3 Raised Bed Soil Mixes Compared

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Updated October 2021

Have you ever wondered what kind of raised bed soil mix is the best?

I have been growing in raised beds from the very beginning of my garden journey. In the early years, I used native soil from my property to fill them.

But when I needed to find soil outside my property for three new raised beds, I decided to conduct an experiment. I tested three different raised bed soil mixes and today I’m sharing the results of my year-long test.

(Click below to listen to my discussion on the Beginner’s Garden Podcast, or continue reading.)

*links below may contain affiliate links

3 Types of Raised Bed Soil Combinations

When deciding which raised bed soil combinations I wanted to test, I chose two common mixes that many gardeners use that include topsoil and/or compost I bought in bulk from my local landscaping company.

In the third bed I used organic bagged soil only, purchased from Home Depot. Because many gardeners can’t purchase ingredients in bulk, I wanted to test this option to see how it compared.

Here are the three raised bed soil blends I tested:

Mel’s Mix

I first chose Mel’s Mix from Mel Bartholomew’s book Square Foot Gardening. This mix consists of:

The compost is the key here. In Square Foot Gardening, Mel recommends using compost from as many sources as possible. (Just an anecdotal observation here… those to whom I’ve spoken over the years who have had poor results using Mel’s Mix seem to have had poor quality compost or compost from just one source.)

To achieve as diverse of compost blend as I could, I used bulk compost (compost I bought from a local landscaping company), worm castings, and chicken manure from my own chickens.

Mel's Mix
Mel’s Mix in Raised Bed #1

Perfect Raised Bed Soil Recipe

The second mix I tested is known as the “Perfect Soil Recipe” as recommended by Joe Lamp’l. It consisted of:

  • 50% topsoil
  • 30% compost
  • 20% other organic matter.

Joe has many different suggestions on sources of organic matter. I used homemade compost, chicken manure, and worm castings.

Perfect Soil Recipe
“Perfect Soil Recipe” for Raised Bed #2: topsoil, bulk compost, and homemade compost mixed with worm castings and composted chicken manure

Bagged Soil for Raised Beds

In my third bed, I chose a blend of bagged soil. I purchased:

  • four bags (8 total cubic feet) of organic garden soil
  • two bags (2 total cubic feet) of organic garden soil “plus” (with extra organic fertilizers)
  • two 40-lb. bags of topsoil
  • three cups of worm castings.

Most of this I got at Home Depot, but I’ve also seen it in other garden centers.

Method of Testing Raised Bed Soil Mix

In these three raised beds, I planted Roma tomatoes — three per 3’x6′ bed. Each tomato plant I had grown from seed indoors and I planted all nine of them at the same time.

Planting Tomatoes in 3 raised bed soil mixes
From the nearest bed to the furthest: Mel’s Mix, Joe’s Perfect Soil Recipe, and Bagged soil

First Impressions

Mel’s Mix

Planting in Mel’s Mix was a dream. It was light and fluffy and wonderful to work with. No matter how much rain we got (and we had a LOT of rain) it never got waterlogged nor had drainage problems. I had no weeds in the first month and my tomatoes started out incredibly healthy.

But the drawback of Mel’s Mix? The ingredients were the most expensive to purchase.

mel's mix for raised bed tomatoes
Mel’s Mix

Perfect Soil Recipe

The bed with the “perfect soil recipe” didn’t start out as great as Mel’s Mix. But, I have to consider a few extraneous factors.

First, we had a record spring rainfall year in 2019, and the topsoil I purchased for the “perfect soil recipe” seemed to contain a lot more clay than I have seen with other topsoil mixes.

In hindsight, I realized that this particular topsoil is sourced from a river bottom. So while I’m sure it contained high amounts of nutrients, it was pretty dense. It certainly had a different color and texture compared to bagged topsoil mixes (like the one I used in the bed with the bagged soil).

Because of this (from my observations), this bed didn’t drain well and seemed to compact after the heavy rains. Initially, my tomato plants struggled and were smaller than those in Mel’s Mix.

I also had more weeds in this soil than in the Mel’s Mix, though that was probably due to the higher percentage of my homemade compost.

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Bagged Soil Mix

The bagged soil mix was extremely easy to put together and, like Mel’s Mix, was a dream to plant in. It did not compact or have drainage issues in the heavy rain. But, the tomato plants from the very beginning barely grew, something that continued to be an issue for this bed.

After 1 Month

The tomatoes in Mel’s Mix grew vibrantly and were strong with tender leaves. Weeds did start to develop, but they weren’t too bad.

