Ask a Question forum: First raised garden beds.

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Name: Adele
British Columbia, Canada (Zone 8a)
Mar 28, 2014 5:05 PM CST
Hello, I have just set up two 4x4 garden beds in my backyard and my family and I are not sure what to use for the soil. We are holding off getting soil because we want to make sure we get a good soil all around. We thought of using mushroom manure, but we aren't really sure. We'd like to use a close to organic soil as possible but I'm having trouble searching for some of the soil online. I live in a complex so the yard is on the smaller side so we can't really start our own compost site. Thank you! :)
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
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Mar 28, 2014 6:21 PM CST
>> I'm having trouble searching for some of the soil online.

I think that buying soil and soil amendments is like real estate: the most important three things are "location, location, and location". If you're paying to have bags shipped to you, the freight cost might be even more than the cost of really good soil bought locally.

If it comes down to making your own organic soil, really all you need is lots of compost plus time and some effort.

Have you looked up "wholesale nursery suppliers"?
Or ask clerks at nurseries, and landscaping services.
Or organic farmers, or a group that hosts farmer's markets? Asking them where they find good compost or soil might give you some leads.

If you find someone who raises horses, they may have manure already composted.

if you have enough compost (without pesticides or weed seeds), you can make great soil from almost anything - such as your own yard's soil!

You could look up "dirt yards" right in your area. That will reduce the cost of hauling it. They might sell clean, rich compost, but look and smell before you trust. They might CALL something compost that is mostly wood shavings.

OMRI recently started trying to cover Canada: they might have suggestions that don't show up on their website. (no soil products)

I would have thought that almost any local "big box store" or nursery would offer several high-quality varieties of soil (mostly very heavy) or soilless mixes (possibly expensive). Adding lots of compost will lighten heavy soils over time, and add weight and nutrients to light mixes.

If peat moss is not desirable because it isn't sustainable, bark fines from pine, fir or hemlock serve some of the same purpose, and they last MUCH longer and give you better drainage and aeration.

If you were going to pay for bags of soil online, plus shipping, you might consider other expensive, but local sources.

Bales of soilless mixes approach being affordable, at least as one ingredient in a mix, for small raised beds.

If you can find them for sale locally, Fafard, ProMix and Sunshine all make really great, professional potting mixes that would provide a very light, water-retentive, airy component for a raised bed mix. With brands like those, you get your money's worth from a company that cares about quality (maybe even organic principles), since their main market is professional nurseries. Pro-Mix isn't organic soil, but it is an organic medium.

16 bags of 2 cubic feet, or 8 bales of 3.8 cubic feet, around here, would cost $256 (ouch). So I'm guessing that you would NOT want to fill your beds with that. But perhaps 1/4 or 1/8 of the mix, near the surface, could be one of those. Think of it as very high-quality peat moss.

>> two 4x4 garden beds

32 square feet, 12" deep is only 32 cubic feet
(1.2 cubic yards).

Name: Rob Duval
Mason, New Hampshire (Zone 5b)
Region: New Hampshire Vegetable Grower Daylilies Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Garden Ideas: Level 1 Tomato Heads
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Mar 28, 2014 6:40 PM CST

Plants Admin

Screened loam/compost mix (50/50) is used around here commonly. 1.2 yards would cost about $20 if you picked it up yourself, a bit more if you need it delivered. Any landscape supplier should have it available.
Name: Elaine
Sarasota, Fl
The one constant in life is change
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Mar 28, 2014 10:12 PM CST
Don't forget you need to overfill a raised bed at first, to compensate for settling. What you buy will be all fluffed up when you first put it in, and may settle 3 or 4in. in the first couple of months. Better to start with more depth than to end up with too shallow soil in the bed.

If you're in the Vancouver area, check with your local landfill. Some of them were making compost the last time I was there for a visit. (I used to live in W. Van). Fraser Valley area should have farms with composted manure for sale, too. Even Richmond and Surrey areas still have some agriculture going on, where there may be good soil available.

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Name: Horseshoe Griffin
Efland, NC (Zone 7a)
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Mar 29, 2014 3:40 PM CST
"If you're in the Vancouver area, check with your local landfill."

That's what I'd do, too (regardless of being in Vancouver area or not.) And I'd amend the compost you get with pine bark fines (also sold as "soil conditioner" at box stores) for good aeration and water-holding capacity. A little peat wouldn't hurt to get you started also. Going this route will help keep expenses at a minimum and your soil will last much longer than any bagged mix, which are usually peat-based.

You didn't say how deep your beds are, Adele, but if you're shooting for 12" in height you'll need about 16 cubic feet of soil per bed, or roughly half a yard if that is how it is sold in your area. And yes, in addition to checking the local landfill also check the nursery yards where professionals buy their'll get much better deals than buying bagged stuff.

Shoe (lover of boxed beds!)
Name: Joanne
Calgary, AB Canada (Zone 3a)
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Ideas: Master Level Region: Canadian Charter ATP Member Seed Starter Roses
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Mar 29, 2014 10:35 PM CST
I would hesitate on the mushroom compost. Do find out what they use to grow the mushrooms in. We have a mushroom grower near here and they always offer the substrate for free if you load yourself or a $20 loader fee for them to dump a load in your truck. Very cool price, but the stuff is a bit ripe. My area smelled of horse poo for at least a week. If it is very clumpy, you risk burning your plants. A neighbor damaged here lawn by using it. Also, if you are planting root veggies such as potatoes, you may want to stay away from manure compost.

I would suggest getting a garden mix delivered in the huge bags and add "Sea Soil". I love the Sea Soil for veggie gardens. It's a bit expensive here, but if you are near the West Coast, it is a lot I'm told.

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