small raised bed garden with soil

How to Fill Raised Garden Beds on a Budget

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Raised garden beds are great for growing your own food. Filling them can be expensive. There are great options to fill raised garden beds on a budget.

raised garden beds filled with soil and different plants

Cheap Raised Garden Beds

I have a home daycare, so budget is my middle name! I don’t want to spend any profit I make on activities for the kids such as gardening. There are so many benefits to gardening, and I want to give that experience to as many people as I can. It’s such an important skill to have. But when we need to build beds above our super hard clay and rock soil, we needed an inexpensive plan.

Raised beds have a lot of benefits so we had to figure out how to make our raised beds really cheaply.

How to fill a raised garden bed

When you go to fill a raised garden bed you want to be careful to ensure that you are giving your garden the best possible soil to work with. If you are choosing to use larger raised garden beds to make it easier to garden without bending over you may need to take some extra steps to fill your garden raised beds on a budget.

Line your garden beds. Before you fill your garden beds you want to line them. This can be done with landscape fabric to help separate your garden beds from the soil under them. If you are not trying to separate your garden beds from the rest of the soil you can line with chicken wire to keep unwanted animals out with cardboard under the chicken wire over the grass to prevent weeds from working their way to the surface.

If you are filling tall garden beds it can be difficult, so it can be a good idea to bulk up your garden beds and help make sure your plants have enough drainage by layering. For very deep garden beds you can start by adding a layer of large rocks or wood chips.

If your garden bed is less deep and you want to add a layer for increased drainage stick with wood chips that will break down over time allowing you to till in fresh compost and organic matter the next season.

On top of your drainage layer, you can then add your soil and fresh compost or just compost depending on what you have on hand to use for filling your raised garden beds.

raised garden bed full of soil with a trowel digging in it

Filling Raised Garden Beds

Another great option for filling your very tall garden beds on a budget is to fill them up with green wastes that will eventually decompose leaving behind more soil. This is referred to as the Hugelkultur method and involves placing larger items that will take longer to decompose and continuing to layer until you add compost and topsoil.

Start by adding logs and large sticks. These will take years to break down and will help keep your soil levels up as you keep adding in fresh compost each season but will eventually break down into the soil. Fill in about 40% of your tall raised garden beds with this layer.

Then add in smaller sticks and twigs. This can include old wood mulch and wood chips. Add in 20% of the garden bed with this layer until you have about 60% of your garden beds filled.

Add in fresh plant waste like grass clippings, leaves, and kitchen scraps that you would normally compost. This will have time to break down naturally before your plant roots reach down to this area. Fill about 25% of your garden bed with this layer.

Add in 10% of fresh compost to your garden beds then add in a layer of topsoil or simply add more compost to fill in the last 5% of your garden beds allowing you to fill your tall garden beds for a fraction of the cost of filling them with soil.

As your plants grow their roots will move deeper into this garden bed filling to obtain nutrients. The organic matter in the lower levels helps to provide adequate drainage for your garden beds while also helping to hold on to much-needed moisture like a sponge to encourage deeper roots.

I love this idea because you can really clean up an area and get free materials using this. It takes another year or two to get good growth in these types of beds though. But if budget is your number one concern, free is best!

A lot of homesteaders and small farmers will sell large amounts of compost for a fairly decent price. This allows the farmers to clear out plant waste, animal bedding, and other organic items that need to be processed on their property quickly and earn a bit of extra money. These deals can be found in online listings. Look for mushroom compost or compost made with chicken or rabbit bedding for an even more fertile soil filler.

Many landscape companies will sell wood chips, soil, and compost in bulk at a great price. This is a great way to get soil delivered if you are filling a large number of raised garden beds at once. If you do not have enough garden beds to make purchasing soil in bulk worth the investment you can talk to neighbors and see if they would like to chip in and have the soil dumped in an accessible location.

raised garden bed made of wood and filled with soil and plants

Best Vegetables for Raised Beds

Most vegetables can be grown in raised beds as long as the soil is 10 inches deep or more. If your raised beds are less deep, you may need to stick to above ground growing veggies mostly. You can grow radishes in fairly shallow beds or pots. But lettuce, spinach, squash, tomatoes, and peppers will grow better in shallow beds than potatoes, carrots, and plants like that.

Check out this month by month garden planting guide for more info about when to plant in your raised beds. This garden guide for beginners can help too.

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