Raised Bed Gardening with Compost Sandwiches

How Does My Garden Grow? - Part 1
Composting Raised Beds



I've never had a garden.  I've had flower beds, and I've planted a few tomato, pepper, and zucchini plants before.  But I've never had a full-fledged garden.  So I decided I would like to develop a Kitchen Garden where I could grow some herbs and vegetables. This is all new to me, so I have a lot to learn.  It's a good thing I have a friend who is a Master Gardener and knows this stuff!


So last fall I said to my friend, "I want to have a vegetable garden next year.  Is there anything I should be doing now to get ready for it?"  It's a good thing I asked!  Chris' answer was "Make compost sandwiches!"  Chris McLaughlin is the author of several gardening books, and she taught me how to make these raised beds and prepare them for composting over the winter.

Chris says these raised bed compost sandwiches have excellent water holding capabilities, fewer weeds, and a crumbly, nutritional soil.  They are made by layering an assortment of materials, such as:
  • Cardboard
  • Newspaper
  • Carbon materials (browns) such as leaves, straw, weedless grass hay, newspaper, shredded bark
  • Nitrogen materials (greens) such as grass clippings, vegetable peelings, seedless weeds, perennial plant clippings, coffee, tea bags
  • Topsoil
  • Manure from herbivores (chickens, rabbits, horses) but not carnivores (dogs, cats)
  • Water
You can read Chris' wealth of knowledge about composting on her website, A Suburban Farmer or in her book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Composting. So, with all this new information in my head, I got started planning and developing my Kitchen Garden.

I began by saving cardboard boxes and newspapers.


And accumulating fallen leaves, grass clippings, discarded pumpkins, straw and manure from the hen house.


I selected the location for my garden . . . a spot that is close to the kitchen and gets full sun for six to eight hours of the day.


Once we figured out what size we wanted our garden to be, we drew it on paper and figured out how much wood we would need. Cedar and redwood are excellent choices to use for garden beds since they will take longer to decompose than softwoods such as pine. Lumber that has been pressure treated for outdoor use is not a good selection as the chemicals used to treat the wood will seep into the soil.  We were able to buy rough hewn red oak from an Amish-owned wood mill.  They cut the boards to the size we needed.





We constructed the raised bed, using 2x10 inch boards for the perimeter and 2x8 inch boards for the actual beds.


We layered the materials we collected in the beds, watering the layers with a garden hose.  First we laid down the cardboard, then the newspaper, leaves, straw, manure and wood ash, repeating the layers.






The Chickie-Babes think this is a lot of fun.  Their scratching in the beds actually helps to aerate and break down the materials.





If the weather had been exceedingly dry, we would have needed to occasionally add some light watering to the beds.  We had enough snow fall, however, that we didn't need to water. And so the beds sat at rest all winter, decomposing and developing a rich soil for spring planting.



But the garden work isn't at rest.  There's all of the planning what to plant, how much to plant, ordering seeds, and starting seedlings.  By the way, if you want to start some compost sandwiches, it's not too late. While it would have been ideal to start them in the fall, you can start in the spring too.  Add some topsoil and peat moss  in between the layers. The materials will continue to break down even while your vegetables are growing.

Be sure to follow along to see how my garden grows.  You can subscribe by e-mail to receive new posts, plus when you subscribe, as a thank-you I'll send you a free digital copy of "Farm to Table Through the Year" a collaborative work for which I am a contributing writer.  Just enter your email address in the box at the top right column of this page.  Thanks for following!


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18 comments:

  1. Love it, Katie! I will be following along for sure!

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    1. Thank you Sonja. I'll be glad to have your company!

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  2. Katie ~ I am more than thrilled that you made compost sandwiches! I start all of my garden beds this way...I hope you'll be as happy with them as I am. One of the best things you have going on is all that chicken litter ~ excellent stuff!

    I also was happy to see your "dream garden" photo next to your "real garden" photo. I love nothing more than to show what's *truly* happening with real gardeners. Although I am kinda jealous of your beautiful garden beds :D

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    1. Thank you Chris! I'm having so much fun with this garden. I couldn't have done it without you. Your books are my constant companions! You jealous of my garden beds?! Haha. . . I hope to make you proud! ~Katie

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  3. Meredith/GreenCircleGroveMarch 14, 2013 at 3:22 PM

    Love following your adventure...and venture...into gardening, Katie!

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    1. Thanks Meredith! It's great to have all this wonderful encouragement around me. Thank you for being one of my encouragers!! ~Katie

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  4. We've done the same thing although we don't have leaves. We used grass clippings and wood chips. If you haven't seen Back to Eden, you should take the time to do so. It is a beautiful film available to watch online for free that talks about this same concept. I hope you have a happy harvest with more produce than you can eat. :)

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    1. Hi Jenny. Thanks for coming by to see the start of my garden. You've been a good mentor to me in my start-up garden too! I have not seen Back to Eden, but I will definitely look for it! ~Katie

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  5. I made several raised beds, I did research and found that if you use would treated with micronized copper azole, your safe to use it with plants.

    I made my beds using 2x12x8 boards, they aee 4ft wise and I left 2ft between the beds so I have plenty of space to get around them. I plant on finding a way to build cold frames over them so that when it frosts I can protect the plants.

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    1. Hi Katrina. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Cold frames sound like a great idea to get a longer growing season. What do you like to plant? Best wishes with your garden! ~Katie

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  6. Love it, love it, love it! We wanted to rebuild our falling apart beds this year, but that's not going to happen. Yours are beautiful and the technique is so smart. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. You're welcome Joan. I hope you do get to rebuild your beds if not this year, maybe next year. This was a pretty slick way to do it! Thank you for coming by and commenting. Happy gardening! ~Katie

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  7. Katie - your garden is going to be beautiful!! I love this method too.

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    1. Oh thank you Gretchen! I HOPE it's going to be beautiful. I've had some good mentors, so I believe it will! Thanks for commenting ~Katie

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  8. Katie, I know I already commented on this post but I wanted to thank you again for linking up to our hop. I hope things are coming along as planned. :)

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    1. My pleasure Jenny! I love your blog hop! I'm continuing to write my series on my first vegetable garden experience. With the help of many like you, it is going great!! http://blackfoxhomestead.com/the-homeacre-hop/the-homeacre-hop-11/f

      Thanks for commenting!! ~Katie

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  9. Great Article, keep posting such type of article.

    Hochbeet Selber Bauen

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    1. Thank you Linda. Thanks for coming by! ~Katie

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