pretty much only added peat moss because I didn't know how to make good compost...

Anyway, last spring I bought additives because my compost hadn't come along yet. I had 2 4x4' plots, I added 3 40# bag of composted cow manure to each. Garden grew pretty well considering I put my first batch of plants out too early and they mostly frost killed.
This year I've got one nice batch of compost already mixed in from last fall and another one that should be ready by May to help out, together they've raised the planing area a good 2" over the rest of the lawn...

Should be a great year. Of course we've still got 6" of snow over everything, I've got another month before I need to even start seeds.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2008 at 10:11AM
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i used to think mine wasn't good enough, well, i'm still fairly new to this plot of land, so yeah, it's not good enough for me...but i am working on that, good thing i was broke, and looked for alternatives to bringing in more dirt...which is costly....i still throw a few bags of top soil around here and there, but i now see potential in my soil, as where i did not before.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2008 at 10:38PM
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I don't know best, but when I put in a raised bed, I took a 3/4 ton truck to the nursery and had them fill the bed with topsoil. Then I added my compost and some sand from a well drilling job. Seemed to work fine; no weeds, bushy tomatoes, and nice peppers. I put some weed barrier underneath the box to keep the morning glory out.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2008 at 10:54PM
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I am planning to purchase a mix from a local seller that is 50% top soil, 40% compost, and 10% sand for my 18" 4x8 raised bed. I am researching these posts to see if that is appropriate. My cost will be about $30 for a yard of that stuff. We are composting, but it is not yet ready for use, so my hope is that in future years we will just add compost, mix with the existing base from this year, and plant! Thanks to all for your posts for us newbies!

    Bookmark   April 16, 2011 at 12:25PM
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How did that mix work out?

Did you have to add anything to it?

    Bookmark   October 12, 2011 at 5:12AM
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I am mixing my own soil for my raised bed. An old concrete mixer works well for this. It contains 30% peat moss, 30% coarse vermiculite, 30% compost, and 10% sand. I also add a small amount of lime, wood ashes, and organic fertilizer. The organic fertilizer is blood meal, bone meal, and earthworm castings.
The main advantage of this mix is that it doesn't take as much watering because it holds a lot of water. The mix will last for many years and each year add a little compost and some more organic fertilizer. I keep a plastic cover over my raised bed all during the winter and early spring to protect the soil mix.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2013 at 10:38PM
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People are told that they need "topsoil" but no one defines what they mean by that and "topsoil" is defined as the top 4 to 6 inches of soil from someplace. I have seen stuff sold as "topsoil" that should be criminal to charge for.
A good garden soil would be loam, a soil sometime3s defined as equal parts sand, silt, and clay and at some web sites listed as containing 40 percent of each which adds up to something I cannot imagine. A soil that contains something like 45 percent sand, 25 percent silt, 25 percent clay, and 5 percent organic matter would be the ideal, but may not be available everywhere. However, something close most likely could be found.

Here is a link that might be useful: what is loam

    Bookmark   December 29, 2013 at 7:22AM
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The first question I ask people when they are thinking about raised beds is why they actually want raised beds. Without knowing anything about their existing soil, it's hard to know whether it's necessary from a soil quality standpoint. But there are other reasons to have them (time factor for building good soil from bad, accessibility, contaminated soil, etc.). Always good to know some of these factors when advising people who are considering raised beds.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2013 at 1:55PM
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"The first question I ask people when they are thinking about raised beds is why they actually want raised beds. Without knowing anything about their existing soil, it's hard to know whether it's necessary from a soil quality standpoint"

Tox,that is nearly profound. I have similar feelings when I'm asked about fertilizeing where no soil analisis has been done or how trees should be pruned.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2013 at 8:44PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

The thread is almost 4 years old. So any advice is TOO late. But there is more than one reason to have raised beds. The most important one, IMO, is drainage. I just started a garden here at the PNW, this past season. The backyard ground is low and we get a LOT of rain( over 50" annually). So then raised bed was the logical option.

