Best Ways to Fill a Raised Garden Bed For cheap 2022

Here are the four best ways to fill a raised garden.

  1. Core Gardening
  2. Hugelkultur
  3. Ruth Stout
  4. Back to Eden

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One of the most popular questions I see from new gardeners is how to fill a new raised bed with soil. Many different methods are out there that work great! Everyone has different opinions and different materials available. I have researched a great deal to find how others have filled raised beds.

Calculate the Amount of Soil Needed

First, calculate the volume of the raised bed. This tells how much material the bed can hold.

If the garden being filled is a large raised bed or multiple raised beds, it is probably a better deal to buy in bulk and get the material in cubic yards. Raised Garden Bed

The concept of core gardening is to create an internal “sponge” down the middle of the garden bed. This core holds water like a sponge and will be able to wick moisture two feet in both directions.

Build a trench for the core

Build a trench around 8-12 inches deep and about 1-2 feet down the middle of the raised bed. If an existing raised bed is being utilized, just push the soil to the sides or temporarily remove the soil.

For a new raised bed, first, I recommend putting cardboard or newspaper down for the base of the bed, assuming it is right on the ground. This will smother any grass or weeds that might exist. It is not even necessary to remove these weeds or grass first.

Fill the core of the raised bed

The core of the raised bed should be filled with wet organic matter that has already started to break down. The best and most recommended material to use is old straw bales. Best Ways to Raised Garden Bed For cheap.

Other material that can be used in conjunction or in place of straw is old twigs, leaves or grass clippings. These items can be mixed together if they are all available. Either way, the core should be free to fill!

Charge the core!

Make sure to water the core thoroughly. This is referred to as “charging the core”. The whole purpose of the core gardening method is to create a sponge down the center of the bed that provides water to the plants all season long. Do not skip the step of watering the core!

Fill in the rest of the raised bed with soil

If an existing raised bed was being utilized, just fill back in the soil that was temporarily removed to create the trench for the core. Again, it is perfectly fine to have a slight mound down the middle. It will settle over time.

Do not get really fancy with this. A 50/50 mixture of garden/topsoil and compost will do just fine for a raised bed.

Let’s use our example raised bed from above of 8 feet by 4 feet by 1 foot high. We said this was a total of 32 cubic feet.

Perhaps the best option is to buy the soil components in bulk. Topsoil and compost can be purchased by the yard. One yard is equal to twenty-seven cubic feet. In our example, we needed twenty-six cubic feet. The store may or may not sell topsoil and compost in half yards.

Supply some additional nutrients and plant!

Most likely, a new raised bed will need to be supplied with some additional nutrients. Keep your bed mulched at all times and add compost to the top of the soil every year and the need to purchase organic fertilizers should be eliminated in the future!


The organic material will have turned into great compost for the garden and the worms will be naturally tilling the garden.

Many people like to recreate the core year after year. 

2. Hugelkultur Raised Bed

Hugelkultur is the process of burying large amounts of rotting debris under the soil. This usually includes large rotting logs, sticks and other debris.

As you may have noticed, the Hugelkultur method is very similar to the core gardening method.

The roots of the plants will travel deeper into the soil to obtain the nutrients and water, which creates stronger plants.

One difference with this method is that the material underneath is much larger and will take a lot longer to decompose.

Fill in all the extra space and gaps between the large logs with leaves, grass clippings, trimmings from bushes, wood chips, etc.

Water all the organic material

This material will be the source of water for the plants above it all season long.

Fill in the rest of your raised bed with soil

It may be a good idea to mix this topsoil with some bags of compost if more material is necessary to get your beds to full capacity.

3. Ruth Stout Garden Bed

The Ruth Stout method promotes the use of mulching the garden with spoiled hay and building healthy soil quickly. Hay breaks down quickly, feeds the soil and reduces watering.

Starting a Ruth Stout garden bed is great to do in the fall in preparation for spring planting.

Steps to create a Ruth Stout garden bed

Start by adding a few inches of compost/aged manure right on top of the ground. It is not necessary to kill or remove any grass or weeds! Buy these products in bags as we discussed above or buy in bulk to save money.

4. Back to Eden Garden Bed

Paul did not invent or discover anything that didn’t already exist. Like Ruth Stout, after years of hard labor in the garden by tilling the ground, he discovered the power of covering the soil with mulch and mimicking nature and God’s design. 


Those are four easy ways to start or enhance a raised garden bed. It all depends on which resources are available for free. Do not be afraid to ask around for these resources. Some cities have a free mulch and compost program.

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