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All Things Garden,  Beginner Basics,  Compost

How to Fill Raised Garden Beds with Organic Soil

One of the most common gardening questions I get is: What kind of soil do you fill raised garden beds with? There are so many raised bed soil choices out there, it can feel confusing and overwhelming to figure out what’s best. It’s also pretty darn important to “get it right”, since soil health plays a HUGE and direct role in overall plant health and productivity.

Read along and learn how to fill raised garden beds with quality organic soil that is well-balanced, nutrient-rich, and microbially-active – so your plants will thrive! In this article I will share our raised bed soil “recipe” with bagged soil, bulk soil, compost, and amendment options along with tips on calculating soil volume and using hugelkultur to fill raised garden beds.

Getting Started with Raised Beds

Looking for tips on how to build a raised garden bed? Check out this post to learn how we build durable, attractive, long-lasting wood raised beds. The tutorial includes a step-by-step video and explores wood choices, bed sizing, location or placement, tips for gopher-proofing beds, non-toxic sealer, and other ways to make wood raised beds last longer.

Not feeling up to building your own raised beds? That’s okay! Gardener’s Supply Co has some really nice wood raised bed kits. We also love the sleek, high-quality, galvanized metal Birdies raised beds from Epic Gardening – and code “deannacat3” will save 5%!

Once you have your beds in place, it’s time to fill ’em up.

Filling the raised beds in our new garden space – with the assistance of a UTV since we had 19 beds to fill! Most of the other photos you’ll see throughout this post are from our old garden, where we did everything by shovel and wheelbarrow.

Investing in quality raised bed soil

Let’s set the record straight: “Dirt” is not soil! Soil is rich, full of nutrients, critters, microorganisms, and is biologically active! In contrast, dirt is usually devoid of all these things. Soil improves with time and age, as the soil food web blossoms. It is a living, breathing, dynamic ecosystem of its own.

No matter how much love, energy, or money you invest into your garden, if you have crummy soil, the result will be crummy plants. If you’ve gone through the effort to build or buy yourself some awesome raised garden beds, why skimp on the soil? However, the answer isn’t as simple as “go grab X brand of soil”. In my experience, not one soil is going to be perfect for growing vegetables on its own – bulk or bagged.

If you’re blessed with decent native soil, you can use some of that to fill your raised beds to offset cost (explored below). And if you already filled your raised garden beds with less-than-ideal soil, don’t fret! There are many ways to amend and improve existing soil, as discussed at the end of this post.

A diagram by Heidelberg Farms showing what the Soil Food Web looks like below ground. There are tree roots with compost and micro arthropods on the soil surface, with bacteria and fungi, mycorrhizae, and nematodes and protozoa below the soil surface, in and around the tree roots.
The Soil Food Web. Image Courtesy of Heidelberg Farms via Pinterest


Within the confines of a large container, raised bed soil needs are unique and slightly different than in-ground gardens. The goal is to create a raised bed soil mix that is fertile, rich in organic matter, holds moisture, but also has good drainage and plenty of air pockets using a combination of quality organic soil (bagged and/or bulk), compost, and an aeration additive.

Our raised bed soil recipe:

  • 40% soil (topsoil, loam, etc)
  • 40% well-aged compost
  • 20% aeration (e.g. sand, lava fines, perlite, pumice, cocoa coir, peat moss, and/or rice hulls)
  • Other amendments such as worm castings and mellow, slow-release organic fertilizers

Next, we’ll talk about each of these components in detail below. Note that the ratios are approximate; they don’t need to be exact. Also, this raised bed soil recipe can be applied to other types of container gardening, just scaled down. For example if you need to fill fabric grow bags, wine barrel planters, or pots.

Before soil shopping shopping, you’ll need first to calculate the volume of soil is needed to fill the raised garden bed(s).

