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BrianSkilton
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Compost for garden? Raised Beds Advice...

I know this has been talked to death but I want people's opinions. The time is fast approaching; its almost time for me to start the garden. I'm doing raised beds this year, so I need some advice on soil. I hate to admit it but I never fuss to much about compost. What do you guys buy? Recommend? The beds will be 10 x 10 each roughly how much soil/compost am I going to need? Also what type of crap do most people add to their gardens? I don't want to spend a fortune since the raised beds will cost me quite a bit to make. Any advice would be great...
Last edited by BrianSkilton on Wed Apr 22, 2009 9:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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new raised bed, anything green or brown on the bottom will do..it will decompose over time and add to the depth of your compost in future years. most any dirt on top will do, 2-6 inches on top of a compost/compostable material.
But, get to it, it is time.

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rainbowgardener
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raised beds

you are making 10 x 10 raised beds? how ever are you going to get to the stuff in the middle? Part of the point of a raised bed is you never walk on the soil so it never gets compacted. Most people don't make them any wider than 4' (by as long as you want) so that from one side or the other you can reach everything from outside the bed.

cynthia_h
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To figure out the cubic feet of soil/compost needed, please provide the depth of the bed(s) as well as the length and width.

And, yes, how will you work the plants in the middle of a 10x10 bed? Trampling/compacting the soil is exactly what raised beds are usually designed to *avoid.*

:?:

Cynthia H.
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I made the mistake of making a 10; wide raised bed....ended up digging all the soil in a 1' wide trench through the middle and building up the two sides.

Wet newspaper and straw went down for my path.

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BrianSkilton
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Yeah you guys are 100 percent right, that does seem ridiculous now. Our dirt has so much clay in it I figured I would need raised beds for better drainage. I have gardened on clay and made it waay better as far as drained goes, but still I like raised beds. Here is the question I should have asked. I have roughly a 20 x 20 area in which I may need to expand (I have an acre so thats not a problem...just a lot of trees. How should I break it up into raised beds? What would be the best solution? I'll scratch something out...
Why buy produce when you can grow it?
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rainbowgardener
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planning garden

Your 20 x 20 space would fit eight 4x8' raised beds with paths around and between them, which would be for many of us a ton of garden space. I agree that for clay (which is what I have also) raised beds are definitely the way to go. You can build your boxes, then dig out the paths between them a few inches and throw that into the boxes (put down some gravel first for drainage). Stripping the topsoil off the paths helps slow down the weeds there, and then you can lay down carpet strips, burlap, wood chips or whatever to keep your paths from being too muddy. Then you can fill the beds with topsoil (I had some trucked in, since my property only has clay and rock), compost, manure, old leaves, whatever you have and "stir" it all together. Big project. At the last place I lived where I had a space like that, I built the beds 2 or 3 a year for a few years.

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BrianSkilton
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Thanks rainbowgardener for the advice. Really I am struggling with how I'm going to do this. First of all I'm not sure how far down or what depth I should have. Also where do you buy your untreated wood? 4 x 8 would probably work out nice or four 4 x 20's with 2 ft paths in between.
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Untreated wood is not so much an issue; the new salt treated lumber supposedly does not leach (much) and won't hurt people or plants...

And Brian, we don't like to use "crap" in our gardens as that is dangerous, we like to use composted manures and compost...

HG
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applestar
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Are you sure you want to put down gravel? My last spring's raised beds -- 2 cedar 2x4's stacked -- unfinished compost, cardboard and straw flakes directly on lush lawn plus mixture of bagged topsoil, mushroom compost and bagged compost called Bumper Crop -- topped with additional home made compost thru the season and fall.... THIS spring, I could stab my gardening fork all the way in -- and std. gardening fork tines are about 10~11" long -- without stepping on it. My subsoil under 1" of sod and 1" of topsoil is -- or should I say WAS -- pure clay. If you put gravel down, you won't be able to use the naturally improving soil underneath.

I admit my raised beds are on a slope (about 5º) so I didn't have to worry about drainage -- I figured moisture will just wash right down.

This year, I've added another step -- fracture the soil with gardening fork BEFORE piling everything on top.

I used 12' and 8' lowest grade cedar 2x4's from Home Depot. They'll cut them up for you in any length you need as long as all you need are straight cuts. I went with it because I'm not handy and I wasn't about to try any fancy angled cuts to make everything plumb and level -- and it worked out because now my boxes lay at the angle of the slope facing SW. :wink:
Someone in last year's thread said he uses regular (fir? pine?) 2x4's and just replace them every 4 or 5 yrs or so.

FWIW and FYI -- my beds are in 14'x10' area against a fence corner -- 2'x10' + 2' path + 4'x10' + 2' path + 4'x10' (plus another 2' walk area on the other side so technically 16'x10' I guess) I wish I'd laid things out a bit differently now though, so I don't have to walk around the middle bed. I've compensated by laying a 4' 2x6 board in the middle bed so I can short-cut across sometimes. I'm thinking of using that for my summer sprouting area later on (a trick I read somewhere to sprout fall crop seeds under a board in the heat of the summer) :D

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BrianSkilton
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Hey applestar how much did the 12' and 8' boards cost you? How would you go about stacking them? Thanks for all that info by the way.
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applestar
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Okay, easiest way to find out is to call your local stores and ask. I called HD, Lowes, and 3 local lumber yards (independent lumber yards had 2 grade selections that were higher than ones available at the big box stores BTW).

