I love having raised beds. Our soil here is horrible, and this has been a nice way to get started in our garden without having to wait a couple of years for the ground to be worked and amended. The only downside to raised beds is that it can get expensive if you aren’t careful. We were fortunate to have scrap lumber to build the boxes out of, but then we faced the question…
What do we fill the boxes with?
Last year, we did the cheapest thing we could. We filled some boxes with barn littler that we were able to get for free from a nearby stable. The stable owners were more than happy to use their tractor to scoop the manure/hay mixture into our truckbed to clean out their stalls. There was some fresh manure in the mix, but most of it was nicely aged and composted. We actually planted directly into it; the cucumbers especially loved it!
We also filled some of the boxes using the lasagna method. In the bottom of the box we laid a couple of layers of cardboard and soaked them really well. Then we covered that with dried leaves or grass clippings, barn litter, newspaper, more dried leaves or grass clippings, more barn litter, etc. until the bed was full, topping it off with a layer of more aged manure/compost.
The lasagna method worked well, but once it broke down and compacted the raised beds needed to be filled up more with additional layers, which was hard to do once the plants were established.
We also got turned on to a local guy who sells “compost” by the truckload. We bought some of his stuff and planted in that as well. I was kinda disappointed with it though, as it seemed to be more like mulch than good planting compost.
This year we found a local mill that sells “soil conditioner” by the tractor scoop. The guy behind the counter didn’t know much about it, unfortunately. It looked good, a lot like the stable litter we used last year but more compost-y, so we got a truck load. It cost $40 for two scoops, which was all we could carry.
I’ve topped off the beds with this stuff, and have already planted a few things in it. Everything is doing well, so far, and I plan on buying another truck load soon for more raised beds.
If you are interested in raised beds, you can also use the Square Foot Gardening method and follow “Mel’s Mix” to fill the boxes. Personally, although his mix is probably the best, I found that method to be too expensive. It requires many bags of vermiculite, peat moss, compost, etc, all of which comes in bags at the lawn and garden center. It would take a TON of these bags to fill several good sized boxes. I like buying by the tractor scoop instead.
I’m sure there are other ways to fill a raised bed. Starting your own compost pile will definitely help! I’d love to know how some of you fill your garden boxes, and what you’ve found to work best!