Adventures in Gardening: Raised Bed Herb Garden on the Homestead

We are finally setting up a Kitchen Herb Garden on the TreadlingHome-stead!

As just about anyone who is a homeowner, or at least lives in a place that they can make their own knows, it can take WAY longer than you anticipated to get things going in the direction you had envisioned when you purchased your home. Well, here on the TreadlingHome-stead it is no different. We have owned our home and property for just over 4 years now and due to life, you know…layoffs, necessary long travel for work, getting behind on everything, we are just now getting around to making our land into the homestead we always wanted it to be. Now, building a dream takes time and many steps to achieve, so with this understanding, we are moving slow and starting where we left off at the apartment we use to rent. We are restarting our raised beds in the form of a Kitchen Herb Garden. I almost can’t contain my excitement for this project because it has been a long time coming and just getting started has made Josh and I so much happier with our home. Let’s jump into it!

Getting Started:

What we used and why

As you can see from the pictures, we kept the tires we used for part of our raised bed garden at the apartment we used to rent. If you want to read more about that garden, check it out our article Adventures in Gardening: Our First Raised Bed Garden. Somehow we ended up with 3 of the 4 tires, but that’s perfect for the area we’re using. Now, how we misplaced a rather large Mickey Thompson tire, I will never know, but we did so we are working with what we have now. And yes, I now know that the tires I chose to cut the wall out of to make cool raised beds were worth over $400 each, a fact that my husband neglected tell me until the tires were already cut up (Josh got them for free when he was working as a mechanic at a dealership garage. They were just going to throw them away, so he brought them home for my raised beds, face palm!). We decided to use the tires again for a couple reasons: 1. because we already have them and they are already painted colors that we like, so less work, and 2. because they allow us to make a garden anywhere we want without have to dig up the yard and/or have to clean a bunch of rocks out of a first-year garden plot. We’ll talk more about that 2nd one later.

What we filled the tires with

My soil haul from Walmart

Price Checking Your Bagged Soils

Before I tell you about why I chose these 2 products specifically, I want to talk about buying soil, compost, manure and fertilized soil in general. I know it is the beginning of the season, but the prices out there were crazy! I went to the places I usually go, BigLots and Tractor Supply, and they were charging up to $14 USD per bag for TOPSOIL!?! Are you people crazy!?! You should never have to pay more than $4 per bag for a decent quality topsoil. Omg, it’s so hard to describe how upset I was. So after seeing these insane prices, I decided to just go to Walmart and hope for the best. It was exactly what I was looking for. I got 10 bags of Scott Topsoil and 5 bags of Earthgro Organic Humus and Manure for $32 USD with taxes. I call that a win on the day when it would have been over $100 if I would have just gone with the other places. When I was checking out, I chatted with the cashier for a minute and she said that people were telling her they paid almost $20 per bag for the same quality stuff at Lowe’s and other stores like that. Don’t do it! Make sure that you are price checking and shopping around or creating raised beds like this could become prohibitively expensive. Keep it cheap my friends.

Choose the right type of soil for what you’re growing

When you get to the gardening section of the big stores you’ll find a huge variety of soils, fertilizers, sands, rocks and so much more that can all be used in your garden whether it’s raised bed, tilled or potted. How do you choose what’s right for your project? Well, we’re going to delve deeper into this question in another article to come soon, but for now we are going to focus on what we needed for our herb garden.

The first thing you do is look at what you’re going to be growing. In this case, we are just growing kitchen herbs and they don’t really have any special needs so far as the type of soil they are planted in as long as it is a relatively good quality topsoil. We have always used the Scott Topsoil because it is good quality and comes at a reasonable price. It’s easy to breakup and the plants seem to love it. We got it for $2.77 per 1CF bag at our local Walmart here in Southeastern Ohio on April 13, 2019.

