Digging Deeper

Learn more about planning your garden:

Grow in Beds (Not Rows)
Bed Preparation

Join the Discussion


  • David Gasparro

    Reply Reply September 13, 2017

    Does making a raised bed over a lawn that was treated with weed and feed contaminate the garden soil. How long should I wait to use the soil that was treated with it ? What type of mulch did you use ? Can you use hay or straw ? I read recently that some hay and straw and compost is dirty and contaminated with chemicals. Do you have any thoughts on these problems ?

    • Paul

      Reply Reply September 17, 2017

      Hi David – excellent questions. Yes, lawns that have been sprayed are contaminated and it can take years to fully recover. To be officially organic land has to rest with no chemicals for at least 3 years. But for home use I’d go ahead and begin growing in it – or if you’d like to be careful I’d leave it for at least one year.

      You can definitely use hay or straw as mulch. Other people use such things as leaves, or even bark or wood chips. The main thing is to make sure that they are only used as mulch and not tilled into the soil as that will tie up the nitrogen in the soil and make it so you can’t grow in it anymore.

      As for contaminates in the hay or straw – that is a real possibility. I’d suggest looking into where the hay or straw comes from. See if you can purchase from local farms where you can ask them if they sprayed their fields. That is the best solution.

      • David Gasparro

        Reply Reply September 21, 2017

        Did you also mean not to till leaves into the soil. Should I use only leaves that are turned into humus for tilling in the soil. Thanks for the info.

        • Paul

          Reply Reply September 22, 2017

          Yes, I’d wait until the leaves are at least mostly broken down before tilling them into the soil. Or, make sure to allow time for the leaves to decompose in the soil before trying to plant veggies. One option is to till leaves into the soil in the fall and then by spring it should be ok to grow in the soil. I’d still try to shred them as small as possible before doing so though.

  • Olivene Clavon

    Reply Reply September 30, 2017

    Can I incorporate bat and seabird guano at the same time?

    • Paul

      Reply Reply October 1, 2017

      Absolutely Olivene – you can definitely use them both at the same time.

  • Deni

    Reply Reply March 26, 2018

    We are planning to do some raised beds and currently there is weed barrier down with 2″ of pea gravel on top. Is it ok to leave that and just place the raised beds on top and put weed barrier before adding soil or is it better to remove the gravel? Thanks.

    • Paul

      Reply Reply March 27, 2018

      Great question Deni! Depending on how high your raised bed is – it could be fine to leave the gravel there. In fact, you wouldn’t even need to put weed-barrier on top of the gravel but that would be up to you. The main thing to consider is that your plants will only have the soil in the raised bed itself to grow in. They won’t be growing down into the ground below.

      Another option is to remove the gravel and weed-barrier (unless the weed-barrier is decomposable like cardboard or heavy paper) and loosen the ground below – and that way your plants will actually be able to grow much deeper (even deeper than the raised bed depth). The truth is, once you fill up a raised bed with soil, the soil itself is a weed-barrier. Only seeds in the top few inches of soil usually sprout – and mostly in the top 1/4-1 inch.

      Hope this helps!

  • Cheryl McCain

    Reply Reply June 25, 2018

    When adding the soil and worm castings to the beds, what type of mulch did you say to use? I’ve listened to it a couple times but not sure what you’re saying. (I apologize….I’m hard of hearing) I just want to make sure I use the correct mulch.

    • Paul

      Reply Reply June 27, 2018

      Hi Cheryl – great question! So we would only add mulch AFTER the bed is completely prepared. You never want to mix mulch into the soil. Only lay it on the top. Then you can use many different things for the mulch. You can use straw or hay. Wood chip mulch can work as well. The main key is that it needs to be about 4-6 inches deep to work effectively. And once again – never mix it into the soil, only lay it on top. Hope this helps!

  • Javier

    Reply Reply August 31, 2018

    Hi Paul,
    We have a green house and the squash bugs killed all our zucchini and cucumbers,
    we pulled all the old plants out , we were watering with a drip system , i am tempted to till the beds and start from scratch , i would like to plant winter greens and spinach here next week.

    the ground is hard and has seeds from weeds that where left there, should I flame weed it? and till?
    there are old beds there already but they are not spaced properly.
    What do you recommend?
    by the way there are still squash bush in the greenhouse.;/

    • Paul

      Reply Reply September 5, 2018

      Hi Javier,

      Thanks for the note here. And great questions.

