Spring Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening: A Guide to Organic Soil Amendments & Organic Fertilizers

Growing in a Raised Bed is So Easy Even a Child Can Do It!

Growing in a Raised Bed is So Easy Even a Child Can Do It!

The idea of planting a garden can be daunting. There is so much information and advice as well as countless products and additives to choose from, it might feel as if you need a PhD to grow a tomato. The fact is that everyone can easily grow an edible garden. Similar to buying real estate, the most important choice a gardener makes is location; you cannot grow sun loving plants (which most vegetables and fruit are) in dense shade. Most vegetables (excluding leafy greens like lettuce and cabbage) require a minimum of six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. Most of us can find an area that gets enough sun, but what are you to do if the area with the correct sun exposure does not have healthy rich soil? The answer is simple: build a raised bed garden.

Raised bed gardens have several advantages over traditional in-ground gardens. First, raised bed gardens are constructed above ground, lending themselves to easier planting, tending, and weeding. Raised beds are little more than large container gardens and can be placed anywhere, regardless of the quality of soil underneath. Also, raised bed gardens are ideal for square foot gardening. You can build them out of wood (do not use pressure treated wood as the chemicals in the pressure treated wood can leach into your soil, and your plants), or buy a raised bed garden kit. Another option for someone that wants a raised bed garden but doesn’t have the time or tools to build one is to use a large fabric aeration pot. Aeration pots are fabric containers that come in sizes from 1 gallon all the way to 300 gallons. The benefit of aeration pots is that they prevent the plant’s roots from becoming root bound, while encouraging a more robust root systems with greater surface area in contact with the soil for improved nutrient absorption.

Root bound plants like the one in this photo can stunt a plant's growth.

Root bound plants like the one in this photo can stunt a plant’s growth.

Viagrow™ Fabric Aeration Pots prevent plant's roots from becoming root bound.

Viagrow™ Fabric Aeration Pots prevent plant’s roots from becoming root bound.

Once you have built your raised bed or purchased an aeration pot, now comes the all important choice of what to fill it with. I prefer a high quality potting soil like Fox Farm’s Ocean Forest which is loaded with organic fertilizers and micro-organisms. However if that does not fit your budget, another less expensive option is topsoil, which is sold by the bag at every hardware store or sold by the truck load. It can be used as base for your garden soil, but topsoil is not ready to use just yet. I recommend when buying topsoil to make sure it has been screened, ensuring that large pieces of organic debris and rocks have been removed. Plan on adding organic matter and organic fertilizer to the top soil; it will guarantee a bountiful harvest of your favorite fruits and vegetables.

The best way to add organic matter to soil is by adding a rich compost. Compost is decayed organic matter, and it is one of the best things you can add to any soil. You may have the notion that a compost pile is a big, ugly, smelly pile of leaves and lawn clippings, but that is not necessarily true. Today people have options of homemade compost piles, well constructed compost bins, and stylish compost tumblers. These provide everyone the option of making their own nutritious organic soil inexpensively. You can also improve the soil structure and improve the moisture retention and/or drainage of your garden soil with the addition of products like perlite, shredded leaves, peat moss, coconut coir, and composted bark sold as “soil conditioner.”

Aside from compost there are several organic fertilizers and additives that can be added to improve your garden soil. One popular option for adding organic matter to soil is to use composted animal manures. There are several kinds to choose from including: seabird guano, bat guano, cow manure, horse manure, and chicken litter. Generally, manures from animals that eat vegetation are preferred to animals that eat meat. Animal manures vary greatly in the nutrition they will provide your garden due to the different diets of the animals that produce the manure. When possible, it is best to use composted manures and guanos in your soil; fresh manure is best placed in your composter to age and breakdown before it is used or you risk burning your plants. An added benefit of animal manures and guanos is that they provide an excellent source of beneficial micro-organisms which add to your soil’s ecology. You also have the option of adding beneficial fungi and bacteria with products like Mykos and Azos.

