Great Gardens = Great Soil
Great Gardens = Great Soil!
Soil! It's no surprise that great soil equals a great garden!
We already discussed the importance of light, but the soil is another important part of feeding your plants and giving them the nutrients they need.
Soil has more jobs than just nutrients:
- It stabilizes plants' roots, helping them establish a strong foundation.
- It insulates the roots from extreme heat or cold.
- It allows oxygen to reach the roots helping them break down what they need for energy.
- It holds water that the plant needs.
As I mentioned before, the garden bed you choose will determine the kind of soil you will need. So, we will discuss two main types of garden beds and the soil required for each.
To help you decide what garden beds will work best for you. I've split them into two categories: In-Ground vs. Raised Beds.
In-Ground garden beds:
In-ground beds are created by planting directly in the current ground you have. If your great-grandparents and grandparents had gardens when you were little, more than likely, this is what they had—rows and rows of evenly spaced mounds spread across a wide area. You probably were recruited to grab a hoe and start weeding along long rows of peas and corn! In-ground is a quick and easy way to start a garden if you have the right equipment. You till up a wide area, then plow in rows of mounted dirt.
- A: Because your soil is probably compacted, you will need to till the ground to loosen the dirt. You can till with a hand-powered walkalong gas/electric tiller or a tractor with a tilling implement. To mount up your rows of soil, you can also do this by hand with a garden hoe. Or, use a plow implement and tractor.
- B: Most native soil lacks the proper nutrients to produce the food you want to grow, so you must amend the soil. You will need to spread the amendments evenly across the area you plan to use. You can do this before the initial till or after and then re-till to get it good and mixed in. Here is a mixture I recommend.
In-Ground Garden Mix:
Top Garden Soil
C: Aline your rows North to South, and mound up the soil in the middle. Mounding will build up your soil base and allow footpaths between the rows.
- They are quick to make if you have the right equipment.
- You can create more rows for planting.
- Weeds can easily creep in and take over.
- If flooding occurs, you run the risk of losing valuable soil.
- Animals, such as pets, can easily track through your garden.
- It will not be as easy to separate areas from pests
- It will be challenging to protect beds from frost.
Raise Garden Beds:
Raised beds are garden beds raised above the ground level in some fashion. They can be created by adding bricks, logs, and tin borders containing the soil within the bed.
Raise beds can be from six inches to four feet tall. It all depends on your needs in the garden.
Step 1: Which type of raised bed is right for you?
A. Create the design you need
Sometimes you will need to build custom-raised beds to get the most out of your garden space. Here are a few things to think about:
- Do you want to prevent bending over into a garden bed?
- Do you have an odd-shaped area where conventional rectangular raised beds won't fit?
- Do you have pets like dogs that might get into your garden?
- Do you want your garden to look esthetically pleasing where all your raised beds match?
We had to address some of these questions when we decided to make our concrete patio a more functional space by growing food.
The year before, we had built a waste-high raised bed out of leftover scraps for a salad garden because I was tired of the critters getting in my salad bed. It was so bountiful that year that I planned on making more the following year. You can see how much our porch/patio garden has grown on Instagram @wildwoodwonder
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It was also the year we got into studying permaculture. I wanted to move my everyday food closer to us, which meant closer to our house. As I looked around my home, I realized the patio was a sunfilled space left empty and only used when the children rode their scooters and bikes in the same wide circle around the middle.
We made more raised beds using the same raised bed style as the salad bed. We have five raised beds made of treated wood with thirty-six-inch tall legs, allowing easy access from any angle.
Why we like it:
- This height also prevents our dogs and children from accidentally getting into the beds. We created one shorter but wider bed that we placed in the very middle of the patio.
- This bed could be more expansive because it has 360-degree access. Raised beds were placed around the patio perimeter and the center, leaving a path for my kiddos to use their scooters and bikes.
- Instead of just having one function, it now is a place for the kids to play, grow food, and enjoy sitting throughout the day. Our dogs even sit underneath the beds to sleep in the shade!
B. Design & Use what you have
Use what you have already! In our terraced garden, I've used cinder blocks (which were leftovers from another project) to create a border in some beds and have used IBC totes (which were from a failed project, but I didn't want to waste them) cut in half for 25" deep raised beds on the same hillside.
We used whole tree trunks/logs (trees had to be removed anyway, so we used them) to create walls in our first large garden, which worked great.
We have smaller raised beds made of leftover deck scraps. But, make sure to cover the treated wood in heavy-duty plastic. I have a friend who used old high school lockers turned sideways!
Look around your home and see if you have any unused materials that can be useful to make garden beds. You want to make sure the materials are non-toxic.
If you are worried about it, you can line them with heavy-duty plastic. For example, we used treated lumber in our patio-raised beds. The chemicals from treated lumber could leak into the soil over time, so we lined the beds with a double layer of heavy-duty black plastic.
C: Soil for your raised beds
Because you are starting from scratch with an empty box/container, you will have to have enough of the following to fill the box, with a minimum of a half-inch space from the top.
You can create your soil/compost material by starting a compost pile and worm castings in a worm bin. We will discuss these later own in the course!
Raise Bed or Planter Box Soil Mix:
- Black Cow
- Peat Moss
- Worm Castings
- Control over soil from start to finish
- Control the depth of the soil depending on the depth of the container
- Convenient for those who have a hard time bending or kneeling.
- Easy to control pests with netting and visual checks.
- Easier to cover during frosty nights
- Less Weeding
- Easy to create an organized design.
- Containers can be accessible/cost-effective.
- The materials can be costly if you choose to build your beds.
- Depending on your material, you may have to add additional plastic inside your bed.
- The soil will also be costly if you purchase them each year.
In Ground or Raised Bed?
Now that you know all the information about our two types of garden beds, you can decide which is the best fit for you. You might even find yourself doing both!
I've added a printable list to help you remember what you need for the different soil mixtures. Just click the image below!
Thank you for dropping by our modern cottagecore homestead!
If you use treated lumber for a raised bed and use the heavy duty plastic to line it do you need to make drain holes in the plastic?