Mel's Mix tomatoes in raised bed

The tomatoes didn’t grow quite as well in the “perfect soil recipe,” but they did grow consistently.

topsoil raised bed compost mix
Perfect Soil Recipe

The biggest shock was with the tomatoes in the bagged soil mix. These were not healthy at all. Many of the leaves were very yellow and the plants itself appeared severely stunted. I had planned to keep everything the same in all 3 beds. However, these looked so unhealthy that I started watering them with fish emulsion to try to save them because I feared I would lose them.

bagged garden soil for tomatoes
Bagged Garden Soil

Rest of the Season

The tomatoes in Mel’s Mix continued to be strong and vibrant. I expected them to slow in growth due to the high concentration of peat moss.

When I’ve used potting soil with a lot of peat moss in the past, it tends to repel water as it dries out. Surprisingly, this did not happen. I did keep consistent drip irrigation on the beds during the dry summer, and this mix never did compact or dry out as I would have expected.

mel's mix tomato

The tomatoes in the Perfect Soil Recipe bed ended up almost catching up with the Mel’s Mix plants. I think this was probably because the rain let up and the plants were no longer drowning.

perfect soil mix recipe

While the tomatoes in Mel’s Mix and the “perfect soil recipe” ended up performing well, I can’t say the same about the tomatoes in the bagged soil mix. Although they didn’t die as I had feared, they never rebounded and never looked healthy.

bagged garden soil

Total Yield Comparison Between Raised Bed Soil Mixes

The biggest indicator of the success of any raised bed soil mix is the total yield, and this I measured meticulously throughout the garden season.

As mentioned previously, I grew Roma tomatoes in all of these beds. As a determinant variety that bears all at once, I could weigh the harvest within a short window of time before pulling them up and planting a second crop to test.

Below are the yield results from these Roma tomatoes in each mix, compared with Romas I also planted in my in-ground garden. I must point out, in this particular year, my tomato yields were lower overall, probably due to the excessive rainfall and my battle with early blight. Still, you can see the marked difference between the beds.

  1. Mel’s mix: 7 lbs/plant
  2. Perfect soil recipe: 5.3 lbs/plant
  3. Bagged soil: 1.34 lbs/plant
  4. In-ground Roma tomatoes: 2.59 lbs/plant
tomato harvest next to raised bed

You can see that my plants in Mel’s Mix did much better than any other soil, and the bagged soil mix was quite disappointing.

Also of note: the Roma tomatoes in the ground suffered more from early blight, and I also planted them slightly closer to one another. Still, this result remains consistent for my garden — tomatoes in raised beds generally out-perform their counterparts in the ground soil.

Fall Broccoli in Different Raised Bed Mixes

As you see above, my first experiment tested the performance of Roma tomatoes in the summer. For my second test, I planted broccoli. The results of that test differed slightly.

In September, I planted broccoli I started from seed indoors both in the Mel’s Mix and the Perfect Soil Recipe beds. I didn’t have enough seedlings to plant them in the bagged soil bed. I ended up buying transplants from a garden center and planted them in the bagged soil bed about a month later.

Whatever difference I saw between Mel’s Mix and the Perfect Soil Recipe in the early growth of Roma tomatoes disappeared in the fall-planted broccoli. Both beds performed extremely well and produced lush, vibrant broccoli — the largest I’d ever grown.

broccoli in raised bed soil mixes

I did have a peculiar fall, however. A record-October heatwave prevented this lush broccoli from forming heads, and an early freeze in November damaged the plants severely. Because of this, I barely harvested any heads from this group.

As a contrast, the smaller plants in the bagged soil mix (because I planted them a month later), withstood the cold snap and went on to produce full, large broccoli heads. Though the plants themselves never grew at the rate that those in the first two mixes did, they produced well.

Soil Test Results from 3 Raised Bed Soil Mixes

At this point, my only conclusions could be drawn from observing the growth of two crops — tomatoes and broccoli. But what would a soil test reveal about the differences between these three raised bed soil mixes?

Prior to the broccoli planting, I sent off soil samples to my local cooperative extension service. Here were the highlights of the differences between the soil test results:

  1. Mel’s Mix: Ph 5.6 (not surprising because peat moss is naturally acidic). It tested “above optimum” on phosphorus, potassium, and zinc, and all other micronutrients tested.
  2. Perfect Soil Recipe: Ph 6.8 which about perfect for most vegetables, but perhaps a little on the high side for tomatoes. This recipe showed above optimum levels on phosphorus, potassium, and zinc, and all other micronutrients. Of special note, these levels were also above Mel’s Mix in each. Plus, it had almost double the calcium of Mel’s Mix.
  3. Bagged Soil Mix: Ph 7.5 — this is high for most vegetables, especially tomatoes. It was also above optimum on phosphorus, potassium, and zinc, but the levels were erratic on some of the micronutrients. I also noted a very high amount of sulfate compared to the other two and very high on calcium.
free garden printables

Speculations in Differences Between Raised Bed Soil Mixes

I’m not a soil scientist, and I can’t tell you all the “whys” behind what I found from my test. But between the soil test and my own observations, I have some thoughts about the differences in the soil mixes.