      First, flame weeding is only effective once you have already prepared your beds. In other words, it will not help you very much to flame weed before tilling. Flame weeding will kill the weeds that have sprouted, but tilling would do the same thing.

      As far as preparing your beds – I would definitely try to prepare them similar to how we demonstrate in the video here. Tilling your soil can really damage it in the long run. It is not wrong to do it once or twice if needed – but in general we do not encourage tilling.

      I’d go ahead and mark out where you want your beds. Space them exactly how you want them to be. Then take a spading fork and loosen the ground in the beds (or till if you decide to do that). You can mark the beds out with string to keep everything spaced properly.

      And so sorry about your squash bugs! Keep focusing on building up the health of your soil and your plants. It will make a huge difference in the long run and you’ll have less and less pest problems.

      It is a good idea to pull out your plants now and start planting for the fall though. In fact, you’ll want to do it right away to make sure you can get some greens that are mature by the time fall comes. It may even be too late for some things. Johnny’s has an excellent fall harvest planting calculator that can help with knowing when to plant for a fall harvest here: http://www.johnnyseeds.com/growers-library/calculator-planting-dates-fall-harvest-crops.html

      Hope this helps!

  • Oscar Gunn

    Reply Reply February 16, 2019

    Paul, the ground in my greenhouse is kind of hard and has rocks, I was th8nking about putting a ground cover down then put compost and soil ove4 the top of it to start out. Wha5 do u think?

    • Paul

      Reply Reply February 22, 2019

      Hi Oscar,

      Good question. It is a good thought but honestly I wouldn’t do it. It would take a LOT of dirt to fill a green house with the depth you would want to grow in. Plus a lot of work. I have dealt with some pretty hard soil with lots of rocks and using our bed-preparation techniques we have been able to drastically improve the soil over time (and remove rocks over time as well). I would highly suggest doing that instead. Good question though!

      • Marion

        Reply Reply July 3, 2022

        Why not use grow bags inside the green house vs. Adding soil? Or planter boxes open at the bottom that contain soil that could eventually help to soften the soil below, allowing rocks to be removed and then incorporated to the floor of the green house?

  • Karen Chiarini

    Reply Reply April 27, 2020

    Hi, Paul. I could use a bit of clarification from you. I thought you said not to till the mulch (I’ll be using mostly brown leaves) into the soil, but I thought I also heard you say that it should be tilled into it. Can you explain please? Thank you!

    • Paul

      Reply Reply April 28, 2020

      Hi Karen, great question. Definitely DO NOT till in any bark chips, raw leaves, or any other raw organic material. When preparing your beds you will want to mix in fully decomposed organic material which is what we call compost. For example if you have leaves that have decomposed and they now look and smell like dirt – you can mix that into your soil.

  • Sally Redden

    Reply Reply February 10, 2022

    Thanks for all the great ideas. We just moved to Oklahoma and its hard red dirt, zone 7a. We bought a house that has a sloped backyard and is in a subdivision. I want to plant a garden, but don’t know where to start. Would a raised bed be best, since the soil is red dirt? I’m open to any suggestion at this point. Thank you.

  • Sherrette Gárate-Estes

    Reply Reply March 4, 2022

    When do you anticipate adding captions to your videos. There are many Deaf gardeners out there and access is important. 🙂

    • Jenny

      Reply Reply December 28, 2022

      Yes…I totally agree with you. 🙂

  • Carla

    Reply Reply November 26, 2022

    Can I fill my deep raised bed with all organic compost, or should there be other types of soil or mix, in layers or all mixed together? Thank you.

  • Lola

    Reply Reply January 1, 2023

    Hi Paul,
    someone recommended to me putting dead wood in the bottom of my garden bed to decompose and to take up some space so I don’t need to use as much soil mix. For reference my beds are almost 4 feet high. I have knee issues and can’t be constantly crouching down to work my garden bed.

    I’m wondering if there is any type of wood to stay away from or if any old tree branches or logs will be ok since non of it was ever treated. I also dont want a tree or bush sprouting in the middle of my vegetable garden.
    Would I need to clear off any fungus growing on the logs?

    • Alicia

      Reply Reply January 3, 2023

      Do not use Black Walnut. Damage caused by black walnuts to other plants is a presence of a compound called juglone in the soil, Juglone can cause severe damage and even kill solanaceous crops (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant).

