5 Cheap Ways to Fill Your Raised Garden Beds - Backyard Boss
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5 Cheap Ways to Fill Your Raised Garden Beds

A raised garden bed is a great way to grow crops and make the most of your gardening space. But in order to use them you’ll need to fill them with the proper materials and amendments. Filling an entire raised garden bed with healthy, well-draining, and fertile soil is a dream come true for many gardeners, but that can be costly.

If you’re dealing with several raised garden beds, it’s cheaper to layer them with inexpensive organic materials you can easily scavenge to bulk up your soil. So, what are the most affordable ways to fill your raised beds? Here are five cheap ways to get the job done!

Cheap Ways to Fill Your Raised Garden Beds

It’s tempting to fill your raised beds with garden soil, but that can do more harm than good. Not only do you need healthy soil but ensure the spot you pick receives at least four to six hours of sunlight for thriving plants.

This can also be a costly endeavor so, here are some cheap ways to fill your garden beds.

1. Hugelkultur Method

hugelkulture method, raised garden bed
Image credits: osiristhe via Creative Commons

This German gardening method uses rotting wood, compost, mulch, garden debris, and other organic materials to fill a raised bed. Hugelkulture beds have nutrient-rich and fertile soil with good moisture retention and drainage abilities thanks to rotting wood. This material acts like compost and other organic materials amending the soil.

The below or above-ground hugelkulture bed will have the following layers:

Layer 1 Add rotting logs, branches, and twigs. Start with larger logs and move to smaller twigs as you pile up. Use wood that’s not resistant to rot, like alder, willow, and birch. Water this layer well.
Layer 2 Add straw, hay, and grasses on the logs, branches, and twigs to fill large air pockets. Ensure the grass you use isn’t infected or diseased, as that could invite mold, fungus, and pests to your raised bed.
Layer 3 Spread a mulch layer, including fallen leaves, shredded bark, newspaper, or cardboard. This layer will accelerate decomposition.
Layer 4 Add compost, including plant pruning, grass clipping, kitchen scraps (no meat), coffee grounds, and tea leaves. This adds nitrogen to your raised bed.
Layer 5 Top it off with a 1-to-2-inch layer of topsoil and mulch to prepare your raised bed for planting.

2. Lasagna Gardening

A woman throws kitchen waste from a bucket into a compost heap with layers of organic matter, old grass and soil. The concept of the preparation of limited ecological fertilizer.
Image credits: Tatiana_Pink via Shutterstock

Also known as sheet mulching or composting, lasagna gardening is a cool, no-dig, no-till gardening method to start your raised garden bed. A lasagna garden combines different layers of brown and green materials that leave you with fertile, nutrient-rich soils for your plants.

Your below or above-ground lasagna garden will have the following layers:

Layer 1 Add a 4-inch layer of twigs and small branches at the bottom to aid drainage. Ensure none of these are diseased or chemically treated.
Layer 2 Spread 2 to 8 inches of the brown layer, which consists of shredded newspaper, cardboard, dry leaves, or straw. Water deeply before adding another layer.
Layer 3 Spread 2 to 4 inches of the green layer consisting of compost, kitchen scraps (without meat), grass clippings, tree or plant pruning, coffee grounds, and tree leaves. This will add nitrogen to your raised bed.
Layer 4 Repeat the layers, alternating between brown and green. Water deeply after the brown layers and ensure you end your pile with the final brown layer.
Layer 5 Add 6 inches of topsoil before planting.

3. Ruth Stout Raised Garden Bed Method

ruth stout method, raised garden bed
Image credits: VeggieGardeningTips via Creative Commons

This is the easiest way to fill your raised garden bed. Ruth Stout founded the no-dig, no-work gardening method that required nothing but fallen leaves, hay, straw, and kitchen scraps to get the raised bed started.

A typical Ruth Stout method will have the following layers:

Layer 1 Kitchen scraps and other organic household or garden debris, like grass clippings, twigs, and branches. Ensure everything is organic and disease free.
Layer 2 An 8-inch thick layer of leaves and rotting hay or straw.

The Ruth Stout Method is a permanent mulching system on the soil because it’s all about layering more mulch on top of the existing mulch. So, for example, if you see borers or weeds, or if the soil underneath is too wet, add more mulch on top.

4. Core Gardening

core gardening method, raised garden bed
Image credits: Doug Beckers via Creative Commons

This method is similar to a keyhole garden, but it’s built differently. With core gardening, the main idea is to make a sponge-like structure in the middle of your raised beds, which will hold moisture and distribute it throughout the raised bed.

A core gardening method is made up of the following steps:

Step 1 Layer your raised bed with cardboard to prevent weeds from sprouting between your crops.
Step 2 Fill your bed with amended garden soil or a combination of topsoil, compost, and potting soil.
Step 3 Create a 10 to 11-inch deep horizontal trench in the middle of your raised bed.
Step 4 Fill this trench with organic materials like rotting hay or straw, small twigs, grass, and dried leaves.
Step 5 Top the raised bed off with a layer of compost and topsoil.

5. Bulk Soil for Raised Garden Beds

earth for a plant in a black bag. the soil is black earth fertilizer for gardening, raised garden bed
Image credits: Irzhanova Asel via Shutterstock

Going into a gardening store can make you spin on your heels, looking for the perfect soil for your raised garden beds. However, don’t purchase garden soil in bulk.

Garden soil is heavy, lacks density and sterility, and can suffocate your plant’s roots if you don’t amend it with soil amendments, add conditioners, and improve drainage. Instead of plain garden soil, look for a mix that contains 60 percent topsoil or garden soil, 30 percent compost, and 10 percent potting soil.

Mulches Grassious!

Raised garden beds have always been a hit amongst gardeners. They can help organize a messy garden, improve the overall plant and soil health and prolong the growing season. However, filling them up can be an expensive endeavor. These ideas will help you fill your raised beds without breaking the bank.

Leave your experiences, thoughts, and questions in the comment section! And share with friends and family who might find this helpful.

Happy gardening!

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