How Do You Fill A Raised Bed Cheaply?

How Do You Fill A Raised Bed Cheaply?

There are many ways you can reduce the cost of soil for a raised bed garden. You just have to get thrifty/creative.

Native Soil Plus DIY Compost [zero cost]

The absolute cheapest way to fill a raised bed is to use your own soil if possible. If your native soil is poor like sand or clay then you will need to enrichen or amend it with organic material. Organic material will provide nutrients for plants and reduce water evaporation.

If your native soil is rich, then use that to fill your raised bed, if not then let’s talk about how you can create a rich soil on the cheap.

Compost is an excellent organic soil conditioner and amendment. It’s pretty cheap to buy, like $6-$8 per bag at Lowes or Home Depot. But you can go cheaper…..make your own compost.

If you have access to lots of plant scraps or waste like leaves, lettuce, cucumbers, small shrub or bush clippings, grass clippings, wood chips, etc then you can easily make your own compost.

Tip: check out all local landscaping businesses for free mulch or wood chips. Most will give it away free as long as you bag it and haul it away.

You make compost by piling up plant material in a corner or in a bin in the backyard. You mix Brown [dead] material with green material in a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio. You add water to keep the mix moist and turn it everyday to aerate. In a few months you will have a large pile of compost with minimal cost.

Now that you have a serious pile of rich compost, you can mix it 50/50 with your native soil and fill the raised bed with the mix. You now have a super rich soil ready for planting.

Native Soil with Compost Mulch Topping [Cost $7]

This is a variation of No-Till gardening where you just add a topping of mulch on the soil and then plant. No digging, no turning or tilling. It’s very effective.

It’s pretty cheap to do. One bag of compost will cover an area of 4′ x 4′ with a 3-4″ layer. One bag would cost you about $7.00.

You can fill the raised bed with native or backyard soil and then add a thick 3-5″ layer of compost on top of the soil. The compost will fertilize the soil from above. Even poor soils like sand and clay become productive with a compost mulch topping.

I have one garden that is bedded like this. It’s very productive and simple to setup and maintain. Every 6 months I add more compost to the top. Not only do plants love this but so do earth worms. I have tons of worms in this garden. Worms are very beneficial to gardens. They aerate, fertilize, modify soil texture by borrowing and help break down organic material. Worms are amazing!

Native Soil Plus Commercial Compost Mix [Cost $7 – $21]

If you don’t have access to an abundance of plant material to make your own compost or have the time then you might want to consider buying a commercial compost from a nursery or home improvement store. It’s really not expensive….$6-$8 per 2 cf bag.

Compost is typically pretty cheap, much cheaper than a some commercial garden soils. But shop around anyway. You might need between 1 and 3 bags of compost depending on how big the raised bed is.

To fill a raised bed, mix 50% compost and 50% native or backyard soil and fill the raised bed with it. This will make a super rich garden soil that will provide nutrients, water retention, water drainage, soft texture and attract beneficial insects and earth worms. This is how I fill raised beds.  I start all my plants from seeds and this soil mix makes them germinate fast and grow even faster.

I always buy Kellogg’s N-Rich Soil Enriching Conditioner and GardenTime Composted Mulch and Soil Conditioner. I also like Composted Steer Manure by Grow King. These are high quality products at reasonable prices.

Native Soil plus Commercial Garden Soil Mix [Cost $6-$12]

Commercial garden soils are fantastic and pretty cheap too. I like Kellogg’s Amend Garden Soil and Kellogg’s All Natural Garden Soil. Both of these are about $6 per bag. What a bargain. The bags are about 2 cubic feet of soil. Other garden soils can cost $10-$15 per bag.

You can actually mix native or backyard soil with garden soil in a ratio of 2:1 or 3:1. That’s 2 or 3 parts native soil to 1 part garden soil. This is a great mix and will create a rich organic soil that will produce large, healthy plants and fruit.

When preparing the raised bed, mark off the spot where you want it located. Now till the soil about 12″ deep with a shovel and/or claw hammer if the soil is dry and compacted. Break up any large clumps of compacted soil. Leave any rocks in place as these will aid in aeration and drainage.

Now place the raised bed frame in place, over where you tilled the soil. Dump a bag or two of commercial garden soil in the raised bed and hand mix thoroughly. Level off the top and water.

