suendavid
Newly Registered
Posts: 5
Joined: Thu Jul 08, 2010 8:32 pm
Location: So Cal

Recommendations on what to fill new beds with?

Hi all,
Okay, how's this for basic---I've been vegetable gardening in a very casual way in containers the past few years. My husband finally gave in and said he couldn't stand the look of all my plastic buckets and tubs and built me three great big raised beds to potter around in--each of them 4' x 16' by 24" deep. They sit on some pretty hard granite-based soil typical of So Cal (which is why I used containers before, you could kill yourself chipping away at this bedrock).

So far, the beds are empty---no soil, no nothin' except for the irrigation pipes and a few vaguely puzzled chickens. I can place an order with SoilDirect or something similar for whatever I need to fill up the beds and get started---but what should I start with? My choices appear to be 70/30, 50/50 or 30/70 soil/compost. I have both horses and chickens on my property, so an ongoing supply of compost won't be a problem, but I don't have nearly enough ready to go right now to fill the beds. I'm assuming straight compost isn't the right thing---I previously tried filling some of my containers with straight compost (well-rotted, lovely stuff courtesy of the horses) and while some plants did okay, it seems it was just too much of a good thing for others.

Any and all suggestions would be greatly appreciated! :D BTW, I'm brand spankin' new to the forum, so if there's an area Basic Answers for Gardening Imbeciles, point me to it---I'm not adverse to topics like "how to recognize a tomato" or "insider tips for turning on the water hose". Thanks!

Susan

DoubleDogFarm
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 6113
Joined: Sun Mar 28, 2010 11:43 pm

Susan,

Welcome and you are pretty funny. :lol: On the the hose bib, lefty loosey, righty tighty. Unless it's a yard hydrant, up on - down off. Repeat after me. :>
I like the 70 soil- 30 compost mix. You can always add more of your own later. I'm using 50 - 50 sand compost in my greenhouse.

User avatar
applestar
Mod
Posts: 28242
Joined: Thu May 01, 2008 7:21 pm
Location: Zone 6, NJ (3/M)4/E ~ 10/M

I second 70/30 soil/compost. I might put some sand in there too since you're talking 24" -- so at least 18~20" depth -- unless the soil in the mix already has some sand. (Around here, with clay soil being rampant, that's how I think, but it may be different for your region) Are you going to have fun or what!? :D:D. You may have to restrain yourself, or you'll have more veggies than you'll know what todo with come harvest time :wink:

garden5
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 3062
Joined: Fri Aug 07, 2009 5:40 pm
Location: ohio

I like 70/30 as well. While compost is a wonderful thing, it's not complete. Plants still need soil, it gives plants things compost can't. However, compost-enhanced soil....now that's gardener's gold :wink:.
There's something new growing in the Helpful Gardener Forum! Become a part of it here!

suendavid
Newly Registered
Posts: 5
Joined: Thu Jul 08, 2010 8:32 pm
Location: So Cal

Thanks for the advice, I very much appareciate it. When browsing through the 'products' available for the Dirt People, they recommended the 70% compost mix for veggies and flowers, and the 30% compost for sod. Any thoughts why?

Other than maybe mixing in a little sand, anything else I should throw into the beds as we're filling them? A bottom layer of gravel to help with drainage? Earthworms? Jimmy Hoffa? Maybe the barking dog from next door? :twisted: Hopefully, no one is going to suggest perlite, as that much perlite is going to require a second mortgage on the house, or maybe selling a kidney on eBay.

I can't tell you how much fun I'm having just sitting and gazing at the beds with a dopey smile on my face. My husband has pointed out if any of my clients see me with that expression on my face looking like an amiable congenital idiot, they'll snatch up their pets and run screaming to get their veterinary services elsewhere, in which case we'll be relying on the hens and the veggie beds to provide whatever food the soup kitchen doesn't.

