Raised beds, dirt, water logged!

SteveAugust 4, 2014

I've never had any luck with raised beds. In this case, it was only a slightly raised bed, 2-3 inches of top soil and compost mixed near the house. 100 ft of it. Just got it in, day after, 3.5" of rain, and, I have *never* seen such a water logged soil. It was literally like soup. The clay, no problem, water drained away. This stuff, problem, the water mostly stayed in it. No way I could grow anything.

So, as a guess, what could be wrong? Wrong soil type (not sure of the type of top soil)? Putting this on top of clay? Other potential errors?

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Was it purchased topsoil? If so, was it purchased in bulk, like by the dumptruck load or pickup truck load, or was it just in bags?

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 10:15AM
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Bulk, would have taken 1,000 bags otherwise.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 10:33AM
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toolbelt68 (7)(7)

Lets see now, a bed 3 inches high, filled with 3 1/2 inches of rain. You have a swimming pool filled with mud, right? lol I'd raise the sides of the beds up 3 more inches. The dirt you have in there is going to absorb water and it will take time for it to soak into the ground. Fix is to raise the beds as that will give you 6 inches of top soil to absorb the 3 1/2 inches of rain.

That's what I would do....

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 10:47AM
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Its against the house, cannot raise it more. I always had the same trouble with 12" raised bed as well, was always way too waterlogged. So, suspect something else at play too.

I'll probably have to rip it out.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 10:50AM
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Do you have guttering? If your raised bed is against the house and you don't have guttering it would be like a swamp. We recently added a flower bed along the front of our house. (We just moved here 3 months ago and haven't had a chance to add guttering to the house.) With all the rain we've had this year, the bed is a mucky mess. We won't plant anything until we put guttering up. We also added purchased topsoil and compost.

Although somehow the Bermuda grass is fine with it. What in the world?! I put cardboard underneath the added soil and compost along the edges of the bed and it's still coming up along those edges!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 11:14AM
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Yes, currently, no guttering though that is the plan. True, 3.5" of rain is probably 7+" of rain with no gutters, if not more. Though, my previous attempts at raised beds for vegetables was in the middle of the yard.

Though, where I have no raised area and it's just the normal clay, it is not wet at all. Even inside corners.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 11:17AM
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toolbelt68 (7)(7)

If your beds have a slant to them such that the water does run off eventually, (that's a big 'if'), you could try digging a deep trench down the center of the bed and then fill it with crushed stone. Add the top soil and everything is still at the original height. The stone/trench would act as a gutter to drain off the water.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 4:03PM
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AmyinOwasso/zone 6b(6b)

The beds on the front of my house were there when we moved in. Basically there is so much concrete under them they hold water like a pool. Do you know what is under your beds?

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 4:17PM
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Native clay soil is underneath them, no concrete. They are sloped away from the house. The bed is 100' long. So, many many trenches down the center might I suppose.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 4:27PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I I find it puzzling that your raised beds hold excess moisture above-grade like that. have grown in raised beds filled with dense compacted red clay that has been heavily amended by the addition of organic matter every year for 15 years and never have had them stay too wet for more than a day or so at a time, and that includes a time period in which 12.87" of rain fell in a 24-hour-period. They stayed very wet, of course, especially since another 9" or so fell in the next few weeks, but no plants died. Excess water runs out of my raised beds where the wood boards that are the side walls of the raised beds meet the pathways. I may end up with some pathways that look like canals but at least the excess water is in the paths and not in the beds.

There is some reason that the soil is not draining out of those raised beds. I'd do the soil jar test (linked below) using the topsoil-compost blend from the raised bed, and compare the results to the chart given in the magazine article. That would tell you exactly what sort of mix you have and might provide insight into why it is holding the moisture for so long. The word topsoil doesn't really tell us anything. Almost anything can be (and is) sold as topsoil. There are places on our property where the top soil is very dense red clay (like flowerpots could be made from) that hardly drains at all and it will hold moisture for a very long time. Move a few yards away and there is almost pure sand, and move a few more yards away and you can find a sandy-silty blend. While our red clay drains poorly, we have a clayey-sandy blend in the back yard that drains very well, so different clay soils drain differently. So, if I was digging up topsoil and selling it, I might sell some great stuff that drained well, but I might sell some crap that didn't drain at all (not that I would do that to anyone).

