RandyE
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What should I do to the soil under raised bed?

Hi,
I am starting my first garden in the spring of 2016 . I want to do this right the first time. I just put together four 55 Gallon barrels for rain water and I am about to build a 5'x25' raised bed and run my water lines down for drip irrigation. My question is what should I do to the ground under my raised bed before I start to build the bed? Should I till the ground? Should I add a weed fabric? Or lay cardboard down?

And should I add the soil now or wait till spring? Is there a advantage to adding soil now?


Thank you so much...

Randy
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imafan26
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Re: What should I do to the soil under raised bed?

Hi Randy
I would make the bed 4 ft wide instead of 5 ft because unless you have very long arms you won't be able to reach the middle of the bed very well. The bed should be located where it wiil get at least 6-8 hours of sun with access all around for easier maintenance. You want to avoid going up against walls fences and in tree shadows if you can. You need access to maintain walls and fences, they cast shadows on the garden bed, and water against walls and fences will eventually discolor and make them rot faster.

Clear the ground of grass and weeds. Fork the ground to promote drainage. You can use cardboard or several layers of newspaper to block weeds. Weed block may cause problems down the line especially if you have deep rooted plants.

Raised beds can be 4 inches to 18 inches deep. 8-10 inches for most plants. I prefer the 18 inch bed though as it is better if you are growing root crops.

It is great that you are planning to use some rain water. However, realize that rainbarrels will probably not be able to supply all the water your garden will need. The drip system will help conserve water along with adding a lot of organic matter and mulch, but the rain barrels will be full when you have a lot of rain and don't need them and empty when there is no rain, so you will need a back up plan to supply water for the garden. Install your drip line with a "T" to add a second water source or be prepared to fill the barrels from a hose when they are empty.

I have two rain barrels that hold about 95 gallons of water. One barrel is 53 gallons, the other is 55 gallons and then there is the air space at the top of the barrel and the overflow tube when the barrel fills during a heavy rain. I use one barrel or close to ten 5 gallon buckets of water just for one watering of one of my three orchid benches (I dunk the orchids in the bucket individually), and for 7 potted plants (gardenia, 2 roses, Hibiscus, Ohia, croton, and bamboo). So, a barrel does not go very far.

I use my rainbarrels to water my orchids and landscape plants. Rainbarrels are not recommended for use on edibles mainly because of what might be coming off the roof. Algae, bird poop, and roofing material washes off with the rain. I have a lot of sand in my barrel that comes off the shingles and then there is the asphalt. People with older roofs here may still have lead in them. I do know people who do use it for their vegetable gardens and they are still alive.

If you are building a lasagna bed you would start layering now and mulch it heavily and it should be ready in the Spring.

If you are going to build the bed using Mel's Mix, then, I would just heavily mulch it or you could grow a winter cover crop like winter rye or hairy vetch to improve the soil and act as a weed barrrier. If you use hairy vetch, it would be better to inoculate it first, but also realize that in cooler weather soil microbes slow down.
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

RandyE
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Re: What should I do to the soil under raised bed?

Hi imafan26,

Thank you for the reply and the great advice. I have read that gardens are best at 4' wide but I was going to make it 5' just because that's all the space I have. But after your reply I started to think your right 5' would be really hard to reach the middle.

I like the idea of making the bed 18" as well I didn't give it a thought about root crops.

Also I have never heard of Mel's mix till you mentioned it... I googled it and it sounds that's the soil I will make.

Thank you very much, Randy

imafan26
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Re: What should I do to the soil under raised bed?

Mel Bartholomew's New (or old) Square Foot Gardening should be one of the basic books any new gardener should be acquainted with. It is available on line and should be at your local library. There are other online sites that also apply the square foot gardening principles.

The other good book is Jon Jeavons How to Grow More Vegetables using the biointensive method. This book is very comprehensive and talks about sustainability. Unless you have a large property, it would be hard to do everything the book advocates but parts of it will apply to any size garden or yard.

For a gardener, you need to have some basic tools. A good round pointed shovel, a bow rake, hoe, garden fork, and small hand tools. Since the tools will last for years, it pays to buy the best quality and take care of the tools. You also need gloves especially if you are going to do a lot of digging and don't want blisters, a hat, and sunscreen. I also have a couple of 5 gallon buckets, one for tools and one for weeds. Paint your tools a bright color or use bright colored tape, it makes it easier to find them.

A wheel barrow is nice to have, but I don't have one and I don't miss it much. After the old one rotted, I got a garden cart ( red wagon) instead, it fits better in my car and I can use it to haul the bags of compost and peat moss from the front to the back yard with it and it has four wheels instead of one. The only time I miss the wheel barrow is when I have to collect mulch. I use 5 gallon buckets and garbage bags for that so it takes a few more trips.
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

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ElizabethB
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Re: What should I do to the soil under raised bed?

Hi Randy,

Warm welcome to the forum.

I am a big fan of SFG. 4' wide max. I use both commercial grade landscape cloth topped with cardboard from appliance boxes - over kill.

I have both versions of Mel's books. If you only get one get the second release.

I would wait until spring to build your boxes. Do start compost bins now.