Soil volume

Bags of garden soil come in measurements of cubic feet, usually in a range of 1 to 3 cubic-foot bags. Bulk soil purchased from a local landscape supply company will be in cubic yards. To calculate how much soil you need to fill a raised bed, begin by determining the volume of your bed in cubic feet. To do this, simply multiply the width by length by depth in feet (For example: 4’ x 8’ x 1.5′ = 48 cubic feet).

Now you have your total cubic feet, and can figure out how much bagged soil it would take to fill the bed. If you’re using bulk soil or compost too, you’ll need to calculate volume in cubic yards. To convert to cubic yards, simply multiply cubic feet by 0.037037 (or use this converter). Given the example of a 4×8′ by 1.5-foot deep bed used above, 48 x 0.037037 = 1.7 cubic yards of soil is needed to fill it.

If math isn’t your strong suit (or you’re just feeling lazy…. no shame!) here is a raised bed soil calculator that will do it all for you, in both cubic feet or yards.

Two hands cupping rich brown organic soil with a few red worms, hovering over a garden bed with leafy greens in the background below.

40% SOIL

Bulk vs bagged soil (or compost)

If you calculated that you need several yards of soil to fill your raised garden beds, you are not going to want to rely on bagged soil alone. The cost will add up quick! Look up local landscape supply companies and see what they offer in bulk – either for delivery or for pick-up, if you have a truck. For example, we often get bulk soil and compost delivered from Central Coast Landscaping or Mier Brothers here on the Central Coast. On the other hand, if you need to fill only one or two modest raised beds, purchasing bagged soil could be the way to go.

Bulk soil options

Bulk soil quality, composition and type will vary depending on your location. In our area, we’ve found varying grades of bulk soil including basic topsoil or “fill”, some premium container blends (similar to bagged soil), and a middle-of-the-road “planters mix” that is 2 parts top soil, 1 part compost and 1 part soil conditioner.

The composition of bulk soil will influence how much/what else to mix with it. For instance, if you all you can find is basic fill or topsoil, then you’ll want to follow the full raised bed soil recipe of 40% topsoil, 40% compost and 20% aeration to create a nice well-balanced soil. Or, use mediocre bulk soil as a “filler” at the bottom of deep raised beds, with a better soil on top.

Yet if you’re able to find premium raised bed soil in bulk, then it likely already contains a good amount of compost and aeration (sand, perlite, etc) so you can therefore scale back on those component of the recipe respectively. The landscape supplier should be able to provide details of the ingredients and make-up of the soils they offer!

An image of two very large mounds of soil on a driveway, on top of a blue tarp. It was a delivery of several yards of bulk soil and organic compost.
Years ago, one of the only bulk soil options we had was this “planters mix” (described above) along with a chunky shredded green waste “compost” blend. It honestly wasn’t the best stuff, but helped take up a lot of bulk in the bottom of our beds. We added higher quality bagged materials too.
In the years since, we’ve found a higher quality bulk “performance blend” soil that we used in our newest raised beds – along with 25% compost and about 5% lava cinders by volume (shown in the background).

Bagged soil options

Even if we use good bulk soil to fill the majority of our raised beds, we always add at least a few bags of high-quality organic bagged soil near the top. We’ve used a wide variety of bagged soils over the years, but tend to prefer the selections offered at our local garden centers and nurseries over big box stores. “Hydro” grow shops (those geared towards cannabis growers) usually have a great selection of premium soils too.

A few good options include Gardener & Bloom (G&B), E.B. Stone, Aurora/Roots Organics, Dr. Earth’s, and Fox Farms. Other cheaper or generic bagged soil can be used as filler towards the bottom of the bed, especially if you’re filling raised beds with bagged soil alone.

If possible, choose a few different bagged soils. Do not use “potting soil” only. It is light, fluffy, and will dry out quickly. In the photo below, you can see that we mix various types of bagged soil and conditioners. By combining a few different things, you’re getting a nice variety of composition and texture. Some are a little more woody, some more fluffy, some with perlite or pumice, some with or without added fertilizers.