Thanks again, your help is greatly appreciated and thanks also for the righty-tighty-left-loosey thing. I'll probably be wandering around murmuring that to myself all day, which is going to do absolutely nothing to bolster the staff's confidence level in their employer. :wink:

Susan

User avatar
engineeredgarden
Green Thumb
Posts: 426
Joined: Thu May 13, 2010 11:51 am
Location: NW Alabama

I have a raised bed that is 4' x 25' x 14" deep, and it was filled with 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 composted manure. Surprisingly, the composted manure is the key factor in my gardening success - and it's because the base ingredient of the storebought stuff is pine products (bark, pieces of wood, etc.). It contributes to the wonderful drainage characteristics it possesses, and I couldn't even fathom that better results would come from anything else. Just my input/opinion..

EG

tedln
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 2179
Joined: Thu Jun 25, 2009 6:06 pm
Location: North Texas

Susan,

I've grown in raised beds for many years. I grew in containers before that. I've always used a 50/50 mix when possible. My reasoning has been the fact that not all top soil is the same and not all compost is equal. I built two new beds this year and just finished filling them with the 50/50 mix. My topsoil was very rich clay soil with very little sand in it. I mixed about 100 lbs of sand into each of the 3' X 8' beds by adding some sand to each wheel barrow load of mixed topsoil and compost. Most commercial compost hasn't really been subjected to a real composting process. It hasn't had enough time to decay into compost. By using a 50% mix, I am simply making sure I get enough organics into the soil. I started each bed with a bottom layer of compost because it seems to hold moisture better. If your beds are 24" deep, and you fill them; they will probably only be 20" deep after the first gardening season. I keep replenishing my beds by adding compost and working it in. Many people add garden lime, phosphate or super phosphate, or sulphur to their soils. It really depends on the needs of the soil and what you plan on growing. Since the components won't be properly mixed for about a year, it doesn't make much sense to me to perform a soil analysis until the second year. I wouldn't add much stuff to it the first year because you can always add it later. If you add it and don't need it, it's kinda hard to take it back out. Give it a year and then decide what it needs.

Thats how I do it, but everyone does it different.

Good Luck

Ted
I simply enjoy gardening!

tedln
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 2179
Joined: Thu Jun 25, 2009 6:06 pm
Location: North Texas

tedln wrote:Susan,

I've grown in raised beds for many years. I grew in containers before that. I've always used a 50/50 mix when possible. My reasoning has been the fact that not all top soil is the same and not all compost is equal. I built two new beds this year and just finished filling them with the 50/50 mix. My topsoil was very rich clay soil with very little sand in it. I mixed about 100 lbs of sand into each of the 3' X 8' beds by adding some sand to each wheel barrow load of mixed topsoil and compost. Most commercial compost hasn't really been subjected to a real composting process. It hasn't had enough time to decay into compost. By using a 50% mix, I am simply making sure I get enough organics into the soil. I started each bed with a bottom layer of compost because it seems to hold moisture better. If your beds are 24" deep, and you fill them; they will probably only be 20" deep after the first gardening season. I keep replenishing my beds by adding compost and working it in. Many people add garden lime, phosphate or super phosphate, or sulphur to their soils. It really depends on the needs of the soil and what you plan on growing. Since the components won't be properly mixed for about a year, it doesn't make much sense to me to perform a soil analysis until the second year. I wouldn't add much stuff to it the first year because you can always add it later. If you add it and don't need it, it's kinda hard to take it back out. Give it a year and then decide what it needs. It may not be scientific, but I believe the compost makes the soil slightly acidic which causes many minerals like calcium to leach from the sand I mix in.

Thats how I do it, but everyone does it different.

