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raised-bed Raised Bed Questions

Hi all, I want to preface this by saying I have been a lurker over the past year or so and recently joined the forum. The information on here has been nothing short of awesome and I look forward to adding something to the community in time.
 
Long story short I recently moved into a more permanent residence after a long and drawn out house hunt. Needless to say I am looking to start a garden over the next few months. I will be missing out on the majority of pepper season due to the timing of it all but I wanted to get some advise for the remainder of this year and moving forward. I have searched the forum ad nauseam, with many of my questions being answered, but I am having some paralysis by analysis. 
 
I am living outside of Chicago and my preference with my property would be to utilize raised beds. I am lucky enough to live close to a very highly regarded nursery with a knowledgable staff. They have a number of things that interest me, specifically their compost which is primarily mushroom compost but also includes aged pine bark fines and some manure before it is sifted. I would like to utilize this and was interested in what combination of things would give me the best results.
 
I have read a ton on the perks of using coco coir as well as perlite for their various properties and was wondering if a mix of 40% compost, 30% coir, 25% perlite, and 5% additives (azomite, coffee grounds, worm castings) would be viable for a raised bed? I know container has different requirements than a raised bed and that is what I am trying to figure out. I am trying to create the healthiest media and am unsure of how much of a roll compaction plays in raised beds.  Cost is not an issue, though perlite and coir are far from cheap, especially when looking to fill multiple raised beds. Any input and suggestions would be much appreciated. 
 

CaneDog

Extreme Member
Does the nursery have what they call a Raised Bed Mix?  Many will have one specifically for vegetables.  I wouldn't add any perlite - and certainly not in that quantity. Personally, I'd ask them about what to use for vegetables in a raised bed mix for your conditions.  Their mushroom compost sounds awesome and I'd be tempted to throw some in simply because I like stuff like that. If you start with a good mix the additives probably aren't necessary, but I have nothing against them, especially the worm castings.
 
Appreciate the response CaneDog. They do have a "garden mix" which consists of their compost mixed at a 50/50 ratio with pulverized and sifted topsoil. They recommend this for beds but I was unsure of it due to issues regarding compaction and the quality of top soil, as that term can be broad at times. I wanted to provide the plants with a nutrient rich media that wasn't prone to compaction and choking them off. 
 
As I mentioned previously, most of the info I have read pertains to containers and the general consensus there looks like a lighter mix works better. I was unsure if this same thought process carried over to raised beds given the open bottom and available space. Obviously any money saved on limiting perlite or coir would be beneficial as those quantities can add up quickly. 
 
Lastly, I have read about the need to rinse and pre buffer coir with a mag/cal supplement. Is the buffering still necessary when used in raised beds in lesser quantities, or is that negated due to the other nutrient rich media and the coir not being the sole or primary media? 
 
The_NorthEast_ChileMan said:
 
 
 
My first suggestion is to get 'the lay of the land". Where's your plant able area - Does it get full sun when AM or PM - Any shade trees - Close to house and/or water etc. then measure & draw a plot of the lot.
 
The area that I am looking to utilize is approximately 14'x18'. It will be approximately 25' away from my back porch with the house on the north side of the garden. The hose hookup is directly off the porch, so watering is a non issue. I have a few trees in the yard but nothing in the immediate vicinity and nothing that should impact light heavily, as I have been monitoring it and will continue to do so. 
 
The spot is relatively level and not at a low point in the yard, which I wanted to avoid for obvious reasons. I would say the spot will receive full sun with slight shade in the early morning and late evening due to fence lines and houses. But typically an easy 8+ hours of sun a day without question. 
 

CaneDog

Extreme Member
I grow in raised beds every year and it's definitely a different situation versus containers.  Drainage isn't usually a concern and only in rare circumstances like a clay soil would compaction-like problems be an issue.  What they're recommending for you is very close to what I do.  Just a note, though, topsoil can be the worst thing around for growing plants if you get the bad stuff.  Getting it from a nursery should be great and still, mixing it with compost as they recommend is critical. 
 
I start with depleted garden soil and and every few years I truck in bulk yards of compost and mix it into the top layer. So that's my base.  Each hole I dig for a plant is where I do any special amendments, such as granular fertilizer, worm castings, etc.  I just dig my hole, throw in the amendments, use a trowel to mix those in another 8-12" deeper, then plant and fill.  I'll also spot compost the holes, especially if it's been a couple seasons since I trucked in the bulk compost.  Every year the compost will degrade and you'll lose some volume, but not usually enough to make a difference for a while and the ground underneath the beds is also getting fortified as the water run-through takes some bio-matter and nutrients down into it. 
 
