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.

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 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.

Holiday Gift Guide 2012

Do the holidays stress you out? Making the perfect plans, crafting the perfect decorations, buying the perfect gifts…it can all be a bit overwhelming at times. Well, take a deep breath, get out your shopping list and pen, and prepare to be relieved.

We have done some of the work for you this year!

You might not realize it, but we really do have something for everyone here at Atlantis Hydroponics. To illustrate that, we have come up with a few gift ideas for some of the special people in your life. Read on, and relax…

Your Partying Neighbor

He’s a good guy, really. When he’s awake…

Your Partying Neighbor

He only seems to sleep during the day. He likes his AC/DC loud. He’s definitely a little wild, but he brings in your mail and feeds your cat when you’re out of town. He’d love some Atlantis Hydroponics swag, like a Koozie to keep his beer cold, or a Tee to add to his epic black shirt collection. Can’t decide? Just get him a Gift Card so he can figure it out for himself. It’s even good online, so he can shop at any hour he likes.


Your Hippie Sister

She’s a rare breed of clean hippie.

Your Hippie Sister

She lives for yoga. She gives you death glares when you forget to recycle. She’s talking about making her own soap. Get her something that will satisfy her inner Earth Child, like an Herbal Oil Extraction Kit or ECO Kitchen Compost Collector Bin. And since she’s so into sustainability, she’ll love a book on DIY Aquaponic Gardening.

Keep the tomatoes coming, Mom.

Keep the tomatoes coming, Mom.




Your Retired Mother

She has always loved to garden. Every time you visit, she sends you home with bags of homegrown produce. She is WAY into the good food movement. Get her a Complete Propagation Kit, some Heirloom Sow True seeds, and our Precision Pruning Shears, and she’ll be happily growing indoors through the winter or ready to get a jump start on her spring garden. Is she tired of digging up her yard or running out of room? A variety of Raised Bed Planters will make her gardening life much easier.

Grow me some flowers, boy!

Grow me some flowers, boy!


Your Unemployed Boyfriend

He eats all your chips. He spends most of his time playing Call of Duty 4 with his loser friends. But he makes you laugh, and he’s pretty cute, too. Maybe a new hobby will spark some ambition in him! Give him a Complete Grow Room or one of our Grow Light Systems, and he might just be paying for dinner in no time. A Collapsible Herb Drying Rack would be a great accessory for his Grow Room, too.

He thinks he's Bob Vila.

He thinks he’s Bob Vila.



Your DIYer Dad

He’s dependable, determined, and handy as all get out. (At least he thinks so.) He built his own deck and retiled his own bathroom. He loves beer. Maybe he’d like to try his hand at brewing his own? A Beer Brewing Starter Kit and Extreme Brewing Handbook are the tools he needs. If he’s frugal and loves his yard, a Rain Barrel Kit could be an exciting new project for him that will keep his lawn green and his wallet fat.

He's in college already...

He’s in college already?!



Your Exceptionally Bright Nephew

He’s only 12, but he’s already smarter than most people you know. You’re super proud (and only a little jealous), and you want to encourage his quest for knowledge. His curious little mind will love the hands-on nature of the Jr.Ponics Aquaponic Fish Garden and the Hydroponic Science Fair Kit, and the Hydroponics and Microfarms CD-ROM will answer all the hydroponic questions he has that you don’t know the answers to.

She knits flowers. Now she can grow them, too.

She knits flowers. Now she can grow them, too.

Your Etsy Girlfriend

She knits, she sews, she makes jewelry. She makes you walk to the neighborhood farmers’ market with her every week. You had never tried kale until you met her. Get her started on her urban farming dream with the Build Your Own Raised Garden Kit and Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. If she lives in a small space, the Emily’s Garden System is a perfect way to try out hydroponics without taking up a lot of room.

Bring the gift that gets stolen three times during Dirty Santa.

Bring the gift that everyone wants to take home.



Your Office Gift Exchange

It comes around every year. Whether your office draws names for Secret Santa or makes a game out of it with Dirty Santa, you struggle to find something that everyone will like. Maybe keep it seasonal with a Thirsty Light® Snowflake Christmas Tree Water Sensor. A Grobal Self-Watering Planter would make a great addition to any co-worker’s office, and the Tomato Planter Kit and Raised Bed Garden is an easy way to get anyone started on their way to a green thumb. Even your boss will like it.

See? Something for everyone! Hopefully you’ve gotten some ideas and checked a few people off your list. Shop online at atlantishydroponics.com or in one of our five hydroponic retail stores.

Happy Holidays!