U.S.A., Washington State. USDA zone 8a. Sunset climate zone 5

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Using Raised Beds in Winter. Part 1

New Year - New Soil!
I am having an experiment with my kitchen garden.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention.
Necessity: To make more compost faster.
I needed an additional place to make compost. I have a composter and a compost pile. The composter works well, but it is slow since I forget to rotate it as often as needed. The compost pile also provides my garden with nice compost but, again, it is slow because it has only one compartment.
Invention (it's not a real invention, of course, but it's a new thing for me and my garden): Preparing compost in raised beds before the new growing season. I don't have a place for a new compost pile. Why not use the raised bed space?
The only plant which now grows in one of those beds is parsley. Two and a half beds have nothing except soil. Part of that soil I spread around the perennials, so the beds have a lot of space in them.

Three raised beds as seen in July 2010
So, I dump vegetable and fruit peels, egg shells, shredded cardboard, newspapers and other green and brown material which used to go to the compost pile. Diversity of organic matter is important for the soil quality. I even added some composted horse/chicken manure mix (just a bit)!
I mix every new portion with soil and hope to have nice planting mix by the time of spring planting.
My intention is to stop digging, turning and otherwise disturbing the soil in the raised beds after they get full and there is no more space for new additions.
It won't be too long since we have a lot of kitchen waste, leaves and other ingredients for compost. I hope there will be enough time for microbes, eathworms, nematodes and other live organisms to breed there and work on soil improvement. Almost forgot: I plan to cover beds with dry leaves. I read that it's better than to incorporate them deep into the soil. Live organisms will do that themselves by slowly consuming the leaves and enriching the soil with their residues.
How did I get this idea? Last October I went deep into the woods separating a golf course from a road.

I wanted to take a picture of the autumn trees framing the course.

These are the two pictures which I took standing on the soft forest floor
It was not easy to walk between the trees. My feet sunk deep into the soft soil. I took a picture and on the way back to the car stopped and looked down. Then, I grabbed a handful of stuff under my feet. Do you know what it was? A layer of leaves, needles, pieces of branches, etc. I dug deeper and under it I saw black gold: dark, humus-rich soil. The dream of every gardener. Nature created a perfect mix from whatever fell on the ground. And what could it be? The above mentioned leaves, needles and twigs, plus pine cones, seeds and seedpods, berries, grass, animal fur and matter, dead insects, bird feathers, remains of fallen tree trunks... you name it! Nobody put any store-bought soil mixtures in that place, nobody dug, turned and otherwise cultivated that soil. Can I imitate what nature does? Of course not. But, I can at least try to use whatever materials I have to get better soil for my garden.

Unloading compost from a composter.
Kitchen garden is seen in the upper right part of the picture
I am not sure that this method will result in the perfect soil. But I hope that it'll be better than the mixtures which I used to buy in stores and which turn to brown dust after just one season.
Any suggestions? How do you use your raised beds in winter?
Here's to a year of great soil in your garden!
Part 2 is here: Using raised beds in winter. Part 2

***Copyright 2010 TatyanaS


  1. May the new year bring us all the black gold we could ever want! Have a great year!

  2. Good luck to you Tatyana, I love experiments. I wish I had room for a compost bin in my garden, but I do have a raised bed vegetable garden. We get pretty cold here but I wonder if I could start one in early fall and if there would be enough time before the frost set in.

    I am going to research this. Thanks for the idea.


  3. You are 100% on the right track with this "invention," Tatyana :) It's used here in some communities and goes by the name of biodynamic gardening, I think.

    I have a book by an established South African kitchen gardener, Jane Griffiths called Jane's Delicious Garden and this is precisely what she advocates. She in fact mentions the whole "forest floor" inspiration that you do here (sinking deeply into years upon years of well composted rich humic soil) and says we should ALL adopt the NO-DIG policy in our gardens. She takes this a bit further by advocating no walk zones and firmly believes in minimising where we tread in our gardens. This you'll be achieving in any case with your raised beds!

    Well done for coming up with this plan all on your own - it's bound to be successful!!!

  4. I tried dumping vegetable refuse into my garden bed last year. It worked well all except the potato rinds.
    I had potato sprouts coming up all summer. LOL!

  5. wow, good for you! I have used some of the forest floor to kick start the composting. Not 100% in love with my tumblers, have two. We shall see come spring. Also have vermicomposting going on in a bin in the storage room. With my red clay soil, I need all the help I can get!

  6. Good luck! I am sure it will turn out great, and you will have a lot of compost ready for your garden.
    Happy new year!

  7. A winning plan I think--thisd year I have raked a portion of fallen leaves into the garden with the intent of turning them in under the soil. However I fear it will never stop raining ! Plan B will be to dump a few bags of purchased compost on top of them. Throw a little shredded newspaper in with yours Tatyana, the worms are crazy about it.!

  8. Thank you Michelle, Eileen, Desiree, Lona, Janet, fer! I appreciate your encouraging words!
    ks, it's a great idea, and I have tons of newspapers!

  9. Sounds like a great idea to me. I'll run it by hubbie. He has three compost bins going at all times, makes it easier for him to rotate.

  10. Here's to your wonderful observation and the mindset to try it. I have read that much older gardeners would dig holes in their gardens and bury kitchen waste. Looking forward to reading your review on this experiment..

  11. Good idea Tatyana, and Happy New Year!

  12. I've not thought of using my raised beds for that. I must try it! Happy New Year! Carla

  13. Tatyana,

    I still make lots of compost much the way you are doing it. I have a small trailer and I have been buying a yard of compost from our landfill for $26 it is 20 times more compost than we make in a year.

    Happy New Years to you!

