How to Fill Raised Garden Beds Properly

You built some great raised garden beds and now you need to fill them but soil is heavy to move and expensive. You look around for a better alternative and find a hundred suggestions online. Which is the best option?

I started using raised beds back in 1974 and have tried a lot of variations over the years. In this post I’ll combine the science with my experience and tell you what works and what doesn’t, and give you the best option for filling raised beds.

raised bed using 2 x 8 lumber, with no soil
Wooden raised bed ready for filling, source: Laird Kitchen & Bath

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Soil Calculator | How Much Soil Do You Need?

Automatically calculate the amount of soil you need in both imperial and metric units. This soil calculator shows the amount for both bulk and bag purchase and can be used for any type of material including topsoil, compost, mulch, and gravel. Automatically calculates the soil needed – give it a try to see how easy it is.

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Best Seed Starting Mix, Including DIY

You work very hard to grow the very best seedlings you can. So start them off right and give them best seedling mix you can. I have grown over 2,000 varieties of plants from seed and wrote the book Soil Science for Gardeners. In this post I review the best commercial and DIY seed starting mixes and give you my opinion on starting your babies off right.

Two hands potting up a tomato seedling
Use the right seed starting mix

This post contains affiliate links.

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Mycorrhizal Fungi (mycorrhiza) Myth

There is no doubt that mycorrhizae fungi play an important role in plant growth. They help aggregate the soil which in turn provides plant roots with better access to water and oxygen. Their symbiotic relationship with plants helps them access water and nutrients. It is only natural that companies want to sell these fungi to you. Don’t fall for it.

mycorrhizae mycelium attached to larger plant roots
Mycorrhizae fungi (white hairs are the mycorrhizal fungi), source: Microbe World

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Soil pH Testers-Are They Accurate?

Every gardening book and web site recommends that you get your soil tested and one of the main tests is for pH. You can get a professional lab to do the test, or you could use one of the convenient soil pH test kits made for gardeners.  How useful and accurate are the results of such tests? It is more complicated than you think. Let’s have a close look.

soil pH tester
soil pH test kit – colored dyes, source: BBC Gardening Blog

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Rock Dust – Can It Remineralize the Earth?

Rock dust is a very popular soil additive especially with organic and permaculture groups. It is full of nutrients and it is claimed that adding it to soil will replenish all of the nutrients that agriculture has taken out of our soil. This process of adding nutrients back to soil is known as mineralization.

This seems to make a lot of sense. We remove food from the land, and the food contains lots of minerals. At some point we need to put them back into the soil or else we will have soil that won’t grow anything. This seems logical but is it really true? Is our soil losing fertility? If it is deficient, can rock dust be used to solve the problem? How effective is rock dust and which type of rock works the best? Time to crush some myths about rock dust.

Azomite - a common brand of rock dust
Azomite – a common brand of rock dust

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Should You Get A Soil Test?

Almost everyone recommends getting a soil test, including most gardening web sites, USA extension offices and gardening experts. I disagree!

There are good reasons for getting a soil test, but the general advice of getting regular soil tests for homeowners does not make sense. Here’s why.

Should You Get A Soil Test?
Should You Get A Soil Test? source: ScienceHub

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Does Cedar Mulch Repel Pollinators and Other Insects

We all know cedar chests repel moths and cedar shavings are routinely used in homes to control insect pests. Based on this, gardeners have concluded that cedar mulch will repel insects in the garden and will negatively impact pollinators trying to get to flowers. For these reasons they recommend you should not use cedar mulch.

Is there any science to support these claims? Does it harm bees? Does it affect ants and termites?

Should you stop using cedar mulch?

Does Cedar Mulch Repel Pollinators and Other Insects
Does Cedar Mulch Repel Pollinators and Other Insects

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Mycorrhizal Inoculant Investigation – Do They Work?

Mycorrhizal Inoculant products have been around for more than 10 years but the number of products available is rapidly growing. Clearly manufacturers are finding customers willing to pay for these products, but are they worth the money? Do they work? Are companies able to provide solid evidence that their products work?

I have done an investigation and you will be surprised by the results.

Mycorrhizal Inoculant Products - Do They Work?
Mycorrhizal Inoculant Products – Do They Work?

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Measuring the Number of Microbes in Soil – The Microbial Biomass

Gardeners have come to understand that the microbe population in soil is critical for healthy soil and healthy plants. There is also tremendous chatter on blogs and in social media about “doing the right thing” to increase microbe populations. Companies have packaged microbes to produce garden “probiotics”. Just sprinkle a bit on your soil and watch the magic happen. So I think we can agree that gardeners should take care of their existing microbes and work on increasing their numbers.

More microbes = healthier soil = happier plants

But ….. there is a catch. How does the gardener measure the current microbe population? If you can’t measure it today, how do you know that you have increased the population over time? How do you know which method of soil improvement worked the best?

Do purchased probiotics work the best? How about compost tea, or weed tea? Does compost alone work?

Without a method for measuring microbes, you are flying blind. In this post I will discuss some lab methods, some DIY methods and some new technology that is just coming on the market.

Measuring the Number of Microbes in Soil - The Microbial Biomass
Measuring the Number of Microbes in Soil – The Microbial Biomass, source: Alice Dohnalkova

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Is Lead in Garden Soil Killing You?

Lead is a toxic heavy metal that can be very harmful to your health. It has been used in a lot of products including paint, gasoline and cans of food. Lead levels in soil found along roads is higher than in soil located farther from the road and some people won’t grow vegetables in a front yard for this reason.

One reason people use raised beds is to grow food in soil that is not contaminated with lead. Is normal garden soil really a problem? Does the purchased soil that is used to fill the raised bed have lower levels of lead?

Should lead levels in produce be a concern and does organic food have less lead?

Is Lead in Garden Soil Killing You?
Is Lead in Garden Soil Killing You, source: Ipsos

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