my first raised vegetable garden: filling it up

After Craigslist scouring, I ended up with nearly enough cement blocks to build two raised garden beds (I had to buy about seven new to fill the gaps, which added up to around $8). The next step was to calculate how much soil I would need to fill each, starting by using this really nifty soil volume calculator at Gardener’s Supply Company, which told me that I would need 75 cubic feet (or 2.765 cubic yards) of soil to fill one bed. Gardener’s Supply lists a “recipe” for raised bed fill as follows:

  • 60 percent topsoil (I would need 45 cubic feet for each of my beds)
  • 30 percent compost (22.5 cubic feet)
  • 10 percent soilless growing mix that contains peat moss, perlite and/or vermiculite (7.5 cubic feet)

That kind of volume meant that bagged materials were out of the question. If I went the Home Depot route, buying Earthgro ($2.47/cubic foot),  Ecoscraps compost ($5.97/cubic foot) and  Grower’s Gold Outdoor Growing Mix ($10/1.5 cubic feet), I’d end up paying nearly $300 to fill each bed!

There’s got to be a cheaper way.

And there is! If you have access to clippings, cardboard, and kind neighbors, check out this simple recipe at Eco Films Australia:

  • Top layer: straw
  • Layer 2: compost
  • Layer 3: newspaper and cardboard
  • Layer 4: grass clippings
  • Layer 5: rough mulch
  • Bottom layer: branches

The gardener in question swears by this mix for growing great plants. But while I do have great neighbors, what I don’t have is patience. So I ended up contacting a local green landscaper for a bulk delivery of their growing mix: topsoil mixed with compost. I paid about $248 to get five yards delivered, and this was more than enough to fill each bed and have a big pile left over for another section of the yard that needed some love. And then came the plants — in my next garden post.

Image via Eco Films Australia.

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I always imagined raised beds to be filled full of dirt. Very interesting how you were able to use all of those other materials.

Mary S

I actually didn’t — that’s from a garden source in Australia. But I did end up using a mix of compost and soil; I just purchased it from a garden store.

This blog illustrates this very well and explains it. Thanks!

Great post. A lot of good information here for my gardening.

Great illustration! I never thought that newspaper/cardboard can be used as filling. Will surely consider…

Laura

I just went through the same exercise for these coffin-sized planters I got from Craigslist. They’re a black hole for dirt. I ended up asking friends to save their wine bottles for me and lined the bottom of the planter. (I got a lot of bottles. My friends were a little embarrassed and that full visual of their drinking.) Either way, the bottles are green, easy to take out if I ever need the full depth, and it was free.