An image of an almost empty wood raised bed. It is five foot by three feet, and 18 inches deep. Various bagged soils lay around the outside of it, waiting to be added.
This smaller raised bed was added to our existing garden, so we didn’t bother ordering bulk soil and filled it with a variety of bagged soils and compost instead, plus small lava rocks (explained more below).


Compost is organic matter that has been thoroughly broken down and decomposed into rich nutrient-dense plant food. It is a phenomenal soil conditioner, boosts the soil food web, and will make your garden shine! We try to add as much homemade compost from our worm bin or our large compost pile as possible. To learn about 6 different ways to compost at home, plus some general compost 101 do’s and don’ts, see this article.

Unfortunately, we usually cannot make quite enough homemade compost to meet all of our needs – especially for large projects like filling new raised garden beds with soil. So we do end up supplementing with organic bagged compost or bulk compost too.

Keep in mind that most bagged soils usually already have compost in them. So unless you’re using plain topsoil in your raised bed soil recipe, feel free to scale the “compost” ratio down to 10-30% (depending on the soil you’re using).

Compost options

Many bagged soil companies offer bagged compost products too. Again, these can be found at your local garden center or hydroponics grow shops. You should also be able to find compost locally in bulk, which is usually derived from green waste or possibly composted food waste. The bulk compost we purchase is made from local green waste and is OMRI-certified for organic gardening.

Our favorite bagged compost is Malibu Compost Biodynamic Blend, or just referred to as “Bu’s”. It is made from aged, composted cow manure from certified organic dairy farms. They use biodynamic practices. The compost ingredients include organic aged manure, straw, vineyard wood chips, plus yarrow, chamomile, valerian, stinging nettle, dandelion, and oak bark! It is not uncommon to rip open a bag to dozens of happy worms squirming around in there. However, please note that Bu’s compost is quite rich, so they recommend mixing only 25% of their compost to your soil blend.

Unfortunately, Bu’s is primarily available on the West Coast. If you live in the Northeast, Coast of Maine makes a similar product. I’m sure there are many more companies out there, all over the U.S. Leave a comment if you are aware of a good local product like this in your area!

A photo of a bag of compost, by Malibu Compost. It is sitting on the gravel, leaning up against a half-filled raised bed behind it.
We love Bu’s. People hear me talking about this on Instagram and often think I am talking about how much we love “booze”… 😂

Manure versus Compost

Note that fresh manure is very different from compost. Yes, Bu’s compost starts with manure, but it aged and composted over time to become a more mild, balanced product. Fresh manure that hasn’t been properly aged is very high in nitrogen and can burn your plants. Therefore, avoid adding fresh animal manure to your garden. I am also a little leery of animal manures that are not from certified organic operations (antibiotics, pesticides, hormones, GMOs, ya know…) or have an otherwise unknown source.

Worm castings

Last but certainly not least, worm castings (aka worm poop!) are compost too. Worm castings are so good for your plants, they’re referred to as “black gold”. Worm castings offer gentle, slow-release fertilizer as well as improve soil structure, microbe activity, water retention, and drainage.

I highly recommend keeping a worm bin at home! It is a terrific way to divert food waste from the landfill, and up-cycle that “waste” into an incredibly valuable product for your garden or house plants. Worm bins are inexpensive, easy to maintain, and no, they do not smell bad. Learn how to set up and maintain a super simple worm bin here!

If you aren’t up for keeping your own worm bin, you could purchase finished worm castings and add at least a small mount to each bed. We can usually find bags of G&B Organics Worm Gro locally, or you could pick up some worm castings online here, or from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm.

A hand holding a handful of rich looking soil, which is actually worm castings. A few red worms are in with the worm castings. In the background, there is a whole tub of worm castings,
A little tub of screened worm castings or “black gold” being added to the new raised bed, from our worm bin. As you can see, a few friends came along for the party!


Nearly as important as the compost component, an aeration addition is key to healthy soil. This could include lava rock, pumice, or perlite. Coarse sand also promotes aeration and drainage, but not quite as effectively as the others.

