Help with neglected raise beds

Brighton, MI(Zone 5b)

Hi, I am making plans for this spring even though there is lots of snow still on the ground. I have a question and thought that maybe some of you might have some experience to share. I need loosen the soil in the beds to remove the weeds and get it ready for planting. I saw in a catalog something called a broad fork and thought that might be just what I am needing. This soil does not get walked on, but it has been several years since it was turned over. Would this broad fork work? Also, how about a Mantis Tiller--you know, the little one? My husband says the tiller will not handle it. Opinions? Other ideas?

Thanks for the help.

Lera in cold Michigan

Pueblo, CO(Zone 5b)

Why is the soil hard? raised beds should have better soil.
If the soil is frozen, waiting for it to thaw will solve a lot of problems.
Also, a mantis tiller might do a good job of planting weed seeds, use caution.
Do not do anything until your soil dries out enough to crumble. If your soil is too wet when you till it, you will regret it all season, maybe several years.

Magnolia, TX(Zone 8b)

A farmer tills his land to open it to moisture and freezes- this kills bugs and makes the soil soft. If a raised bed was simply dirt from the yard then it isnt truly ready to be a raised bed- it is just a hill in the yard. You may have to wait un spring has warmed your area to begin working this area. The broad fork wont help because if the soil is loosened it will then pack back down , have to be redone and when plants are in the ground that will hurt them. Once the ground has thawed, the moisture reduced, look at your soil. If it needs composts, mulch, then work them in. Vegetables love compost. After awhile tho compost returns to dirt and more must be added. If you beds are ready to plant you wont need to loosen the soil- it will be naturally loosened.

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

I am thinking from your description that the dirt (soil) is just compacted from periods of not being worked plus the rain, snow etc.
So I am thinking either of those would do a pretty good job of just losening the soil. I have never used either but I have seen them used in videos in raised beds.
I watched the broad fork being used and it looked like it was designed more for commercial fields on level ground, they just pushed it into the soil leaned back and cracked the surface, not really turning the soil. I think they broad forks are heavy also.
If those raised beds are very high with high retainers around them it might make it a little harder to maneuver. I have always thought those type of beds looked great, but to me they looked like they would be hard to work in and maintain.
What was the reason your husband gave for the tiller not being able to handle the job?
I guess for some reason a shovel and rake are not up to the job?


This message was edited Mar 4, 2013 9:12 PM

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

I guess from the previous posts I picked up "raised bed", but your post only stated "beds" so I really think either would work.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Raised bed is in the title. I thought I was going nuts.

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

Thats how short my memory is getting!

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Lera - without knowing what the soil in your raised beds consists of, it's hard to give a good answer to your question.

If you started out with hard packed soil and never added any compost or other soil amendments, then you still have hard packed soil.

My own raised beds never compact because the original clay soil has been thoroughly mixed with compost. Plus I've added lots of mulched leaves and coconut coir over the years.

If you could let us know what kind of soil you have, we can come up with some solutions.

Irving, TX(Zone 8a)

My vegetable beds started with:
1/3 soil
1/3 compost
1/3 expanded shales

All the nurseries in the Dallas area have been promoting expanded shales for our gardens, and I am so happy that I decided to use them. Google and read about them.
Those shale keep air in the soil and also help with drainage.
In my raised beds I can dig with my hands ... and they are five years old.
I only add 2-3" of compost twice a year when I change the vegetables ...

Brighton, MI(Zone 5b)

Thank you for all your helpful hints. My soil is compost, peat, soil. I am worried about it being too compacted from several years of neglect, weeds, and grass. I broke my back 10 years ago so I was looking for something easy on my back. Easier than a shovel. However, it is probably best to just take my time and loosen with a shovel and then clear the weeds and grass. And, yes, it is time to add more organics to the beds.
Thanks again, Lera

Magnolia, TX(Zone 8b)

Dont add more peat- tends to turn soil more compacted. Compost for veggies, and good luck.

Monte Vista, CO(Zone 4a)

Lera, you should check out the strawbale forum. Gardening on bales is easier on the back.

Enterprise, AL(Zone 8b)

Quote from kittriana :
Dont add more peat- tends to turn soil more compacted. Compost for veggies, and good luck.


kittriana,
Let me make it clear I am not doubting what you said,I don't even want to imply that.
Everything I read says to add peat to help relieve compaction, I have no experience with peat. Have you used peat and found it to make compaction worse, and compost to help? I remember the original Victory Garden T.V. series and how much peat he added, and his soil always made me green with envy to see how easy it was to work? Any one else out there having good or bad experiences with peat? I am newly learing about vegetable gardening after a long absence, so just trying to learn.

Magnolia, TX(Zone 8b)

You need to understand the nature of peat, its nex step in evolution is coal. It can burn for a long, long time under water. If you already have peat in your mix, it will be enough. Compost has usually some chunky-ish wood pieces that provide a mini hugelkulture environment and good microbes for your veggies that helps them survive and thrive. I tried a link, but I am gonna have to go relearn this trick...I know many gardeners call for peat, but they usually make the mix way too heavy for what is needed- and it can make the soil turn to concrete and water run off. Our veggies could live in solid compost I would bet, and not need constant watering...Flowers, on the other hand, do not require compost in the mix.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Some of what you add depends on the existing conditions. Peat is acidic and in my clay ( rocky soil) many of us buy compost with peat in it to counteract the alkaline conditions. I use peat pellets and a peat based mix to start my seeds and it works great under my growing conditions. It doesn't make my soil more compact, I don't think it could get any worse.

