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New to raised beds and greenhouses. Need Advice.

 
Posts: 138
Location: Ontario
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Hello Folks,

I have recently been researching plans to build a small hoop frame greenhouse in my backyard, using Retired at 40's design on youtube, i'm sure you are aware. This design is 10x10. I plan to put a raised garden box inside, that is 8' x 43" x 21"h. I also want to make the raised bed a cold frame inside the greenhouse as well. A few problems I have are, I have a very small backyard, and I don't have much topsoil right now naturally available to use to fill the bed. The other problem I have is, the only way to get to my backyard is through my house, so I would like to avoid bringing large quantities of soil through my house, but also topsoil is expensive, about $150 for a cubic yard, and I just spent a lot on materials to build the greenhouse. I have about 1 cubic yard of soil and compost mix to use already back there, but I was hoping to offset the amount of soil required to fill the volume of the raised bed by using random debris i've raked up in my yard, or I could bring back rotting wood from the forest by my house. I also bought a bag of peat moss and was hoping to use it to fill some volume, but I am unsure as to how much tree matter vs. peat moss, vs. soil I can get away with using before I risk negatively affecting the soil with too much moss or not enough topsoil. Also, I would like to grow in this raised bed this season.




 
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32 five gallon buckets of topsoil scraped from the forest by your house.

I'm presently carrying 30 buckets a day to make a raised beds.
 
Burl Smith
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A hand truck would assist in moving heavy buckets thru the house


 
Steve Harvey
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It's not the bringing of the material through the house that bothers me really, it's the work smarter not harder voice inside me, wanting to learn the best way to fill this raised bed. As well as, future raised beds. I have brought thousands of pounds worth of gravel (using a cart/wagon thing) and mulch into my backyard. I had a real issue with water in my yard which I solved by digging the entire back middle section of the yard down to clay, and filling it with 3/4" gravel covered in landscape fabric, I also put a sump pump housing in the ground in case I ever wanted to use the groundwater to water gardens. After filling in all the dirt I realize that I do not have much top soil in my yard and decided to cover the yard, year after year in mulch to help create more soil.

Here is an example of the water situation April 2 2013. The yard was very muddy, almost like quicksand and the grass was dying and being replaced by moss. The only signs of life were Me, my moss, and my dog.







Here is April 4 2020 7 years later. After mulching for 7 years and applying gravel and two trees to help with the water issue. The ground is now firm yet not rock solid, similar to that of a forest floor. My Tamarack tree is doing very well. I think, for being 5 years old, and starting out less than 1ft tall. I did apply about 3 cu ft of 3 year old dog poop compost to it one year, which I think helped it out alot, and in case you were wondering, I actually have two stainless steel washing machine drums barried deep in the back corner of my yard which I use as the composter for the poop. I don't just pile it up. Should have another bach ready this year.

My dog Eva decided to jump on top of my cold frame this winter.



The Tamarack tree



The mulched soil and raised bed/cold frame project.



More of the soil and the stakes show where the greenhouse will be.



More soil, and not sure what I am going to do with all this moss as I am hesitant to use much of it in my raised bed. I am going to use it to start more aggressively composting with nitrogen rich waste, to make good soil for the greenhouse. But I was also thinking of using it somehow as an insulation in the greenhouse by spreading it on the floor. My raised box is going to be elevated on plastic pallets with an air gap underneath. So I thought why not put fluffy insulation all around the floor and under the raised bed. I originally thought of using foam insulation, but then decided to go all natural and untreated in any of the construction of the bed and any part of the greenhouse that will touch the ground. I will be using some treated 2x4's cut in half as supports higher up supporting the hoops, but I don't see this as ever causing an issue with leaching chemicals.



I have definitely decided on going with a hugelkultur filled raised bed.  I was thinking of doing about an 8" layer of sphagnum moss on the bottom layer of the box, wood and sticks as the second layer, leaves and mulch as the third layer, and compost and soil mix for the rest. Unless this is a bad thing to do, please let me know. Filling the beds is my main concern among many concerns I have had with this project, any advice big or small, advanced or basic, from people on this forum would be appreciated.