Conclusions on Mel’s Mix

I think that Mel’s Mix performed well because our spring was so wet and the peat moss didn’t have a chance to dry out. Instead, the drainage capacity of the peat moss proved helpful in our rainy spring.

Conclusions on the Perfect Soil Recipe

I believe the Perfect Soil Recipe started slowly because of the amount of rain and because of the high amount of clay in the topsoil I purchased. If I had obtained topsoil with less clay content, I imagine this blend would have rivaled Mel’s Mix or even surpassed it.

Conclusions on Bagged Soil Blend

The bagged mix blend is a mystery to me because this brand was recommended by several trusted gardening friends, and most of those I’ve asked have had a much better experience with bagged soil. This is also why I am not disclosing the brand — I do not believe my experience is necessarily indicative of all of this brand’s products.

So, if so many people get great results with bagged soil (even organic bagged soil like mine), why were my results so terrible? I have a few theories.

Why bagged soil didn’t perform well in my raised bed:

It seemed like these bags of soil had a lot of tree bark and perhaps it hadn’t broken down enough. Instead, as it continued to break down it tied up nitrogen my tomatoes desperately needed.

I also wonder if the soil was missing some of the micro-organisms and soil life that is present in both native soil and compost. Perhaps this was why it eventually corrected itself with the broccoli — the soil life had a chance to return.

Third — and perhaps most obvious — was the high Ph. Broccoli can tolerate higher pH than tomatoes can.

And although I can’t tell you which of my theories is correct — maybe all three played a role — I can tell you, I learned several lessons from this experience with bagged soil.

Biggest Lessons

After having tested these three blends of raised bed soil mix, what will I do with future beds?

  1. Although Mel’s Mix performed better than I expected, it’s not my choice because of the expense. If I were to only build one small raised bed, it would prove worth it, perhaps. But as I expand my raised bed gardens, I just can’t justify the cost of Mel’s Mix when the “perfect soil recipe” (with better topsoil) has the potential to perform just as well if not better.
  2. The Perfect Soil Recipe seems to have better longevity because of the amount of nutrients found in the soil, and it also had a more neutral Ph.
  3. No matter what blend I choose, it’s important to add diversity. I would include as many sources of compost and organic material as possible. The greater variety we can have with our organic material the better!

The Best Raised Bed Soil Blend

I loved doing this test in 2019 and since then I’ve continued to test in my garden. I took what I learned and adapted to what has been my go-to raised bed blend since.

What’s the formula?

  1. Tree limbs, logs, sticks, fallen leaves, and/or garden debris at the bottom of the bed
  2. Add roughly a 50/50 blend of compost (bulk and/or homemade) and topsoil (bulk and/or bagged).

The tree limbs and sticks not only help to lessen the amount of soil I need to obtain for a raised bed, but as they break down they create rich, nutritious organic matter.

Although this may be seen as a negative thing, as it breaks down, the soil level will drop. This “forces” me to have to add more compost each season, which continues to increase the longevity of the soil fertility.

The 50/50 blend of compost and topsoil form the basis of the raised bed soil. Sometimes I mix it; sometimes I layer topsoil and then compost on top. Both have worked equally well for me.

raised bed kitchen garden
When building this new raised bed kitchen garden, I chose a mix of native soil and Joe Lamp’l’s “perfect soil recipe” based on my experiment with raised bed soil the year before.

The key, I believe, is rich organic matter that is alive. You can learn more about that in What’s Wrong with my Raised Bed Soil?

How much soil you need for a raised bed?

One more thing you may be asking is how much soil will you need in your raised bed, regardless of which mix you choose? This handy online soil calculator will get you started.

For a specific calculator on how much peat moss, vermiculite, and compost to purchase if you go with Mel’s Mix, this soil mixture calculator will help you know how much of each to obtain.

What about you? What blends of raised bed soil mix have worked well (or not so well) for you?


  1. As a scientist I can attest to how awesome this test was! I thoroughly loved this post and will definitely be making use of the information. Many thanks.

  2. Thank you for sharing the results of your raised bed soil test. I too have had very poor results when using bagged garden soil and bagged compost. Last year I was short of my homemade compost and purchased some bagged compost, the results were very disappointing. The plants looked stunted and they did not produce any fruit.

    1. Same thing here, Clyde.

      I bought bagged mushroom compost and my tomato yield was pathetic. My cucumber died almost immediately, and the only thing that produced was basil. I gave the same tom seedlings to 4 friends and they all had incredible yields. So disappointing!

