Fall Soil Preparation for Spring Success
This is one of the few times in the garden when, if you have
job well, you can truly sit back, relax, and let Mother Nature do her
without worrying about all the tasks accruing. Good fall soil
will reward you with the carefree (and guilt-free) perusal of an entire
winter’s worth of seed catalogues.
5 Steps to Good Fall Soil Preparation
1. Remove all weeds that are flowering or have gone to seed. Do not incorporate them into the soil or you will have unwittingly established several weeks of your spring gardening routine (weeding, weeding, and more weeding). Also, though it may look tempting don’t cast them into your neighbor’s plot or the compost piles. Remove them from the garden site entirely.
2. Remove any extremely large or coarse plant material from your plot. If a shredder is available you can shred the material and then incorporate it back into your soil along with the other amendments.
3. Work on your soil tilth (texture/composition).* This is best done in two ways:
- Add enormous amounts of organic (plant) matter to the soil. Increasing organic matter helps by:
*increasing the water holding capacity of sandy soilGood sources of organic matter include: clean grass clippings, manures, leaves (especially shredded or partially decayed), compost, shredded vegetable matter. DO NOT USE: pine and other barks or materials too coarse to break down over the winter.
* improving the drainage of clay soil
* increasing the oxygen capacity of the soil
* supplying micro-nutrients
* encouraging microbial activity
- Work your soil gently but deeply to loosen soil that has been compacted over the course of the season. You can do this by:
* double digging (see illustration below)
* making raised or hilled beds
While tillers make quick work of the job if you have a small enough area and a strong enough back your soil will benefit from the gentler handling of a shovel or garden fork. Raised or hilled beds allow you to more easily preserve the soil texture your digging and amending have created.
4. Plant a cover crop. While our cold winters limit the variety of cover crops that we can successfully grow there are a couple that will do the job. The Peaceful Valley Farm Supply catalog has a Cold Zone Soil Builder mix that should also do well in our area.
- For organic matter - Winter rye is excellent. It grows vigorously and produces lots of green stuff to turn under come spring. Just remember to turn it under at least 2 weeks (more is better) before you wish to plant your edible crops.
- For nitrogen fixing - Austrian winter peas generally manage to survive our winter and produce a plethora of nitrogen fixing legumes for spring turning.
5. Sit back, relax, and get out those catalogues!
Below is a diagram illustrating the process of double digging and forming a raised bed. It incorporates the applicable steps from the above recommendations which are for the most part the same steps you would follow to improve your soil tilth. If herbicide residue is not a factor the charcoal step can be eliminated.
Step 1 Remove first soil and set aside
Step 2 Add thin layer of activated charcoal
Step 3 Loosen soil at hole base
Step 4 Add organic matter
Step 5 Move next section of topsoil into hole on top of organic matter
Step 6 More organic matter to desired height
Repeat until enitre bed has been 'shuffled'. Use soil set aside at the beginning to fill the last hole.
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