Note: Like compost, a lot of bagged soil mixes already contain some perlite, pumice, peat moss, or rice hulls. Those are all forms of “aeration”, and are adding to our target total. So if you use primarily bagged mixes, read the ingredient list. If they contain those things, you can go lighter on adding additional aeration (e.g. perhaps only 10% extra, if any).

Benefits of lava rock, pumice or other aeration in raised bed soil

Why add aeration material to raised bed soil? Well, as we talked about, soil is full of living things – including beneficial microbes, nematodes, worms, protozoa, fungi, and more – and those friends need air to survive. Even more, plant roots need air to thrive too! Did you know plants breathe through their roots just as much as they do through leaves? That’s why it’s important to not overwater, and always provide drainage holes in pots. Otherwise, the plants will drown!

An aeration additive doesn’t only provide air. Their presence promotes drainage and prevents the soil from over-compacting. It may seem counter-intuitive, but absorbent materials like lava rock and pumice also increases moisture retention at the same time. They create air pockets for drainage, but also hold water within themselves like a sponge, helping to maintain evenly moist raised bed soil for a longer period of time between watering. Like many things in gardening, it’s all about balance.

Lava Rock

For the aeration portion of our raised bed soil recipe, we have come to love volcanic rock. It is also called “lava cinders” and is frequently used in aquaponics. We get the small 3/8 inch to quarter-inch size. Don’t use larger chunks! Lava rock is full of pores, that not only promote aeration and drainage, but are also the perfect habitat for beneficial microbes to grow. They don’t float to the soil surface like white bits of perlite do, and are generally more affordable than pumice.

Our local landscape supply company carries volcanic rock both in bulk and in half cubic-foot bags. For any Central Coast locals, I am talking about AirVol Block in San Luis Obispo. This is where we get a lot of our hardscaping materials like stone blocks, green rock gravel, cobblestones, and pathway pavers too.

If you can’t find volcanic rock, use small perlite or pumice. Availability of all these products will vary depending on your location.

A hand holding small red lava rock pieces, that are being added to the new raised bed.
3/8″ lava rock – added for aeration, drainage, moisture retention, and surface area for microbial life!


Another thing that will help with aeration is… my favorite: worms!

Did you know that Cornell University refers to worms as “living soil amendments”? Worms play a vital role in the overall health of organic soil, as part of the soil food web. By simply being present and doing their wormy thing, they continually aerate, nourish, and improve soil structure! Furthermore, as they cruise around, they break up the soil. This in turn improves drainage, increases moisture retention and oxygen flow to plant root systems – all very good things!

“Worms feed on plant debris (dead roots, leaves, grasses, manure) and soil. Their digestive system concentrates the organic and mineral constituents in the food they eat, so their casts are richer in available nutrients than the soil around them. Nitrogen in the casts is readily available to plants. Worm bodies decompose rapidly, further contributing to the nitrogen content of soil.”

NSW Government Agriculture

Adding worms to raised garden beds

As worm castings are added into each of our raised beds, a few red wiggler compost worms (and their cocoons or babies) usually hitch a ride too! Now they’ve been introduced into the bed, and will continue to populate. Red wigglers are fairly small worms, reproduce quickly, and break down food matter fast, thus creating castings faster. They’re perfect in a worm bin, and good in the garden too! However, red wigglers generally like to stay near the soil surface. On the other hand, earthworms like European Nightcrawlers like to dive deeper in the soil to do all their good work. We add some of those big bad boys to our garden too!

Two hands held together, cupping a large pile of european nightcrawler earth worms. The hands are poised over a garden space
European Nightcrawlers from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, about to to be added to the soil around our fruit trees – where the soil is compacted. A few got added to each bed too!

Please note: Most earthworms are not native species to North America. They are excellent additions to your garden, but some can disrupt native ecosystems (such as forests) if they’re introduced elsewhere. This is particularly a concern with a dense population of European nightcrawlers.