    • Michelle M Moore

      Reply Reply January 18, 2023

      yes I am interested to for same reason

    • Michelle M Moore

      Reply Reply January 18, 2023

      yes I am interested for same reason

  • Benjamin Nappa

    Reply Reply January 9, 2023

    I just discovered this website this year and am loving it so far! I have a small home garden, built my raised beds ~8 years ago but each year my harvest gets worse and worse. I clearly need a lot of help with getting my soil better and will try to get my soil tested once the NY winter allows me to collect it. I have two questions:

    1. I built all the raised beds (6 in total) the same way and have always rotated the crops. When testing the soil, do I need to test each bed individually or can I use a combination of soil as one batch?

    2. Do you know of any good resources (books, other websites) that can help plan the garden to see how many of each plant I plan to grow can fit into each area? And ways to plant friends together so I can optimize my space and grow as much as possible without making them compete for nutrition??

  • Penny Simonaire

    Reply Reply January 14, 2023

    This is my 1st time using the planting calendar. After seeding it says “cultivate”. What does that mean?

  • Vicki Morgan

    Reply Reply January 26, 2023

    The size of my garden is 6′ x 24′. Approximately 2.5′ x 24′ of my garden is an in-ground garden and so could be prepared the way you demonstrate in the video. In addition, I have 8 self-wicking tubs in an area 6′ x 8′, and a rather small sized (18″ x 8′) raised bed in a fabric bag.

    I have used the self-wicking tubs for 2 years before this one and have added compost and organic fertilizers to them each year. What is the procedure for preparing a bed in such a small space (the round tubs are about 2′ wide, while the rectangles are about 2′ x 3′)? Do I just loosen the soil and not turn it over, then smooth out the soil with a hand tool?

    At the end of last season, I added organic compost on top of the soil in my self-wicking tubs. Would it be better to add the compost in the spring instead of in the fall? And, since there is already a layer of compost there this year, is there anything I should do differently to prepare the soil than I would do if I had added it this spring like you show in your video?

    The fabric raised bed is new to me this year. I currently have soil I dumped out from pots used last season that is layered with crop residue and compost and leaves and grass clippings and the like from last year, composting under a tarp outside. My intent is to use this soil to fill my new raised bed. Is there anything special I should do with this soil before using it to fill my new fabric bed? I have never done composting before, and this is the first year I’ve used this particular method, so I don’t really know what to expect.

    Thank you for your help with all these questions. And THANK YOU for sharing your Seedtime program with us! I’ve only just begun using the program and, I must say, I am VERY impressed! You seem to have thought of everything! This program makes planning the garden SO much simpler and less time consuming than doing it by hand! It’s so easy to use, I’m planning on attempting my first set of succession crops this year. THANK YOU for all the work you have done to put this together — and for being willing to share it with the world! 🙂

  • Ericka Bess

    Reply Reply January 30, 2023

    I’m planting in pots. What soil should I use for Roma tomatoes, bell peppers, and romaine?

  • Katrinia

    Reply Reply February 9, 2023

    Do you recommend the metal raised beds? Should I put a protective layer in the metal raised bed before I add my dirt?

  • Larry Cook

    Reply Reply February 14, 2023

    Last March we had wild fires that came through our homestead, it burned out everything, and even where we were going yo build our garden. we have a small 5 acre place. Everything turned black! when things grew back we had johnsongrass everywhere. while we were rebuilding our home it got very tall before i could deal with it. this year were trying to put the garden beds in.so my question, do you know a good way of dealing with this pesky grass? Funny thing is we did not have any johnsongrass before the fire!

  • Kimmi Bee

    Reply Reply February 28, 2023

    I have land that has had cattle running on it for a over 50 yrs and the nitrogen levels are really high. As result I have little red mites someone told me they were clover mites or spider mites. That have sucked all the sap out of the garlic tops I planted. I’m scared to plant anything in this soil. I have 4 acres of this and heavy clay soil to boot. These little mites are tiny the size of a pens head, but it seems to be millions of them. I brought in some sand from the river to mix in the clay with purchased organic soil in one bed inground and those little mites completely covered the tops of the garlic that came up. Discouraged and wondering is there anything that can be done? Someone said let the grass grow to get the nitrogen count down and the mites will go away. They even live on top of water. I see them floating in clusters on moving water in the pond. Help!

  • Kendall M Taylor

    Reply Reply March 15, 2023

    How long after after prepping do you plant? Does it vary from plant types?

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