Good Luck

Ted
I simply enjoy gardening!

suendavid
Newly Registered
Posts: 5
Joined: Thu Jul 08, 2010 8:32 pm
Location: So Cal

Thanks very much, Ted. During lunch today, I went and asked the local Gardening Yoda where he would suggest obtaining a good mix and he gave me the number of the supplier he uses himself. I asked about percentages and he smiled and said to just tell him what you're using it for and let him tell you. Hmmmmm, ooooookay. BTW, for those in So Cal, this is Wolfinberger in Chino. I told the supplier what I wanted and he said the current mix he had was around 50/50, or maybe 60/40ish just for the reasons you cited, Ted---he said if the compost is really rich and well broken down, he'll go with more soil and less compost, but what he had in this batch wasn't as rich, so he added a little more compost. He was also very familiar with where I live and the type of soil and suggested I put down just a few inches of 3/4" gravel as a bottom layer to make sure it drains okay. He thought it was probably optional if depth was a limiting factor, but the beds are about 24" deep, so I had a little room to play with. Sounded good to me, especially since it would be pretty darn difficult to add gravel later if it turns out I did have a drainage problem after putting in the soil. Anyway, he even had a better price than SoilDirect did, and so is delivering 16 cubic yards bright and early tomorrow morning. I'm a happy camper and looking forward to trundling dirt into the beds. My husband not so much, but he'll get over it. :P

Thanks again for all the suggestions!
Susan
Susan

kgall
Senior Member
Posts: 220
Joined: Fri Aug 07, 2009 4:37 pm
Location: New Hampshire

I have 4 barking dogs across the street if you have room! :lol:
I know the dopey look you are talking about! The anticipation and planning are almost as fun as actually getting started! So what are you planting in these beds?

DoubleDogFarm
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 6113
Joined: Sun Mar 28, 2010 11:43 pm

He was also very familiar with where I live and the type of soil and suggested I put down just a few inches of 3/4" gravel as a bottom layer to make sure it drains okay
You really should research this idea. Gravel, broken pottery, packing popcorn, etc... have been proven a bad idea in the bottom of containers. It's better to improve the drainage of the soil.

Eric

User avatar
applestar
Mod
Posts: 28242
Joined: Thu May 01, 2008 7:21 pm
Location: Zone 6, NJ (3/M)4/E ~ 10/M

I agree with DoubleDog. 24" raised bed is on the deep side (there ARE some negatives associated with that like dries out more, especially the upper soil layers), but the plants actually grow many FEET of roots. A layer of gravel would effectively create a barrier and won't allow the roots to penetrate into the soil underneath. Also, it will create a barrier AGAINST soil organisms and microbes. As bad as you may think the soil is, allowing the soil biology to "do their thing" and the roots access to it will actually improve the tilth, condition, and fertility of the subsoil and improve the health of your plants in the long run.

Rather than putting down the gravel barrier, I recommend fork fracturing the soil beneath to allow the compost microbes to wash into the underlying soil, inoculating it and starting the whole living cycle.

User avatar
jal_ut
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 7453
Joined: Sun Jan 18, 2009 10:20 pm
Location: Northern Utah Zone 5

Quote:
He was also very familiar with where I live and the type of soil and suggested I put down just a few inches of 3/4" gravel as a bottom layer to make sure it drains okay


You really should research this idea. Gravel, broken pottery, packing popcorn, etc... have been proven a bad idea in the bottom of containers. It's better to improve the drainage of the soil.
What he said. Last time I tried that, I ended up with an ant bed. A raised bed will drain.
Gardening at 5000 feet elevation, zone 4/5 Northern Utah, Frost free from May 25 to September 8 +/-

tedln
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 2179
Joined: Thu Jun 25, 2009 6:06 pm
Location: North Texas

I agree on not using the gravel layer, but for reasons different from others. I have more problems with not retaining water in raised beds than retaining it. It drains out pretty fast if the bottom isn't sealed and sealing the bottom of a raised bed isn't a good idea. Thats why I start with a layer of compost to retain moisture like a sponge.

DoubleDog is right about the gardening consensus being against gravel or other medium in containers to expedite drainage, but If I was still growing in containers, I would use gravel with some modifications to prevent the soil from penetrating the gravel layer.

If you do use gravel in the bottom layer of the beds, it shouldn't really harm anything because the soil will penetrate the gravel and you will eventually have a bottom layer of soil with a lot of gravel in it. The gravel could harm the growth of some root crops like carrots if they reach the gravel. I can't really believe you will be growing carrots 24" or 20" long though.

