Raised bed soil and horse manure

qhoundApril 13, 2010

I've just built two 4'x12', 12" deep, raised beds for vegetable gardening. I now need to fill these beds. I've considered using Mel's mix for these beds, but it's too costly. A local garden center has a mix of 60% loam and 40% organic compost for approx $27/yd. I called and asked if this is good for vegetable gardens, and the guy told me yes, but it isn't high in nutrients. I'm guessing this is from the breakdown of the organic materials?

A friend of mine owns horses, and has a manure pile and says I am welcome to take whatever I want. He has several piles, a fresh one, and an old pile from last year, I believe. This pile also contains hay, wood shavings, and paper shavings too. He also has a composted pile...but just used most of it for his gardens. Looks like I can have plenty of the older stuff if I want it.

Any advice on a good mixture for these beds would be greatly appreciated!


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Make the first three inches old horse manure. Make the next eight inches $27.00 a yard medium. Top this off with old horse manure. Till the top eight inches leaving the first four for your roots to find. Continue adding two or three inches of horse manure each fall. After three or four years of this soil building you can consider a permanent mulch by any name. I would add a gallon of low number organic fertilizer like 4-2-4 and some trace elements. both spring and fall for the first three years. Your garden will tell you if you need more fertilizer. Easy does it is always best.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 11:38AM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

Wait a minute. Compost nutrients are measured exactly the same way as chemical nutrients, by the pound. Compost may not be high in nutrients per pound, but it is safe to use in infinite amounts. Normally it is used in heavy enough amounts to really amount to something. For example in the lawn the rate is 1 cubic yard per 1,000 square feet. That is only 1/4 inch deep. Still at 700 pounds per cubic yard and 1-1-1 guaranteed analysis, the quantity of NPK is 7 pounds per 1,000 square feet.

If you are filling a raised bed with a compost mix, you are getting a lot more than 1/4 inch and a lot more nutrients than you might think.

After you get all the compost you want, please send me your friend's aged horse manure ;-)

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 11:41AM
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Thanks for the help. These are our first raised beds, so this is all kind of new to me. My past gardens have been much smaller, and used whatever soil was in the ground.

As far as the nutrients in the soil/compost mix....I'm just repeating what the guy at the local nursery told me.

I have no tiller, so I'll have to mix it all by hand for now. I think my neighbor might have a tiller small enough to use in the beds.

We have a compost pile too, but it's not ready for the garden yet. Hopefully soon though.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 12:47PM
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First things first .... get as much of that horse manure as you can! Create your own compost pile for next year.

Then, when filling your raised beds.... you didn't mention what kind of native soil you have. Clay, sand, rocky? I'm thinking you may want to start the amending deeper than the 12" of the raised bed sides. And the horse manure certainly can play a role in that.

Below is link to one of my favorite sites ... has CHARTS showing dept of tomatoes, and dozens of other garden vegetables. You will note that tomato roots go down 4'.

Here is a link that might be useful: Vegetable root depth/width

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 4:50PM
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I will be filling up my truck this weekend with the manure....whatever doesn't go into the beds will get put into our compost pile for sure!

The native soil here in NH is pretty rocky...not much clay though. The beds are sitting on top of a slight hill that the builder covered with coarse pine mulch 1 1/2 years ago when the house was built. The mulch was put there to prevent washout. I had to dig down quite a bit to get them to sit level, but the back end of the beds has a lot of mulch below the 12" level. And much of that mulch has decomposed too. I drove 5' stakes at the corners of the beds so they wont settle as the bark mulch rots away....I'll just have to add more compost to them. I will add in as much manure as I can to amend the existing soil under the beds.

Thanks for all the help!

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 5:10PM
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With that mix and what doc suggested you do not need a power tiller. you can turn the beds with a long handled manure fork.that's what I use, and I own a 5 hp tiller from my old row crop garden days.


    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 5:50PM
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Even better....Thanks Curt!

I have a short handled, straight, flat bladed fork now, but have been thinking of a long handled manure fork ever since I started the compost pile last fall. Now I have two reasons to get one.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 6:40PM
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I think you are on the road to a great success. I agree you should load up on horse manure. Work on improving your own compost piles and keep building those beds with a pound of common sense. You will do fine.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 9:22PM
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Thanks for all the help! It's much appreciated.

I do have one more question before I go about filling up these beds though.

Is adding some vermiculite beneficial to this? I know Mel's Mix calls for 1/3 of the bed mix to vermiculite, but it's way too costly. I'd likely add a 4 cu. ft. bag to each bed to help in water retention. I know the sq. ft. gardeners like vermiculite, and I'm hoping to get some input from you guys as well.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   April 14, 2010 at 7:17AM
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You have a great plan. I would not use any vermiculite because I have never been able to justify the cost with any value in my patches. Your manure will do more better than vermiculite in every value some say it has.

More worms than you realize will move up into your gourmet restaurant for worms. Your rainwater will carry the goodness down those worm run holes. Vermiculite can do none of this. Vermiculite can of course go down and plug up those valued worm runways. The greenhouse growers remember are making mediums with vermiculite but their product is up and out of the house in weeks not years. There is nothing organic about most greenhouses.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2010 at 10:25PM
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Thanks again....it is costly stuff!

I picked up my horse manure last night...a truckload of it. It's a mix of manure, hay, wood shavings, and paper shavings. It's already very broken down....a nice chocolate brown color, and full of small worms already!

Picking up a load of the loam/compost mix today, and then another truckload of the manure this weekend.

Thanks for the advice!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2010 at 9:00AM
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