Other options for amending soil include the following organic fertilizers and additives:

Rock Phosphate
A natural granular source of phosphorous and calcium in addition to several trace minerals. Rock phosphate is an excellent source of phosphorous which promotes cell division, photosynthesis and respiration. Also encourages the growth of earthworms and soil bacteria that enrich and aerate the soil. Slow release so it will not leach away like chemical blossom boosters. Apply 1-3 lbs. per 100 sq. ft. for gardens.

Blood Meal
A slow release organic nitrogen source. Excellent as a top dressing when extra nitrogen is needed. Stimulates bacterial growth. Use 2-3 lbs. per 100 sq. ft or as a top dressing.

Bone Meal
Steamed, finely ground bone provides phosphorus, calcium and nitrogen. Promotes strong, vigorous bulbs, healthy root systems and good blooming. Excellent for flowers, roses, garden bulbs, shrubs and trees. Use up to 5 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.

Greensand
Contains 22 minerals and helps loosen compacted clay soils. Highly recommended for conditioning pastures, lawns, orchards, fields, and gardens. Apply 2-4 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.

Worm Castings
A pure all natural plant food produced by earthworms. Helps develop foliage in plants and improves aeration of the soil. Worm castings are also a source of nitrogen. Use in gardens and flower beds at rate of ½ cup per plant every two months. In potting mixes add 1 part earthworm castings to 3 parts soil. For roses mix 4 cups into soil around each plant.

Sulfur
Sulfur is excellent for lowering the pH of soils for growing blueberries, rhododendrons, azaleas and other acid loving plants. Use according to soil test recommendations – do not over apply. Maximum use ¼ lb. per 100 sq. ft.

Micro Pelletized Gypsum
Pelletized calcium sulfate; supplies calcium and sulfur while loosening clay soils, aiding aeration and water penetration. Use when calcium and sulfur are needed, and pH of the soil is alkaline. Use 2-3 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.

Garden Lime
A natural liming material which supplies additional calcium and helps maintain a near neutral pH in your soil. Apply 3-5 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.

Once you have built your bed, added your soil, and amended it with lots of organic matter and fertilizer, it is time to plant your seeds or seedlings. Starting seeds is easy to do with a Viagrow™ Seed Starting Kit. Another option is to visit your local nursery and buy vegetable seedlings; ask them what varieties will perform best in your area. Water regularly (as needed) and top dress around the base of your plants on a monthly basis to ensure your plants have plenty of food. You will be eating your harvest in no time.

A raised bed garden can produce enough for a family of 4 in a very small area.

A raised bed garden can produce enough for a family of 4 in a very small area.

1 Day Sale! 15%-50% off Saturday, November 17th

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Canna Lovers, Get all your Canna Nutrient and Coco questions answered at the Atlanta West Midtown location by a Canna Nutrients Rep, along with prize giveaways, and complimentary snacks and refreshments!

Web Shoppers, order Online and receive 15% off orders placed 11/17.

Use hydroponic promo code ILOVEHYDRO at checkout.

Hydroponics and Gardening: They’re Older than Epcot!

Hanging Gardens of Babylon depiction

The “Roses are not yet in full bloom here – in fact they are scarce – and from all of the nurseries and all the garland-weavers we could just barely get together the thousand that we sent you…even picking the ones that ought not to have picked till tomorrow. We had all the narcissi you wanted, so instead of the two thousand you asked for we sent four thousand.” (Stewart, pg 6)*

The quote above was not a request for flowers for the recent Olympics, nor for a recent inauguration or state funeral, it was written on papyrus before the birth of Christ. It is a stunning reminder that although we are continuing the age-old tradition of gardening we should respect the developments and advancements that were made before us. We should strive to improve our skills as gardeners and gain a better understanding of our plants, our growing systems, and of the history that has come before us!

Gardening is not new by any means, and yet hydroponics is often considered cutting edge science. The truth of the matter is that hydroponics dates back hundreds- possibly thousands- of years BC. Hydroponics was not a technique relegated to a single culture either. There were the hanging gardens of Babylon, the floating garden of the Aztecs, and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics alluding to hydroponics. **

Let’s remember that the amazing display of hydroponic gardening at Epcot, and NASA’s work with hydroponics for the upcoming manned mission to Mars, owe their progress in some part to these ancient cultures.