I recommend letting a new raised bed garden “set up” for 2-3 weeks before planting. I water as needed, letting the soil dry between watering. This gives the soil mix time to stimulate bacteria, microbes and attract worms. It gives the bed a “head start” before planting anything. It’s always worked really well for me. The soil is actually an ecosystem of organisms but when starting a new bed with new soil, it takes some time for this ecosystem to get started.

Commercial Compost Only [Cost  $40]

Using 100% compost for a raised bed is the Ultimate soil. It’s not really expensive depending on the size of the raised bed. Most raised beds are about 6′ x 3′ x 12″. So it might require 5-6 bags at $7 per bag…so $40? Not bad.

Set up your raised bed in the location you want and dump the compost in. Level it off and then water thoroughly to stimulate bacteria and microbes. Water it regularly after it becomes a little dry. Do this for 2-3 weeks to establish the soil ecosystem. Then plant seeds or young pants.

This type of raised bed fill attracts tons of worms. I had a 4′ x 4′ raised bed with all compost in it. After 2 weeks of watering, I had tons of worms in the compost. Worms are the best “caretakers” of gardens. They fertilize, aerate, condition the soil texture and assist with decomposition of organic material. They are Gold.

You can also blend compost with composted manure or with mulch. Just shop around and see what’s on sale or the cheapest.

Commercial Garden Soil Only [Cost $35]

This is surprisingly inexpensive even though you might think not. Commercial garden soil is pretty cheap at about $5-$6 per bag of 1.5 – 2 cubic feet. A typical raised bed measures about 3′ x 6′ x 12″. This would require about 5-6 bags. So $35 for soil. It’s great stuff too!

Place your raised bed frame in the desired location. If your soil is dry and compacted, I would recommend loosening it up with a claw hammer and then wet it down. Now dump the bags of garden soil into the raised bed. Level it out and water it thoroughly.

Now for the next 2-3 weeks, water the new raised bed soil every other day or whenever it is dry. This will stimulate or start the soil ecosystem. It takes a few weeks for bacteria, microbes and earth worms to grow or move to the new soil. There is a whole biological world in fertile soil. It doesn’t appear over night either.

You won’t have to worry too much about fertilizing in a raised bed with 100% commercial garden soil. It will have everything it needs for an entire growing season.

It’s super easy to germinate seeds in commercial garden soil. Garden soil retains moisture extremely well and this is the secret to germinating seeds. Just bury the seeds, cover and water every other day or whenever the soil feels dry when you dig into it with your finger or hand. Seeds will sprout in 7-10 days typically.

My best success with growing plants from seeds is outdoors in a garden with a compost/soil mix or a commercial garden soil. I water every other day when it’s not too hot or everyday during the summer months when it’s over 100 degrees. The seeds sprout in 5-10 days every time. It’s magic. I tried peat pots once but had no success.

How Deep Should a Raised Box Garden Be?

How Deep Should a Raised Box Garden Be?

A raised box garden should be deep enough for plants’ roots to grow without obstructions like hard, compacted soil or large rocks. Usually 12″ is deep enough.

Depth of Raised Box Gardens

If you are creating a raised box garden on top of your soil then 12″ will be deep enough however if you’re building a raised box garden on top of a surface that is not soil, like concrete or a weed barrier then you might need 18 – 24″ in depth. Larger plants like tomatoes, eggplants and peppers have deeper roots and do better with deeper soil.

Deeper raised box gardens also retain water better and provide more nutrients for a longer period of time than shallower boxes.

6″ Deep Raised Box Gardens

A 6 inch deep raised box garden can be used when the ground soil it will sit on top of is either very good or will be amended with compost or a garden soil mix. I have had 6 inch deep raised box gardens and they do very well with amended soil below. I amended my soil with Coconut Coir, composted steer manure and compost. I like Coconut Coir because it soaks up water like a sponge and resists evaporation.

This is how I prepared a 6 inch deep raised box garden. I pick a location and mark off the site by scoring the ground. I then till the soil using a shovel and a claw hammer. The claw hammer helps break up Arizona rock soil, I mean clay. I till the soil about 12″ deep. I don’t remove rocks like some people do because it will help drain and aerate the soil. Rocks are helpful.

I then place the raised box garden on top of the tilled site. I add the manure, compost and coconut coir and mixed it well with the soil and then leveled it off. I then water it thoroughly to get bacteria, microbes and decomposition started before planting seeds. I usually let a garden “initialize” for 2 weeks before planting seeds.

When the raised bed is ready, I plant seeds and then cover them with a thin layer of grass mulch. Now I water regularly.