Thus, please make responsible decisions when adding worms to your soil, depending on your garden (e.g. does it abut a woodland?) Within the confines of urban or suburban gardens, their presence is generally welcome and helpful! The bottom of our raised beds are blocked off with landscape fabric, so they can’t easily get into the native soil.


Now that we have a better idea of the types of materials we want to add to our raised beds, it is time to fill them up!  Yep, our beds are 100% full of all this good stuff. Aside from sometimes adding bulk soil to the bottom of our deepest beds, there is no other “fillers” at the bottom. Just how the roots like it!

The goal is to get all of these materials evenly mixed, as much as possible. We’ll generally add them in “lasagna layers”, mixing as we go. For example, add several inches of bulk soil or bagged soil, a good layer of compost, a couple inches of volcanic rock, and mix. With that, the bed may only be about quarter full. Repeat with more layers of each, mix. Continue this process until the bed is full.

Fill garden beds all the way up – within a couple inches of the top! When you first water the bed, it will compact and sink down a little. Depending on how much it sinks, you may want to top it off with another layer of compost or soil. Filling shallow raised garden beds (e.g. 1 foot deep or less) as full as possible is especially important. Empty space in the left bed is wasted space for happy plant roots

An image of a newly built redwood raised bed, only about half full at this time. In the bed, there is a combination of soil and compost, with some red volcanic rock on top, about to be mixed and then continued to be filled.
In the past, we’d add alternating wheelbarrows or bags of soil to create a “lasagna layer” of soil, compost, and volcanic rock, mixing in the layers as we go until it’s full. Back in the day (in our smaller garden) we did all our bed-filling by wheelbarrow and shovel, even when we did order in bulk.
When creating our new garden, we rented a skid steer (tractor bucket loader) to scoop up the bulk soil and compost from the main pile in the driveway, load it into the back of our UTV, then drove it to the raised bed area to dump into each bed. We pre-mixed the soil, compost, and lava rocks in the UTV first by loading the material in alternating scoops, and then mixed it further by shovel as it was added to the bed.

What About Hugelkultur?

To offset cost and take up some space at the bottom of a deep empty bed (e.g. two feet or deeper), you could choose to add some small logs, branches, leaves, mulch, pine needles, or other woody organic matter, and then add at least a foot of soil and compost on top. The woody debris eventually breaks down to feed the soil as a carbon source over time.

This practice is called Hugelkultur. Learn hugelkultur pros and cons, best practices and materials to use, and how to make a hugelkultur garden bed here. However, I do not recommend adding non-organic matter such as rocks, plastic bottles, sytrofoam, or other random materials to take up space in your bed. I also don’t recommend using hugelkultur in shallow raised garden beds (1 foot deep or less).

Raised Bed Soil Fertilizers

Most “virgin” soil (especially topsoil) will need some amending with mild, balanced, slow-release fertilizers to keep your plants healthy, happy, and productive! This is true whether it comes trucked in bulk or from a bag.

If you filled your raised garden bed primarily with high-quality organic bagged soils and compost, you can go pretty light on the fertilizer for the first growing season. Those bags usually contain pre-amended soil with light fertilizer and some compost added. But as the next growing season comes around, you’ll want to start implementing a fertilizer routine for your raised garden beds. As your plants grow, they will use up a lot of the available nutrients in the soil.  If you fail to amend the beds in preparation for the new crops, you set them up to flounder and starve!

On the flip side, if you started primarily with bulk soil and compost from a local landscape company, you’ll most definitely want to add fertilizer from the start. That is, unless they say that it’s already amended. Though I don’t think that is common practice for most bulk material.  

Organic Soil Amendment Options

Every gardener has their own preferences for fertilizers and amendments. Let me tell you about ours, and then you can make you own decisions and research further from there!

We don’t ever use the “heavy-hitter” fertilizers, like blood meal, bone meal, or feather meal. I call them heavy-hitters because they’re usually really high in one macronutrient or another – nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium (NPK). While all those nutrients are essential, we don’t feel the need to dose our plants heavily with animal byproducts. Due to their strength, there is an increased risk for shocking and “burning” your plants. Between the compost, worm castings, aerated compost tea, and other more natural, mild amendments and practices we feed our soil, we just don’t find the former to be necessary!