*Stewart, Amy, Flower Confidential, Workman Publishing, 2007.

**Resh, Howard, Hydroponic Food Production . Woodbridge Press, 1997.

Square Foot Gardening: A Garden for Everyone!

A Square Foot Garden

Gardening is one of those things I believe everyone can do. It is a great feeling to see a child watch a plant grow, and then see the light in their eyes when they pull their first carrot from the ground. The gardening strategy we are about to examine is truly for everyone. I hear from lots of people that they don’t have the space for a garden, or “good” soil, or the time to tend & weed a garden. Well guess what? It does not take a lot of space, time, or soil to grow a garden.

Square foot gardening is a style of gardening popularized by Mel Bartholomew in a 1981 in his book(s) and PBS television series. Square foot gardening is the practice of planning and creating small but heavily planted gardens utilizing one square foot per plant selection. The practice combines concepts from other organic gardening methods including a strong focus on compost, densely planted raised beds, and soil stewardship. Proponents claim that the method is particularly well-suited for areas with poor soil, beginner gardeners, or those with disabilities.

Basically square foot gardening boils down to a few basic concepts:

  1. Gardens are designed in raised bed style.
  2. The soil filling the raised beds is rich and full of biologically active compost and has excellent drainage.
  3. All plantings are given 1 square foot per plant selection.

When planning your garden either a 3’ x 3’ or a 4’ x 4’ raised bed will be the easiest to maintain because you will have access to all plants without walking in the garden bed. Walking in the raised beds compacts the soil which is detrimental to your plants. If you desire a larger garden, consider several raised beds designed in an appealing pattern or layout that fit your space. I would recommend that you always keep 3’ walkways between garden beds, making weeding and maintenance easier. Also pay attention to the orientation (north-south or east-west) of your garden bed when making plant selections (you don’t want to plant corn where it will shade all of the other plants). A few other tips for making your raised bed garden:

  1. Plan your garden on paper to maximize your productivity, minimize your work, and make the most attractive use of your space.
  2. Successive planting is a great strategy to increase your gardening season; after a cool season spring crop like lettuce or radishes is harvested replant the space with beets, beans, or turnips for the summer. Then in the fall replant again with a cool season crop.
  3. Utilize your vertical space with trellises, fencing, or cages to allow climbing or tall growing plants to occupy space without encroaching on neighboring plantings.

My favorite adaptation of square foot gardening is using the principles for an indoor garden. A grow tent is the perfect place to utilize these concepts. You get to grow a variety of plants in a small space, without any weeding or having to contend with the elements, bugs, or disease. By growing in an indoor climate-controlled space, you can minimize labor and maximize yield. Just buy a tent, a soft fabric pot or raised bed kit, build a liner (to protect the floor from water damage,) add some rich organic soil and some seeds and you are on your way. For the do-it-yourselfers out there, here are instructions on how to build a raised bed garden. Check out the planting guide below for some ideas and recommendations on plantings and density.

1,000-Year-Old Farming Secrets Could Save The Amazon Rainforest

Atlantis Hydroponics, amazon rain forest, ancient gardening secrets

Can a change in your gardening practices save the Amazon?
Amazon Rainforest image by CIFOR

Atlantis Hydroponics recommends this article about raised bed farming in the Amazon thousands of years ago. It illustrates how effective raised bed gardening can be; not just in the Amazon, but in your home garden as well.

“These indigenous farmers used something known as raised-field farming, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. They built small mounds all along the savannas that form the periphery of the rainforest, and then they farmed on these artificial mounds. While the elevated fields were almost certainly a pain in the ass to make, the benefits were huge — they naturally drained and aerated the soil while still retaining moisture. In a region known in equal measure for floods and droughts, that’s a pretty nifty bit of agricultural engineering.”

Click here to read more of this article.

Would you like to help save the Amazon with your own raised bed garden? Take a look at our large selection of Atlantis Hydroponics raised bed garden containers.