Vegetables and Fruit forum: Raised bed veggie garden

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lookforkim
Feb 24, 2013 9:09 AM CST
I hope this is the right place to ask... I'm pretty new to vegetable gardening. Last year my husband built me three 3 x 16 raised bed planters that I filled with top soil and grew a rather successful vegetable garden in last summer.

I've been searching high and low in all my books and online, and I'm overwhelmed.

What do I need to do to prepare the beds for planting this year?

I need the simple, newbie, low cost version please. We have friends who have horses, so we can til in some manure. Is this sufficient?

I've never tested my soil either, and researching this overwhelms me too. Some resources have all this about sending tests out, etc etc... Can I buy a store bought one and take care of it myself?

I hope this doesn't come across as lazy, I just need advice from some real people!
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
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RickCorey
Feb 27, 2013 4:37 PM CST
Raised bed soil is a lot like normal soil, but it is more rewarding if you treat it well. Adding any kind of compost is important!

Any advice from people with experience getting raw manure from neighbors would be better than my opinions. But here they are anyway.

I might have preferred to compost the manure first, but I think many people will tell you that's not necessary. Just don't add more than 2-3 inches per season, as a guess. What do other people think? How much would be too much, if you till the manure in 12 inches or so?

Maybe 2-3 inches tilled under in the spring, and another 2-3 inches in the fall?
Maybe top-dress with 1 inch of aged manure in-between?

Or set some raw manure aside to compost for fall and next year. It will go even farther if you add paper or sawdust or leaves or grass clippings. Then just lay the compost on top of your raised beds and let worms come up to eat it and drag it underground. Like a dissolving mulch.

Many people will say you don't need to till once the soil is highly organic. I've never gotten that far! I have to fork or spade my clay every year or so to break it back up.

I've been told by many people that we should worry about whether the horses ate hay or straw drenched with lots of persistent herbicides, and to worry about whether or not the manure had lots of weed seeds.

I've never had the opportunity to get my hands on manure without paying over a dollar per bag, I would grab that manure and it would be in my compost heap so fast the horses wouldn't have time to get out of my way.

I think the value of testing is to tell you how much lime you need, to adjust pH. And maybe to tell you that you ALREADY have enough N, P or K, so stop trying to reach a toxic level.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Feb 27, 2013 4:38 PM CST
P.S.

Chunky, coarse mulch is great for raised beds. Bark nuggets or chunks or even coarse shredded bark mulch protects the soil from weeds, sun, pounding rain and heavy hand watering, temperature extremes and drying wind. Maybe even cats and squirrels. The best barks are pine, fir or hemlock. Then any evergreen conifer. Then any hardwood except Black Walnut. I've had MUCH better luck with bark products from Lowes than Ho0me Depot, but YMMV.

As long as you don't till them under, coarse WOOD chips are great as top-dressing mulch. Just rake them aside before turning your bed. If you till wood INTO the soil, microbes will steal any available nitrogen from your plants' roots as they chow down on the woody candy. Wood should be well-composted before you turn it under. (That is called "nitrogen deficit", and bark doesn't cause it nearly as much as wood does.)

So a long-term plan for wood chips would be to use them as top-dress mulch for 2-3 years, then put them in a compost heap for a year with lots of raw manure. THEN turn the compost into the soil.

"They say" you can get wood chips free from the town or a landscape contractor, but I haven't gotten lucky that way yet.

Just avoid mulch that packs down into a solid mass, like sawdust, leaves or coffee grounds. Even one inch of sawdust will steal the rain and keep it from reaching soil. Worse, it will slow down the air from getting into your soil - roots breath air and die without it. So keep the mulch coarse.

If you add peat moss to a bed, turn it under. But peat is pricy AND it decomposes very quickly. For the same price as peat, you can get 3-4 times as much bark mulch, which lasts at least 3-4 times longer. In my opinion, bark is 9-16 times better than peat! (unless you're starting seeds)

If you buy some bags of mixed fine and coarse bark, you might screen it through 1/4" or 1/2" screen, and use the coarse stuff as top-dress mulch, and the fine stuff mixed into the soil to increase drainage and aeration and slow-release organic matter.

I love bark!
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Feb 27, 2013 9:21 PM CST
On the other hand, speaking of manure, all the E. coli food poisoning cases a few years back got the "Food Safety and Modernization Act" passed. I asked my legislator not to support it, or at least make it not apply to small market growers, but she was gung-ho for safety and modernization.

She didn't think it was a way for agribusiness to put pressure on small growers who didn't know how to comply with FDA paperwork.