Let’s talk about what we DO use.

Mellow Meals

We prefer to add mellow, balanced, slow-release, plant-based fertilizers to our raised bed soil. Down-To-Earth brand has been our go-to for the past several years, though we use other brands at times too. The main products we use are kelp meal, neem meal, alfalfa meal, or this vegan all-purpose fertilizer. They’re all OMRI-certified for organic gardening.

We sprinkle in these mellow meals on top of the soil, lightly scratching and working them in to the top few inches. We do this a couple times per year, usually between switching out crops in beds. Keep in mind we garden year-round here, so your fertilizing schedule may vary. I always suggest going a little lighter than the instructions on the box. You don’t want to accidentally “burn” the plants! Even these gentler options do pose some risk of that, if you overdo it. They all have their different benefits so we usually mix a few of them. If you were to start with just one, go for the all-purpose stuff.

Sprinkling in a combination of kelp, alfalfa and neem meals to the top of the soil once the raised bed is full.  This will be scratched into the top few inches of the soil, and watered in.  We also added some rock dust here, and earlier when the bed was only half-full.
Sprinkling in a combination of kelp, alfalfa and neem meals to the top of the soil once the raised bed is full. This will be scratched into the top few inches of the soil, and watered in. We also added some rock dust here, and earlier when the bed was only half-full.

Rock Dust

One optional amendment we always add to our garden is basalt rock dust. We add rock dust when filling new raised beds with soil, or when planting trees or shrubs in our native soil. It is slow-release and cannot burn or harm plants like fertilizer can.

Rock dust comes from volcanic ash. It is low in macronutrients, but absolutely loaded with trace minerals. It helps increase nutrient uptake by plants, increases crop yields, improves plant immunity, boosts pest resistance, and generally enhances soil and plant health. Check out for more information and research about rock dust!


Finally, don’t forget to cover the soil with a couple inches of mulch. Mulch protects and improves raised bed soil by reducing evaporation, suppressing weeds, and buffering the soil (and plant roots) from temperature swings. We typically use a woody compost as mulch. Learn more about mulching best practices and pros and cons of 8 popular mulch options here, including bark or wood chips, straw, compost, and more.

Full, freshly mulched beds in our old garden


Do you have raised beds that are already full of soil that you aren’t very happy with? Or more like, that your plants don’t seem very happy with? It’s okay! In fact, we have been in this boat before too. Do not feel the need to go dig out all your soil and start over. There is hope!

Before you consider replacing your raised bed soil, try amending it first using some of the materials we’ve discussed already.

If your plants are sad and small, have you been fertilizing them adequately? Is your soil too compact? Try to mix in some aeration additive.  Does it seem like the soil drains too quickly, or dries out to quickly? Add compost and worm castings! That, along with watering with aerated compost tea, will increase the microbial life in your soil. For better moisture retention, drainage, and “fluff”, peat moss or coco coir could also be mixed in. Note that coco coir is the more sustainable option of the two.

First, try those measures for a season and see if there is noticeable improvement. I really think there should be. If not? Next, consider taking out at least a portion of the old soil and replacing with the types of things discussed in this post.

The final raised garden bed for this example, now completely full of soil, compost, and aeration additions. It is being watered, with drips of water running down the side of the bed, and a rainbow has appeared in the water spray.
The final full bed. Make sure to give it some water to get everything happy, and to get those microbes kicking!

And that’s how we fill new raised garden beds with soil!

I hope that was helpful! Going forward, we do plenty of other things to feed our soil too – such as using mycorrhizae during transplanting. Or, routinely watering with actively aerated compost tea (AACT). Check out this article all about how we routinely amend and prepare our raised bed soil between planting seasons. Otherwise, thanks so much for reading. Feel free to ask questions in the comments below. Also spread the soil love by sharing this post if you found it useful!

