If you live near me, you know it’s common to see piles of “stuff” on the driveway regularly. This week, it’s been filled with stuff to prep the garden beds. The native soil here at our home is pure muck clay. And, we have a high water table with an underground aquifer nearby. That means that the soil ranges from hard and packed like concrete to wet and stickier than anything you’ve ever tried to shovel.
To easily combat this, nearly all of our crops and flowers grow in some type of raised bed. Most are natural wood beds made from 2×10 lumber (cedar or cypress) and some are just raised soil rows. Sure, the native soil could have been ripped, tilled, and amended to improve fertility and drainage but that takes years and sometimes decades to get it to a consistently good composition.
Mix, mix, and mix some more
For me, one of the bigger spring projects is to get fresh bedding mix to fill or top up the growing beds. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when your first “batch” is 6 cubic yards, that changes things a little. Several methods of mixing and filling beds have been used through the years. In the beginning, we used wheelbarrows to put compost in the empty beds, placed the right amount of bales of peat in the beds, cut the bales open, loosened it up and used a small tiller to mix. What a chore! It pretty well had me covered in dry, dusty bedding mix from head to toe even if there was no wind. The operation of running and manipulating that tiller was a tough upper body and shoulder workout, too.
Now, we’ve landed on the easiest method so far. We use the loader bucket on the tractor to mix the “ingredients” together on the concrete. This takes time, and there is still the manual work of opening and dumping those peat bales, but it’s still an easier method. My process for mixing has decreased time and improved the distribution of ingredients. First, the bales are mixed in around the pile. After that has happened with the first half of the peat, the pile is flattened and the remaining bales are opened evenly over the flat pile. The last step actually mixes the pile end over end from the original spot to about twelve feet away. Then, it can be gently mixed again as it is moved back to the original location. Bingo! Time to get it into the beds.
How are we going to move all that?
The loader bucket is used to scoop the mix and fill five gallon buckets. Twelve buckets, to be exact. Those buckets fit in the bed of the utility vehicle. Then, it can easily be driven to the garden locations and the buckets are easier to manage and pour than using a wheelbarrow. Putting the mix in the beds goes quickly, and a once-over with a garden rake has me ready for the next load of buckets.
A hand cultivator can be used to easily mix the fresh material into the bed or it can be left on the top if the existing bed mix has still been holding water to my liking; meaning that the peat is still working. This material is fairly light, and usually on the dry side, so it can benefit from a light watering to help keep it in place. The peat can hold a lot of water, but can take a bit of misting to get it wet initially.
First pile is done!
All of the garden beds here at home, herb beds, trellis bed, holding containers (used to side-dress through the season), cut flower bed, and the buckets for the mini peppers are ready! We were able to prep quite a few beds at the neighbor’s where I grow, too. The second batch of bedding mix will be smaller and we may be able to do it all in a day (weather permitting) unlike this first one that took us a few days.
“Anything worth doing is worth doing right” applies to this process for me. The time and energy that we put into this step is so vital to our end result. It’s worth the sore muscles and dirty socks for sure!