new raised bed, where to get organic soil?

jducka1(OR)June 9, 2005

I have built a new raised bed (14' x 2' x 3') and have no good native soil to put in it. (The bed sits in front of an old garage that has been shedding lead paint into the soil for probably 50 years). I have painted the garage and now want some nice clean soil to grow organic veggies in. I have looked at bagged organic planting mixes, but they only come in small bags and cost a fortune (on the order of $300 to fill my bed). One nursery suggested I could use a mix of Whitney Farms Soil Conditioner (which is on sale) and Sphagnum Peat Moss. Reading the Soil Conditioner page, they don't describe anyone using it to fill a whole bed. Does this seem reasonable? I am in Portland, OR, if that helps.

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Check with MacFarlands down in Clackamas County.

They have pretty good mulch.

I don't know if they are certified or if you need certification.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2005 at 8:29PM
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All soil is organic. Some soil is better than others but you really need to look closely at what is being offered. Get some compost and mix that with the soil you already have to make what you need.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 7:07AM
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I have heard people say that all soil is organic, but I don't understand it. What if the yard debris used to make compost isn't organic (i.e., it has been sprayed)? What if the soil is from a source that has been contaminated by chemicals of some kind? Is it organic then, or am I using the wrong word? I am trying to avoid chemicals (herbicides, pesticides, other toxics) in my vegetables.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 11:01AM
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Then it is contaminated organic matter that will, eventually, clean itself up.
Soil is made up of about 50 percent mineral and organic matter and 25 percent air and 25 percent water, small traces of contaminents are in all of our soils, but by adding more organic matter we can encourage bacteria that will clean that up to exist. The soils you buy from many sources will more often than not be contaminated with stuff you don't want and peat moss is a non renewable resource ( a non renewable resource is one that will not replace itself in my lifetime), provides no nutrients to your soil and requires that you add some from some source that also may or may not be contaminated with stuff you would not want.
So if you can find a source of compost, that you can trust, and mix it with the soil you already have you will far less a chance of contamination than you would get form somewhere else, even with the potential lead paint problem. Since lead in paint was banned in the 1970's are you really sure what has been flaking off is lead contaminated?

    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 7:16PM
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tracywag(Z5 NY)

I have four yards of organic soil sitting on my driveway right now. I've run out of arguements with my husband to let me keep it for little projects, so it's going out to my parents in a wagon tomarrow to be dumped. I'd much rather have it fill a bed, but I've run out of room for beds!

Too bad you weren't closer.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2005 at 1:56PM
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katj75(z8 OR)

I would say McFarlands as well. Yes it is composted matter from who knows where, anything people bring to drop. But I have seen the HUGE piles this stuff composts in and I think that alot of the bad is lost in the composting process, but no guarantees. I too would prefer 100% chemical free, but when I built several large beds the cost was not possible. What I ended up doing was filling the bds about half way and then adding organic soil and compost. The stuff at McFarlands comes in several mixes, which is nice, since you can mix it to amend your current soil. I usually get the 3 way mix (Compost, Soil and Sand), but they also have heavier mixes that would work as a mulch. I try to only use it for beds that I am not planning on using to grow produce, due to the possible chemicals, but at like $15 for half a yard (about 2/3 a pickup bed full) the price can't be beat when you have a lot of ground to cover.

Added bonus, I usually take a load of debris with me, drop the debris, pick up the new dirt, one stop shopping. Just don't breath deep, that place can really put on a stink if the wind and weather is right. Yikes.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2005 at 2:48PM
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led_zep_rules(5 WI)

I may be confused about your question, but why fill the bed up with things you have to buy? Surely you can find something free to put in at least for bottom layers like corn husks, leaves, old wood chips, manure, etc.? Then just get something soil-like (topsoil, compost, gardening mix of whatever type.)

Corn husks compost really quickly if buried under other organic material, and are easy to obtain this time of year by asking at any grocery store that has corn on sale and keeps a garbage can next to it. Aging manure is usually available free, too. So make a few layers and then just put your purchased soil on top of it. Bury your fruit and vegie scraps and peelings in it, too, or start a compost pile if you don't have one yet.

Good luck! Marcia (who made 2 new raised beds this year and 2 raised beds last year, all out of free stuff)

    Bookmark   June 18, 2005 at 1:40AM
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I have put in a half-dozen raised beds in the last year and like Marcia, used mostly free stuff: primarily free wood mulch from the dump, free bagged leaves from all over the neighborhood, and my own compost as fast as I could make it.

I topped the beds off with a little purchased mushroom compost. I also mixed in fertilizer (cottonseed meal, kelp meal and mineral amendments). Also, each bed was initially planted with a cover crop of fava beans.

All that organic matter breaks down and the soil level in the beds gets lower, so I keep adding compost.

It's a slow process especially if you are on a budget, and it will be a couple more years before my soil really wakes up and becomes good soil. I believe it is a matter of the OM gradually forming the humic acids that make the nutrients available, or something like that.

I keep telling myself that my job right now is to build soil, not to grow spectacular veggies. I am growing lots of beans and peas, and keeping my expectations modest for the heavy feeders like tomatoes and corn.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2005 at 11:09AM
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