How to Create Optimum Soil for Vegetables in Raised Bed Gardens
You set out building a vegetable garden with the idea that your vegetables are going to look vibrant and taste great. But the best soil mixture for a raised bed garden isn't a question with a single, simple answer. Creating one depends on a multitude of variables associated with each and every different gardening situation. These include considerations such as local climate, plant type and ingredient availability. Fortunately, for every situation there is a solution and each variable can be accounted for through soil testing and proper management.
Best Soil for Gardens in a Raised Bed
While there are a myriad of different soil mix recipes designed to meet the needs of specific plant types or climate conditions, having a general, all-purpose solution on hand is a good idea. This recipe is also easy on the budget and relatively simple to put together:
- Using topsoil from your own yard can make a very cost efficient and effective base ingredient. Make sure that you screen it and remove the top portion to ensure any weed or grass contamination is eliminated.
- Add equal parts of at least five different types of compost. You can use your own and acquire the others from neighbors, friends or family. As long as each compost variety is made up of different elements, your soil will have all the nutrients needed to grow most plant types in a multitude of environments.
- Annual upkeep of this basic mixture is as simple as it is to make. Just add fresh compost to your raised beds or planters at the end of every season, mix well and you’re ready to go.
Best Soil for Growing Vegetables in a Raised Bed
To get the most out of your vegetable garden in a raised bed, the soil used should be thought of as a constantly evolving process instead of a static mixture that you set and forget. They key elements of a perfectly prepared vegetable garden bed are:
- A mix that includes a light potting soil type base material.
- An aggregate like sand, wood chips or grass clippings that allow efficient water drainage.
- A blend of organic composts that include some or all of the following: steer and chicken manure, fish and oyster shells, peat moss, clay, pumice, vermiculite, exotic manure from a local zoo or farm, wood ashes, hay or bark mulch.
The goal here is to create a layered garden bed that is light and easy to turn. Additionally, tilling the earth below the raised bed will allow water to properly drain and give deep growing plant roots plenty of room to find purchase.
Something important to keep in mind is that it's impossible to buy the perfect soil mixture in one bag. Nothing will contain all the ingredients that your raised garden bed needs. The best you can hope for is to find a good base "topsoil" medium and then add multiple compost types and aggregates to the mix.
Don't forget that a well tended compost pile cultivated with your year-long vegetable waist's and egg shells is a great source of nutrients.
Finally, season long maintenance is required to ensure that your plants are consistently getting enough nutrients throughout their growing cycle. Add compost, Triple-15 fertilizer or manure around each plant every month or so. This will ensure that they're always well-fed and that your soil gets replenished with fresh nutrients.
Consider the Benefits of Soil Testing
A good "rule of thumb" that will ensure your soil is top-notch all season long is consistently testing it by sinking that thumb to the second knuckle. If your soil remains this pliable, you can feel secure in its ability as a great growing medium for your plants.
You can also test your soil for the right pH balance and to ensure it contains the exact amount of nutrients for your specific garden. Tests can be purchased from your local garden store, or you can even send samples to a variety of sources found on the Web including Government run labs that can have results posted and emailed to you within a week.
Preparing Your Raised Bed Garden for Next Season
At the end of the season, it's important to take some steps to ensure your soil stays nutrient-rich and ready for next year's planting.
Add your chosen variety of compost to bring the soil level back up to its initial starting point.
- Cover the raised bed with shredded leaves to protect it during the winter months.
- Once spring approaches, begin adding slow release fertilizers or new compost. Remove any protective covering of shredded leaves.
- If you want to get planting earlier, add a clear tarp over the bed to increase the speed at which the soil warms up.
Following these simple tips will ensure that your raised bed includes the best soil for gardens possible. You'll be pleasantly surprised when your plants produce huge blossoms or plump vegetables and gratified to know that the care you put into creating the perfect soil has really paid off.