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Refurbishing an above ground bed that does not perform

This bed has been in place for a few years now and has never hit the heights. I've put loads of manures into it, the first boxing was old hardwood planks I bought when the school I taught at had no further use for them. The white ants destroyed them in the first summer, they are now part of the soil, so I now have steel U channels held in place by cut off star pickets. The white ants have met their match this time! 

The bed is approx. 12inches or 300mm high, but the main problem beside the sandy nature of the base soil is that there are many hungry trees which share the area. I was surprised to find that there were no major root problems in digging out the soil and raking it back.

Photo 2 shows the pelletised clay in place. My experiment here is to use Bentonite clay that I bought from near Amberley. This is designed to help in water and nutrient retention.

Mixed in with the clay is home made (cold method) compost from my bin

Then an addition of rotted horse manure, mixed in with the clay and finally the raked back topsoil is raked back across and incorporated with the mix.

I do hope to show those who come to my November garden visit see what a brilliant success this bed has become. Talk about setting yourself up for a fall!!


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Comment by Jeff Kiehne on August 15, 2016 at 8:29

Have you looked at using sawdust  that is what they use in the mittleider  gardening method in raised beds 4 feet wide if the soil is sandy the sawdust would  help hold the water .They use gypsum Epsom salts and boron  in the sand sawdust mixture  and use trace elements with fertilizer weekly .The problem with sandy soil is the nutrients are going to wash away and adding manure may have salts if too fresh.

Comment by Rob Collings on August 14, 2016 at 18:01

The clay material sounds very interesting Roger, thanks for sharing the experiment Roger, I look forward to seeing it. Both you and Phil have nailed the growing conditions for ginger and turmeric in those inexpensive bathtubs and Styrofoam containers.

Comment by Phil on August 14, 2016 at 8:26

Roger is it only this garden bed that has this problem on your property? I have a similar issue compared to container growing but I suspect it is because I don't have irrigation installed and the height of the bed is to low. In my case if I was to continue growing in it I would raise the height of the bed and put in a thick layer of wood chips and sugar cane mulch.

Comment by Roger Clark on August 14, 2016 at 6:40

In reply to your enquiry re the previous performance of the garden bed, Lissa, Yes the bed in comparison to the surrounding baths, containers, etc. was always dry. Despite being treated to manures, etc., it not only didn't grow things well, but also didn't develop any significant population of earthworms, unlike the aforementioned baths etc. The soil was always dry and it was difficult to grow anything in particularly in periods of dry weather. For example one of my favourite crops to grow in summer is ginger. I planted out a number of ginger pieces in this bed and wasn't able to harvest any usable ginger at the end of summer whereas other bath plantings were very productive. So In regards to this bed, If at first (& 2nd, & 3rd, etc) you don't succeed ........

Comment by Lissa on August 14, 2016 at 5:15


I drank some too. It was goooooood!! James is a clever bloke no doubt about it.

Comment by Roger Clark on August 13, 2016 at 18:02

I drank some Mulberry wine at today's garden visit and now I keep repeating myself, myself, myself.

Thanks James!!!

Comment by Roger Clark on August 13, 2016 at 18:00

Fear not for the butcher birds, for they are well fed

Even if they got no tasty worms from my refurbished bed

A few lawn grub larvae were thrown their way

To add to the scraps I gave yesterday

These birds don't know how well off they be

Feeding off food off food from the wife and me


Comment by Dave Riley on August 13, 2016 at 17:47

Did the Butcher Birds get a feed?

Did they or did they not?

That is the question...

If they did not -- then this bed, pictured before us, is a victim of outrageous fortune.

But if you were  to take up arms against such a sea of troubles

And by opposing end them.

The Birds  would thank ye.

(But ay, there's the rub:

Who wants to be thanked by Butcher Birds?]

Comment by CHERYL SLAPP on August 13, 2016 at 7:24

I have the same problem in my backyard - tree roots have come up in my above ground bed and have noticed they are also invading some of the other areas.  May have to consider selling the above ground bed, too big for my yard anyway, and going to pots.

Comment by Lissa on August 13, 2016 at 5:35

Big job Roger.

So....the bentonite clay base is hopefully going to create a base for a wicking style bed? Do you think poor water retention was the problem with the raised bed before?

Love the two Butcher birds have come down to check out what you might have exposed in the food line.

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