Funny how fast gardening and farming get into politics!

FSMA might be overkill, but what do I know? Sorry these are not newbie level quotations! If I were you, I would till in a few inches in early spring, and just not harvest for the first few weeks or month, and/or wash leafy things carefully. Like, being somewhat more careful than gardeners have been for the last 5,000 years with good results.

Or just plain not worry about it. I wish other home gardeners with manure experience would chime in!

The FSMA includes some standards about manure, but you were already probably not going drop horse patties among lettuce plants, hit it with a hard water spray, and then eat the lettuce the same day.

Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 (H.R. 2751)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_Safety_and_Modernization_A...

http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/FSMA/ucm334552.htm Biological Soil Amendments: Subpart F

Currently, within the U.S., composting of animal manure is not specifically regulated by any federal agency with respect to the safety of its use in the broad production of all produce. Instead, state and local regulations in some cases provide oversight, but this varies in scope and complexity

Establishes requirements for determining the status of a biological soil amendment of animal origin as treated or untreated, and for their handling, conveying, and storing (proposed §§ 112.51, 112.52);
Prohibits the use of human waste for growing covered produce except in compliance with EPA regulations for such uses, or equivalent regulatory requirements (proposed § 112.53);
Establishes requirements for treatment of biological soil amendments of animal origin with scientifically valid, controlled, physical and/or chemical processes or composting processes that meet or exceed specific microbial standards (proposed §§ 112.54 and 112.55);
Establishes application requirements and minimum application intervals for untreated and treated biological soil amendments of animal origin (proposed § 112.56); and
Requires certain records, including documentation of application and harvest dates relevant to application intervals; documentation from suppliers of treated biological soil amendments of animal origin, and scientific data or information relied on to support any permitted alternatives to requirements (proposed § 112.60).

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lookforkim
Feb 28, 2013 2:51 PM CST
That's quite a bit of info!

After asking Google the same question 59883945834 different ways, here is what I'm going with:

http://patwelsh.com/wpmu/blog/planting/soil-preparation-befo...

Apparently, manure is best applied in the Fall:

http://gardening.about.com/od/fertilizer/a/Is-Manure-Safe-To...

I guess I finally answered my own question but the search was exasperating! If any one else has any advice, I'd love to hear!
Name: Michele Roth
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chelle
Feb 28, 2013 4:22 PM CST
You could add finished compost before planting. However, if you rotate your plantings (which you should do anyway) you'll still pull additional nutrients, enough to get your plants going anyway, from last year's productive soil. A soil test is really only necessary if production or plant quality tapers off. A good, balanced compost might be all you'll ever need to add.

Use your friend's manure and start a compost pile now, if you don't have one already. When it's ready, you can add it as a top-dressing. Alternatively, you can purchase finished compost and add it at any time. Water, microbes and worms can take it from there. If you aren't familiar with the composition of finished compost, buy a bag and check it out. It looks, smells and feels like good *soil*, nothing else. Once your compost decomposes to a similar consistency, and no longer smells of barnyard, it's generally considered safe to use. Smiling



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Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Mar 1, 2013 5:05 PM CST
Thanks for the second link, Lookforkim! They might be a little more cautious than necessary, but that's their job.

I also agree with Chelle: the sooner you start aging your own pile of manure, the sooner ANYone would agree it is safe to add on top of a bed, even if you have low-hanging lettuce leaves.

A compost pile doesn't smell if it has enough "browns" to balance the "greens". If there is plenty of straw or sawdust in the manure, it may already be balanced. If not, some paper or sawdust would keep it from smelling.

Meanwhile, there are many things you can turn under to lighten and enrich soil: bags of compost, bags of composted manure, fine bark mulch or small bark nuggets, organic fertilizers like fish emulsion or bone meal ...

I enjoy cultivating and feeding the soil even more than I like cultivating and feeding plants!
Name: Arlene
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abhege
Mar 2, 2013 7:02 PM CST
And in the fall you could try some green manures, that is, cover crops that you let grow over winter and till under in the spring like clover, vetch, rye. If the horse manure isn't fresh, you can use it now. Petty much, if it doesn't smell, it's composted enough to use, although use it sparingly if you don't know how long it has been composting.

We are able to get free horse manure from a local stable and she doesn't use wood shavings mixed in like most of the other stables do. When we get it (about every 6 months), it's been cooking in her pile and could be used right away but unless it's fall and we're just top dressing for winter, we let it compost in a huge pile to use in the spring.

I have mulched with grass clippings when I didn't have straw. When the garden is done, you can work it right into the soil.

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