Reading Time: 10 minutes 🍃
When people start gardens, they often use raised garden beds. The soil in your raised bed is critical to what you can do. Without good soil, you will never grow healthy plants. The goal is to create an environment where your soil improves over time and it contains a soil food web that gets better and better.
The best way to fill a raised bed cheaply is by making your own soil, your own organic matter, and making sure that you add to it twice a season. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on bags of soil and compost from the garden store; you can take the soil in your yard and improve it to sustain a balanced ecosystem under the ground and promote the health and growth of your plants.
If you fill your raised garden bed with the right combination of materials, you can grow healthy plants year after year.
Determine How Much Soil You Need for Your Raised Bed
Before you do anything else, you need to determine how much soil and organic matter you need for your raised bed. You can start by calculating the volume of the bed, which tells you how much material it can hold.
The equation is fairly simple: volume = length x width x height. The measurement is in cubic feet. You can use a tape measure to find out the dimensions so that you can calculate the volume. No matter which method you use to fill the soil, you need to know how much material you need.
Methods for Filling Your Raised Bed Inexpensively
When filling your raised bed, you want to do it as inexpensively as possible. There are different methods that you can use, and each one includes ways to save money.
Core Gardening Bed Method
The key to core gardening is to take the middle of the gardening bed and create a core that holds water like a sponge does. It can wick moisture out to the sides, and you will not have to water it as frequently. In some climates, you may not have to water it at all.
In addition, it is more difficult for weeds to grow. The surface can stay drier, so weeds won’t have the surface water they need to germinate. It also allows your plant roots to reach further into the soil, so they will reach nutrients that are deeper in the bed. Finally, you will have fewer issues with disease because diseases do well in moisture. Since the core controls the moisture, there is a lower chance of fungus, powdery mildew, mold, or other diseases.
When you create a core gardening raised bed, you will want to follow these steps:
Build a Trench
The first step is to build a trench that is eight to twelve inches deep and one or two feet down the middle of your raised bed. You can push any existing soil to the sides or remove it while you do this step.
Fill the Core
Next, you will fill the core with organic matter that is wet and has started breaking down. One popular material is old straw bales. You can find them free after Halloween, as many people use them for decorations. Let it sit outside and break down before you use it for your core.
You can also use old leaves, twigs, or clippings from your grass. You can gather them and mix them together. This part of the process will cost nothing. Once you fill the trench with this material, you can walk on it to pack it down. You want to end up with four or five inches of packed material here.
The next step is to water it. Some people call this charging the core. It is important because the material you place in the core will absorb the water, and it will act as a sponge for the season to provide water to your plants.
What Should I Fill My Raised Garden Bed with?
If you remove soil from the bed to make the core, you can now put it back in the bed. If you have a mound in the center, don’t worry. It will settle as time goes on. To fill it with new soil, you should use a 50% garden soil mixture and 50% compost.
One of the ways to keep this project as inexpensive as possible is to make your soil. You can use soil on your property or look for places that give it away. For example, you might search for construction sites that have recently done some excavating. They often let people come and haul off what they need.
To make homemade compost, you need to start before you’re ready to fill your bed. Composting is when you place organic materials in a container with water. Over time, the pile is colonized by good bacteria that break down the organic materials to make a nutrient-dense product that will help your plants grow.
You will recycle your food waste, cardboard, and green materials high in nitrogen, such as coffee grounds, fruit cores, and eggshells. Avoid including oils, fats, meat, dairy, or bones, as they take too long to break down. You can also use dead leaves, weeds, and clippings from your lawn. If you have any manure from livestock, you can use it too.
You should also look for brown materials, which are high in carbon. You can use shredded paper, sawdust, small twigs, and straw. Make sure you balance your compost pile with 50% green and 50% brown materials.
As far as moisture goes, you should make sure the compost pile is wet without being drenched. You can dump a bucket of water on it if it hasn’t rained in a while. The pile will get hot in the middle, sterilizing it and killing harmful bacteria and seeds from weeds.
You need to turn the compost pile once a week. Just take a shovel, go from the outside to the inside, and expose different parts of the pile. This will ensure that the beneficial organisms are evenly distributed throughout the entire pile.
If you have a compost pile or wait until you have one ready, you can use it in your soil mixture for your raised bed. Now your raised bed is ready for planting. If you follow these steps using your own soil and compost, you won’t have to speed anything to fill your raised garden bed.
The Mulching Method
This method is similar to others, but you will use soiled hay to build up healthy soil. The great thing about hay is that it breaks down quickly, feeds the soil, and reduces how much you need to water it. You need about eight inches of hay, and this will be thick enough to prevent hayseeds from germinating.
There is minimal cost to this method if you can find free hay. Find out if any feed stores have old hay they are throwing away, or call local farms.