And yes I know my yard is a mess right now.


 
Burl Smith
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Steve Harvey wrote: it's the work smarter not harder voice inside me, wanting to learn the best way to fill this raised bed. As well as, future raised beds.



Having composted a horse in August without smelling up the neighborhood I think heat and degradable matter may fulfill all your requirements. Methods of maintaining a pathogen destroying compost temperature in February then may be the vector in which your smarts can be best applied.




 
pollinator
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Steve,

I'm a worm composter and I'm good at it, so my opinions are skewed that way.  I'm also cheap.  Therefore the following is a "cheap expert opinion" but maybe not helpful on this topic!

I'd fill it up with leaves, grass, wood chips, shredded paper and cardboard with some food scraps and some red worms.  When it settles a bit, cover with mulch.
Add compost to where you are going to plant (google zai holes).  Keep adding organic material as the original stuff will breakdown over time.

I've found that purchased, cheap, bad compost beats most purchased topsoil in final results.  I will not buy topsoil again.

Good luck with whatever you do.
 
pollinator
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some things you might consider using are Straw Bales, set up in various patterns,
where you then can fill in some of your beds with some of the bales, or use them to edge a kind of raised bed.

you can even throw a window on top of a small set up of straw bales arranged in a rectangle, circle or octagon....and have a small cold frame ish like place of extra warmth.

place a thick layer of cardboard underneath, lay down your 4-8 bales in a pattern, and then fill in the center with first your debris and branches and yard clipping, any pieces of wood, and then add --manures, compost, wood chips, screened local soil, bags of store bought soil....so that the bales are the edges and the center is filled up with dirt.

using bales and straw you can make a hotbed, adding composts or manures to it to increase the warmth of the bed.
with glass on top it definitely stays quite warm for cold sensitive perennials. to make like a mini quick greenhouse type effect.

well i used to do this quite frequently...place 5-8 bales in an area ...or sometimes just using a few...arranging them so that theres a center area...where i could stock a bunch of potted plants to be overwintered and sheltered. then throw a window on top, but come back a lot and open it or slide it cracked open a bit...and then shut it down at night...or throughout the coldest periods.
 
leila hamaya
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anyway bales arent too much though it's locally dependent...it might be 3-5$ per bales and like 5 - 10 gets you really far.

anywho i think that might be a quick cheap way to bulk up your organic matter, its a nice neutral addition to complement your composts/manures/bag soil composts/peat moss.

then when the bales fall apart, straw is always useful as a top mulch to increase water retention and smother weeds, and eventually after that it will become good soil for future plantings...

but you got the right idea anyway, your plan sounds good, you dont need it be precise and its easy to feel out what a good basic percentage or stuffs to throw together.

i would use straw for the edges as stated, and maybe also add in some manure (bag of manure at grow store - 2-4 $) and wood chips, especially if you can score them for free ish or cheap.

then do --> branches, yard clipping, chunks of wood on bottom (on top of cardboard for the very bottom) --> manures, wood chips, smaller clippings, grass clippings, store bought composts ---> then peat, composts/top soil/screened soil from your own local or somewhere convenient. sand, if you can score it for free especially, would be another good addition.
 
Steve Harvey
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Is it possible to grow vegetables in a garden box that contains little composted soil to begin with, but mostly, peat, mulch, straw, wood, leaves, plant matter, just sort of all mixed together in a raised bed. Or does it all have to decompose first before you can plant vegetables? This would be a good option for me if I could just bring bags of lighter weight material in with reusable bags and fill the boxes over time. I am sourcing some smaller bales of straw right now, which may be able to fit through my doors and into the back yard. There was also someone advertising composted rabbit manure, I'm assuming from a rabbit farm. they are selling 50lb bags, would this be a good option for me, I know rabbit manure does not have to be composted and can be used in garden right away since it is a dry manure, correct?
 