      Interestingly, I’ve always used bagged soil and compost because of where I live and this was the first time I got so burned.

      1. I also had the same experience as Clyde & Carrie. I did my first container garden last spring with a variety of bagged vegetable potting mixes and bagged compost & my results were pretty poor. Ended up with mold problems & my soil seemed to hold too much water, granted, I am in FL & it’s very humid here, but I never had these problems with my inground garden at my previous house (same area in FL). Seems to me like the bagged soils lack some important minerals & are full of too many course pieces of wood chips.
        I think I may try the perfect soil mix this fall.
        Thanks for sharing the results of your tests and the info about the soils, it’s been one of the most helpful things I have read on raised bed gardening soil so far!

  3. Jill, simply love your site so informative and leads an old 77 year old long time gardener to try different things and ideas. I used to have huge gardens but I have cut down to four 4×8 raised beds that I’ve had for about 15 years. I have came across 2 half size whiskey barrels and my question is what kind of soil or mixture would be best. Im thinking maybe planting bell or hot pepper or maybe a tomato. Keep your site going I love it!

    1. Hi Jack, nice to meet you! If your whiskey barrels have a bottom, with just drainage holes, they will function more like a container than a raised bed. And as such, I’d recommend more of a potting soil mix to ensure good drainage. Add compost if possible, and be prepared to supplement with organic fertilizer throughout the growing season. I recommend fish emulsion when the plants are young, and a seaweed or kelp emulsion at flowering. Keep them consistently watered to prevent blossom-end rot, which is common in containers. Hope this helps!

  4. Thank you very much, Jill, for sharing the results of your soil tests. You have performed a wonderful, valuable and timely service for all of the gardeners who visit your site. Sharing your results with us will prove to be a tremendous time and money saver. Keep up the great work!

  5. Starting my first garden this year, so this is extremely helpful. Thanks for taking the time to do it and share the results!!

  6. Ugh. I just filled my two raised beds (first time ever using raised beds) with bagged “raised bed mix” and some peat moss. Sounds like I might need to amend it throughout the summer, huh?
    I did a soul rest myself and was pretty disappointed with the results—rather low nutrients.

    1. I do not believe all bagged soil will have the results that the bagged soil I bought did. I recommend as we all should do anyway, to keep a close eye on the early growth of your plants. If they don’t seem healthy, they grow slowly, or they have too light of a green color, it might be a good idea to add organic fertilizer like fish emulsion or kelp/seaweed emulsion. You might check to see if the raised bed mix had any fertilizer added. If not, I’d go ahead and add an all-purpose organic granular fertilizer to the top and let the rain water it in.

  7. Loved this information. We are putting in 6 raised beds with maybe 1 or 2 more. In 4 of the beds I put in cow manure, from bags, and bagged potting soil. I also put them in the 5th bed, but before putting them in I put a layer of plant debris from around the property, then a layer of my own compost, 4 bags of potting soil, then 4 bags of bagged cow manure, and another layer of 2 bags of potting soil. I may try the Perfect Soil for the 6th bed if I can find enough organic matter to add to it. Thanks again for the great information!!

  8. I am doing raised beds, the kind that are waist high. Last year was a disaster and I believe it was because I chose the wrong soil so this article is very helpful to me. My question is, do I replace the soil every year? Add fertilizer each year? Thank you for your help.

    1. Unless your soil was contaminated, there’s no need to replace the soil each year. But you should plan on adding about two inches of compost to the top. Don’t worry about mixing it in. I’ve never added fertilizer to my raised beds; instead, I focus on adding compost and then I may supplement my plants with organic fertilizer during the growing season if needed.

  9. Excellent post and thanks for that. I’ve also had this experience with bagged mix. I used one last year and had similar tomato results. I called the soil company to see what was in it and they said mainly lower level peat moss. I guess the peat moss on the top layer/level is of better quality. They said to amend it with perlite. I’m encouraged to hear that local soil is best. And you can’t beat free! Love your chicken moat, by the way. What’s not to love about chickens patrolling the perimeter for bugs. Just great.

    1. Interesting about the peat — I didn’t know there were differences. I’m a little confused about why they would suggest perlite. Perlite is mainly used for drainage, which generally peat is good at on its own (unless the lower level isn’t?). I’d suggest adding a good amount of organic matter (compost would be my first choice). And yes, we love our chicken tunnels! I always have company in the garden even when I can’t have them “in” the garden with me. 🙂

  10. This was such a helpful experiment! I also listened to the Podcast episode and found your explanations really helpful. It is nice to see the photos here. I’ve struggled to put together a good mix of soil for my raised beds. Last year, I used a bagged company from Maine that’s really respected in New England, but my veggies did terribly. (Tomatoes were ok, peppers and chard were completely stunted) I had it tested and there was no nitrogen and excessive amounts of phosphorus, potassium, and other nutrients. This year, I’m going to try for something kind of like Mel’s mix and the Perfect Soil Mix, with bagged topsoil, composted cow manure from a local company, vermiculite and perlite (not as much as Mel’s mix requires because so expensive), worm castings, and blood meal. We’ll see how it goes! Thanks again for doing this experiment!!!