Since the whole point to a raised bed is to provide the plants with a well-drained place to grow, it is important to figure out why the raised bed fails to drain. I have seen people put raised beds on top of concrete which essentially acted like a concrete-bottomed pool or pond and held moisture forever, but that is less common with native soil beneath the bed. When I build a raised bed, though, I don't just plop down good soil on top of dense red clay. I mix in organic matter down to a depth of 6-8" beneath the future raised bed in order to ensure good drainage in that soil, and then I build the raised bed above the improved soil.

We had almost 4" of rain just last week and had mud and muck and puddles, but most everything is pretty dry again already. My beds surely are not holding any excess moisture.

Here is a link that might be useful: Soil Jar Test for Texture/Soil Composition

This post was edited by okiedawn on Tue, Aug 5, 14 at 19:35

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 7:33PM
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toolbelt68 (7)(7)

Since the ground slopes away from the house AND if there is a slight slope towards one end then a single trench at the downhill edge of the bed from one end to the other should work. You just want something like a rain gutter to channel the water excess water away. Thinking about it you could have it outside of the bed just along the broads. That would allow you to refresh the stone should it get clogged with fine dirt.

Our state requires new homes to recycle rain water by piping the water to a 6'x6'x6' covered hole filled with rocks. Once that hole is full the excess is allowed to overflow onto the lawns. You could also do something like that. At one end of the bed dig a large hole to catch the water that is fed to it via the rock/trench.

I also agree with the above poster who suggest you dig/mix the the new top soil with what is already there down at least 8 inches.
Lot of work but it sure beats drowning your plants..... Know anyone with a tiller??? lol

BTW, don't mix sand with clay or you will end up with something akin to concrete.....

This post was edited by Toolbelt68 on Tue, Aug 5, 14 at 21:16

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 9:11PM
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I find it puzzling that all my raised beds, even up in Bixby OK, have done this! Clearly, it's me. It's just figuring out how or why. Up in Bixby, when we got rain as you mentioned, the dirt ran OUT of the raised beds where you say your water drains out. My dirt drained out! But that's not here and is another story...

I will try the soil jar test later this week if I can follow it and feel up to it. Have treatments every Wednesday down in DFW. I've been in bed the last few days so have not been able to get out there and poke around to see how wet now. I don't think I could possibly till down 8" in two months of work. At least me personally.

Yes, I know not all clay drains the same. However, the rick hard clay I have doesn't have to drain, the rain hits it, and it runs off. Not much soaks in. What does soak in, does stay a while. But, if it kept raining, all of it would flow away. I feel like the raised bed would simply hold the water as it sinks instead of draining away. At least from watching it during the rain, and, after. But, it could well be a guttering issue as well, I wanted to add them *after* I got the beds in so the guttering could be run correctly outside of the beds, not into them.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 12:18AM
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sfatula, I live in an area where the soil is terrible and does not drain. I don't try to grow anything except a few shrubs next to the house because it is too wet. My north garden has been terribly wet also. I have dug ditches around my garden, letting it drain to the low end. I fill the ditches with organic matter to keep them open and have a base to drive my mower and tiller across. I also harvest this organic matter every year or two and use it on the garden, I then add new organic matter and repeat. By doing this I have been able to turn a curse into a blessing.

I can understand about you not being able to do the hard work now, If I had not done the a few year ago it would not be done now.

I will show you a picture of me harvesting my organic matter last year. I don't know if you can use something like this or not, but it sure has worked well for me.

Good luck on your treatment.


    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 2:31AM
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