So, if you could...

ibarbidahl(9 (tampa-ish))January 15, 2013

If you could start all over with your beds and you were able to make the choice, would you isolate your garden soil?

I am in the position where I need to remake a few of my beds for ease of access. My mobility is decreasing unfortunately and I need to be more comfortable. I have the chance now to line all of these beds if I want to. They will be 24-28" deep at the soil height. I am aiming for 28-30" in total height for ease of transfer/sitting height.

Also, due to cost considerations any input as to how to fill these suckers is greatly appreciated as I'm not sure I want to put 100% soil in them. I can't imagine the costs associated with soil only and filling with rock in the bottom would make it prohibitive for us to ever move them if needed.

As for construction we finally found a way that while not pretty will be cheap. We get metal box pallets at work that we will try to find a way to use. THey are 42x48" and we would then only frame them out in wood, for aestetics and also for a seat at the top/a railing. It will still take us a little brain power to figure out the details but I am truly hoping to have it all figured out by next week and getting started before February!


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whgille(FL 9b)

Hi Barbi!

I am sorry that you are not gardening as much as you want to, I really don't have any knockout ideas right now. The only thing that I know is that the community garden in my area gets the free compost from the city and is pretty good, I actually saw it myself and they have been growing a lot of veggies. They dropped for free at the location. It is one of the free options to try and contact your city and see what they offer. You could even add a fine layer of bought topsoil later on.
I wish you the best solutions for you and I hope that someone can do the thinking and advice you well.


    Bookmark   January 15, 2013 at 1:02PM
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jason83(Zone 8b/9a (North Florida))

I've started the process of re-doing my raised beds and will be going with a more "natural" approach - since I need to improve the soil and don't want to spend hundreds of $$ doing it, it looks like the best option for me is using wood. Picked up a bunch of fallen down logs that have been half rotted, and will simply lay them on the soil and incorporate clippings, compost, chopped leaves, any organic matter I can get my hands on, as well as some of our native sand "soil." Then I'll mulch on top to cover it all up while it "does its thing" :)

The breaking down of the wood is very good for the plants, and the logs will hold water like a nice sponge for the roots, while letting all the soil microorganisms, fungus, creepy crawlies etc do the work underground. It supposedly works great and will also lower the need for watering...I was outside 2-3 hours each day watering everything last summer.

So far I've incorporated this concept into my rows of raspberries, existing fruit trees, and will be burying them in planting holes for fruit trees that are on their way. I've spoken with several organic gardeners that swear by it, so here's hoping it'll work in my barren yard. Now if I could just get my hands on truckloads of wood chips.....

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 1:28AM
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garyfla_gw(10 Florida)

Several things I've used to bring the soil level uop, Depending on the depth of the planter, Is styrofoam "peanuts ", sheet insulation cut into appropriate sizes or plastic soda bottles with lids firmly attached. Extra advantage to these being very cheap they add no weight Just fill the planter until whatever soil depth you want add a layer of weed block then fill with planting soil. Both last for well over 10 years

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 6:34AM
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ibarbidahl(9 (tampa-ish))

Great ideas about the bottles, I have some buckets...

I worry with sub ter. termites. We have a bad enough problem around here without encouraging them. 1/2 my house is wood so I'm thinking I'll stick to inert materials or smaller particals. LOL. But, maybe mulch in general would be cheaper than dirt and at least worth a thought.

Any ideas for adding in the extra nutrients I'm gonna need? I only have about 1/3 load of compost that will be ready. With only 3 chickens I don't make a ton of the stuff. It would only be enough for one planter.

I can't get a true truckload delivery of anything thanks to my HOA...
Topsoil, fill dirt florida peat and pine fines are what I can get mixed in any ratio I want and easily picked up in my pick'emup truck at the local yard.

Any suggestions on what ratios and what to add on top to help out the nutritional value here? If it was up to me I'd have manure and peat and compost 30/30/30 (for all of it) but I can't do that so, help!

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 11:51AM
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I filled one of my raised beds almost entirely with mushroom compost, it's very cheap and fairly light. Many years later I have had some "sinkage" in my soil/compost level but it's nothing I can't live with.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 11:54AM
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Remember that you don't want to use any soil from your yard, it prob. contains nematodes, also bugs etc. and you don't want to incorporate any of that into your garden...sally

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 6:58PM
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beachlily z9a

I'm here on the barrier island in Ponce Inlet. The queen palms were strangling my daylilies. So my husband and I went down to Scottsmore where a professional grower was willing to show hubs how to make boxes. We made 7 of them and set them up on concrete blocks. That was 3 or 4 yr ago. Well, my daylilies started dying in the corners, then up the sides. I lost hundreds of dollars worth of plants. So 2 yr ago, I started lining the boxes with cheap closeout wall tiles from Lowes that were about 4" high, 8" long. Did all the boxes (clay side out towards the box) and haven't lost a plant in the last year. Chemicals leaching out killed the plants.

Anyway, your idea of using metal is OK, but what about the heat conducted from the metal??? Your plants will be toast!! Maybe tiles lining your boxes would work too.