  11. Hi Jill, thanks for the info! We have about 10 raised beds, most are filled with just bagged compost. We have ordered bulk topsoil and compost for some new beds this year. Every year we are refilling our beds, do you just add compost to the top? Or what are you adding to maintain ? We have just always added more compost to bring the height of the soil back up to the top of the beds, ?

    1. No, I did not use perlite in Mel’s Mix. It is vermiculite. I have used perlite in potting soil and soil block mix, but not in my raised bed soil, so I haven’t compared them side by side.

  12. We started a raised bed garden in April (prior to finding your site) using native soil, bagged topsoil, bagged mushroom compost and some homemade compost. Tomatoes and peppers were both stunted while squash, basil and marigolds seem fine. In-ground beds amended with this soil mixture produced stunted zinnias and four-o’clocks from seeds and turned a normal-looking sunflower transplant into something truly, hideously disfigured. After much research I think something I used was contaminated with an herbicide. Would it more likely have been the topsoil or the mushroom compost? I’m discouraged but determined to persevere and remove the tainted soil. Would this soil be safe to put on my lawn? How can I make sure my future bagged purchases aren’t contaminated? Thx for your help and for your informative site and podcast.

    1. I can’t say for sure, but you might look up non-organic mushroom compost. It seems I’ve heard that organic is really important for mushroom compost, but I can’t recall where I heard that. I have never heard of topsoil being contaminated. It’s possible your native soil could have been tainted by previous herbicide applications as well. As far as lawn, I’m not sure about that. You might contact your local cooperative extension agent and ask these questions to get a better idea what options you have.

    2. Thanks you so much. this article is beneficial for beginner gardeners.
      This is my first raise bed, and I was concern about the ratio of the components, but now I do have the FACT 🙂
      Sorry my English isn’t good enough.

      Saudi Arabia.

    3. It will definitely have been the mushroom compost since many companies use specific anti fungal agents to prevent fungi other than the particular crop mushroom from growing. I had a similar result after using bulk mushroom compost for several new beds, very stunted pale yellow growth, grrrr!

  13. This is my first year with raised beds. I used Mel’s Mix. Plants are doing great. You are right, it was an investment!
    I enjoyed reading this so much!

  14. Love your info on raised beds. I see in the picture of the new bed (u shape) you have lined the sides. With what and why? Also filling the bottom with brush — Hugelkultur.
    My son is in the process of completing the form for me. Hoping to transplant my plants from containers. Is there any wood I should stay away from for the first layering?
    Thanks for the help.

    1. Thank you! The liner is landscape fabric stapled to the beds to prevent the soil from leaching out between the boards. (I don’t line the bottom of my raised beds with landscape fabric.) For your second question, the only wood I know of to possibly cause problems is black walnut (and, of course, any questionably-treated wood like railroad ties). Otherwise, I’ve had good success with pretty much everything I’ve used.

      1. Thank you for info. One other question – I have wood chucks in the yard every now and then . Would you use hardware cloth in the bottom of the raised bed? Any issues with the metal causing a problem?

        1. Yes, hardware cloth is a commonly recommended way to prevent ground-dwelling wildlife. I don’t personally have to use it but many gardeners do. I haven’t heard of any issues with the metal.

  15. I use a combo of alpaca manure, topsoil and mushroom compost
    My tomatoes grow to over 6ft. We get a ton tomatoes and cucumbers and jalapenos.

  16. Mel’s Mix: in lieu of the peat moss perhaps you could try COIR which is made from coconut husks. Coir seems to be more environmentally friendly than mining peat moss from Canadian boreal forests which are a great carbon sink.

  17. Thanks for sharing your results! I love a good garden experiment. I’m revamping my raised beds, and was really put off by the high cost and questionable ecological impacts of using Mel’s Mix. I’m going to give the Perfect Soil mix a try, hope it works as well as yours did.

  18. I like your report on soil types. I just put in my first raised bed for Dahlias, Zinnias, and, Marigolds. All are doing well. I hope to start another bed this Fall and let it winter over, ( there isn’t much winter in Georgia). I’m doing a Hugelkulture bednow.

  19. Never heard of Mel but looks like they’re using Coots soil recipe. Lookup Coots soil recipe for the rest of the amendments.

