A Garden Soil Recipe For Raised Beds | GrowingRealFood.com

Why Should I Make My Own Soil?

Many people think that you can fill a raised bed with straight up dirt, or compost. Sure you could do this, but you don’t have the necessary ingredients in the soil to nourish your plants, retain moisture and to allow for proper drainage.

The recipe I am sharing today is the ONLY recipe that I have ever used and I have been very successful with my gardens!

All the essential nutrients are in the soil recipe and you most likely will never need to feed your plants or fertilize them because all the nutrients are right in the soil. Pretty cool right? In addition to this, I rarely have any problems with pest or any diseases harming the plants.

So yes, I will say up front that there are a few extra steps in creating the perfect soil, but it is worth the effort!  Once you create this soil, your plants will do amazing and there will be very little maintenance to keeping this soil for years to come.

Garden Soil and Square Foot Gardening

So as I stated above, I have always used this recipe for garden soil in my gardens. It has never failed me so why change it right. I adapted this recipe slightly from the Mel Bartholomew book:

All New Square Foot Gardening

If you do not have this book, I highly recommend it! It is hands down the best gardening book that I have ever bought!

In Mel’s book, he really focuses on square foot gardening and raised beds.  I am convinced that this is the easiest method to gardening.  There are very little weeds to dispose of and other than watering, this method is practically maintenance free!  

I strongly believe that a quality soil recipe makes all the difference in a garden.  Lets figure out how much soil you will need for your garden beds.

How Much Garden Soil Do I Need To Make?

The first step is to figure out how much garden soil you need for your raised bed. You can easily calculate your soil needs with a soil calculator here:

Calculate Your Soil Needs With a Soil Calculator

Remember, compost, peat moss and vermiculite (the 3 components of this recipe) are measured in cubic feet or cubic yards, so you will be given both of those numbers with the calculations.

In my example (shown below), I am calculating a 4’x4′ (or 48″x48″) raised bed that is 6″ deep.

Screen Shot 2013-08-03 at 2.03.37 PM

As you can see in the picture above, for my 4’x4′ bed that is 6″ deep, I will need 8 cubic feet of soil. The number below that (cubic yards) is usually beneficial for filling larger beds and for buying soil for bulk delivery.

So now we know how much soil we need to fill this raised bed.  We will need this information for the recipe.

How To Make Garden Soil For Raised Beds

There are 3 components that make up good soil.  In the picture below you can see the differences of the 3 ingredients.

How To Make Garden Soil | GrowingRealFood.com

For this recipe you will need the following:

  • 1/3 peat moss (measured by cubic ft or cubic yd) ~ Peat moss helps lighten the soil up a bit and makes the soil more water retentive. Compost can be very dense and by adding peat moss, you lighten up the density which helps the root systems of the plants to grow more evenly throughout the soil. This is instrumental in creating a healthy plant.
  • 1/3 coarse vermiculite (measured by cubic ft or cubic yd) ~ Vermiculite is mica rocks that have been minded out of the ground and then have been heated to explode into very little pieces. These little rocks have a lot of nooks and crannies where the water can be absorbed. It also allows the soil to drain properly and is very important to include in this soil. If you can not find vermiculite, you can use perlite, but I prefer vermiculite…it is a much better product to work with. *(See additional note below)
  • 1/3 compost (measured by cubic ft or cubic yd)~ Compost provides the essential nutrients for your plants to grow and flourish. Compost is food for your plants. We buy ours from a local source in bulk, it is so much cheaper. We got a whole pick up truck full for right around $40! Compost is expensive by the bag, so if you are filling a large bed, or even a smaller bed, it is wise to buy it from a local source.

*Note ~ Because I know it will be brought up, I am going to mention that many years ago there was a plant in Montana that was shut down because their vermiculite had traces of asbestos. Now this is very serious, yes and every now and then the story pops up again, like it is new and just happened. This was a very serious situation indeed, but as a result vermiculite is screened for asbestos and is monitored on every level and also has a asbestos free stamp on the bags. It is safe to use.