As applestar said, it is good to break up the soil under the beds in order for the two soils to kinda become one. I always think of a raised bed as an extension of the soil beneath it. I guess you could compare a raised bed to the mounds of soil people build in their garden to plant cucumbers and melons in. A raised bed is simply a mound of soil with a wall around it.

Ted
I simply enjoy gardening!

User avatar
lorax
Greener Thumb
Posts: 1316
Joined: Mon Jul 12, 2010 5:48 pm
Location: Ecuador, USDA Zone 13, at 10,000' of altitude

OK, now that you have an idea of soil proportions, what are you going to plant?!?!? :D

Personally, I'm a big fan of mixing it up - you've got three big beds, which is tons of space, and at 24" of depth you can grow just about anything; I'd be really tempted to do a bed of determinate (bush) tomatoes spaced together with root veggies like carrots, beets, and radishes, since tomatoes love anything that helps the water get closer to their roots. I've also noticed that planting this way helps keep the worst of the bugs and other tomato-munching nasties away. And of course, marigold borders help too....

I'd also be really really really tempted to put bananas in one of the beds along with any kind of viny legume (peas, pole beans, etc. etc. the list goes on!) However, I'm banana crazy, and they're definitely not pets for everyone. You do have the zone for it, though.... :shock:

Just some thoughts.... :D

tedln
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 2179
Joined: Thu Jun 25, 2009 6:06 pm
Location: North Texas

I used to grow bananas on the Gulf coast of Louisiana. They made beautiful plants, but I was never able to actually grow a harvestable banana.

I know a banana grower in Southern California who had great success growing many varieties for retail sales.

Ted
I simply enjoy gardening!

User avatar
lorax
Greener Thumb
Posts: 1316
Joined: Mon Jul 12, 2010 5:48 pm
Location: Ecuador, USDA Zone 13, at 10,000' of altitude

I'm surprised - they should have loved the hot, humid Louisiana weather... Hmmm.

However, you're spot-on about SoCal being perfect for bananas. I've got several friends up there who produce beautiful edibles from a wide range of cultivars.

DoubleDogFarm
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 6113
Joined: Sun Mar 28, 2010 11:43 pm

No Shards In Container Bottom


The practice of placing gravel, pot shards or some other material in the bottom of
the container is commonly recommended to improve drainage; in fact, it has the
opposite effect.

Be your plant an African violet, a geranium or a zinnia, whether its container is
indoors or out, under most circumstances its roots will be less healthy and therefore its
top portion less vigorous if its roots are subjected to poor drainage conditions when
grown in a container.

One of the major differences between growing a plant in a container and growing
it directly in the soil outdoors is the way in which water drains through the growing
medium. Outdoors in the garden the soil provides a continuous column of growing
medium that keeps water draining downward away from a plant’s root zone. In a
container, however, the growing medium forms a very limited column; when water gets
to the bottom of the pot it is stopped.

When gravel or pot shards or other coarse materials are put in the bottom of a
container they in effect raise the level at which water drainage stops. They make the
discontinuous column even shorter and decrease rather than increase container
drainage. This negative effect can be either made worse, or lessened, by the type of
growing medium used and by the depth of the container.

Here is the web site. https://yardener.com/YardenersPlantHelper/YardCareTechniques/GrowingPlantsInContainers/NoShardsInContainerBottom

suendavid
Newly Registered
Posts: 5
Joined: Thu Jul 08, 2010 8:32 pm
Location: So Cal

Thanks for all the comments on the gravel layer, sounds reasonable to me, so I'll skip putting it in---there's a drainage ditch-ey sort of area where it can go just as well if not better. I'll see if I can loosen things up in the beds a bit with a fork before putting in the soil, though I suspect explosives might be called for. Might come in handy having a husband in the military.