As far as the soil to fill the beds, you have to have a mixture with good amount of compost (with Organic Matter). with clay soil a 50/50 ( soil/compost) works here. Then you have to add nutrients. It can be partly supplied by composted manure and commercial fertilizer. My first year turned out pretty good, as far as I could read my plants and I also checked the pH and added some lime.

BTW, there is no such a thing as BEST SOIL.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 2:22AM
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And yet, people do come here and search for threads on that very topic. That's why I added my comments to this one. If Northwest found it after 4 years, so will others.

Regarding your mix, 50/50 sounds delicious, but if that's good compost I gotta wonder if you really need any more added nutrients, especially the first year. That's a lot of compost, which brings nutrients with it.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 11:32AM
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I don't think there are stupid questions. (But there are questions that have been replied to quite a few times, so I often mention the 'Search' feature).

I am starting to think compost should be made by the user (as Kimmsr said) and even then with a great deal of caution.

My soil was very clayish, and I wanted to grow tomatoes. So over about twelve years I have added compost to the soil, and also as mulch. But tomato production was much better the first five years compared to the last five years.

So I have two possibilities:
1) I added too much compost?
2) the compost (grass and leaves from my yard and one or two other yards) had some residual nasty stuff like two herbicidesâÂÂ�"âÂÂpicloram and clopyralidâÂÂ�"âÂÂknown to be persistent in compost (Mother Earth News).

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 4:57PM
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I had similar issues, including the clay, the compost, and the declining yields. I got a test and learned a lot. Turns out my problems are mostly related to shade and tree roots (probably) but I learned valuable info about what nutrients were high and which were low, after all that compost...

    Bookmark   December 31, 2013 at 6:54PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Compost , IMO, has no standard. It depends on WHAT and HOW and WHEN it was composted. Aged compost produced by steaming temperatures , commercially or in some municipality facilities have probably very little fertilizers. But it is rich in minerals and organic matter. THEN not all composts are pure 100% compost. They often mix in a lot of soil to it during and after decomposition. So when we say 50% compost it does not means it is all organic matter.

Why your tomatoes stop growing like crazy after you added a lot of compost ? The answer, IMO, is maybe because OM is a moderator and controller of fertilizers. It can absorb and the release gradually. This is why the fertilizers do not leach as much. AND this is the most importan aspect of organic gardening , just for the sake of environment, not so much for the health reasons. JMO

And to those who speak about TOO MUCH Organic compost/matter, I may point their attention to 511 mix(as an example) which is 85% OM (pine bark and peat) and many other so called "SOIL-LESS" potting mixes.

we use soil in our gardens because, it is there in abundance.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 6:35PM
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@ robertz6:Welcome to the world of herbicide residue. If not given enough time for it to self-disintegrate,the dreaded chemical persisted even after it passed through the stomach of cow and sheep and ended up in the manure that you put into your compost. Most often the herbicide they used target dicot plants because diet of cow consisted mainly of monocot plants. Unfortunately most of the gardening crops that we like to grow are monocot (except corn).

    Bookmark   January 1, 2014 at 11:47PM
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There is no pesticide, herbicide, miticide, synthetic or natural that will "self disintegrate". They are all removed from the environment by various bacteria, just as everything else is. Some of these, especially the synthetics, are more persistent because it takes the bacteria longer to figure out how to digest them.
It is not the compost that "regulates" the nutrients in the soil but rather the Soil Food Web.
Perhaps this video from Growing a Greener World might be of interest to some here.

Here is a link that might be useful: the dirt on healthy soil

This post was edited by kimmsr on Thu, Jan 2, 14 at 7:19

    Bookmark   January 2, 2014 at 6:37AM
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Some pesticides do degrade chemically, through hydrolysis or photodegradation, but it's probably putting too fine a point on it for this thread.