I'm a big fan of raised beds.  And you really don't need to overthink it.  Simple works very well.  Plus too much drainage and you're going to be watering all the time.  You're more likely to want to retain water in the beds than accelerate dissipation.
 
One other thing, think about mulch.  Weeds will grow like crazy otherwise, plus that keeps roots cooler and allows you more time in between watering.
 
Oh, regarding coir, I doubt pre-charging is necessary when it's just a % of the mix with a lot of compost, but I've never used it other than in pots and then very few times.
 
It's fun to play around with coming up with your own recipe for a potting mix.  But there's always nuances to learn.
 
Since you're soliciting recommendations, here's mine.
 
If you have a "very highly regarded nursery" with a mixture they recommend for raised beds, I'd use it straight up.
 
Then make a smaller batch of your proposed potting soil mix, and test it out in some containers this year.  Once you dial in a mixture that's more reliable than the mixture recommended by the nursery, you can switch over to it.
 
CaneDog said:
 
 
One other thing, think about mulch.  Weeds will grow like crazy otherwise, plus that keeps roots cooler and allows you more time in between watering.
 
Oh, regarding coir, I doubt pre-charging is necessary when it's just a % of the mix with a lot of compost, but I've never used it other than in pots and then very few times.
 
I was definitely planning on adding an inch or two of mulch on top to limit weeds as well as act as a barrier against the sun and heavy rainfall. You answered pretty much every question I had haha. Thankfully I will be saving some coin by avoiding the far more costly additions of perlite and coco by going this route apparently. 
 
Once again thanks for all of the info, I really appreciate it. Looking forward to getting this going over the next year and contributing some hot sauce and  homegrown meals to the forum. 
 
DontPanic said:
It's fun to play around with coming up with your own recipe for a potting mix.  But there's always nuances to learn.
 
Since you're soliciting recommendations, here's mine.
 
If you have a "very highly regarded nursery" with a mixture they recommend for raised beds, I'd use it straight up.
 
Then make a smaller batch of your proposed potting soil mix, and test it out in some containers this year.  Once you dial in a mixture that's more reliable than the mixture recommended by the nursery, you can switch over to it.
 
Absolutely, and this is most likely the route I will take. I will trust the nursery as everyone locally, including my parents when they lived here raved about them. I will certainly tinker with the base recipe over time, what fun is sitting still without experiment haha.
 
Really appreciate the input on this DP, there is some fantastic info and posters on this board. 
 
CaneDog said:
Just a note, though, topsoil can be the worst thing around for growing plants if you get the bad stuff.
 
Brings up an interesting question CD, should SNS use the topsoil currently at his location? Did/do you? I did but I didn't build raised beds....I called my method modified square foot gardening, some aspects discussed here..I dug the soil out to substrate in yard then layered it back in while using lasagna gardening......
 

CaneDog

Extreme Member
The_NorthEast_ChileMan said:
 Brings up an interesting question CD, should SNS use the topsoil currently at his location? Did/do you? I did but I didn't build raised beds....I called my method modified square foot gardening, some aspects discussed here..I dug the soil out to substrate in yard then layered it back in while using lasagna gardening......
 
I've used naturally occurring topsoil numerous times.  I suppose if I suspected lots of weed killer other contaminants were used in that area that might affect my decision, so I'd probably give it the eye test first as to whether I thought the location might present that risk.
 
If it's normal topsoil and amended with compost, it should be fine.  My raised beds are at the community garden - the soil there is terrible, like clay when wet, like sand when dry, and hardpan not too far down - but mixed with compost it's gold. 
 
The topsoil issues I've seen recently are:
 
Yard Guy sold a woman trucked-in topsoil for her raised beds, but without the addition of compost it was worthless soil and wouldn't grow even strawberries.
 
Community garden replaced soil on a plot that had lost volume for some reason and the trucked-in topsoil contained enough wood chip debris that, despite massive local (in the planting hole) augmentation and later general amendment, the plants suffered extreme nitrogen deficiency and essentially would not grow and produce at all the first season and not well until the third season.
 
I'm with you on using what's available - unless it looks suspect - but it's usually not very expensive to buy it if they're going to have to truck in the compost anyway.
 
 
Don't want to get off-topic, but I hope all's well with you NECM and your season is off to a good start  :thumbsup:
 
I have 37 raised beds.  I like CD and DP's recommendation to get a product from your local nursery.  I use a product that is available from my local nursery and designed for raised beds.  It's a combination of processed pine bark fines, naturally composted organic material, lime, gypsum and sphagnum peat.  I've used it for years with no problems.  
 
JoynersHotPeppers said:
Look up sqaurefoot gardening. I have done it very successfully for many years. 
 
good luck
 
That is actually where I got the idea for my initial plan/question regarding using coir, perlite, and compost in somewhat similar ratios. Filling a number of beds with coco and perlite was going to get costly fast, that is one of the reasons it sparked my question. Are you using the standard 1/3 perlite, compost, coir/peat (Mel's Mix)  for your beds?  
 