As for how much mine cost -- it was a Mother's Day present from my DH :cool: (I had to build the beds myself though :roll:) so I honestly don't know. I only built the 2'x10' and 4'x10' beds last year (the 4'x10' is actually 2 2x4 high 4'x6' and 4 2x4 high 4'x4'). I used the raised bed corners from Gardener's Supply which allowed me to offset and stack even the 4-high bed along the slope. (Actually, I CHOSE the 2x4's over 2x6 or 2x8 for that reason as well, although 2x4s are least expensive anyway)

I started the last 4x10 bed (my Veg Garden Extension) last fall with my own compost and other available materials -- NOT using lumber or corners. The bed is edged with stacked branches/mounded straw on the path side and other sides are made of cut up upper trunk/thick branches from a tree that a neighbor cut down last summer (a Bradford pear, double-trunk split and fell on HIS neighbor's front yard in a windstorm -- luckily didn't hit anything) It would all look tidy and neat if they were all made the same way and maybe someday I'll do that, but I'm just as happy the way it is. :wink:

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I can't address the cost issue; most of my lumber (for the 4' x 4' beds) and all of the concrete blocks (for the 4' x 6' bed) came via Freecycle.

Be sure, as DH found, to use wider screws than you would think necessary at the joins. We have to rebuild one of the boxes, because the screws--all six of them--pulled free due to a narrower gauge than optimal. Each of them was approx. 2.5 inches long.

The lumber was 2 x 6 or 2 x 8 or 2 x 12 or 2 x 10; I just made sure to match the depths in each set of four boards.

The most successful beds were at least 10 inches deep, but this includes an inch or two of native soil underneath the level of the bed.

So I'd say anywhere from 10 inches up, depending on what you can afford to put in this year. Purchasing materials can be very pricey; if you have your own compost, you're golden! :)

Cynthia H.
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BrianSkilton
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Thanks all, for posting, I really appreciate it. I have never built a raised bed...obviously lol, and I thank you guys for the help. 10" depth does sound about perfect Cynthia, but I found some fairly cheap boards at Lowes that were 8 inches in depth, I guess I could use one inch of native soil? I was thinking I would build 2 or 3 16X4 raised beds using 2"X8"X16' whitewood boards and 2"x8"X8' (cut them in half) whitewood boards. Would 8" in depth be enough for a vegetable garden? Overall, this would cost me about $45 for 2 raised beds, and $71 for 3 raised beds.....if I decide I want 3. I don't think that is too bad, but I could have calculated something wrong. I am just worried that 8" in depth wouldn't be enough... I also found someone on craigslist that is giving away free top soil...I will have to check that out.
Why buy produce when you can grow it?
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8" *might* do it. What happened to us was: we believed 100% what Mel B. said about 6" being his "new, revised" depth for Square Foot Gardens in our first frame--the 4' x 6' cinder block bed, one cinder block high and no digging in the native soil. The original depth of soil was approx. 6".

The lettuce and zucchini loved 6"; the peppers and eggplant did not. The Roma tomatoes did OK but matured very late (October through Thanksgiving; we harvested our very last tomato on December 19), and the roots were much more congested than I would have liked. The tomato roots did *not* penetrate the several layers of newspaper I had put down as a weed preventive, so they had little space to stretch out.

OTOH, the bed we put in on Labor Day was 2x10's, and we packed that puppy with the usual Mel's stuff. Wow! Rapini, mache, spinach, chicory, broccoli romanesco (the only one I've ever succeeded with), komatsuna (which I'm beginning to think will grow even where chard won't), and kale just took off!

So we're adding a row of cinder blocks to Bed #1 to give the veggies a better chance.

The "other beds" were originally our potato box last year, the high-rise type. We're so far behind this year that our potatoes aren't in (and, at this rate, may not be...). But the three decks of the potato box are in use right now as independent 4 x 4 beds. Each of them is at least 8" deep, and all have been successful.

"Topsoil"--yeah, definitely check it out before arranging anything. Sometimes "topsoil" is really "fill dirt" with no nutritive value at all for plants, whether perennials or edibles.

Cynthia

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BrianSkilton
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Where I am going to place this is right on top of the 20 x 20 area of dirt I have already out there from past gardens (goes about 15-18 inches down before it hits clay). Wouldn't the roots penetrate into that dirt if they needed to go any further, I know its not ideal. Should I till the dirt I have there then place the raised beds over top? The dirt isn't bad, a lot of nutrients have been put from past years. Thanks for the quick reply by the way :D.
Why buy produce when you can grow it?
-Nick

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rainbowgardener
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raised beds

sorry about the gravel... I had to have it because most of my raised beds are sitting on my concrete patio, which was the main flat sunny area I had. If you have the luxury of gardening on actual dirt it's different :) My boxes are built of stacked 4X4 fence posts. They are pretty cheap and last forever. I found that the boxes I built from boards in the past tended to fall apart after a few seasons. These are still going strong eight yrs later. Stack them up into box shape (mine are 4 high so 16" -- again gardening on concrete the boxes need to be tall), get a long drill bit, drill through the stack and pound rebar into the hole. They are VERY solid. Then I stained and varnished them. They are very nice looking, you can sit on the edge. I like them. Some day I'll get it together to post pics.

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BrianSkilton
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Yeah, I would love to see some pictures! I'll keep you informed how the whole raised bed thing works out. I'll post some pictures...
Why buy produce when you can grow it?
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And if you have a chance to build a compost pile it works perfectly for planting your squash into. Our compost piles are always a wonder of green and beautiful squash ......saves space in the gardens and we have squash to last the winter most years.

I make a compost pile in the late fall, in the spring I use all the compost we've been collecting all winter and turn the two piles together.......in a day or two I add the squash plants and the heating of the pile really moves them along. It's perfect!



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