The Scotts Topsoil we used
The fertilizer we added to the soil

As I mentioned in our first article on raised beds, Adventures in Gardening: Our First Raised Bed Garden, all bagged soils are required to be incinerated to ensure there are no bugs and/or diseases spread throughout their distribution regions, which is sometimes global. Due to this fact, it is always necessary to fertilize your bagged soil, unless you buy a pre-fertilized soil like Miracle Gro or something like that. We don’t buy pre-fertilized soil because we like to control what we put into our soil, either in raised beds or tilled, as much as possible. So we ended up getting Earthgro Organic Humus and Manure. This is a combination of organic cattle manure, peat, forest products, compost and other organic matter. We got it for $1.57 per 1CF bag at the same time we bought the soil. We ended up using roughly 2.5 bags of soil and 1 bag of the fertilizer per tire. We will be putting the extra fertilizer in the tilled in-ground garden we are prepping now for the rest of the kitchen garden.

A note on bagged soil

Just so you know, Scotts brand owns most of the larger brands of bagged soils including Scotts (obviously), Miracle Gro and Earthgro, so make sure that you do your research before purchasing a brand of soil just because it isn’t another. Thank you.

Prepping the raised bed: before the soil

After you have what you will be using to make the raised bed and the soil and fertilizers together, you have to prep the beds before you fill them. I know this step might seem like something you can skip, but trust me, you will be asking yourself why you didn’t listen to me in a couple months when you have all kinds of weeds and grasses growing out of your raised beds and you don’t know why.

cutting the gardening fabric to size

Before you add the soil to your raised bed, you should line the bottom with a weed reducing gardening cloth. It is usually black and you see it most often used in landscaping when you want to prevent weeds and you are filling it in with rocks and/or mulch between the plants. The cloth comes on a roll for easy use. All you have to do is roll out the amount you need and cut it. That’s it for this project. We are using it to prevent the grass that is already growing where we put the tires from growing up through the soil and creating more work for me later. I know, you wouldn’t think grass would continue to grow with that much soil on top, but you’d be surprised what nature can do.

No need to round the cloth, just place it nicely in the bottom

Once you cut the fabric to size, push it down in the raised bed to cover the entire bottom. In this case the fabric is serving 2 purposes: 1. preventing weeds and 2. keeping the soil inside the tire. Since we left the bottom wall of the tire intact there is an inner lip that will allow soil to fall out of the bottom because we didn’t level the area where we put the tires. I know, I know, we don’t do things the “right way”, but we get them done in a way that actually works for us and will hopefully get more people into gardening if they take out the unnecessary steps too.

Prepped with gardening cloth and ready to be filled

Prepping the raised bed: adding the Soil

Once your raised beds have been place and prepped with the gardening cloth, it is time to start having some real fun. Filling the tires can be done in a few ways depending on how you intend to mix the soil and fertilizer. We opted to add 1 bag of soil, then 1 bag of fertilizer, then another bag of soil and mix well. This was Josh’s job, and he was killing it! LOL!

Josh killing the job of mixing the soil and fertilizer…lol!

But for real, he did an amazing job. Check out the pics of what he did…

Turning the soil and fertilizer is more than just mixing it. It allows the soil to get aerated and loosens it up to allow the plants to grow new roots and good drainage for those April Showers. You need good drainage to prevent pooling and too much water for your plants. This is also why it’s important to keep in-ground gardens tilled also.

You may have a few larger clumps left after mixing and cutting the soil, just get in there with your hands and break them up. I find the back and forth method works best for this. It leaves you with a super fine soil that is ready for planting and looks great for pictures too, 😉

Literally pick up the clump and rub it between your hands to break it up.

Planting Your Raised Bed

Once the beds have been prepped and filled, it’s time to plant. As I already mentioned, we decided to make these herb gardens, so we chose herbs that we know we use all the time. We purchased the plants from a greenhouse vendor that was set up at the Rogers Flea Market in Rogers, Ohio. If you haven’t been, you should totally make the trip. People literally come from all over the country to shop there. I just shop there a few times a month. But I digress. These plants looked so amazing and the guy selling them truly put his heart and soul into tending them over the winter. I just had to have them. Josh and I settled on Chocolate Mint, Basil, Oregano, Rosemary, Silver Thyme and Purple Sage.

The herbs waiting to be planted

Removing plants from plastic containers

Removing plants from those plastic containers can be hard if you don’t know how to do it right. You could end up damaging the plant and/or the root base, resulting in a dead plant in a week or so and you would have wasted your money. Having grown up working with plants, both in the garden and in greenhouses, removing plants has become second nature. So much so that I often forget that most people have no idea how to do it. So here you go…a step by step of how to remove a plant from the plastic container.