Magnolia, TX(Zone 8b)

Lisa? Our soil is quiksand in wet weather and concrete in summer, isn't yours? It idnt just that peat is used to change ph, there are other ways, but I do use peat. At 1/3 the amount most recipes call for and well mixed in lower levels. Clay is broken up with gypsum, but by the time you get enough gypsum to do the job, all you have left is gypsum. Clay is really really fine particles but you are thinking that is what makes your soil alkaline, but limestone is what makes it alkaline. PEAT is hard, takes forever to break down. She has some peat in her mix already and thinks her soil is hard- more peat wont change that, compost will. It would help to get a ph reading, but unless it was heavily fertized her soil should already lean toward a neutral ph.

Irving, TX(Zone 8a)

Before I started to vegetable gardening here in Dallas I attended many classes at the local garden store and at the Dallas Arboretum. All of the speakers always told me to NOT use peat in my raised garden beds. When the class was on the "square foot" gardening technique, the speaker will hand out a page with a special mix for Dallas and it was written in capital letters "DO NOT USE PEAT" on your raised beds.
I am so happy that I attended those classes before starting and I followed their instructions.
My friend didn't ... she decided to follow the Square foot gardening book and she added 1/3 peat to her raised beds.
Guess what ? Her raised bed soil turner in something as hard as cement in the summer ... and she gave up vegetable gardening ...
I am sure peat is great in other areas ...

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

My experience with peat is that it is reluctant to take up water, and then when it does, it's too wet!

Until I moved here to North Carolina, I had never used peat. Being faced with red, hard clay, I turned to the internet for guidance and found peat to be the recommended choice to lighten clay soil. As time went by, I began reading that natural peat bogs were being depleted without being replaced. This bothered me enough that I looked for an alternative, renewable resource. This is when I discovered coconut coir.

Once coir has been hydrated with hot water, (it resists being hydrated with cold water for some strange reason) it becomes a light, fluffy soil amendment that holds moisture without becoming saturated.

In my experience, peat breaks down into a fine powder. I've not known it to turn into something hard and compact, but that may be because I use copious amounts of mulched leaves and compost.

The coconut coir I've been using for the past five years has not broken down, although I certainly expect it will at some point. It is a joy to work with. I have mixed native clay with coir, mulched leaves, and compost into a soil that can be worked without the need for a shovel. I can literally work the soil with my bare hands.

I purchase coir from Worm's Way - it is EXPENSIVE!

When it comes to what Mother Nature offers us - remember we are stewards of the earth. Let your conscience be your guide.

Madras, OR

broadfork will loosen the soil so the weeds can be pulled, and also so that water will penetrate the depth. I have a homemade one and I use it all the time

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

Kit-my post didn't say I add peat to my beds but some of the potting soils and composts have peat in them. I do use it to start seeds and have had very good results. I've never used it by the bag or even the shovel full. As far as my natural soil it's about 1/3 of an inch thick and last week's wind storms blew some of that away, I'm not joking. Lol

Under that 1/3 of an inch of soil is limestone so that's where I get the alkaline conditions. Both of my fenced beds were started with different types of soil. Yes, the one by the house was started with landscaping soil so it gets like quicksand and then like concrete. The one in the back is more of the natural dirt but it has been amended for 15 yrs. I do lasagna gardening so I don't till and can still dig in both with a shovel. Best of all when I dig I find worms so I know I'm doing something right.

That's why I said what you add depends on your existing conditions...

Magnolia, TX(Zone 8b)

I looked up Liberty Hill the other nite. Our dirt has been getting relocated for awhile. cant remember as tired as i am where i found it. Yes. you and i are not arguing- we are in agreement...Michigan state- wolverine- is blueberry Heaven. short blooming season, but literally everything in the same the state seems to bloom at the same time. Cold tween those lakes, but pretty.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

I didn't mean to imply I was arguing, not at all. Even if we don't agree I may learn from it. I'm in the Hill Country so it's colder and rockier then many parts of this huge state.

Pueblo, CO(Zone 5b)

I heard about someone who did try growing veggies in pure compost - I guess it caused uneven watering. There would be spots that were too wet, right next to spots that were too dry. I also went to a lecture on growing perennials in pots long-term. Basically, you need some plain old dirt in your soil. Potting soil is okay for annuals and house plants - but it gets worn out too soon when you use it for perennials in larger pots long term.

Magnolia, TX(Zone 8b)

Viva la difference! Her beds are probably still frozen tundra... If she recognizes any of the plants dead in these beds it would be a good way to start by planning an outlay map of what she recognizes where until her beds are no longer ice cubes. I always think of compost as mini Hugelkulture pieces. They are smaller and already decomposing, but serve same design. So like a lasagna bed, should be parts of dirt, composts, etc depending on what you are trying to accomplish. If she recognizes any of the plants then we also may be able to judge the contents of her beds and dirt...just sayin

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