Author Topic: Prepping raised beds  (Read 3339 times)

cityfolks

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Prepping raised beds
« on: September 28, 2016, 08:11:58 PM »
We've "inherited" a few raised beds in our new backyard, which seem well-constructed but neglected. We're talking a handful of 3x5 foot beds, which seems a good amount for beginners like us.

We're still wrangling a lot of the other yard tasks before the weather turns, but I'd like to prepare the beds for the winter in the hope we can use them in the fall. I've read a few things online about mulch and whatnot, and we can certainly weed, but since we have no idea what was in the beds before I'm not sure if we should pull everything out or if we need to add anything to the soil or what.

FWIW, we live in the mid-Atlantic, so we have a while before first frost, and the beds get good sun and can be watered if need be. I don't think we'll have enough compost to cover the beds before winter but we could probably rake enough leaves/grass clippings for some cover.

cheddarpie

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Re: Prepping raised beds
« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2016, 08:14:06 PM »
Posting to follow because I have the same question. I've looked into "lasagna" beds (layering cardboard and compost) but not sure
 how it works in raised beds.

cityfolks

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Re: Prepping raised beds
« Reply #2 on: September 28, 2016, 08:32:59 PM »
Posting to follow because I have the same question. I've looked into "lasagna" beds (layering cardboard and compost) but not sure
 how it works in raised beds.

Thanks, cheddarpie. I'm also not sure if it matters what's under the winter cover? I don't want to find out in March that I've been insulating weeds and sand or something!

sisto

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Re: Prepping raised beds
« Reply #3 on: September 28, 2016, 08:57:49 PM »
I'd pull out everything and add some organic soil to them about a month before planting. I use raised beds and usually have something going almost all year long, but I live in CA.

Choices

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Re: Prepping raised beds
« Reply #4 on: September 28, 2016, 09:07:15 PM »
Be careful with using grass clippings. If there's any seed, it will grow well in your garden next spring.

horsepoor

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Re: Prepping raised beds
« Reply #5 on: September 28, 2016, 11:12:41 PM »
It would help if you could post some pics of the beds, and in particular, some of the soil dug up from a few inches down.

In general, I'd say get as much organic material as you can, put it in a big pile, and let it compost over the winter, then mix it in to your existing soil as soon as it can be worked in the spring.

Also, you could get your soil tested to really figure out what you're dealing with (full disclosure:  I've never had my soil tested and have great luck simply feeding as much organic material as I can into it each year).

Axecleaver

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Re: Prepping raised beds
« Reply #6 on: September 29, 2016, 09:56:37 AM »
Dig into it to see what's there. They probably started with screened topsoil, which would be great for you. Work on it now, before winter, and you'll have better luck planting in the Spring. Two approaches:

High effort/results
1. Remove weeds
2. Add 1-2" of compost. If it looks like good dirt, you can use less. If it's sad looking and unhealthy, use more.
3. Till (or use a spade fork to turn over) the bed. This will bury the weed seeds you didn't get and mix in the compost. For a lower-effort approach, use a steel rake to rake the compose into the soil on top, where it does the most good.
4. cover with 6" of straw (not hay which has seeds) or 4" of wood mulch. This will help ensure you kill all the weed seeds.

Low effort/results
1. Cover the whole damn thing with newspaper or cardboard and hose it down.
2. Hold it down with some compost/mulch/whatever's lying around.

Horsepoor's suggestion to start a compost pile now is spot on. Fall is a great time to do this: mix all your leaves with grass and kitchen scraps, then add greens from the kitchen to it all winter. That'll make a slow, brown pile that'll compost whatever greens you put into it very fast. You can have some nice rich compost ready to go for free in the Spring, with leaf mulch comprising the rest.

FerrumB5

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Re: Prepping raised beds
« Reply #7 on: September 29, 2016, 10:01:07 AM »
It would help if you could post some pics of the beds, and in particular, some of the soil dug up from a few inches down.

In general, I'd say get as much organic material as you can, put it in a big pile, and let it compost over the winter, then mix it in to your existing soil as soon as it can be worked in the spring.

Also, you could get your soil tested to really figure out what you're dealing with (full disclosure:  I've never had my soil tested and have great luck simply feeding as much organic material as I can into it each year).