6-12″ Deep Raised Box Gardens

A 6-12 inch raised box garden can be used when you don’t want to till or don’t want to till very much soil underneath the box garden. Sometimes I just want to loosen up the top soil and add a small bag of compost. This works well with a 8″ or 10″ raised box garden. It doesn’t require much work but still provides plenty of soil depth for larger plants. Carrots do really well in these.

When you select a location, determine if the soil has good drainage. If you have clay soil like I do, you may want to amend the soil with some organic material. Drainage is critical. If roots sit in water too long they will rot and the plant will die. A good amendment is compost.

The 8″ raised box gardens that I built were made from 2×4’s. I bought some untreated Douglas Fir 2×4’s and stacked them 2 high on the sides. It makes a great box garden and very cheap and long lasting too. Did I say Simple?

12″ Deep Raised Box Gardens

A 12″ deep raised box garden is typical. Most raised box garden kits are 12″. I have had a few. This provides plenty of depth of any size vegetable plant or flower and does not require any soil tilling or preparation. Just built it, set it up and fill it with organic material or you can just buy Garden Soil from a Nursery or Home Improvement store. Kellogg’s makes a good one and so does GardenTime.

After setup, I like to let a new raised box garden “setup” or “initialize” before planting. I water regularly and let it sit. This activates or stimulates bacteria, microbes and attracts earth worms. After 2 weeks, I will see a good number of earth worms in the soil. Worms do magical things in a garden. They aerate, loosen soil, eat organic material and produce worms castings. All of this is “Garden Gold”. Now I’m ready to plant seeds.

You can make your own 12″ raised box garden from 2×12 untreated lumber from any home improvement store. They are pretty cheap and will last a very long time. Just cut to length and screw [stainless steel screws] together. Done

12-18″ Deep Raised Box Gardens

12-18″ raised box gardens can sit on top of the ground or on top of your patio slab. These are deep enough where you don’t have to worry about the roots getting obstructed by anything. Carrots are ideal.

The big benefit of having a 18″ raised box garden on top of concrete or bricks is you have total control over weeds, grass and pests. Weeds and grass will not be able to invade it from surrounding soil. It’s also easier to keep rabbits, cats and dogs out of the garden. You can control how much shade and sunlight it gets by moving it or selecting the perfect location before setup. I love patio gardens.

24″ Deep Raised Box Gardens

I love these!!! Why? Because you don’t have to bend over much to pick the ripe vegetables or do maintenance. It really makes gardening much easier. Try a 24″ or 30″ raised box garden some time. You’ll like it.

DIY 24″ raised box garden – buy some 2×12 untreated Douglas Fir or Pine and cut to size [24″ wide by 36″ long]. Stack 2 high on the perimeter. Simple right?

It requires quite a bit of soil to fill a large 24″ or 30″ raised box garden. You can do a 50/50 mix of yard soil and compost or garden soil. This will reduce the cost but still provide an excellent organic soil. This is what I do when filling a large box garden. Another option is to put a 4″ layer of gravel on the bottom for drainage.

Why Use a Raised Box Garden?

Raised box garden offer many benefits over traditional ground level gardening. The main benefit is soil quality. You can create the very best soil for any type of plant enabling you to grow plants that would not ordinarily grow in your native soil. Soil also has a direct impact on plant health, size and productivity. With a raised box garden you can control this.

A raised box garden can also make it possible to control the amount of shade and/or sunlight the garden receives. If you create a ground garden in the yard, you are limited to that particular location. It may receive all sunlight or all shade. A box garden can be built anywhere, even on the back patio. If you need mostly shade for the plants you want to grow then build the raised box garden in a shady spot like under a tree or next to a block fence or on a covered patio.

A raised box garden enables you to control moisture easier. The soil you create determines how well it retains moisture, plus the water will not seep into the nearby soil. Raised box gardens tend to retain more moisture than most ground/yard gardens. This means you have to water less often.

Raised box gardens also eliminate unwanted weeds and grasses. You won’t have to weed a raised box garden or not very much. Weeds can’t invade it from nearby soil or from a heavy rainstorm. Ground or yard gardens always get weeds and grass in them.

Pests will not destroy your raised box garden like they do to a ground garden. Cats love to dig and poop in garden soil. They tend not to climb in a raised box garden though. Wild rabbits won’t find that tend lettuce crop either. Animals always look for the easy way. If it’s difficult, they may not try.

You’ll have less headaches with a raised box garden.