leila hamaya
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Steve Harvey wrote:Is it possible to grow vegetables in a garden box that contains little composted soil to begin with, but mostly, peat, mulch, straw, wood, leaves, plant matter, just sort of all mixed together in a raised bed. Or does it all have to decompose first before you can plant vegetables? This would be a good option for me if I could just bring bags of lighter weight material in with reusable bags and fill the boxes over time. I am sourcing some smaller bales of straw right now, which may be able to fit through my doors and into the back yard. There was also someone advertising composted rabbit manure, I'm assuming from a rabbit farm. they are selling 50lb bags, would this be a good option for me, I know rabbit manure does not have to be composted and can be used in garden right away since it is a dry manure, correct?



yeah it is better once it works itself out and gels, and your second year in a "lasagna" type bed will be better.
but some things can be grown in first year, somethings do better. potatoes can grow in almost straight straw, tomatoes are also pretty good at thriving in less than ideal soil. i wouldnt plant any perennials like bushes, vines, and especially trees, because it will still be settling a lot. then again herbs are also pretty hardy and can get by on little, so some perennial herbs might do ok. squash can be fussy about soil, but then again i have seen monster squash plants grow enormous from unfinished compost piles.

the idea is to put your best stuff on the very top, and that is where the seedlings and young plants get going. so like a frosting on a cake, your very top layer is the finest and most soil like. a bag or 2 of purchased "soil" /bag soil mixed with whatever finished compost you have, and at least half that bag of peat would be a good frosting.the manure should go a bit deeper in the middle of the mix, so the plants roots
work down to that layer eventually.

some people grow straight in the bales!  even...i have seen some neat straw bale gardens where pockets are cut out of the top of a bale...a tiny bit of soil is put in the pocket to get the young plants started, and then the plants grow right into the bales.


ummm googles...an image and link ---->

https://www.diynatural.com/straw-bale-gardening/

another ---> https://www.cleveland.com/insideout/2012/04/straw-bale_gardening_lets_you.html

 
Steve Harvey
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I really like this idea, and have been researching it alot. The only thing that concerns me is the amount of fertilizer required to prep the bales, not that it is a bad thing. Afterwards you will have very nice compost when the bales decompose, after growing in them. I would like to use organic fertilizer but every store is sold out due to the covid situation. The only organic fertilizer I could find was a small bag for $15. At 3.5 cups per bale for approx 7 days, I would have to spend about $100 on fertilizer or more, if i wanted to do 10 or more bales. What type of fertilizer would you recommend for bale gardening, that is cheap, and I can get a large bag to last the 14 days of prep for at least 10 bales?
 
pollinator
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Steve Harvey wrote:I really like this idea, and have been researching it alot. The only thing that concerns me is the amount of fertilizer required to prep the bales, not that it is a bad thing. Afterwards you will have very nice compost when the bales decompose, after growing in them. I would like to use organic fertilizer but every store is sold out due to the covid situation. The only organic fertilizer I could find was a small bag for $15. At 3.5 cups per bale for approx 7 days, I would have to spend about $100 on fertilizer or more, if i wanted to do 10 or more bales. What type of fertilizer would you recommend for bale gardening, that is cheap, and I can get a large bag to last the 14 days of prep for at least 10 bales?



Post on Craigslist or similar that you are looking got spoiled hay bales. Around here, this.time of year, lots of people have a few (or a pile) of hay that got wet and they can't use.anymore. many of those people will give you as much as you wish to haul for free. The rotting bales will have a little more fertility and you won't have to worry as much about them burning up your plants as they compost.
 
