Top off Raised Beds Naturally

With taller raised beds the soil will compact as it amends. Learn when to top off raised beds with natural ingredients.

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Learn to Top off Raised Beds Naturally

At the end of every season I like to evaluate the garden.  This is when I take note of the highs and lows and finish the year by topping off each raised bed.

It’s important to me that I always use natural material for topping off like direct compost, manure and leaves in conjunction with the soil.

These elements remain to be the best way to feed the beds and they help improve the soil beautifully.

If you have other ideas, I’d love to hear about them.


Natural material for topping off beds

Startle Garden Did Amazing

Our Startle Garden did amazing this year even though we were out of the area for 7 months.  I was impressed and thrilled because my fear was that by leaving with Robert, I would risk losing the entire garden.

Let me just repeat myself by saying taller and smaller raised beds are a true game changer.  We returned home about once a month during that period and all I did was water and clean up where needed.

Talk about a sweet experience!


My Favorite Natural Material for Raised Beds

When we arrived home one of my first garden projects, I wanted to attempt was shrinking down the blackberry beds.  After we finished clearing that first property, I took an afternoon and did just that.

That activity left me with an abundance of soil which was a huge perk.

If you’re in the middle of topping off your own raised beds and don’t have additional soil at your fingertips keep in mind you can also purchase organic soil from a local nursery.

I’ve done this in a pinch and there’s no shame friends…

Amending soil is hard work and it takes about three years to really see the benefits.  With that being said I have to admit that blackberry soil was pretty sweet.

I could also see that it still needed help, this led me to using the following ingredients when I topped off each raised bed.

  • Lots of leaf material – they’re plentiful here, small and perfect to blend with soil.  For larger leaves you can chip, or burn and use the ashes.
  • Direct Compost – this was just food waste that I saved the week prior and I mixed between layers of soil to welcome the worms.
  • Manure – I used up the last of my llama droppings from the farm.

It’s true I brought buckets of llama manure from the farm because it’s absolutely golden.  To say I’m out of stock now is a little sad but I’m sure I’ll figure that out when the time comes for more.

Perhaps I can take my own advice on finding garden manure here.

Adding natural material between soil layers

Topping off Raised Beds

Moving that dirt took me awhile… But I have to tell you, after taking the summer off it was fun to get my hands dirty.

For each layer of soil that was added there was a layer of leaves, manure and direct compost that followed.

For some beds it was a matter of a nice layer of natural material and a thick load of soil on top.  Evaluate your beds and the depth you have to work with to figure out the right consistency.

Most important part of the process is to not over think this activity.

Topping off beds can sometimes be as simple as just loosening up the soil.

This can be done with a hand spade but because I had all that blackberry dirt that needed a home I decided to simply top off.

Raised Bed Topping off complete and ready for planting in the Spring

Now the garden sits and awaits Spring planting.

I will continue to add direct compost over the winter months and eventually I’ll finish the raised bed painting I started back in August.

Topping off raised beds at the end of the year will give your garden the boost it needs when spring arrives.

So, when a warm front arrives visit the garden…

To learn more about the Startle Garden system check out my book here.  It’s also available in print on amazon, which is awesome!

Smiles and Sunshine, Carole

Learn to Top off Raised Beds Naturally


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  1. in my haste to finish my raised beds I put some not so nice soil a couple of years ago–more sand than loam. I amended it as best I could but they still weren’t as good as my beds that had all that good compost.

    This year I finally had enough compost to share. I’ve been slowly removing the soil from the not so good beds, weeds and all and putting it in the chicken yard, then replacing the empty boxes with good compost and aged manure. It’s slow work but I should be done by spring.

    This year I also topped a couple of beds with fallen leaves, watered them thoroughly, then covered them with black plastic. I just want to see if I can build leaf mold in a few months. That’s my experiment for the year.

    1. Carole West says:

      I find that those “Slow work projects” can become the most productive. Interesting experiment. The leaves added to these beds will just keep turning our clay soil in to a nice loam but you are so right that it takes time.

  2. Christine says:

    Great tips, Carole!! Topping off my gardens with natural materials in the fall is imperative for several reasons here in the Midwest. First and foremost the nutrients it provides but with sub zero temps it also provides protection especially for some of my newer plants and a quick and easy way to repurpose the leaves and needles from our trees!!

    1. Carole West says:

      Thank you Christine. When I was writing this I thought of you playing in the snow with your grandson. Realizing that topping off for you has already happened. Love that you also use the natural material already available it just good old common sense.

  3. Patti says:

    Great post with lots of good information. I love that you make it seems easy and low stress because that’s what trips people up. At least that’s what I think. Anyway, topping off beds with natural materials is so important but it doesn’t have to be rocket science. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Carole West says:

      I agree with you… If I was a new gardener in today’s world I’d probably not even bother which is really sad because I often wonder how many people feel that way. Topping off is really a mindless activity if you think about it and it sure does make these beds appear loved. Paint is next!

  4. Jemma says:

    Good Morning Carole,
    You provide us with a wealth of gardening information in such an applicable format. I love how you remind us not to overthink the gardening process. That is a real wow factor for me, as I am prone to overthink and then overthinking leads to procrastination.
    Also these raised beds in this natural wooded environment are stunning and I love how you placed your glorious hand-stenciled signs among them.
    Always a inspiration to visit you, you are indeed a gardening guru !

    1. Carole West says:

      Thank you Jemma,
      I’m just trying to keep it simple like my grandma taught me. Life is complicated enough, gardening should add to our lives not take away from.

      We do have a very natural wooded environment and yesterday Robert removed a ton of stumps so it’s looking pretty sweet. Reminds me of your backyard in Rockwall which I’m sure where the inspiration was planted from. We’re both Gardening guru’s – maybe we should get t-shirts?

      Thanks for stopping by see you on Instagram…

  5. Clyde says:

    Thank you for your update and the info on topping off the raised beds. Merry Christmas

    1. Carole West says:

      You’re very welcome… Hope your Christmas is wonderful…

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