  20. How much of the worm castings did you use with the chicken manure to make up the 1/3 compost ingredient in Mel’s Mix. Thank you.


  21. Thanks for the info on the raised bed soil mixes. I have a question about your beautiful new “U” shaped raised bed for your kitchen garden… What kind of wood didi you use for this? I notice you have a liner inside on the walls (not bottom I assume…?). Can you advise a bit more info on the construction and these materials used? Do you use anything to protect the wood from season to season? I am planning some new raised beds and am curious what has worked best for you. Thanks much!

    1. I used treated pine for this bed. I lined the sides with landscape fabric, only to prevent the soil from spilliing out between the timbers. I don’t put fabric on the bottom of my raised beds because I want roots of plants to have full access to the soil beneath. And no, I don’t use anything to protect the wood since it’s treated lumber.

  22. WOW, Been there – done that. After gardening for over 40 years – the one thing I learned is that gardening is an investment. Money well spent gives the best return.
    • For the last 15+ years or so, I grow everything in Sweet Peat (PH neutral). How do I know this is the best – every late spring thru early fall, I have 3 – 10 people stop by each week and want to know how I grow my tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, zucchini, cucumbers, and much more. I tell them I buy Sweet Peat (in bulk, by the cubic yard.)
    • I have 13 4x8x12″ raised beds (each bed took initially 1 cubic yard of sweet peat). Each year I have to add about a 1/3 cubic yard to replace the material that has “broken down.” In preparation for a new season, I add a pint of 10-10-10 or 15-15-15 fertilizer and a pint of pelletize lime (for the acid rain and “blossom end rot.”)
    • I use a Mantis to turn the soil. I follow a crop rotation schedule. There is little or no weeding at all.
    • Once all the plants are in, the most time is spent watering and picking fruit(s.)
    • I keep track of costs and sell my extras. My gardening costs are covered each year by the sales of extra vegetables. Notably, my eggplant plants produce 10 to 12 good size fruits, as I grow about 10 different varieties of tomatoes – they have to be picked daily – whew. The cukes and zucchinis (no baseball bat here) are almost a daily picking. As a grow many varieties of HOT peppers – no hotter than 50,000 units – the customers keep coming. Did I mention, I just can’t grow enough sugar snap peas, and pole and bush beans.
    • Did I mention my Asparagus bed (the bed grew from 4×8 to a 6×10) sorry, I do not sell these -the bed provides from 3 – 4 pounds of asparagus each week for about two months.

    As you can see, yes this is my investment, my hobby, my delight. No trudgery here!

    “Farming in Poughkeepsie, New York”

  23. Thanks for this. I have been looking for a replacement for Mel’s Mix as it is expensive and we cannot get coarse vermiculite anymore in my area. I also didn’t know anything about Joe Lamp’l who has an informative, if not overly polished website. Strangely, I had just seen a video that he did promoting a local, municipal biosolids producer here in Southern California. I also notices that he pushed Milorganite. These are made from city sewage sludge, and some experts say that they should not be used on food crops. I requested test information from our local producer. He said he would get it to me and never did. Personally, I would strongly recommend that gardeners stay away from these “biosolids”. Joe is great, but I think he is wrong to push this stuff.

    1. I’ve read the same thing, and I’m trying to use alternatives to Milorganite myself. But I will say, Joe does his research and knowing him personally in this space (he’s been my the podcast a few times and I’m an avid listener of his podcast), I do trust him and I am sure there’s a reason he isn’t shying away from this type of product at the present time.

  24. I’d try coco instead of peat moss if the peatmoss is having hydrophobic issues. Bricks of coco are also really cheap, My only concern would be pH but with that much compost and if evenly mixed it should be okay as long as the water source is not crazy high. Either way, I say innoculate those beds with myco and beneficial bacteria. Espicially in a bed where a mycelium network benefits everything. The difference between innoculated and not is night and day. Same with grows where mono-silicic acid is used. Night and day difference and plenty of university studies to show that now, as well as for pest and powdery mildew management.

  25. Cedar fence pickets were sunstantially less costly than untreated local 2 x 12 hardwood for me. Trim the dog ear off and cut in half for ends. Vertical 2×4 inside corners and halfway point on side. I used 4 rows but 2 or 3 is an option. 2 yrs and going strong. Internet search for more detail.

    I’m not a soil expert but used a mix of 3 broken down straw bails per bed (properly prepped straw bails are awesome for tomatoes, peppers, squash, and zucchini), leaf compost, and primarily several different bagged soils but mostly one that is peat based (Menards). Good results. I like adding compost but am always limited by the amount I produce.

