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Best Soil for Raised Beds | Step by Step Guide

Many gardeners use raised beds instead of traditional rows because along with the best soil for raised beds, they tend to yield better results. However, even with diligent water and weeding, your raised bed isn’t going to produce the amount of vegetables you hoped without a proper soil mixture.

Building the best soil mix for raised beds is one of the most important steps to gardening.


Best Soil Mix for Raised Beds

Making the Best Soil for Raised Beds

When we focus on the condition of the soil, our garden will explode with produce. It is also important to remember your soil needs to be tended each and every year. 

If you don’t make amendments, you will notice your crops aren’t producing as nicely. Let’s take a look ways to build the right soil for your raised beds.

1. Choosing the Right Soil

Choosing the Right Soil for Your Garden Bed

One of the first tips to remember is the soil in your raised beds needs to be light and crumbly. Once you have built your raised beds, you need to fill them. 

You can use general potting soil, a mixed specifically formulated for vegetable gardening, or topsoil that you need to make amendments to so it will produce.

No matter what option you decide, the soil has to be light. The roots need to travel through the soil, and dense soil means the roots will struggle. The plant sends too much energy to the roots, and it can lead to a failed crop.

One way to test for soil density is to poke a finger into the soil. It should easily go down to the third knuckle.

If you cannot do that, adding peat moss to your soil will lighten it up. Peat moss is acidic, so add lime to balance your soil. For the premixed soil, check the bag for the pH level.

2. Utilizing the Benefits from Compost

Compost is an important resource and can drastically change the results of your garden

You can make your own compost, but if you have yet to begin this, most stores sell a variety of bagged compost. Compost is an important resource and can drastically change the results of your garden.

It is best to add compost to your soil a week before you plant. If you have yet to start a compost pile, I want to encourage you to do so. It is simple, and it provides a way to dispose of your food scraps.

A compost is a place to put dead plant matter after you harvest your crops. All of these things decompose and turn into nutrient dense soil. However, compost is expensive when purchased by the bag, so making your own is cost effective.

Here a video on how to make your own compost:

3. Calculating How Much Soil to Make

If you decide to skip the premade soil and make your own, you have to figure out how much garden soil you need to make. Using a soil calculator makes the calculation easy.

Even if you don’t make your own soil, this can help you decide how many bags to purchase.

4. Finding the Right Soil Mixture

While the right soil mixture is going to depend on the plants you intend to grow, there is one recipe that is popular with gardeners. All you need is 3 components: peat moss, vermiculite, and compost. Let’s take a look at this recipe.

Making the Best Soil for Raised Beds

First, you need 1/3 peat moss, depending on the cubic feet or cubic yards needed. As mentioned above, you need peat moss to help lighten your soil. This is especially important when growing root crops, such as carrots and turnips. Peat moss is an important part of health soil.

Next, you will need 1/3 coarse vermiculite. If you cannot find vermiculite, it is fine to use perlite. Vermiculite is mica rocks that have exploded into little pieces after being heated. You need vermiculite because it helps the soil drain properly; the rocks have little nooks that absorb water.

Last, you need 1/3 compost material, either from your own pile or bagged compost. Without compost, your plants will not get the needed nutrients to grow. Compost is plant food.

Some expert gardeners recommend using compost from 5 different sources. This only applies to purchased compost; homemade compost comes from a wide assortment of materials.

However, bagged compost generally comes from a single source, like chicken manure. So, read the bags and try to get different sources.

To determine how much you need of each component, use the calculator to determine the total amount of soil needed. Then, divide this number by 3.

5. Making Your Own Soil Mix

Once you have gathered all of your ingredients together, it is time to make your own soil mix! There are just 3 steps to take, and they are easy to follow:

  •  Lay out a tarp and put all of the ingredients on top. Using a rake or a shovel, thoroughly mix all 3 together. The vermiculite can be dusty, so you may want to wear a mask.

    Once the soil is mixed together, shovel it all into your raised beds as evenly as possible.
  • Now, you need to thoroughly water the soil. Watering weighs the soil down and eliminates all the dust stirred up by the shoveling.

    Instead of having to carry a bucket of water, if your garden is too large (more than 25 feet), it's would be best to buy a expandable hose for watering easily and saving time.
  • Before you plant, allow the soil to settle for 2 weeks. Once it settles, you may notice it is 1 to 2 inches below where you originally placed it. This is normal; just add some more on top.
Best Soil for Raised Garden Beds

6. Additional Soil Amendments

The above mentioned soil mixture is just one of the recipes you could use, but they all serve as the essential foundational blocks for a soil mixture.

There are times you may want to add some amendments to your mix, depending on your needs and area. Here are some soil amendment options and their uses:

  •  Greensand – source of potassium and micronutrients
  • Soybean meal – source of nitrogen
  • Rock phosphate – source of phosphorous and micronutrients. This is a great amendment that is often overlooked by gardeners.

    If you want your crops to have sufficient growth each year, rock phosphate has many minor elements such as zinc, nickel and iodine, which is needed for plants to grow.
  • Alfalfa meal – source of nitrogen, as well as phosphorous, potassium and micronutrients
  • Wood ashes – decreases acid in the soil
  • Epsom salts – source of magnesium and sulfur
  • Blood meal – source of nitrogen
  • Bone meal – source of phosphorous and nitrogen
  • Coffee and tea grounds – source of phosphorous, nitrogen and potassium as well as great for your compost pile.

7. Using Organic Fertilizer

Even with soil amendments, you may want to use an organic fertilizer once or twice a gardening season. They can help when you plant your early seedlings and towards the end of the gardening season.

However, most fertilizers don’t contribute to the soil condition, so it won’t have long term results. To distribute the fertilizer, you need to buy fertilizer spreader.

Make the Best Soil for Raised Beds

Despite all of the information provided here, making a great soil mix is far from complicated. It does take trial and error. First, you always need to remember your soil has to be light and not dense in raised beds.

Before you make your soil, you have to decide if you want to make your own compost or purchase bagged. Try the recipe provided for a building block soil. Then, consider some soil amendments depending on the specific plants you have chosen.

If you want to use an organic fertilizer, try it in the beginning of the season for a boost. All of this will help you make the best soil for raised beds. 

About the Author Ann Katelyn

I'm Ann Katelyn, Creator and Chief Author of Sumo Gardener. Since I was a child I've always been fascinated with plants and gardens, and as an adult this has developed into my most loved hobby. I have dedicated most of my life to gardening and started Sumo Gardener as a way to express my knowledge about gardening with the hope of helping other people's gardens thrive.

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1 comment
John says January 2, 2021

Thanks for the good information on raised gardening.

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