How to Start Vegetable Seeds Outside

How to Start Vegetable Seeds Outside

Starting a vegetable garden from seeds can be easy, satisfying and eliminate the need to transplant which can lead to plant shock and loss. It’s also cheaper than transplanting ready grown plants.

So what’s the easiest and most productive way to start seeds for a vegetable garden?

Is it, in peat pots outside?

Or in garden soil outside?

Or by soaking them in water first and then planting them?

Starting Seeds in Peat Pots

Peat pots are designed for starting seeds and then transplanting them to an outside area or garden. When I was a kid in New Jersey, these are what I used to start a vegetable garden. It worked back then. But New Jersey has a different climate than Arizona. It’s much more humid. This makes it easier to keep the peat pots moist.

I figured this out the hard way…from experience. I tried the peat pots filled with garden soil. I placed them outside on my patio. I put 3 cucumber seeds in a 1/2 deep hole in each peat pot and watered every other day. They dried out very fast. The peat pots are small and are exposed to air on all sides. This makes it really easy to dry out in the dry hot air of Arizona. I tried watering them more often and soaking them but failed. They never sprouted after 2 months of trying.

I think if I tried this indoors, it most likely would have worked fine. Indoor temperature was 75 degrees while the outdoor temperature was 95 degrees. The peat pots would not have dried out indoors.

So did I give up? Nope

Starting Seeds Outdoors in Soil

I had been experimenting with grass mulch in the yard. I have a 6′ x 4′ garden area covered with grass mulch/clippings. Mulch does wonderful things to soil. Anyway, I decided to throw the last 10 or so seeds into this area under about 1/2″ of soil and then covered it with grass mulch. I watered every few days for about 2 weeks.

And Wah lah. I now have 10 seedlings growing through the grass mulch.

Here is a close up of the cucumber seedlings growing through the grass mulch.

Cucumber seedlings growing

So why did this work?

Well, the grass mulch kept the soil moist by preventing the air from evaporating the water. Mulch acts like a “blanket” and seals in the moisture. Mulch also blocks the sunlight and prevents it from heating up the soil. Heating up of the soil will increase evaporation.

The seeds stayed moist and germinated in about 10 days. It works every time.

Soaking Seeds Before Planting?

Soaking seeds in water prior to planting them is a good idea if you want to speed up germination and sprouting. You can soak them in a container with warm water inside for 12-24 hours and then plant in a good organic soil. Do not soak them longer than 48 hours because you can actually drown them.

Soaking seeds signals it to begin the process of germination and growing. By soaking seeds you can reduce the germination time from 10-14 days to 5-7 days. This can give your garden a jump start in early spring.

How Deep to Plant Seeds

The depth you should plants seeds depends on the type or species of plant. The general rule is to plant seeds 2-3x as deep as the seed is long.

Seeds are pretty finicky about how much sunlight they need to germinate. Some seeds need total darkness while others need sunlight. Check the seed packet for specific instructions on seed depth. When in doubt and with no instructions available, always err on the shallow side. Some seeds will germinate on the surface of the soil.

Best Soil for Starting Seeds Outdoors

When trying to grow plants from seeds, it’s very important to remember that seeds have to stay moist in order to germinate and then grow. They need to stay moist or wet for the better part of the day or all day. I kept them moist all day and they germinated fast.

So the soil has to be able to retain moisture. The best soil for moisture retention is organic compost mixed with soil. The more organic material in a soil the better the water retention. You can use compost, composted steer manure, composted chicken manure, coconut coir, soil enhancers/amendments and garden soil mixes. All of these will ready the soil for seed germination and growth.

I like Kellogg’s N-Rich Soil Enriching Conditioner and GardenTime Composted Mulch Soil Conditioner. I use both mixed in the soil and as a mulch on top. They work great. I use these 2 all the time and buy them at Lowes.

After you prepare the soil with organic material. You can plant the seeds and cover. Now cover the area where you planted the seeds with mulch. Mulch will cool the soil and increase water retention even more. This will give you the best chance of sprouting seeds. Mulch can be any organic material like grass clippings, compost, straw or even cardboard.

Cardboard as Mulch

You can lay down cardboard over the area where the seeds are after you water. Wet the cardboard before laying it down. This will keep the moisture in the soil. As soon as the seeds sprout, remove the cardboard so the sprouts can get sunlight.

Cardboard is great for moisture retention and keeping soil from getting hot from the sunlight. When soil heats up, it dries out.