Nutrients in the Garden 7: Soil for Raised Beds

March 20, 2014 | 8:03 am

Gardening in raised beds is extremely popular and a great choice for a beginning gardener. I gardened in raised beds for nine years and had great success (minus a splinter or two). The best advantage to this form of gardening is the opportunity to fill the bed with soft, nutrient rich soil! Can I get a woo hoo? As mentioned previously, soil is the main ingredient to success and in raised bed gardening it’s totally in your control!

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From experience, I recommend adding a soil mixture of 50% top soil and 50% high quality compost. If you are new to gardening, you might ask, “What is top soil?” Top soil is what every farmer dreams about farming on. It is full of organic matter containing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (the big three nutrients in the growing world). Plus it’s alive with microorganisms, it’s the good stuff and it smells good, too. Earthy!

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Compost is different than soil; it is an ingredient in soil. Compost is formed from the breaking down of dead organisms and returns the nutrients from those organisms to the soil. It’s a nutrient-rich soil amendment. Not to brag, but I make my own compost from kitchen scraps, garden waste, and yard litter. If you are going to get serious about gardening, I highly recommend starting a compost pile. We will talk more about that in a future blog. Adding compost will make a HUGE difference! Please don’t leave it out! It will help with drainage and fertility. You will have healthier and better producing vegetable because of the nutrients contained within the compost. Trust me! One more note on compost, it should not be used alone, it needs to be mixed with topsoil.

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If someone says, I have a pile of dirt you can have, be cautious. Free soil may be appealing; however, it may not be the right choice for your garden. When ground is excavated for building or for landscaping, most times, what is left piled up is not the good stuff.

Garden centers and landscape companies sell top soil and compost either bagged or in bulk. To figure how much I needed for my raised beds, I used a soil calculator. I’m not a math whiz; I take the easy route. Take some measurements; punch in some number, and voila! No need to count on my fingers and toes. You will need to know the length, width, and depth of the beds to know the amount of cubic yards of top soil and compost to purchase.

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When adding the top soil and compost to the bed, make sure to blend it together really well. The soil should be deep and loose. If you can sink a finger in all the way to the knuckle with ease, you have done it right! This mixture will allow seeds to germinate and their roots to anchor down and grow; producing healthy vegetables to harvest.

Well, that’s the dirt on getting good soil for your raised bed. What questions do you have about top soil and compost?

I am happy to be gardening with you.