I actually don't think robertz6's declining yields during 5 years, after 5 years of good yields, is caused by herbicide residues, unless more residues are being added every year. Even the nasties degrade in about 2 years, so if you got a dose, it should be gone. And those aren't generally used on residential lawns. Most of that is stuff like 2,4-D which degrades much faster. If you don't know what those neighbors are using on the grass you get from them, you should find out.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2014 at 12:08PM
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In the shadow of all the scientific information offered thus far,my contribution may be viewed as simplistic but I believe it to be relivent. The question was raised "what is topsoil"? In context of landscaping and gardening,topsoil is exactly what it sounds like, soil that has layed on the surface for many years. The author or speaker generaly uses the term to differentiate between topsoil and fill dirt. Many people don't realize the difference when they recieve subsoil and pay for topsoil. You couldn't raise an umbrella in subsoil if you were sitting on on a bag of fertilizer. Dump truck owners are paid by excuvation contractors to haul dirt away from projects to dispose of it. About 90% of dirt that needs to be moved is subsoil. Where projects like golf courses involve horticulterists from start to finsh,topsoil is usually moved aside for use when final grade is done. If a gardener has extra space, buying enough soil to cover the extra space 1' deep then grow cover crops and till in amendments is better than gambling on new soil from a vendor. Two years can yield soil suitable for use in leveling turf,starting raised beds and other use where topsoil is required. I am impressed with the results of burying a large dead maple, free wood chips from the electric power line clean up and 50 bags of fall leaves picked up at the curb 5 years ago. So impressed that I am alowing free disposal of limbs in the wake of our ice storm in early December. As soon as I have enough leaves and find chipped wood , I will bury it and wait for the bounty. It will require lots of time and sweat with a shovel and wheelbarrow,,,,,,,,NOT,,,,,,I have a tractor.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2014 at 9:44PM
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"Topsoil" is defined, everywhere I have looked, as the top 4 to 6 inches of soil.
What passes for "topsoil" in Connecticut will not be the same as what passes for "topsoil" in Arizona which is not the same as in Idaho which is not the same as in Georgia.
When talking about good garden soil we should be a bit more specific then a vague term like "topsoil". Probably the term loam would be a better choice since it does have a more specific definition, although I have seen loam defined as 40 percent sand, 40 percent silt, and 40 percent clay.

Here is a link that might be useful: What is loam

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 6:46AM
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klem, I agree with your points about buying questionable soil. The only real solution (if one is going to buy) is to look at it. At least where I live, and I think most places, you can clearly tell whether it's got a good texture and some organic matter. It always pays to examine a product first before buying. If they say they mixed in compost, did they mix it into topsoil or subsoil?

If someone has already stolen the topsoil off a piece of ground, and topsoil is just the top, then the 'topsoil' is actually subsoil at that point. Which no self respecting gardener would believe. Topsoil is the living, breathing surface layer and you can't fool me. :-]

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 11:14AM
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You can find all kinds of definitions of "topsoil" that might tell you it is the top 2 to 8 inches of soil and usually contains the most organic matter. Whether that soil contains any organic matter depends on whether there is anything to contribute the OM to the soil.
What passes for "topsoil" in the southwest would have little, if any, organic matter in it while the "topsoil" in New England might have a lot of organic matter. Our ancestors moved to new territory because the land they farmed "lost" fertility because they failed to add more organic matter and those new lands had, often, lots. I have seen stuff sold as "topsoil" that no one should charge even a delivery fee for since the stuff was simply garbage.
No matter where you are Loam, as indicated by the Purdue University link above, is a constant definition of a soil and will not change from place to place as that of "topsoil" will.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2014 at 7:00AM
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I joined because I saw a post that asked "Why build raised beds?" Well my dad has grown gardens for many years. He's getting up there in years and can't kneel down like he used to. So, I'm building him a raised garden so he can still do everything without having to get down on his knees. It gets him outside doing what he likes to do.
He has composted over the years, but i can't fill up the raised garden from the dirt in his garden or I'd end up with a big hole. So, I was looking here to see what the best type of soil would be to fill the raised garden.


This post was edited by tshaw2362 on Tue, Feb 18, 14 at 20:07

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 8:06PM
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art_1(10 CA)

Try searching the web for "[city] landscape supply." Many places have soil mixes such as 'vegetable garden/raised bed mix' available in bulk. The link is one example in Portland, OR.

Here is a link that might be useful: Portland Rock & Landscape Supply

    Bookmark   February 18, 2014 at 10:09PM
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