  14. I am with HHG on this one. No potato rinds. Here it is against county regulation for spreading potato blight. I did it at one time and the potatoes grew by the end of the season, but found out later, I was not to grow them this way.I still use kitchen refuse, but now in a compost receptacle. Same with tomatoes. Those seed live through anything.

    You are going to really have black gold when your compost is ready. Lucky plants.

  15. I did all of the straw mulch into my raised beds in the fall and when I prune perennials, I put all the clippings on the ground around the plant. I even cut shrub prunning into bits and leave them around the plant. If there is no disease, it's good to give back to the soil. I read about a lady once who buried an entire split rail fence in places around her garden when she took it down. It all broke down and fed the earth. Good luck!

  16. Dear Tatyana, It sounds like you have a great plan! I do keep my leaves in a separate pile, but nature does let everything fall as it will . . . why not you too! Your veggie garden looks so lovely and yummy at the same time. Good luck with your new way of making compost. I want to wish you the Happiest of New Years!

  17. You're right about the soil in the woods being gloriously rich here. We dump our grass clippings and mulched leaves at the edge of our woods and it composts beautifully. Last spring I was able to fill my two 16" deep 4x8 raised veggie beds with it.

  18. I hope it works and look forward to seeing how it goes. If it works I might try it around my raised beds which just have some blueberry bushes in them.
    We still have a layer of frozen snow on the ground here so there's not much I can do outside now.

  19. I do a lot of top dressing too and it works well. Your raised bed in summer looks beautiful and productive!

  20. Great work, Tatyana. We can learn a lot from observing nature. I don't have any bare raised beds but if I did I'd do it your way too. Great idea. Happy New Year to you.

  21. I've got a composting problem at the moment. I didn't empty my compost bin when I should have done so now I have an over-flow pile when it is too cold to break down. I've been wondering about raising beds but it means digging up what's already there. Can't good things be a problem some times?


  22. I've been following the same idea in my front garden beds. They're not raised beds but it's where most of the perennials are. For potato peels and banana peels I chop them up in the food processor first to help them break down faster.

    Your garden looks BEAUTIFUL!! What are the rounded plants acting as a hedge around it?

    I look forward to hearing how it pans out in the raised beds. I'm going to be building some myself and probably starting it lasagna style.

    Thanks for stopping by the new blog!

    ~Wendy / sassyb.

  23. Hi Tatyana,
    I was thinking what you're doing is called sheet composting. I did a search to see if I was right. I'm giving you a link to an interesting article I read. It shows different methods of composting. There is also a trench method that looks interesting.

    I don't have raised beds, but would like to.

  24. We compost a huge amount of stuff in a giant old stone manure pit next to our carriage house. No fancy methods just layering and turning, turning and layering. I use compost with a small amount of Pro-mix to pot all the plants I produce for my nursery. Our giant pit is not enough, and we get truckloads from our local municipality's mega-composting operation. I am interested to hear that you put shredded paper in your compost because we just got a paper shredder. Is there any concern about inks and other chemicals in the paper? Have you ever read anything about this that you can point me to?

  25. Thank you everyone for your thoughts and recommendations!
    Carolyn, many sources say that it's safe to use newspapers for compost since the inks are soy-based (old newspapers used ink with several toxic elements). This is one of the articles: I wouldn't use pages with color print, just in case.

  26. I have 3 large compost bins, the theory being that I have one empty one to turn the compost into ...except that I tend to fill them all up instead and just let them get on with it themselves!

    Have a wonderful 2011 and thank you for all your great posts in 2010 :)

  27. yes you are in the right track, here they put nightcrawlers or earthworms to hasten decomposition. Sometimes effective microorganisms are added too. Whatever is there in your environment will certainly decompose them, it is just a matter of time. Washings from carbohydrates, fish scales, or bone meal can also add either food for the organisms or nutrients and minerals to the soil. Good luck and happy planting next spring.

  28. Sounds like you are on to something. There was a blogger who started composting between hay bales when she ran out of space. It seemed to work well.

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

  29. Looks and sounds like a great plan! Mixing in the green and browns is a winning combination. You are making great use of your empty beds. I love the boxwoods around your kitchen garden...looks very pretty!

  30. Very informative- thank you!! Happy New Year

  31. Great post! I've had "forest soil coveting" moments, too. The method you mentioned is one of my favorites, though like you I just got desperate for more space and started doing it. You should have plenty of compost by springtime if you start now!

  32. Thats a very good tip Tatyana! Im thinking of having new raised beds this year and my compost bin is too small and too slow to churn out new compost.Thank you for sharing! Have a great gardening year ahead..

  33. Great post! I really enjoy read your blog ;-)

  34. It should work; after all, that's all a bean trench is!!!

  35. Sounds like a good idea. I hope everything breaks down fast, and you have even more splendid soil. Happy New Year.~~Dee

  36. I am so grateful to all of you for your input and words of encouragement! My main concern is: if there is enough time for all that stuff to break down!

  37. Hi Tatyana, I have one raised bed and hope to build more in the future. The one I have remains dormant in the winter. It is filled with a combination of twigs and branches at the bottom, leaves, coarse compost, and fine compost and earth on the top. I had nasturtiums in it last year. By the end of the winter the material will have sunk down, and I top it off with more raw and ripe compost. It's such a delight not to have to bend over so far to tend it! The nasturtiums were spectacular. My serious winter composting is in an enclosed thermal composter. Good luck with your beds.

  38. This sounds like a great idea. I never have enough compost in my two bins and normally have to end up buying a few bags of soil improver. I also have a small woodland area and rake up the leaves every Autumn, perhaps it would be an idea just to leave them to break down naturally.

  39. Really good idea to use the raised bed. There never is enough home made compost to go around, is there.


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