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  • Lois

    I am going to be using a pre-existing raised bed that has not been used for growing organically. It has a small amount of soil in it which I am going to remove and start over. Is there anything else that I should do to the box to make it organically safe? I’m pretty sure that the previous person used fertilizers and perhaps pesticides that are not organic. I hope this makes since. Thank you in advance for your help.

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hello Lois, I think everything will be safe enough and I wouldn’t be too worried about it since you will be starting over from scratch. Good luck and happy gardening!

  • Deanna Nelson

    Help! I am confused. I plan on getting some bulk soil. I need 4.72 cubic yards total of soil and this says not to rely on bulk soil alone so how much bagged stuff would I buy for the 40% bulk soil and bagged soil (20% of each?)

    Thank you!!!

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hello Deanna, looks like you have quite the project on your hands! If you did the calculations on your raised beds or container sizes and they can hold 4.72 cubic yards of total volume, I would opt for at least 2.5 cubic yards of bulk and or bagged soil. That is equal to 67.5 cubic feet total, most bagged soil comes in 2 or 3 cubic foot bags so you would just scale up or down from there depending on how much bulk soil you get. If you have quality bulk compost and or bulk soil available to you, you could use more of those and less of bagged soil to off set some of the up front cost. Our local landscape supply companies don’t have the best soil so we have to rely on some bagged material as well. If you don’t have much aeration material available to you, it will be more important to mix in some potting soil (which typically have perlite or pumice) to help with some aeration as some bulk soil (like the ones available to use) don’t contain much in the mix besides dirt and wood. Hope that helps and let me know if you need any more clarification or have more questions. Thanks and good luck!

  • Laci

    You are SO amazing & knowledgeable! You always provide such detailed & valuable information! It is a bit overwhelming to try & get it right…..each year brings new challenges for myself. But maybe someday I will get it all together. In the meantime, thank you for what you do (& your husband) & all of the hard work you do to put all of this information together & share it. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Thank you so much Laci and don’t worry, we are still trying to get it all together ourselves. It’s about learning from your experiences and enjoying what you do. Thanks for reading and being a part of this community, we will see you around!

    • Deanna Nelson

      Thank you for the response! I am not sure on the quality of the soil around here (I am inWi). I called a guy and he said it is shredded (he said its smooth with sand added). I definitely want to substitute with some bagged stuff so maybe shoot for getting 1.5 yards of that soil for filler and then the rest bagged.

      • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

        That sounds like a good idea, you can always continue to “grow” your soil through the use of compost tea, cover crops, and mulch to make an active and microbial rich environment in time. Good luck!

  • Brendan

    Very informative on a number of levels, thank you for sharing your wisdom! I knew volcanic rock was good for retaining moisture, but hadn’t known about the aeration factor.

  • Lizzie

    When you say you like to use a woody compost material, are you referring to Harvest Supreme as your final layer? Or, are you using it to mix in as part of the whole bed soil. I have found it to be quite woody. I use Harvest Supreme as my final layer for that “woody compost” you refer to. But, I know those lil buddy microbes love that wood. Yes I overthink everything. Thank you both.

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hello Lizzie, we have used Harvest Supreme as part of our soil mixture as well as using it as mulch. We mostly use the Soil Building Conditioner from Gardner and Bloome as our mulch layer. Any woody material in your soil will be broken down with time into rich organic matter. Let us know if you have any other questions and happy gardening!

  • Julie

    I’m in chicago, so to keep my beds protected over winter this year I added a layer of chemical free hay I bought at the garden center. Now that spring is here I want to refresh my beds with compost and fertilizer and mix it lightly with the old soil. Do I remove the hay or add the compost on top? I know they say not to turn the soil up too much so I didn’t think I should mix it in? Thanks for any advice!