I filled my boxes with 3b mix from Faford plus ground pine bark with annual addition of fertilizers. My plants flourish! I've added garlic this year in those same boxes--the daylilies have to coexist.

    Bookmark   January 17, 2013 at 9:12PM
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ibarbidahl(9 (tampa-ish))

The 3b sounds just like the mix that the yard makes -(50%peat 50% pine) except that they also already add the nutrients and dolomite to stabelize the PH. I can always add the dolomite after the fact, and maybe find a slow release fertilizer as well.

Good to know. Thanks!

    Bookmark   January 18, 2013 at 9:36AM
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shavedmonkey (Harvey in South Fl.)Z10b

24 to 28" is too tall for a seat. Desk and table height is 30". 18"s is seat height. I used green fresh from the saw mill 1' thick cypress. It is resistance to rot. I should have lined it with the paper that is put on new frame houses. Add 1/2" wire mesh to the bottom to eliminate moles. I have disability issues and 18" high was a big game changer for the good. The width of your bed should be 4' or less. Less if you are real small. The length is what ever suits you.

I differ on the thought that wood or wood shavings is good for your garden. I wish they were because I am a woodworker and generate a lot of shavings. All nitrogen seeks out organic dead matter to destroy it and return it to mother earth. Ultimately it is good stuff. But when we add nitrogen to our gardens I'd rather my plants enjoy it. The unit of nitrogen used to break down 1 wood shaving might be enough to break down 20 blades of grass. As example.

Once the box is built then it is time to make your soil. Get a load of top soil. It usually is without nutrition. Go crazy on composting. Get lots of organic matter. Add cheap 1 dollar+ a bag home depot dirt. And add your favorite flavor of manure. Over and over and over.

It takes a while to cure. Various insects will lay eggs. The larvae or grub will help digest the compost. But you must wait until the larvae sprouts wings and flies away. Or else the devils will start chewing on your veggie roots.

My guess is that the best garden plots did not get that way over night. I wish you luck.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2013 at 3:08PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


The view you are expressing use to be the common thought on the matter. Science has now shown that view to be wrong. Woodchips do take nitrogen from the soil but ONLY from the soil surface. The effect is just temporary and that nitrogen is returned to the soil. As long as you use the chips as a mulch and DO NOT incorporate them and mix them in to the soil you will be fine. The advantages of using a thick wood chip mulch greatly outweighs the small negatives.

When I started my garden I removed all the sand from an area of perhaps 20x40 feet to the depth of 2 feet. I filled the entire thing with a 4 foot thick layer of wood chips. Added water and let it rot while turning it and compacting. Now I have pure black rick soil. If you dig down 12 inches or so you still hit woodchips that will not break down due to lack of oxygen and it has been several years now. It makes a sort of liner that protects from nematodes.

I agree it is very hard to create a garden over night.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2013 at 11:28AM
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Man-made soil in Amazonia:

"Black earth

The best explanation for this kind of botanical record is the past creation and use of terra preta do indio, meaning "Indian black earth" in Portuguese. This unique, mineral-rich soil was purposely created by pre-Columbian people through a process of adding charcoal and animal bones to regular soil to create a highly fertile hybrid, ideal for agriculture. Beyond the Amazon's notorious reputation for thin and poor-quality soil, terra preta provided unprecedented life and bounty for its inhabitants.

Charcoal is the essential ingredient of terra preta, which gives the soil a more substantial quality as organic matter latches on to the compounds within it through oxidation, retaining moisture and nutrients. Despite these benefits, charcoal lacks substantial nutrients on its own, so Indians enriched the soil with organic waste like the bones of turtles, fish and birds. Higher quantities of calcium, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur exist more in terra preta than is found in typical earth. If managed well, this matter can avoid exhaustion from agricultural stress far longer than regular soil. Soil ecologists believe they may be able to replicate terra preta to convert thin tropical soil into rich, substantial, sustaining and possibly self-replicating earth.

Scientists believe terra preta was created through a process one specialist calls the "slash-and-char" method. Essentially, instead of completely burning trees to ash, pre-Colombian farmers merely smoldered organic matter to form charcoal, and then stirred the charcoal into the soil. The added benefit of this method was that far less carbon was released into the air than now common slash-and-burn method. Carbon emissions, or rather an imbalance of carbon emissions, has a well-recognized negative effect on forests, so this ancient method was truly efficient and environmentally sensitive. Charcoal is capable of retaining its carbon in the soil for close to fifty thousand years.

Today, scientists and local inhabitants alike recognize the value and importance of terra preta. The earth is excavated and sold as potting soil known for its impressive productivity. Some individuals work it for years with only minimal fertilization. There is a wide range of estimates for the remaining quantity of terra preta. Estimates vary between 0.1 - 10 percent of the Amazon basin may harbor the soil. Ten percent encompasses an area the size of France. The largest collections of terra preta are located on low bluffs at the edges of floodplains, typically covering 5 to15 acres. The thickest layers of the material hover around six feet deep. Soil ecologists do not recognize a natural pattern for these bands of soil, suggesting that terra preta is indeed a man-made or directed substance. There are also typically broken ceramic pieces within the soil, further link it to a human design.

