raised bed filler

Discussion in 'Gardening & Plant Propagation' started by Running Wild, Nov 29, 2004.

  1. Running Wild

    Running Wild Well-Known Member

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    Hi;

    I have a question I was hoping some of you experienced gardeners could help me answer.

    We just bought our property in Central Virginia this past summer and I desperately want to get a garden going by this upcoming Spring. I am in the process of constructing the frames for at least three 3' X 12' raised beds.

    Currently, we are having an addition built onto the main house and as a result, the contractors have dug out a huge amount of clay soil for the crawlspace. I was wondering, if I mixed a fair amount of compost and sand into this bright red, Virginia clay soil, would it be good for raised beds? (The previous owners left us large amounts of compost--I believe unintentionally--by piling 20+ years worth of grass and leaf clippings in several areas.

    I've searched the archives and have read mixed reviews about using clay soil. Would I be better off having a load of topsoil delivered and mix that in instead?

    Thanks for all your advice. I love this site and I appreciate your help and insight!
     
  2. katydidagain

    katydidagain Adventuress--Definition 2 Supporter

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    I'm not an expert but having spent years building dirt on WHITE, throwable clay, I envy you the red stuff. How much compost did they leave? If it were me, I'd find a tree trimmer in the area and mix the fresh clay with wood chips in a corner of the yard; it will break down but not in one year--try maybe 3--you always need to top off compost beds or I do so it won't go to waste. For your garden I'd try to find leaves to mix with the gift from the previous owner. Straw, barn cleanouts or other smaller organic stuff would mix well too. (If they dug out clay, you have clay aplenty under your beds already so why add more?)

    katy *who finally has 3 composters full and cooking*
     

  3. gobug

    gobug Well-Known Member Supporter

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    My vote is to pass on the clay. I started my boxes on a clay base and had drainage problems until I dug a drainage tile through them. It would have been a lot easier to deal with before I set up the boxes.

    You could do a "percolation" test similar to what they do for a septic. Dig a post hole and fill it with water. If it doesn't drain quickly, your garden quality will suffer.

    Another two suggestions if you're building the boxes with wood: 1)use angle metal in the corners, drill the holes through the wood and use nuts, bolts and washers; 2) line the inside of the boxes with plastic. My first boxes broke apart at the corners and started to desintigrate from contact with the soil in less than 5 years. My current boxes are 15 this year and show no deterioration.

    Good luck.
     
  4. bare

    bare Head Muderator

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    You might consider picking up a copy of Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholmew. You can google for his website to get an idea of what it is. "Mel's Mix", recommended via his website, is equal parts by volume of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite.

    I've converted all my raised beds now to this mix because it really works well! There is a little expense in the beginning but I consider it a lifetime investment.

    I started out using other clayey topsoils and ended up digging them all out to replace them with this mix because the growth is at least double.
     
  5. Running Wild

    Running Wild Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the advice. It appears that using the clay is not the way to go (at least until I compost it and it breaks down). I appreciate it...
     
  6. Jimmy Mack

    Jimmy Mack Well-Known Member

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    bear in mind that because its called a "raised bed" it doesn't mean you have to change grade. The "raised" part comes defining the garden area, then working the soil such as double digging and then adding organic material. There's usually no need to bring in extra dirt.

    Its also a good idea to keep you garden soil consistent meaning the plants are growing in the same type of soil throughout the garden.

    lots of ways to do it, so whatever works for you, just my 2 cents :)
     
  7. jackie c

    jackie c Well-Known Member

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    Clay soil has more nutrients than other soils, I have had good luck putting lots of compost, manure and straw or hay mixed in with some sand. Just make sure the straw or hay is 'sour', (hay not suitable for animal consumption because it has gotten wet and starting to rot), then the weed seeds are kept to a minimum. Mulches used over summer (to keep moisture in and clay loose)and incorporated into the soil in the fall helps greatly as well. I use straw as a mulch. I would say to try a bed this way and another with brought in top soil. See which produces better.
     
  8. Hank - Narita

    Hank - Narita Well-Known Member

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    We mixed our own potting soil using compost, peat moss and perlite. Then the bottom was whatever the garden soil was (horse manure, cow, chicken).
     
  9. moonwolf

    moonwolf Well-Known Member

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    People in the country around here will start a first season garden by ordering in about a 10 yd. load of 'black earth', which is a peat rich soil dug, loose but short on nutrients. Then they have about half a load of WELL rotted horse manure mixed with that. That mix could be screened for the rough stuff and go into raised beds for a first year productive garden. The pit run black earth may have a lot of stick sometimes, but not a major problem to pitch out.
     
  10. WV Rebel

    WV Rebel Well-Known Member

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    I use construction (cement) sand and sawdust, cheap from the Mennonites and/or Amish.

    20-20-20 fertilizer with the added minerals described on that site below.

    No weeds and wonderful yields. With the raised boxes, you need to water every day, sometimes twice, depending on the wind and heat.

    Go here and read all about the raised beds.

    http://www.foodforeveryone.org/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=FFEF&Product_Code=MGG

    http://www.foodforeveryone.org/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=FFEF&Product_Code=TMGC

    http://www.foodforeveryone.org/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Store_Code=FFEF&Product_Code=GM

    [​IMG]
     
  11. ChuckinVA

    ChuckinVA Well-Known Member

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    Panorama farm in Earlysville manufactures Panorama paydirt which is poultry litter from the Shenandoah Valley and leaves from the City of Charlottesville composted. I know they deliver it by the truck load. I have not used it my self but had a neighbor who was a friend of the owner who had wonderful vegetable gardens in raised beds using it. I know it is more expensive than using what you have available but thought that maybe a mixture of all of what is available to you with the paydirt might make some great beds.
     
  12. 3girls

    3girls Well-Known Member

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    Please get WEEDLESS GARDENING, by Lee Reich.

    If you have added lots of good organic matter and lots of natural fertilizer, earthworms will appear. They will appear even if you cannot see them now. They act like little plows and will churn up the stuff above into the clay below. You just pile on more mulch and nutrients on year after year and you don't have to dig at all!

    I would use the clay from the foundation to raise the elevation at the foundation to drain water away from the house. Another use would be to build berms for privacy or aesthetics. The berms don't have to be very tall, but the plants you put on them could be.

    Raised beds make life so much easier.