Keith Odell
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Steve,

Pre-planting fertilizer - make your own.  Get a couple of gallons of your favorite beverage, drink it, wait...
Do this everyday for a week.

 
leila hamaya
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well, hopefully my suggestion wont freak you out, but it's actually better than it sounds...you can pee on it every day =)

urine is a great juice for plants. ---> http://nwedible.com/how-to-use-pee-in-your-garden/

and i wouldnt worry too much abut not giving it instant mega fertilizer....that very specific instructable has very very little dirt so they are over compensating for quick growing. conditioning it is a good idea at least a week or two, using lots of water. adding some manure deep in your pockets, or in the middle of a larger lasagna garden bed, will definitely help...with your primo "frosting" on top...to be where they start out.

if you are making a big bed i would add some blood meal, bone meal, coffee grounds, and grass clipping somewhere in the middle...if you have access to these. and again urine is a really good one for a quick nitrogen boost. generally it is diluted, especially if you already have plants growing so as not to give them too much at once. but for conditioning the bale...straight urine will be ok.

blood meal and bone meal are usually best sourced from a feed store...if you have a farmy feed store somewhere locally thats still open...well idk...those are some thoughts...thats where its cheapest and you can get a good amount of bloodmeal for not very much $$.

another thought is to quick grow some clovers...and once these grow out some do a lot of chop and drop with the clover, add this to the top as a mulch for more nitrogen.
 
Steve Harvey
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Not sure if I can get away with peeing in the bales, lol. neighbours are too close. I did decide today to grab more of this Organic fertilizer that I saw at a farm store. I asked if they could take some money off if I bought the rest of the bags they had, and they took 20% off. So that helped. They are 2kg bags and I got 11 of them so I think I could easily grow in 10 small bales this year with this. Each bag contains roughly 10 cups. I think since some of the tutorials may have been using large bales and were calling for 3 cups of organic fertilizer per feed, I plan to use smaller 3ft long bales. I may be able to get away with 1 cup per feed.





I also finished the foundation of the greenhouse today, I just need to flip it over so the hardware cloth is at the bottom. Then I can get the raised box inside and start filling it.

 
pollinator
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If you can get a hold of "cool" manure, such as the type from herbivores - cow, horse, alpaca, goat, etc. - you can make a tea from that and add it to your bales, as well as just spread some pellets of it around. Just make sure the animals weren't fed herbicided feed, so ideally organically raised animals.
For the tea, what I have done in the past with amazing results, is take the manure, add it to water in a large bucket or other container (I used a 55 gallon barrel), and stir daily for a few minutes for about 2 weeks. I then used it to fertilize my plants with very successful results.
 
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make sure the animals weren't fed herbicided feed



Or dewormer meds.
 
Burl Smith
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Keith Odell wrote:Steve,

I'm a worm composter and I'm good at it, so my opinions are skewed that way.  I'm also cheap.  Therefore the following is a "cheap expert opinion" but maybe not helpful on this topic!

I'd fill it up with leaves, grass, wood chips, shredded paper and cardboard with some food scraps and some red worms.  When it settles a bit, cover with mulch.
Add compost to where you are going to plant (google zai holes).  Keep adding organic material as the original stuff will breakdown over time.

I've found that purchased, cheap, bad compost beats most purchased topsoil in final results.  I will not buy topsoil again.



So you're saying that the worms are better off separated from his raised bed, because they'd likely escape otherwise?




 
Steve Harvey
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I don't think they would escape to be honest. I am building my raised box with a 3/4" plywood bottom. I think Keith's Idea of worm composting in the box is very good, and I will likely incorporate all of the ideas mentioned, in the long run. Right now I am just trying to focus on bringing in organic material and having that broken down as quick as possible for the upcoming planting season. It's crazy all the different perspectives on bale gardening. Some people say they use a balanced fertilizer, others say they use only a high nitrogen fertilizer and then introduce other minerals at the end, and then some people just add pee. I think this would make a good research project, comparing the results of these three different methods.
 
Steve Harvey
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Progress on the raised bed, I have managed to find someone to supply me with 20 small straw bales. I will probably only garden in ten of them this spring. the rest I will probably just leave under a tarp, and hopefully use them closer to fall inside the greenhouse. I am probably going to use some to insulate the floor of the greenhouse as well.