What all this information infers is that these inhabitants were essentially terra-forming the Amazon into a highly productive, sustainable agricultural region, managing a heady task that had evaded Europeans for centuries. Unfortunately, for the natives of the New World, the Old World arrived and both intentionally and unintentionally destroyed all they had worked toward.


Here is a link that might be useful: The complete article

    Bookmark   January 19, 2013 at 4:37PM
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shavedmonkey (Harvey in South Fl.)Z10b

bamboo rabbit,

Read closely. I said ultimately wood chips are good for the soil. The facts are that in most applications there is a nitrogen lock up for 1 to 2 years. I would suggest composting it for a long time before applying it to your garden. You said the effect is temporary. Me too. But I have made this mistake before. I'm good at mistakes and better at avoiding the the same one twice.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2013 at 11:03PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


The lock up only occurs at the surface. If you plant a tomato in the ground it is below the soil surface so the mulch will have no negative effect and many many positive effects.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2013 at 8:40AM
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I have a friend with a 4'x4'x4'bed she can work standing up, and she filled the bottom with anything that could go into recycling; cans, plastic, etc. well packed up to 18 inches from the surface and backfilled with fill dirt. She then lined it with pond liner so the plastics wouldn't leach into the soil, and filled that with 50/50 free compost from the county and bagged top soil. She put perennial peanut in as a ground cover to compensate for the nitrogen depletion from wood chips in the compost and harvests so many vegetables every year, it's amazing!

    Bookmark   January 20, 2013 at 8:47AM
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shavedmonkey (Harvey in South Fl.)Z10b

Well bamboo rabbit, if you lived closer you could have lots of wood shavings. But if you ask around for woodworkers and millworks etc. you will be able to get all you can cary.

Some crops I add fertilizers or compost during the growth process, half way before harvest. An additional problem with saw dust and shavings.

Steppy, If I could not bend at all I would want a higher bed. Not 48" though. 30" is table height and 36" is counter height and the plants may be several feet higher. My tomatoes got up to 8' plus 1.5' for the bed. What kind of stuff does your friend grow?

I can bend some but working on the ground is too much for any length of time. I was concerned before I built my bed that 18" would not be enough. For me it made a big difference. I feel the work effort has been reduced by 75% with my raised bed at 18". I've been thinking about building another one.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2013 at 1:13PM
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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)


The company that trims for my electric company drops as many chips here as I want:) I go through 10-15 truckloads a year. I have a tractor with a front end loader which makes moving them easy.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2013 at 3:16PM
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First look!!!!!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 10:17PM
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Second look!!!!!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 10:20PM
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Thirth look!!!!!Two month later.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 10:24PM
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I'm in Pa and was lurking here envying those of you in Florida, and just wanted to suggest the soil/compost/mulch forum if you haven't already solved the bed-filling issue. Bye all you lucky WARM Floridians!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 11:21PM
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Michael AKA Leekle2ManE - Zone 9a - Lady Lake, F

Gee BR, a tractor with a front-end loader? Everyone has one of those in their backyard. Sheesh.

(I hope the humor comes through. I'm still working on my first cup of coffee and while the little bit of whimsical sarcasm might seem humorous to me at the moment, it might not translate well through the webz...)

    Bookmark   February 2, 2013 at 7:05AM
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LOL@Leekle! I, for one, hear the humor!

    Bookmark   February 2, 2013 at 11:27AM
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leekle, I have my tractor with the front end loader in my yard. Most people if they are serious gardeners should have one too especially if their yard is 1/4 mile long.


    Bookmark   February 2, 2013 at 3:23PM
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ibarbidahl(9 (tampa-ish))

Ah.... well first one 'bout done!!! Just didn't have quite enough of the mix with 2 truckloads. (YIKES!) So, only 2 boxes will be this size on the 2 ends. THe middle box(es) will be half as shallow. I can't very well see buying another $150 in soil when the idea was repurposing things we already had or could get for free/cheap. LOL.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2013 at 12:12PM
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L_in_FL(8B/9A Border, NW FL)

Ooh, pretty.

I hear you about soil costs. Even if you can get the materials for the walls for free, the soil adds up fast. My few beds are 12" tall and I think 18" would be perfect from an ergonomic standpoint - it would be a great height to sit beside to work the short plants, while still allowing even short little me to easily reach the first 4' or so of the tall plants without a stool or ladder. But it would have cost half as much again to fill 18" beds...ouch. Maybe someday I will be willing to spend the money to raise mine another 6" or so.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2013 at 12:50PM
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whgille(FL 9b)

Barbi - That first box is looking really good! Because I also live in a HOA, I am very careful with any materials I choose for my beds, anything that doesn't smell or attracts bugs is good for me. I usually use the leftover soil from the tomatoes, peat moss, black cow, hay and of course some fertilizers and that I add at the last minute depending on the crop that I am going to grow.


    Bookmark   February 5, 2013 at 1:58PM
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