How To Make Your Own Fertile Soil Yourself For Garden Beds

by Texas Homesteader ~ 

You can make your own garden soil using natural methods such as Hügelkultur or lasagna sheet mulching styles. There are many benefits such as significantly reduced costs, easier maintenance, increased soil fertility & drought resistance. Don’t worry, it’s EASY! 

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

Building Your Own Garden Soil

It’s true you can build larger amounts of healthy, productive soil for raised beds by simply layering different degradable materials. You’ll use the same greens/browns list I’ve shared in my Compost Guide.

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

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  • 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 water to the plant’s roots during drier times.
  • Build Fertility – Attracts earthworms, beneficial fungi & bacteria, healthy microbial activity, etc.

What Are The Benefits Of Layering Soil Components?

The benefit of layering materials this way is that over time it all degrades. 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 to make a more productive garden for you!

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And the decaying wood helps these beds to be more drought resistant since it holds moisture and releases it during drier times. That’s a big bonus here in NE Texas during those hot & dry summer months!

What Is Sheet Composting / Lasagna Layering?

I’ve used Lasagna Gardening (also known as Sheet Composting) for garden rows & shorter raised beds. It’s simply layering composting ‘browns’ and ‘greens’ in planting rows.

Start with cardboard to smother out any weeds.

Add small twigs & leaves.

Layer browns and greens in alternate layers.

Be sure to pack the layers as tightly as you can, packing more finely textured items into the crevices. And water each layer thoroughly to get the rotting process started as soon as possible.

Sheet composting is best started in the fall so materials will decompose for spring planting.

This material will break down into healthy soil. In the spring top with finished compost or soil & plant! 

Hügelkultur Garden – What Is It?

Hügelkultur translates to “mound culture” and is similar to lasagna gardening or sheet composting, but in a bigger form. Instead of starting with twigs and leaves for your base, you’re actually starting with logs.

The premise of Hügelkultur is that plants are grown in tall raised mounded beds made of layers of botanical matter.

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

Photo courtesy of Backwoods Home Magazine & Rose Shelton

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.”

How To Build Hügelkultur Bed Layers:

According to, 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.

Combination of Sheet Composting & Hügelkultur Methods

For my taller open-bottom raised bed I use a combination of sheet composting & Hügelkultur styles. Instead of twigs I’ll start with actual logs at the bottom and build the layers from there.

I’ll continue layering up to the top of my raised bed. But the layers will end up flat & not as a mound as traditional Hügelkultur would, nor utilize mound planting.

Making Soil For A Large Raised Bed

I recently obtained a couple of large heavy-duty open-bottom raised beds. (Oh man, I *LOVE* these Heavy-Duty Metal Raised Beds, y’all!) 

Hopkins Hidden Homestead heavy-duty raised bed for gardening. #TexasHomesteader

Using larger logs in this bed significantly reduced the amount of money I would have to spend to fill it with purchased soil. Here’s what I did:

Start with cardboard to smother weeds.

Top with long straight logs. Fill in any gaps with wood mulch. (see note below for wood-variety tips) 

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

Add small twigs & leaves, packing tightly.

Layer 3″ of greens such as untreated grass clippings, animal bedding, coffee grounds, manure, etc. on top of the wood, followed with 3″ of browns such as cured grass cuttings, untreated straw, newspaper, etc.

Repeat Layers of smaller browns and greens in alternate layers.

Top with garden soil/compost for planting

NOTE: If I’ve started layering in the fall I only top with a few inches of planting soil since decomposition is already well on its way. If I get a later start on layering I’ll add about 10″-12″ of planting soil to keep plant roots away from ‘hot compost’. So start that layering early, y’all!

Tips For Layering Raised Bed Soil:

  • Combatting Nitrogen Loss – The decomposing wood initially robs nitrogen from the surrounding soil. Be sure to top wood with 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 – Some tree wood releases toxins to inhibit plant growth. So wood from black cherry, black walnut or treated lumber should not be used
  • Soil Level Falls Each Year – As the bulkier components at the bottom of the pile decompose the level of soil in your raised bed falls. You’ll need to top off your layered garden with more soil or compost each year.

Using Animal Water Troughs As Raised Beds

Sometimes I use a closed-bottom trough as a raised bed. I make sure the plug is removed so excess moisture can find its way out.

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

Then I layer various botanical items in lasagna or sheet composting style. 

Start by layering about 5″-10″ of branches, sticks & twigs. Be sure to pack them in tightly.

I'm layering soil components in an old water trough including hügelkultur techniques such as layering yard debris, compost, etc. #TexasHomesteader

Then alternate layers of ‘greens’ such as fresh grass clippings, vegetables or fruit scraps with layers of ‘browns’ such as cured grass cuttings, cardboard, newspaper, etc. Repeat layers until you achieve the height you desire.

After your layers are done you’ll want to allow it several months to begin decomposition & top it with garden-quality soil at planting time.  

Mulching Garden Plants Conserves Moisture

In the spring after planting I top everything with a layer of mulch for retaining moisture. I’ll be using stemmy hay waste from around our hay rings for mulch – no waste! 

I use wasted stems of hay from around our cattle hay ring as natural mulch in my garden.  #TexasHomesteader

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

Making Your Own Soil Saves Money & The Environment

By using this layering method I’ve been able to build most of my raised bed soil using natural amendments already here on our Homestead. This has saved lots of 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 big plastic bag. That makes my crunchy-green heart happy.


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