One question I have is how long do you think the wood raised bed will last before the wood rots? I'd rather not use a plastic liner, what are your thoughts?.


 
Burl Smith
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Steve Harvey wrote:
. I plan to put a raised garden box inside, that is 8' x 43" x 21"h. I also want to make the raised bed a cold frame inside the greenhouse as well.



Wont the cold frame require additional heat input to maintain growing temps if it is elevated off the floor (air space underneath? or do you plan to heat the greenhouse?
 
Burl Smith
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leila hamaya
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i have never grow a straw bale garden proper, but i have always wanted to try the idea. i guess the closest i have gotten is trying out some potato towers.

but i do garden with lots of straw...sometimes deep in the bottom layers of a Lasagna garden bed or lots of straw on top, and often both.

but yeah i do think it's a neat idea, and especially if like all i had was a concrete patio or little space, i would definitely try out the idea. i think i would cut out really deep pockets in the bales for putting more dirt in there, and use manure and/or some blood meal in the soil mix.

or would rather, arrange the bales in a rectangle and then grow in the middle, all on top of very thick cardboard layer with like 5-6 pieces of cardboard thick.

another neat thing you can use whole bales and straw for is to store the harvest in the ground. i have used this method quite a few times, although i havent had enough bales to do as completely as can be...but the basic gist is to lay out the bales surrounding your in ground crops, then fill it up with loose straw, completely covering all of the plants encircled by the bales. in this way you can keep carrots, root crops, cole crops and many types of food, right in the garden until you are ready to harvest mid winter to late winter.

they dont grow further, but they also dont need to be dug up and stored inside, the cold of winter also helps keep them fresh. with some plants this is enough to keep them alive through a very cold winter.

to preserve the wood longer you might consider covering it with something, if not a plastic liner, then perhaps an oil coating of something...or some way of treating/preserving the inside of the box.
 
Steve Harvey
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Burl Smith wrote:

Steve Harvey wrote:
. I plan to put a raised garden box inside, that is 8' x 43" x 21"h. I also want to make the raised bed a cold frame inside the greenhouse as well.



Wont the cold frame require additional heat input to maintain growing temps if it is elevated off the floor (air space underneath? or do you plan to heat the greenhouse?




That is why I used the pallets to elevate the box. The cold ground will thermally conduct heat out of anything touching it. That is why I planned to insulate that airspace underneath the box with straw. I'm not sure about heating yet but I do not want to spend a fortune on electricity and can not have a fire in the backyard.
 
Steve Harvey
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leila hamaya wrote: i think i would cut out really deep pockets in the bales for putting more dirt in there, and use manure and/or some blood meal in the soil mix.

or would rather, arrange the bales in a rectangle and then grow in the middle, all on top of very thick cardboard layer with like 5-6 pieces of cardboard thick.

another neat thing you can use whole bales and straw for is to store the harvest in the ground. i have used this method quite a few times, although i havent had enough bales to do as completely as can be...but the basic gist is to lay out the bales surrounding your in ground crops, then fill it up with loose straw, completely covering all of the plants encircled by the bales. in this way you can keep carrots, root crops, cole crops and many types of food, right in the garden until you are ready to harvest mid winter to late winter.



I've seen a video on people using only blood meal to feed the bales, I 'm sure a lot of things work well, but I feel like the plants may need NPK to grow well, and I'm not sure if the rotting bales will provide all the nutrients the plants will need.

I think the greenhouse inside the greenhouse as well as using frost cloth when needed, will extend my growing season to the end of November, hopefully. I think just growing in bales inside a greenhouse or hoop house will provide enough warmth to grow until the weather starts dropping to 0 celsius.

I found this video to be helpfull with filling the raised beds with the layering method you mentioned.





I do plan on insulating the sides of the raised bed as well. I was actually contemplating using a foil space blanket to cover the raised bed, kind of like how someone might use it to trap in their body heat, to slow the release of heat overnight, Do you think this will work well?







 
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