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hello Julie, it really depends on how much hay is in your beds and if you want to use the hay as a mulch layer for your growing season. If there is less than a inch or so of hay you can most likely add compost and amendments on top of it and lightly mix it into the top layer of the soil. The other option is to remove the hay, add your compost and amendments into the top layer of the bed, and then add your hay back on top of the soil to be used as mulch. There is nothing to be worried about as far as hay mixing into the soil, it is a carbon source and will be broken down into organic matter in time which will feed your soil and the plants that are growing in it. Hope that helps and have fun gardening!

  • Karen

    I have a cedar planting box on legs—6 feet long—and plan to plant vegetables. I’m a newbie—how many drainage holes do I need? Should I put anything on the bottom of the box prior to filling? Thanks.

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hello Karen, how wide is your planter box and what is the bottom of the bed made of? Is it one large piece of wood or are there a couple boards coming together to make up the bottom? Usually seams in wood, especially on the bottom of a bed will result in some drainage already. I would use 1/4″ to 1/2″ drill bit and drill a hole at least every two square foot of planter box. If your box is 12 square feet then at least 6 drainage holes would be recommended. I would lay down a sheet of landscape fabric on the bottom so the drainage holes don’t get clogged with soil and add a 1 to 2 inch layer of gravel to the bottom to promote even more drainage before filling the rest of the box with soil. If the planter box is raised off the ground enough so it can still be accessed from the bottom, you can always add more drainage holes later if the planter box isn’t draining well enough. Hope that helps and good luck!

  • Kimberley

    This will be my first year trying to grow vegetables in a long time and my first time trying to keep everything organic. My newly built cedar bed is 8′ X 4′ X 10″ (.83′). If I did the math correctly, I will need approximately 27 cu feet of soil. If I am buying Kellogg’s All Natural Raised Bed and Potting Mix Premium Outdoor Container Mix is that all I need? or am I still supposed to mix in compost and aeration material? The bag for the soil says no mixing needed. I wasn’t sure if that was really the case or if i still needed to be concerned with the other components.

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hello Kimberely, it’s great to hear that you are giving gardening a chance once again. Your soil selections sound great, you don’t need to add any extra aeration materials. However, I would suggest finding a good compost to add to your raised bed, even if it is only 2 to 3 cubic feet worth added into the top 1/4 portion of the soil. Depending on where you live and what is available to you, Malibu’s Compost (West Coast), Oly Mountain Fish Compost (PNW), or Coast of Maine Compost (East Coast) are all fairly large companies whose products can be fairly easily found. You could also check locally to see if there is a company near you who specializes in vermicomposting who may have worm castings available to use as your compost portion. And finally, don’t forget about mulching your garden bed once you have filled it full of soil, we like using a woody type compost material. Hope that helps and good luck! Let us know if you have any other questions.

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      We usually just add them once we fill the bed to the top with soil and after a thorough water. Lightly burying the worms is enough as they usually work their way into the soil rather quickly.

    • Kay

      Thanks for a great post! I’m building sub-irrigated beds (self-watering). Would you still add worms in there? Should I assume they wouldn’t survive the northeastern winter?

      • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

        Hello Kay, it’s really up to you if you would like to add worms or not. Even only 2 or 3 worms per bed will repopulate themselves quite easily. If the worms can’t burrow deep enough to survive the freezing weather, the cocoons that they lay can overwinter and will emerge once the weather warms. Good luck and let us know how your sub irrigated beds work out for you.

  • Brittney

    Thank you for all of the information! I have also seen quite a bit about adding cardboard to the bottom layer of a raised bed. Would you make this addition to all of your recommendations, replace one of your mentioned layers with the cardboard, or not use at all? I am completely new to the gardening world and have been quite overwhelmed by all of the information! Thank you in advance for your reply!!

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hello Brittney, I would opt to use either cardboard or commercial grade weed blocking fabric but using both is unnecessary. It just depends on how many invasive weeds there are around your garden area and if there is a concern on weeds or grass growing up into your beds from below. The cardboard helps for less invasive grass and weeds but it won’t hold up for long before it breaks down into organic matter. Hope that helps and good luck! Let us know if you have any other questions.

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