Back To Our Example Project

So lets use my example above to show you how this works. I needed 8 cubic feet of soil as shown in the soil calculator above. 8 cubic feet divided by 3 (we need 1/3 of each for the recipe) will give us 2.66 cubic feet of each.

So we will need for my example:

  • 2.66 cubic ft peat moss
  • 2.66 cubic ft vermiculite
  • 2.66 cubic ft compost

Now follow the 3 easy steps below and you now know how to make garden soil for raised beds! Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be exact measurements, just eyeball it.

A Garden Soil Recipe

Now follow these easy 3 steps

Now that you have all the ingredients, follow these 3 easy steps and you will know how to make garden soil for raised beds!

  1. Put your 3 components into a tarp and mix them together really well with a rake or shovel. You might want to wear a mask because the vermiculite and peat moss can be dusty, and it is best to wear a mask. Once everything is well mixed, shovel the mixture into your raised bed.
  2. Next step is to water your new garden soil. Do not skip this step. This can be dusty and this will help eliminate the dust and weigh the soil down a bit.
  3. The final step is to allow the soil to settle for 2 weeks. The soil will settle about 1-2 inches below where you originally piled the soil in so be sure to add a little extra to compensate for settling.

What If I Bought In Bulk & Can’t Measure My Soil?

So as I mentioned above, I buy my compost in bulk and use it throughout the season. If you bought your compost in bulk and are unable to measure it by cubic feet or cubic yards, you can measure your formula this way.

  • 3 parts compost
  • 1 part peat moss 
  • 1 part vermiculite

Remember, compost is very heavy and weighs differently in volume, so this is why the formula is different. If you are able, it is best to follow the recipe by cubic feet or cubic yards, but if you can not, then follow this method.

I just used a large green bucket and filled it up 3 times with compost, poured it into my raised bed, and then added 1 large green bucket of peat moss and 1 large green bucket of vermiculite.  Then I just mixed it up right in my raised bed.  Worked beautifully! 

Here Is The Finished Product

Here is what my 4’x4′ square foot gardening bed looks like when it is done and ready to go!  I had a few plants already growing when I shot this photo, but you can get an idea what it looks like with the soil in the bed.

Square Foot Gardening Bed | GrowingRealFood.com

Share Your Thoughts

Do you make your own soil? Is this similar to your recipe or totally different?

GRF Comment.001

9 Responses to How To Make Garden Soil For Raised Beds

  1. StaceyKopp says:

    We did it just like this year, using 4 different kinds of compost the vermiculite and the peat moss. It worked awesome!

  2. Mark says:

    Hey, sorry if I misunderstand your formulas, but I just put this mixture in my garden and it seemed like too much peat moss compared to the compost.  I bought a 3cf bag of peat moss, and (3) 1cf bags of compost and mixed in 3cf of vermiculite.  So if cubic feet measurement is a measurement of volume, why would you recommend changing that formula when using bulk compost? (doesn’t the filling the large bucket with each also represent measurements of volume?)

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  4. jaytoolman92 says:

    I remember learning about mixing your own compost back in elementary school! I can’t believe I haven’t ever done it. It looks like your recipe worked for Stacy. Do you use this same mix each year? http://www.ausheet.com.au/soil-mixing-wall-system/

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  6. MargaretPerron says:

    That was really informative !  I have been thinking about having a garden and have already bought a wooden bed from ‘In the backyard’ ( http://inthebackyard.ca/ ), Canada. Thank you so much for the garden soil recipe . Will start my work from tomorrow itself 🙂

  7. Andy says:

    You are correct. Volume is volume. I think the the mixture should be one part peat moss, one part vermiculite and three parts compost if measured by volume.
    If measured by weight the mixture should be one part peat moss, one part vermiculite and three parts compost.

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