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Think Soil

  • Have on hand all the ingredients for your soil mix before you start filling the beds, and pre-mix as much as possible, on a large tarp if necessary, to avoid pockets of clay or fertilizer or any other material.
  • If you're not sure about the quality of your starter soil, or if you know that it contains more sand or clay than is optimal, add extra organic matter in the form of peat moss.
  • Compost  will always improve soil, no matter how good it is to start with. You can also add slow-release such as blood meal for nitrogen, bone meal for phosphorus, and greensand for potassium.
  • Put about a shovel's depth of new soil into the planter, and mix it with the loosened soil below. This may seem pointless with a deep planter in which roots are unlikely to reach the original ground-level, but it will encourage the activity of earthworms and micro-organisms on which soil health (and therefore plant health) depends.
  • When you build your raised beds, build them so that you're able to reach every part of the bed without having to stand in it - no walking on the soil.
  • Gardening in a raised bed is like gardening in a large container and the soil will settle and become depleted over time. Mitigate by adding a one to two inch layer of compost or composted manure each spring.
  • The addition of organic matter will improve the physical and chemical makeup of the native soil. Add peat moss, compost and decomposed manures.
  • To lighten compacted soil stick a garden fork as deeply into the soil as possible and move it back and forth. Do so at eight to twelve inch intervals and the soil will be nicely loosened.
  • Avoid hauling in new layers of soil without mixing them into existing soil. Distinct layers of soil create barriers through which water will not readily penetrate and roots will not easily grow.
  • One quarter of the soil mixture should be garden soil such as Black Kow's Topsoil. Quality garden soil supplies basic nutrients and a coarse particle size to help with drainage.
  • Composted organic material such as McGills SoilBuilder Compost should be a quarter of the soil mixture. Use a blend of composted manure such as Black Kow Manure, composted wood products and humus from composted leaves and vegetation. Compost provides soil carbon and nitrogen required by the plants.
  • Add peat moss as an aid in water retention and root growth. Use peat moss as a quarter of your soil mixture. Peat moss is important because the soil dries out more quickly above ground than it does underground.
  • Coarse, agricultural-grade vermiculite or perlite is the final quarter of your soil mixture. Vermiculite aids water retention and its larger particle size aids drainage.
  • Compost is the best amendment you can give your soil. Compost adds the organic nutrients that change "dirt" into ˜soil' for good gardening results.
  • The excellent soil in most raised beds makes intensive planting possible but the soil will need rejuvenating over time. Dig slow-release organic fertilizer like Earthworks 3-4-3 into the top few inches of soil when you pull one crop and prepare to plant the next one.
  • Use a foliar fertilizer to help ensure that your plants get the nutrients they need without depleting the soil.
  • Spread a couple of inches of compost on top of the bed each spring and each fall, to renew the supply of organic matter in the soil.

Feeding

  • Remember the Golden Rule of Lawn Care - have an informed base of knowledge and apply nutrients based on the result of a soil test.
  • The numbers on the bag are Important
    • Noticed numbers on the label that looks something like this: 32-0-7 or 14-20-14.
    • These numbers tell about the lawn food you're about to buy.
    • The numbers are always in the same order and left to right stand for Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium (N-P-K).
    • Tell the percentage of each ingredient in the product by weight. Purchase a 50 lb. bag of 32-0-7 fertilizer you take 32% of 50 lbs. equating to 16 pounds of nitrogen.
    • Each of the bag's contents has a role - Introducing N, P, and K
    • In a nutshell, nitrogen greens up the plant and helps it grow. Phosphorous stimulates root growth and helps seeds sprout.
    • Potassium helps the plants withstand stresses like disease and drought.
  • Not all "N's" are the same 
    • Where it comes from and how it gets on into the soil make a difference in the results. That difference is all about how the fertilizer is distributed and how quickly it's released.
    • Bargain and low-cost lawn foods contain mostly fast-release nitrogen.
    • Fast release = green up for about 7-14 days and then the green fades away.
    • Important - Purchase fertilizers offering a mix of fast and slow-release nitrogen such as DIY 10-20-10 Time Release with Natural Base.
  • The soil will need to be revitalized regularly.
    • Gardens do well in the first year without additional soil inputs.
    • After a season or two of nutrients available in the original soil will have been taken up by the planted crops.
    • After one or two crops have been grown in a garden bed plant a "green manure" cover crop. . Once the green manure crop is mature, it is chopped up and dug lightly into the soil, and this replenishes the soil with fresh organic matter.
  • Leguminous green manure crops also fix nitrogen as a fertilizer for subsequent crops.
  • Annual cover crops, such as annual rye grass, crimson clover, and hairy vetch planted at the end of the growing season, will provide many benefits to your raised bed garden. They provide nutrients to the soil (especially if you dig them into the bed in spring.
  • The roots of the green manure also break up the soil and pull up deeper nutrients making them available for future crops.
  • Organic fertilizers such as Earthworks 3-4-3 and manure from Black Kow should be used.
  • Crops with adequate phosphorus show steady, vigorous growth and earlier maturity.
  • Phosphate is essential for growth, and is commonly overlooked by gardeners. Rock Phosphate also supplies minor elements such as boron, zinc, nickel and iodine which plants need in small amounts for optimum growth.