Hey horsepoor, I'll be building beds for peppers (were slow in original no-bed soil) this fall, and I have a compost pile (not great, but bottom layers are OK). Shall I put compost in fall and top it up with soil, or simply build the bed and make the compost/soil in spring? Thanks

Fishindude

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Re: Prepping raised beds
« Reply #8 on: September 29, 2016, 11:02:15 AM »
You really don't have to do much of anything.
I just pull the weeds and remains from garden plants at year end so we don't have to deal with that in the spring.
Then till in the spring, add fertilizer as needed and plant.

Prairie Stash

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Re: Prepping raised beds
« Reply #9 on: September 29, 2016, 11:24:07 AM »
Posting to follow because I have the same question. I've looked into "lasagna" beds (layering cardboard and compost) but not sure
 how it works in raised beds.

Thanks, cheddarpie. I'm also not sure if it matters what's under the winter cover? I don't want to find out in March that I've been insulating weeds and sand or something!
It doesn't matter. If its weeds then 5 minutes with a hoe will kill them all, its actually better if weed seeds sprout before you plant since its easier to kill them. I regularly put cardboard down on the top, seeds sprout, hit cardboard and then die before reproducing.

Add compost in the fall for optimal results. Add it in the spring if you run out of time. Either way results in better yields, it really doesn't make much yield difference, any compost at any time is great. Remember compost has two parts, the physical and chemical. Chemical is the fertilizers and nutrients, plants regularly consume these as they grow and you eat the vegetables without replacing these vital nutrients. The physical is the fluffy bulking nature of compost, it helps retain water (similar to peat moss, another soil amendment). Sand is also good for some gardens, it breaks up clay which adds drainage so that plant roots won't drown.

For soil its important to add amendments that are useful for what you want to plant. For tomato's  I add calcium, for peas I use less nitrogen, for my clay plot I added sand, for my great soil I add fertilizer. For my acidic soil near a spruce tree I added dolomite (a base).

For simplicity just weed and water and whatever you plant will produce. The fancy stuff is for people chasing extra high yields (like 100 tomato's/plant)

Frugal Lizard

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Re: Prepping raised beds
« Reply #10 on: September 29, 2016, 11:32:02 AM »
You could plant a cover crop for some green manure - if you have 10 hours of daylight things will grow.  It is better to have something you want growing versus something you don't want. Lately I have been using arugala seed - it is pretty inexpensive and edible for covering the bare soil.  I have had some pretty good results with planting lettuce after a good hard frost and having it come up in the spring really early.  My only word of caution is to stay off your soil if it is wet.  You don't want to compact it.  If I were just starting out and didn't know what was there, I would just do the compost top dressing on most of the beds and plant some winter type greens for early eating and just wait and see what comes up.

horsepoor

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Re: Prepping raised beds
« Reply #11 on: September 29, 2016, 02:22:29 PM »
It would help if you could post some pics of the beds, and in particular, some of the soil dug up from a few inches down.

In general, I'd say get as much organic material as you can, put it in a big pile, and let it compost over the winter, then mix it in to your existing soil as soon as it can be worked in the spring.

Also, you could get your soil tested to really figure out what you're dealing with (full disclosure:  I've never had my soil tested and have great luck simply feeding as much organic material as I can into it each year).

Hey horsepoor, I'll be building beds for peppers (were slow in original no-bed soil) this fall, and I have a compost pile (not great, but bottom layers are OK). Shall I put compost in fall and top it up with soil, or simply build the bed and make the compost/soil in spring? Thanks

I like to leave it in one big pile to get a better chance of hot composting action, whereas you won't get those same microbes if you spread all that stuff out and let it decay in place.  YMMV though - I'm in a dry climate and moisture is the limiting factor for decomposition.  One big pile loses less moisture than layers with large surface area.  If stuff on the outside of the pile doesn't look like nice soil in the spring, I just set it aside to start the next pile, and incorporate all the finished compost into the beds before planting.

Mtngrl

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Re: Prepping raised beds
« Reply #12 on: September 29, 2016, 04:32:50 PM »
I garden in raised beds. In the fall I pull any weeds, add a layer of compost, then cover everything with wood mulch. (We have piles of it from when our house was built.) By the time snow melt in spring, all I have to do is plant.

cityfolks

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Re: Prepping raised beds
« Reply #13 on: September 30, 2016, 06:21:59 PM »
Thanks, all! This is really helpful and I will post some pictures as soon as it stops raining long enough for me to take them!