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Cheap partial fillers for raised beds

Leaves make wonderful garden bed filler.
Leaves make wonderful garden bed filler.
Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

Planning a raised bed garden this year? Not sure how you'll afford the dirt to fill all the raised beds you've built? Maybe you don't have to buy as much as you think. Have you considered filling your garden beds half way with another material first? It can be a real money saver. That's especially true if you use materials you already have. Just be sure the material is one that decomposes and blends well with soil. Here's a few ideas to get you started.

Using leaves as garden bed filler solves two problems.

Sorry, you will still have to rake leaves in the fall. The difference is, you won't have to pay for heavy duty trash bags or hauling them away. Just rake leaves up and pile them into your empty garden beds. Don't worry if they get really full. They will decompose and compact in time. When you're ready to buy soil, dump it right on top. You'll buy less soil, and have beneficial nutrients from the gradually decomposing leaves.


*Running leaves over with your mower makes them smaller. They'll compost faster and go further.

*Leaves can be added to raised beds yearly, to compensate for soil compaction.

Grass clippings add nitrogen to your raised garden beds.

Mix them with leaves or use them on their own. Either way, you'll save money on soil and fertilizer. Plus, you have the added health benefits of using chemical free fertilization.

How to do it:

*Use method #1 above, mixing grass clippings in with leaves.


*Fill the raised garden beds halfway with good soil.

*Mix clippings in.

*Fill bed the rest of the way with soil.

Wood chips Take longer to break down.

For the first year, use them in beds where you plan to grow short rooted plants like lettuces. Each year, rotate your crops, gradually using deeper rooted plants as the wood decomposes. The decomposition will necessitate the addition of soil and/or amendments each year. The benefit is, you won't have to purchase the soil all at once, thus saving you a big one time investment.

Shredded paper makes excellent worm nesting material.

You have all those office shreds and coffee grinds. Might as well put them to good use. Why not start a little worm world under your fertile soil? Talk about excellent free fertilizer. Just look up worm farming online for instructions. It's easier than you might imagine. Worm casings make ultra rich fertilizer. Plus, those little buggers will mix and aerate your garden bed soil for you.

Fill dirt or top soil is a cheap filler.

You don't want to use all fill dirt in garden beds. It lacks nutrients. What you can do is mix it with grass clippings. Use them together under your better soil. The clippings will add nutrition to the fill dirt over the gardening season. Next season, till them together, add more clippings and you're good to go.

Bonus tip:

If your compost is not quite ready, you can still layer it under your garden bed soil for added nutrition. Just plant short rooted plants there first, like you did over the wood chips. Before you do, make sure you have equal amount of wet and dry ingredients in your compost. Too much wet stuff might promote mold growth.

This article was previously published by this author on a now closed Yahoo! property.

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