    That said, there are huge differences in bagged soils. I’ve grown mostly tomatoes, but also peppers in soil bags for 14 years. Stand the bag up, cut the top off, poke some drainage holes in bottom and lower sides, instant pot. 1 -1.5 cu ft idea but consider using 2 bags with .75 -1 cu ft bags. Lay one flat, cut out hole the diameter of top bag, cut bottom off the top vert positioned bag. Raised bed garden soil best, then garden soil, then distant third is topsoil. Huge differences in different products and different manufacturers. I won’t mention the bad, but Miracle-Gro raised bed soil is excellent and Menards garden soil is very good and is priced lower. Stuff with wood bits can be worthless. The catch is cost.

    I learned a long time ago to not put all my eggs in one basket and use at least 2 varieties of potting soil for starting plants until a particular bag is proven good. Formulations of commercial products can change. Regards

  26. I would not use any muncipal wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) product in a garden. IMO, biosolids are not tested for everything of potential concern. Heavy metals are, but IMO, organic pollutants are the weak link in the testing requirements. Also, testing for organics is done less frequently because of costs and complexity. Though detected, a compound may not be identified and is classified as an unknown plus a lot of organic pollutants are not on the list to be reported. No limits in either situation. Though most WWTPs are not designed to remove pharmaceuticals, typical removal rates may be around 30 percent which means 30 percent is in the sludge at the start. They may break down some in the sludge but are still present. A large portion of drugs taken by people are excreted. Ever notice how busy pharmacies are? Phthlates are another under reported endocrine disruptor of concern to me. Some industries reportably change phthlate compounds to stay ahead of regulations. I’m no expert, but I was an analyst for a large municipal Industrial Pretreatment Program for over 30 yrs and also worked at several small WWTPs and one of the largest in my state. Small town sewage sludge may not have industrial components, but endocrine disruptors are everywhere. That’s the short version.

  27. Very interesting! Thank you for sharing your results. I experienced an accidental comparison of a couple soil mixes a while back. I was sold contaminated soil, twice, by one company (via my landscape designer who selected and ordered it, saying he’d used this mix in the past for other clients). It was for two 22″ high raised planting beds. To our surprise, it had little pieces of plastic and glass in it. They were small, but were throughout the soil. We received second bath of soil (supposedly even better) from the same supplier, and it too had just as many contaminants, including a small exposed needle in a plastic base that’s used to test blood sugar level! The lesson I learned – check the soil carefully before buying even if someone else endorses it. Go to the yard and poke through the piles. While these contaminants didn’t impact whether the plants thrived, they didn’t do well at all, even though I amended it with our chickens’ (aged) manure and vermiculite. Plants struggled. You might be thinking, “What!? You USED the soil!?” Yes, I used the second contaminated batch. The planting season was underway, and the sales person for the soil company was very slow and reluctant to respond. He was pretty arrogant about it too, saying that glass/plastic contaminants are not uncommon, and he wasn’t apologetic at all – not a single “I’m sorry.” NOT good. The third and final soil that we finally received came from another source at the cost of the first place, and was the only bagged soil. It was fabulous. I amended it the same way, and plants thrived. It was lovely. (If allowed, I’ll share that it was Mary Jane’s Blend from the Point Reyes Compost Co. north of San Francisco, California.)

    1. Hi Lauren. I realize this reply is to an old post, but I just came across it this morning while searching for “Mary Jane’s Blend” potting soil. I plan to use it as one of five “premium” potting soils I’ll blend for diversity. You mention in your post that it was “fabulous” and you “amended it the same way”. What is that “same way” you’re referring to? It’s not mentioned in the post and I’m super interested in what other folks have used with success.

      After blending my bagged potting soil, I add the recommended amount of Down To Earth “Bio-Live”, wet that down with aerated compost tea, then put in a garbage can for a few weeks to “marinate”. Would you be so kind as to share “your process”? Thanks, and Happy Gardening!

  28. Hi. We have 6 raised beds filled with unknown soil and a 2″ layer of compost on top and another 1″ layer of mulch as the final layer. I’m pretty sure we have bad soil. We have not been successful at all at growing anything. There is always a water puddle at the foot of all our beds which makes me think we have really sandy soil and the water is just draining straight thru. My question is, what do we physically do with all the soil in each bed? Do I literally shovel it all out and keep it on the grass on the side? Then refill the entire bed with new stuff?

    1. If your only concern with your soil is the drainage (in that it drains too much), I would remove half the soil and mix in a blend of 1/2 topsoil and 1/2 compost. The topsoil will give the soil structure, and the compost will help retain water. Then, you can keep the soil you removed in a pile somewhere and use it as needed to add to the bed as the soil settles in time. If you’re not sure the drainage is the entire issue, I recommend getting your soil tested. It will not only tell you if there is a pH issue or nutrient balance but it will also tell you the structure of your soil, which will confirm (or not) your suspicions about it not being able to retain water.