You will start with your base and your garden soil. You can use a base of brown materials, such as twigs, dead leaves, and shredded cardboard. Then, you can add your soil. It should be soil mixed with organic material, and you can use 50% compost and 50% soil. This is the same soil you would use for any method, so find some free topsoil from a construction site, and add your compost to it.
Once it is in the raised bed, you can add a layer of compost across the top. If you are already using soil in your raised bed, you can just spread a layer of organic material across it. You won’t have to kill weeds because the hay will take care of them.
You can spread the spoiled hay across the bed. It should be eight to twelve inches deep. This is a great option if you are growing potatoes. You can do some legwork, get your supplies for free, and fill your bed at no cost.
The Hugelkultur Method
This is another inexpensive method for filling your bed. You will bury decomposing organic materials underneath the soil, including logs, sticks, and dead leaves. This material will last a long time before you need more soil. You should fill it 10 to 12 inches deep and place smaller materials between the larger logs. You can use dead leaves, clippings from the lawn, wood chips, and other smaller matter.
If you have your compost pile, you can use some of your compost to fill your bed. You can use livestock manure, kitchen scraps, clippings from the lawn, dead leaves, and any green or brown matter. This will help to make the soil nutritious for the plants.
You can use animal manure, specifically horse, cow, sheep, goat, or chicken. This will add nutrients to your bed. You should ensure that the manure has been composting so it starts to break down. You can’t use fresh manure, so this method is best if you already compost animal manure. If you have any of these animals, it is free to do.
Benefits of Using a Raised Garden Bed
Raised garden beds are becoming very popular. They offer people convenience, and it is much easier to control the type of soil, the weeds, and the conditions. You can grow many things in a raised garden bed. The only problem is that you have to fill it in occasionally.
Another benefit is that you can choose how you fill it. When you plant in the ground, you must start with the soil you have. You need to dig it up before you get started. With a raised garden bed, you need soil, but you can often find construction sites or other places that will give it away.
Keeping your soil nutrient-rich and healthy is easier, and you have more control over the content. You need your soil to be biologically active and full of nutrients, which will improve over time. When you fill your raised garden bed, you create an organic ecosystem where your plants will have everything they need to grow.
Decide How You Plan to Use Your Raised Garden Bed
Knowing how you plan to use your garden bed is essential before deciding what to put inside. Some plants have shallow roots, while others have longer roots. You can customize the materials you use so that whatever you are planting has the best conditions.
You should calculate how much soil you need based on what you are planting. Then, look at the different options and choose one that is ideal for it. For example, the spoiled hay mulching method is an excellent option if you plan to grow potatoes or root vegetables.
No matter your method, you can use twigs, dead leaves, and grass clippings as your base. It will break down over time and feed your soil so that plants do well and have what they need.
How to Save Money on Soil If You Have to Buy it
If you need to buy soil rather than using soil on your property, you can still find ways to save money. Once you calculate the volume of your raised garden bed, you will know how much soil you need. However, before calculating the volume, you need to know how much area you fill with the base.
If you use logs, branches, twigs, dead leaves, and other materials, they will occupy some space. You can place these materials in the bed and then measure the remaining space to get your calculations.
If you haven’t yet started a compost pile, you will want to get garden soil with organic matter. You should start your compost pile now to have it later when you need to add it to the bed. You will end up adding one or two times each season, so this will save you money.
When looking for your soil, you need to calculate how much you need and then translate that into bags. You can price shop online to find the least expensive option. You can also look for bulk delivery of garden soil. They sell it in cubic yards, and each cubic yard is the equivalent of 27 cubic feet. If you have a raised bed that is seven feet long, two feet wide, and two feet deep, it will be 28 cubic feet in volume, which is just about one cubic yard.
How to Plant Seeds When You Use Mulching Materials
If you choose one of the methods of filling your raised garden bed that includes mulching, it is important to remember that you need to plant your seeds in the soil, not the mulch. You can set your bed up with the base, the soil, and the mulch layer, but make sure that you dig into the soil to plant.
If you use spoiled hay as mulch, you might want to plant your seeds before adding it. If you use the wood chips as mulch, you can dig into the soil through it. You can get either of those materials free with a bit of work. You may find local landscape companies or tree companies who will give it away, or you can create your wood chips by chipping logs in a wood chipper.
How to Find the Least Expensive Materials for Your Raised Garden Bed
The best way to find the least expensive materials for your raised garden bed is by recycling materials that you already have. The key materials are the base, the soil, and the compost, and you may have all of them on your property.
You should never use rocks or gravel as a base. Some people think that this provides good drainage, but the rocks will mix in with the soil, and you will have to dig them out later. You can use old logs, twigs, and other brown materials on the base and collect them on your property.
You can use your soil and mix it with organic material. If you start a compost pile, you will have everything you need. Then, use a mulching material on the top to cover your soil.
If you plan ahead, you can fill your garden bed for free. However, even if you need to buy materials, you won’t have to spend too much money. If you are willing to make the effort to call around, you may find everything you need.