Downriver

Extreme Member
stirrednotshaken said:
... I will be missing out on the majority of pepper season due to the timing of it all...
 
stirrednotshaken said:
 
...Looking forward to getting this going over the next year and contributing some hot sauce and  homegrown meals to the forum. 
 
You don't need to write off 2020 - it's only Mid-April lol.
 
How about some pots? Get yourself some pots/grow bags/buckets (whatever), buy a few plants  down at the nursery and  get  growin! Place them out in the yard where you're gonna put the raised bed. You can see how they grow in that spot, get used to watering and taking care of them, and then make some of those sauces you're talking about this Fall! Then, after frost, dump the soil from the pots into the new raised bed you've built over the Summer.
 
Where there's a will, there's a way!
 
Best of luck with it, and welcome to THP.
 
DownRiver said:
 
 
You don't need to write off 2020 - it's only Mid-April lol.
 
Where there's a will, there's a way!
 
Best of luck with it, and welcome to THP.
 
Very true and that is definitely my plan. I will be planting a small amount this year in a few 5 gallon fabric bags just to get my fix haha. I missed out on getting a head start but I will grow some of the standard varieties with a slightly condensed season. Next season I will start indoors in Jan/Feb to get a jump on some superhots and other varieties. 
 

SmokenFire

Staff Member
Moderator
Business Member
I've been gardening in raised bed for the last 8 years not too far from you stirred.  Started with two 4x10 beds and have added more and more over the years.  Currently we have four 4x10, two 5x5, one 6x6 and one 3x5 beds.  The beds are 8-12" high cedar wood that I purchased from Menards and screwed them together with corner braces. They were easy to build with just a drill, I built them on the spots they currently occupy in about 30 minutes per bed.  You can also order kits from amazon if you want.
 
I would recommend building several beds, no more than 4' wide - the larger width beds in my own garden are a pain to get to the middle of for weeding and harvest. The couple yards of garden soil mix from our local nursery has been fine for us, and we top dress with mushroom compost and our own compost each year with good results.  I can also recommend landscaping fabric instead of mulch - I stake it into the beds in early spring and it helps warm the soil then I cut holes and drop my seedlings into the beds in late May each year.  Keeps the weeds down, easy and doesn't blow off like straw that I've used in the past.
 
We grow garlic, peppers, tomatoes, radishes, onions, squash, cukes, beets, carrots, beans, melons, all manner of greens and a few other things.  Have had trouble with cucumber beetles and blight on the tomatoes in recent years but overall good harvests and lots of fun/learning. You're too late to start any peppers (and maybe tomatoes) from seed this year but local nurseries and big box home improvement stores have been carrying a wide variety of good stuff and heirlooms the past few years so don't worry. 
 
Here is a picture of the 4x10 beds with the 3x5 bed in the back on one side of our lawn,  Good luck!!
 
garden.jpg
 
Smoken, your setup is very similar to how I envision mine. I actually came across a few of your posts in other threads and was going to message you for tips, as I saw we lived in the same general area. 
 
My layout should be similar and my plan it is utilize multiple 4'x8'x10" cedar beds in my space. I have some old customers in the lumber wholesale business and I can grab some extra pieces off of them and the necessary hardware at a big box. I do not plan on exceeding 4' in width due to the problems you mentioned above. I will certainly note the landscaping fabric as well, anything to minimize weeds and regulate temps will be beneficial. The next project will be a chicken coop/run and my composting setup, so I will be looking to make additions to the garden that way, as well as starting a vermiculture. At that point I suppose the main thing I need to watch is my additions and not overdoing it with "green" material and overdoing the N in the media. 
 
I am glad to hear you're having success with other veggies and plants as well. It looks like we will have quite a bit of overlap as I am looking to grow much of the same, with peppers being the primary of course  :party: .  Thanks for the info, it is extremely helpful and I am sure I will pick your brain once or twice along the way. 
 
I just built this raised bed, its 3m long, 1.6m wide and 0.9m high.  I can reach into the middle from both sides and it's going to save my back from having to constantly bend over as I have to do with lower beds. I will make another 3 identical beds. I also have 1.2m x 0.8m pallet collars stacked 3 high that I use as raised beds, I have them filled with horse manure and straw (in layers) with about 30cm of potting soil on the top, everything I have grow in them has done unbelievable well so I will try this method in the big grow beds I made/am making. It makes it a whole lot cheaper for me to fill them as the horse manure is free and I can get unlimited amounts of it locally. All I'm paying for is the potting soil to cover it. 
 
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