Make your own Mel's Mix.

Imafan had some good advice about basic tools.

You can make your boxes deep but you really do not need to. You can grow root crops in 6" - 8" boxes. You really need to check out Mel's book.

The University of Maryland is your Land Grant University. This link has good information on vegetable gardening in Maryland.

https://extension.umd.edu/growit

Spend your winter doing research. Different varieties are suitable to different regions. Some crops are cool weather crops and some are hot weather crops. They need to be planted at different times.

Serious gardeners compost. Check out the composting forum and start composting now.

Good Luck

Looking forward to hearing more from you.

:)
Elizabeth - or Your Majesty

Living and growing in Lafayette, La.

When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant. ~Author Unknown

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rainbowgardener
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Re: What should I do to the soil under raised bed?

Well everyone has their own way of doing things and all gardening is local . How deep your beds need to be and what you need to do to the soil first depends a lot on what your soil is like . If you are blessed with really good soil, the only point of the beds would be to be able to enrich it and have more depth of loose fluffy soil and keep you from walking on it. In that case , you could make them shallow and not do anything to the soil under it .

If like many of us , you have hard clay, you will find that six inches is not deep enough . I know the SKG book says 6", but many people have written in here to say they tried that and it did not work . Do not put landscape fabric at the bottom . If you have grass or a lot of weeds there, you can put cardboard down. If you have heavy clay, the main thing you need to do first is poke a bunch of holes down into your soil with a garden fork for drainage .

I agree with imafan really the rain barrel and needing other water source . Some years ago , I bought myself two 75 gal rain barrels and was really excited about it . In my recent move, I didn't bother bringing them. As noted they're full when you don't need water and empty when you do . You have to have serious water capacity for it to make a lot of difference .

Best wishes in your new endeavors . Keep us posted on how it is all going !
Twitter account I manage for local Sierra Club: https://twitter.com/CherokeeGroupSC Facebook page I manage for them: https://www.facebook.com/groups/65310596576/ Come and find me and lots of great information, inspiration

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jal_ut
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Re: What should I do to the soil under raised bed?

Be advised that the roots of most garden plants go quite deep, from 3 to 8 feet. You really handicap your plants if you put a bottom in a raised bed. I would dig the area, then construct the raised portion of the bed and make no root barrier. Let those roots go down.
Gardening at 5000 feet elevation, zone 4/5 Northern Utah, Frost free from May 25 to September 8 +/-

RandyE
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Re: What should I do to the soil under raised bed?

Thx for recommending the books Imafan26 I will be sure to check them out.

As far as garden tools I have already been buying a nice collection. I cut down a lot of trees and in the process my small chainsaw broke so I ended up buying a nice chainsaw this time, and I have been digging up roots so I purchase an since shovel and pic. I still need to get a nice set of hand tools, hoe, and pruners. As far as nice gloves goes I figured my hands will be fine..... But was I wrong I now have blisters from digging out roots lol. So today I will be stopping at my local hardware store and getting a nice pair.
I don't have a wheel barrel either and have been using a cart with 4 wheels. But i am going to have to invest in a nice wheel barrel because I figured as much dirt, and compost that I will have to move to make my new raised beds it will be much easier dumping it.

Thx again for all that you have to offer and taking the time to help me,
Randy

RandyE
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Re: What should I do to the soil under raised bed?

Hi ElizabethB

Thank you so much for the friendly greeting :D

It's interesting that you use both commercial grade landscape cloth and cardboard... My first thought was I definitely didn't want any weeds to grow up in to my raised beds after putting all this time and work into them and that's why I was wondering if I should use fabric but to use both is overkill.... And that's what I usuall do with everything I make, build, and repair.... I like the way you think :-()

And I have decided to wait till early spring to make my beds, that way I don't have to put a cover crop or thick mulch on it.

Thank you for suggesting Mel's books after reading about the Mel's soil it sounds like the book will be very informative and I will check out the link as soon as I am done writing :)

As far as researching this winter...... Well I have been reading everyday now for about two Months. This garden all started by me suggesting to my girlfriend that we put a small garden in corner of the yard. Which I thought I would just flip the soil and throw some seeds in.... Lol boy was I wrong!! well after researching I now want to make raised beds, wicking beds, drip irrigation system, I started a worm farm for castings for next spring, started three compost piles, built four rain barrels, decided to make a bigger garden in back of yard instead of a small corner, clearing trees and roots, and reading everything I can.... gardening is addicting and I see this already.I'm so excited to start my garden next spring.... And my gf thinks I'm crazy haha


Have a wonderful day ElizabethB,
Randy

RandyE
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Re: What should I do to the soil under raised bed?

Hi rainbowgardener

Great advice! And I am not so fortune to have nice soil. It's rock hard clay soil :(

You and Imafan26 is killing me....I too was so excited bundling these barrels thinking I will save a lot of money on my water bill. But I am glad your honest and helpful with the rain barrels. I first thought I would install two 55 Gallon barrels but then decided that I would double that so I am sure to have extra water. Ugh guess I will have to install a T like Imafan26 mentioned so that when the barrels do go empty I can always add water.

Thank you for the advice :D Have a great day, Randy

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