Watering

  • Best ways to irrigate a raised bed are by soaker hose and drip irrigation.
  • If possible at all possible install the irrigation system before planting. A great deal of time and work can be saved standing around watering with a hose.
  • Use a soaker hose or similar system rather than sprinklers. Drip systems put water where it's needed, near the roots, which reduces loss through evaporation.
  • Good watering practices are vital. These include watering only in early morning or evening, only when plants really need it, and always to a depth of six to ten inches.
  • Deep, infrequent watering helps plants develop deep, complex root systems, which in turn lowers water use.
  • In order for those deep roots to develop, the soil must hold water well. A soil mix high in organic matter will retain water for several days to a week, allowing plants to draw moisture and nutrients from deep in the bed.
  • Conventional sprinklers use water inefficiently because much falls on paths and more evaporates, both in the air as it travels towards its destination, and then from leaves once it arrives. Sprinklers simply don't work in gardens with high raised beds, since the walls of the beds block the water.

Planting

  • Lay out the beds so they are horizontally facing south. Doing so assures equal light exposure to all the plants growing in the bed.
  • If your bed is aligned facing south you may have planting limitations because taller plants in front can block the sunlight to small plants in back.
  • Mulch after planting with straw, grass clippings, leaves, or wood chips after planting your garden. This will reduce the amount of weeding you'll have to do and keep the soil moist.
  • Install a barrier at the bottom of the bed to prevent tree roots and weeds from growing into the raised bed area. Use a commercial weed barrier, a piece of old carpet or a thick piece of corrugated cardboard.
  • Buying topsoil is no guarantee that it will contain organic matter. Understand the difference between dirt, garden quality soil and plant mix. Dirt, is a growing medium but lacking organic matter. Assume the soil will have to be˜fed' to get it up to gardening standards.
  • Given the tight planting found in most raised beds, it can be difficult to spray a nitrogen-rich fertilizer on some plants without getting it on others nearby. The same is true of topdressing or side dressing, so group plants that have similar needs (water, nutrients, sunlight) together for ease of garden care.
  • Put plants that need less care near the middle of the bed, saving the easy-to-reach edge for those that require more fussing. In general, plant taller plants on the north side of the bed and smaller ones towards the south, so that all get adequate sunlight. However, if the bed can only be accessed from one side, put the taller plants toward the back and shorter ones toward the front.
  • Succession planting, which involves planting more than one crop in a season, will let you raise more vegetables in the small area afforded by a raised bed. For instance cold-weather crops such as lettuce or spinach can be planted and harvested before planting melons or tomatoes.

Benefits

  • Increased Yield
    • A raised bed warms up more quickly than does the surrounding soil in spring, so it's possible to plant in them earlier than in a flat bed.
    • The light soil improves the movement of both water and air, and roots can spread out in search of nutrients more easily than in compacted dirt.
    • It is possible to plant a raised bed more densely than in a traditional garden, which translates into higher yields.
    • Yields increase also because more of the garden can be planted than in conventional gardens. A traditional garden laid out in narrow rows devotes over half its space to paths. As a result, more of the garden can actually be used to grow things, rather than to walk around them.
  • Simplified Weed & Pest Control
    • The dense planting in a raised garden makes weeding difficult, so it's a good thing that it also crowds weeds out.
    • The walls of most raised beds create at least a partial block to many blowing seeds and to most rhizomous plants.
    • Where aggressive weeds are a problem, raised beds can be established on top of a layer of weed cloth blocking roots out completely.
    • Other pests can also be more easily controlled in a raised bed. Rodents can often be blocked-out below with metal screens, and birds from above with netting or row covering.
    • Snails and slugs can't easily find their way into raised beds, and are more easily located and disposed of.