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.