The soil mix is just lovely. My husband says he gets worried about a wife that doesn't get overly excited about jewelry or clothing (other than riding boots), but repeatedly goes outside to chortle over a really big pile of dirt. :lol:

As for what to put in <insert blissful smile here>. In between pattering outside to gaze at dirt, I've been looking through all my veggie books and of course, wanting to plant EVERYTHING. Part of the issue is that I'm a bit late for a lot of the long-season warm-weather crops (I know, you folks in the north are just laughing your ass off at me right now), but still a bit early for the cool weather crops, though I can get some of those seeds started inside. It can stay hot here into September and still pretty warm well in October (and frost dates apply here about once every three years). I'm going to be out-of-town for almost three weeks in late October, so don't want to plant anything that will be ripening all at once when I'm not here.

So, just to get something in (because I won't be able to sleep until I do and David says I make him nervous walking around carrying a shovel all the time), here's my immediate plan. I have a few determinate tomato plants that are all either cherry-tomato or other small to medium size fruiting varieties, so hopefully I can get some tomatoes before it starts to get cool---the nursery guy made me a nice deal on some well-grown one gallon plants. It can get pretty blazin' hot here in August, so I actually tend to get better fruit set into September anyway. Same for a few pepper plants and a cuke. I don't know if I'll get much from them, but I should with just a little luck. I have some pole beans that I can put in, as those always seem to start producing incredibly quickly and usually keep going through most of the winter here, anyway.

Long term....open to suggestions. I was thinking about using one 'extra' little bed that's 5' x 5' and maybe putting in a permanant bed of asparagus? Or artichokes as a perennial?

As for bananas <chortle>, I already have them---or at least, my neighbor does, he never trims his trees and darned if those things don't just sag right over his fence into mine. I kept my grubby little paws to myself and just watched them rot the first three years---now, it just seemed a neighborly thing to do to trim back his trees for him, including the bananas. :D

Is it too hot to put in the asparagus crowns now as soon as the bed is ready? Should I wait?

Thanks for all the help!
Susan
Susan

tedln
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 2179
Joined: Thu Jun 25, 2009 6:06 pm
Location: North Texas

DoubleDog, I agree with you and the link you provided about not using gravel in the bottom of containers to improve drainage. I used it to form a water reservoir in the bottom of my containers. I always grew in fifteen gallon containers which sat in trays with lips about three inches above ground level. I put three inches of gravel or rock in the bottom of the pots with a depression in the middle which extended to the bottom of the pot. Over the rock or gravel I placed black gardening fabric, tucking it in tightly between the gravel and pot around the edge. I then filled the pot with my container soil mix starting by filling the depression in the middle.

I had to use this method because I always used some natural soil in my container mix to achieve the mineral and bacteria benefits from natural soil. Without the permeable cloth between the gravel and soil, the soil simply filled the voids between the gravel or rock. This method seemed to prevent the soil mix at the bottom of the pot from turning sour by the end of the growing season. It also provided good contact between the soil and the moisture in order to wick the water from the tray/reservoir back into the container as needed. Since I typically grew three tomato plants and some cucumbers or herbs or peppers in each container in eight foot cages, the movement of water into and out of the reservoir was sometimes rapid on a hot summer day.

If I had used a sterile, organic, soil free container mix, I would not have used the gravel bed. I tried the organic mix a few times and simply didn't like it. My mix incorporating some natural soil seemed to work better for me.

Ted
I simply enjoy gardening!

tedln
Super Green Thumb
Posts: 2179
Joined: Thu Jun 25, 2009 6:06 pm
Location: North Texas

lorax wrote:I'm surprised - they should have loved the hot, humid Louisiana weather... Hmmm.

However, you're spot-on about SoCal being perfect for bananas. I've got several friends up there who produce beautiful edibles from a wide range of cultivars.
We had at least one hard freeze almost every year which took the banana trees back to ground level. I always felt if I could have two or three years without a hard freeze, I would harvest some bananas.

Ted
I simply enjoy gardening!



Return to “Vegetable Gardening Forum”