  29. Hey Jill! Loved your experiment with the 3 raised bed soil combinations. I have chosen to use raised beds for gardening for more than 10 years. I have used Mel’s Mixture primarily with a few beds altering some of the amenities just to see if I can increase my productivity. The biggest improvement I have noticed are the beds I amended the soil with rabbit poop. It didn’t burn my vegetables like when using a chicken manure supplement. I found a lady near me that raised rabbits and she allowed me to load up two 55 gallon garbage cans for free just to haul it off for her. Free is good!!!
    I also tried last year on a few beds that the level of the soil had diminished a couple of inches, using MiracleGrow’s Organic Raised Bed Soil. BIG mistake! None of my turnips, broccoli, cauliflower or beets germinated. It wasn’t like they were seeded strictly in the new amendment. I had gently toiled the soil before planting seeds. I know you don’t like revealing the brand names, especially those giving negative results, but I would like to hear from any of your readers if they have had similar results.
    Here is my vegetable list I have planted in Mel’s Mix: tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, okra, kale, pac choi, beets, turnips, onions, garlic lettuces, radish, spinach, beans and cilantro. As for me, Mel’s Mix is the bomb!
    As an aside, try planting using the “Global Bucket” technique. Mel’s Mix works fabulously in these too!
    Happy gardening!

    1. Thank you for that information! I have had good results with Miracle Gro’s Organic Seed Starting Mix, but I’ve never used their Raised Bed Soil Mix. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  30. I’ve been reading quite a bit this year about persistent broadleaf herbicides found in many bagged soils and soil amendments that have become a nightmare for gardeners everywhere. Stunted growth, yellowing and curling, on and on. I don’t know if this was a contributing factor in your bagged mix, but many “top” brands of soils and amendments are contaminated, as well as many bulk community composting sources (contaminated lawn clippings and biomaterials)
    I’m at a loss for what to do about amending my soil. I have a plot in a community allotment and live in a teeny apartment – I can’t make my own compost. I’ll continue adding kitchen scraps and autumn leaves, but aside from that I don’t know what to trust.
    Some growers that I’ve been reading test their medium with sensitive plants (often peas) to see if purchased amendments have persistent broadleaf herbicide contamination.

    *There are four known persistent herbicides: Picloram (Dow AgroSciences, 1957), Clopyralid (Dow AgroSciences, 1987), Aminopyralid (Dow AgroSciences, 2005), and Aminocyclopyrachlor (DuPont, 2010). (sourced from articles at tenthacrefarms)

    1. Besides doing a sample test, the only other thing is to ask local gardeners what they use and what has worked well for them. I wouldn’t say all bagged products are contaminated (I’ve personally never had any issues with that) but one year there was a problem for many. Hopefully those are resolved now but without a test it’s hard to know for sure.

  31. Really glad I came across this web page. I will change my plans about purchasing bags of raised bed soil and use the Perfect Soil recipe.

  32. Hi there. I am wanting to fill my beds with the 50/50 mix but am having a hard time sourcing Topsoil. I live in a regional city in Australia. Our local supplier has a mix of cream sand and loam but that doesn’t sound right? Even bunnings does t seem to have it but has bagged garden soil of varying types which I am scared to use. I have co.posted cow manure to utilise. What could I replace with the Topsoil, would bagged garden soil be OK? I’m nervous as I am filling 8 bed with whatever I choose. Thankyou

  33. I am also a scientist who has been gardening organically for about 60 years. I loved reading about your experiment since I have been helping my adult children create their own gardens. My current garden is 38 years old. It is a raised bed into the side of a slope, surrounded by a seven-foot fence (after the local deer herd found it). I started preparing the soil by tilling a mixture of old farm soil with horse manure in straw. In addition, I created several compost heaps. The first heap is mulched-up Fall leaves (oak is best), second is a new pile to create compost, and the third is the old pile of compost. Each time I cut the grass (nitrogen), I layer the grass clippings, then mulched leaves, and finally a small amount of old compost to add microorganisms. I do this many times. A pitchfork is wonderful to do this. To get this going initially, I added animal manure, horse manure is what I had access to. Each Fall, after removing the plant material, I till the soil. Each Spring, I till again. After planting, I use the old compost to “mulch” the plants or in-between rows to walk on. The mulch of old compost keeps the soil moist all season preventing plant diseases and/or death as well as better production. All that old compost gets tilled back into the soil in the Fall. I do not use kitchen scraps in the compost heap since we do not want animals attracted to our yard. Several years ago, I took a soil sample in for analysis, and it was perfect in every category except one. You guessed it, organic material was double the upper normal range. I commend all of you for gardening organically. Follow some of my habits and you’ll be a great success! Thank you for your article!!!

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