How To Make Your Own Fertile Soil For Garden Beds

by Texas Homesteader ~ 

It’s super easy & very cheap to build larger amounts of garden soil the lazy gardener way. I’m using a combination of natural methods, blending both Hügelkultur and lasagna sheet mulching methods for my raised beds.

The benefits are many including reduced costs to build beds, reduced effort to maintain beds and much increased soil fertility and drought resistance. Don’t worry, it’s EASY!

Make your own garden soil hugelkultur sheet mulching raised beds eco friendly #TexasHomesteader

Layering Components Raised Bed Benefits:

It’s true you can build larger amounts of healthy, productive soil by simply layering different materials. You’ll use many of the same materials you use when composting – both greens & browns.

When building soil by layering these materials such as with Hügelkultur or lasagna gardening, there are many benefits.

  • Cheaper bed building – Use what you already have such as woody debris from downed trees, limbs, trimmings, leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, etc.
  • Low Maintenance, No-Till beds are an easy way to improve beds on compacted, heavy clay, or poor soil.
  • Better Water Retention – Decomposing wood at the bottom of the pile will soak up rain & deliver it to the plant’s roots during drier times.
  • Build Fertility – Attracts earthworms, beneficial fungus & bacteria, healthy microbial activity, etc.

Layering Raised Bed Tips:

  • Combatting Nitrogen Loss – The decomposing wood initially robs nitrogen from the surrounding soil. Be sure to add a nitrogen-rich layer such as manure or grass clippings when building beds. I also plant green beans that first year to offset nitrogen loss since beans are legumes & make their own nitrogen.
  • Slow-Rotting Wood – Don’t use slow-rotting woods such as cedar, locust, Bois d’Arc, etc. The decomposing wood is part of your bed’s healthy soil!
  • Wood with Toxins – Wood that releases toxins to inhibit plant growth such as black cherry or black walnut or treated lumber should not be used
  • Soil Level Falls Each Year – You’ll need to top off your layered garden with compost each year as the bulkier components at the bottom of the pile decompose and the level of soil in your raised bed falls.

What Is Sheet Composting / Lasagna Layering

I’ve used Lasagna Gardening (also known as Sheet Composting) for shorter  raised beds or when planting in troughs.

Planting in a trough gives raised-bed convenience. #TexasHomesteader

If I’m planting in a shorter 1-ft tall raised bed I start with cardboard to smother out any weeds. Then start layering my browns and greens.

If I’m planting in a taller trough – since it’s enclosed at the bottom I’ll start with Homemade EcoBricks at the bottom to aid in drainage.

Using EcoBricks has benefits because it’s sequestered non-recyclable trash in a way to actually be able to benefit my garden bed. You know that makes me happy too.

To begin layering your soil components, you’ll just use the same greens/browns list I’ve already shared in my Compost Guide.

You’re basically starting by layering about 5″ browns such as small sticks & twigs, straw, wood chips, newspaper, leaves, etc.

I’ve used this same procedure to make soil for larger beds. I recently obtained a larger heavy-duty open-bottom raised bed. (Oh man, I *LOVE* this Heavy Metal Raised Bed, y’all!)

Using larger logs for this bed significantly reduced the amount of money I would have to shell out to fill this bed.

Hopkins Hidden Homestead raised bed filled sheet mulch and hugelkultur style. #TexasHomesteader

You’ll also need to layer about 3″ of greens such as untreated grass clippings, animal bedding, coffee grounds, manure, etc. Repeat the layers for taller beds.

Finally you’ll top your raised bed with at least 4-5 inches of garden soil for planting.

Hügelkultur – What Is It?

For taller raised beds, Hügelkultur gardening is beneficial. Hügelkultur translates to “mound culture”. The premise is that plants are grown in raised mounded beds.

Texas A&M University says:

“Hügelkultur, German for “hill culture,” is the practice of composting large woody material, such as tree logs, to create a raised garden bed, said Masabni, who is based in Overton. Other excess garden waste, including prunings, hedge clippings and brushwood can be utilized to create the no-till bed for plants.”

Hügelkultur is similar to lasagna gardening or sheet composting. You’re basically building a bed with layers of botanical matter, both ‘browns’ as well as ‘greens’ such as you’d have with compost.

But Hügelkultur is a bigger form. Instead of starting with twigs and leaves for your base, you’re actually starting with logs.

Hugelkultur gardening graphic - logs, sticks, raised bed by By Rose Shelton and Backwoods Home #TexasHomesteader

Photo courtesy of Backwoods Home Magazine & Rose Shelton

NOTE: You should avoid logs from trees that rot slowly such as locust trees, cedar, Bois d’Arc – or any trees that produce chemicals to inhibit plant growth such as black walnut or black cherry.

Hügelkultur Raised Bed Layers:

According to permaculturenews.com, the layers you want for Hügelkultur are:

  • Larger Logs
  • Smaller branches
  • Small sticks or twigs
  • Leaf litter
  • Grass clippings or manure (nitrogen rich to offset nitrogen loss)
  • 1-2 inches topsoil for planting
  • Layer of mulch
  • You can plant immediately, but this type of garden benefits from building several months in advance of planting to get it started curing and that wood degrading.

Be sure to pack the layers as tightly as you can, adding more finely textured items such as wood chips into the crevices between logs, etc.

And also be sure to water each layer thoroughly. You want to get the rotting process started as soon as possible.

Finally top everything with about a few inches of topsoil for planting and a layer of mulch for retaining moisture. I’ll be using stemmy hay waste from around our hay rings for mulch – no waste! 

Cows eating hay around a hay ring. #TexasHomesteader

NOTE: We know our hay supplier personally & I’ve already confirmed from him that the hay in our hay rings that he’s harvested for us has not been sprayed. You don’t want to use hay or manure resulting from pastures sprayed with broadleaf herbicides.

The benefit of layering this way is that over time the logs degrade. That will attract all the good stuff you want in your garden soil – beneficial bacteria & fungi, earthworms and that all-important microbial activity. They’ll all work for FREE for a more productive garden for you!

The beds will also soak up the rain like a sponge and release it slowly to help these beds be more drought resistant. That decaying wood holds moisture and releases it during drier times – a big bonus here in NE Texas during those hot & dry summer months!

NOTE: Initially the rotting wood will actually take nitrogen from your planting medium. So you’ll want to add some nitrogen rich layers such as grass clippings or manure on top of your wood. I’ll also be planting green beans that first year because they’re legumes and produce their own nitrogen. The second year shouldn’t be a problem and I can plant whatever I wish from there on out.

Combination of Sheet Composting & Hügelkultur

I’ll be doing a combination of sheet composting & Hügelkultur for my taller raised beds that are not contained with a bottom such as when using a trough.

Instead of cardboard & twigs, I’ll be starting with actual logs at the bottom and building the layers from there.

I’ll continue layering up to the top of my raised bed. But it won’t end up as a mound or utilizing mound planting like traditional Hügelkultur would.

But by using this layering method I’ve been able to build my raised bed soil with natural amendments already here on our Homestead. This has saved money over buying that much planting soil.

Make your own garden soil hugelkultur sheet mulching raised beds eco friendly #TexasHomesteader

I’ve also kept the soil building more natural, using Mother Nature’s forest floors as my model. Plus I’ve used natural materials instead of purchased materials in a bag. That makes my crunchy-green heart happy.

This is the first time I’ve built a raised bed using actual logs at the bottom of my stack. I’m very anxious to see how this layering method helps retain moisture during those blistering hot and dry summer gardening months. 

~TxH~

This post categorized in

My Favorite Garden Hacks

My favorite gardening hacks all in one place. #TexasHomesteader

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