I am often asked about the soil in my raised beds. What do I use? How much? Where do I buy it?
The last two years I’ve attempted to garden directly in Germantown’s hard, unforgiving clay. Even after adding lots of compost I still had low yields.
This is the first year that I’ve used raised beds, so I did some experimenting. The nursery blend didn’t appeal to me because it lacked the high levels of compost and manure that I was looking for. I decided to blend my own based on what I was learning from Patty Moreno, the Garden Girl, and the Square Foot Garden technique. I couldn’t afford to follow their exact recipe so I improvised within my budget. I’m not sure how many bags of soil I purchased from Lowe’s and local nurseries but it was a lot! I tried to use 3 equal parts Pete moss/garden soil, compost/manure and top soil (instead of top soil, the square foot garden experts recommend vermiculite). In some beds I was able to use a higher percentage of compost/manure than the other ingredients. It’s more expensive if you have to buy it but the results are excellent.
My garden soil ingredients: Top soil, Black cow composted manure, organic garden soil, Pete moss, Nature’s Own garden blend, cotton burr compost, worm castings, a few have chicken manure and most have some rabbit manure. All of my beds had a layer of fall leaves at the bottom that I raked in last winter. One had homemade compost from my backyard composter.
This year I plan to do more aggressive composting so that next spring I can rely on my own animal manures and compost to enrich my soil. Buying all of this can be expensive so my goal is to build a self sufficient and sustainable system in my backyard.
I’m still experimenting with plant food. I love the tomato tone and garden tone the best. The liquid seaweed is still in the experimental stage. I use the tomato blossom spray only when the blossoms are falling off or are slow to set and grow tomatoes. When my rabbit manure catcher is full I empty it right into whichever bed looks hungriest. I also use my worm castings around a plant’s roots whenever the leaves start to yellow.
One very important ingredient that I always add to my beds after they’ve been planted and everything has grown to at least an inch, is mulch. I use hardwood mulch around every plant to inhibit weed germination and growth, to hold in soil moisture, protect my plants from drying out quickly, moderate soil-temperature fluctuations, and add nutrition to the soil. There are many different types of mulch to choose from including straw, hay, grass clippings, leaves, wood chips and Pete moss.