  • Place your first 2 fingers at either side of the base of the plant. You do this with all plants, bushy ground covering plants like the mint and thyme. The basil was the easiest to show in a photo.
  • Turn the plant upside down and gently squeeze the sides at the very bottom of the container (See where my thumb is? That’s the spot).
pull the pot to remove (this is our chocolate mint plant)
  • Give a gentile tug on the pot and it should come right off. You may need to squeeze it a couple times to get it to release, but it will.

Loosening Roots that are Growing Out of the Bottom of a Plastic Pot

Sometimes when you buy a plant, or even when you start them yourself, they will get what is called “pot bound”. This simply means that the roots have filled up the current container and sometimes grow out of the holes in the bottom for lack of anywhere else to go. This is quite common, even with the best cared for greenhouse plants. It can get very bad and you need to cut or rip them, but these ones weren’t that bad. If you come across a plant that is pot bound like these ones were, simply use your thumb and forefinger to gently untangle the roots. It only takes a few seconds and allows the plant’s established root system to stay intact. It helps it grow better for you if left this way. Once the roots have been untangled, simply remove the plant from the pot as instructed above.

Planting your started plants

The same is true whether you are planting herbs or flowers. Just follow these few steps and you will have happily transplanted plants in your newly established raised beds.

  • Remove the plant from the pot or pack as instructed above.
  • While holding the plant upside down, GENTLY squeeze the root base to loosen the soil and roots. If it is pot bound like the one on the right, you may need to untangle the roots with your thumb, being careful not to rip or tear the roots too badly. It will rip a bit, that’s normal, just don’t rip it in half or anything crazy.
  • Make a hole in the soil either with your hand or a trowel and place the plant, root side down, into the hole. The soil shouldn’t cover the plant when you backfill the hole. The soil should just come up over the top of the roots and meet the plant at the base. If part of the plant, leaves or stems, is covered with soil, simply brush the soil away or lift the stem or leaf to uncover it.
  • Gently pack the soil around the base of the plant. It should be just tight enough to hold the plant up. Any tighter than that and the roots won’t be able to relax and spread.

What to do if your ground covering plants have little ones growing

Ground covering plants like our chocolate mint and thyme grow by having “babies”. These are small shoots that start at the base of the plant, just below the soil like and grow sideways until they reemerge as what seems like a separate plant. When we removed our chocolate mint from its pot, it had a baby. When you transplant a plant with a baby, make sure to leave it partially exposed when you backfill the soil, like we did below.

See the baby growing from the side of the roots?
The baby is exposed on the bottom left of the main parent plant.

Watering your newly planted raised bed garden

After you have all the plants in your raised beds how you want them, it’s time to water them. Here is the one rule that will save your plants: Never water a plant exposed to sunlight directly on the vegetation. Water it around the vegetation, this allows the water to go straight to the roots where it is needed. It will also prevent your plants from getting burnt.

Did you know your plants can get sunburnt?

If you water your plants during the day, especially between 11 am and 5-6 pm, the water that pools on the vegetation will act as a magnifying glass with the sun and burn your plants. This can, and will cause your plants to die if you continue to do this. This is actually the fastest way to kill a plant, simply by not knowing. This is why most gulf courses and fancy landscaping will have the sprinklers run in the very early morning and just before sunset.

Cleaning your plants

Sometimes a plant you buy will have some leaves with damage, either discoloration or insect marks. If you have insect holes, make sure to check the leaves before taking it home by turning the leaves over to make sure there are no white, black or brown spots that shouldn’t be there. If there are none, then just take your thumbnail and your forefinger, placing one on each side of the leaf and pinch the leaf off, cutting with your nail. This won’t damage the plant like pulling and tearing will, and it helps promote healthy new growth by cutting.

Now that you have your plants in your raised bed you are ready to go. Grab a cold drink and watch your plants grow. You will need to tend your raised beds like you do any other type of garden (weeding, watering, maintaining plants…), but you are well on your way to a prosperous raised bed garden, just like us!

It has been about 2 weeks since we planted our kitchen herb garden, and I’m happy to report it is doing very well. I will be posting an update here in the next week or so to keep you up to date on how it’s doing.

Thanks for joining us in our Adventures in Gardening!


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