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Okay, so you’ve picked out a new garden plot that you want to use next year. But the soil isn’t good. Or, you’re going to use the same area that you used this year, but it needs more amending to produce better. What do you do? Well, there are a few fall garden chores that you can do now, to have a better garden next year!
Here are some fall garden chores you should do now, to have a better garden next year.
Remove dead plants.
If you have plants in the garden that are dead or dying, you should take this time to remove them. If they appear healthy, they can go in the compost pile. But if they are diseased, they should be put in the trash or burned.
Removing dead plants will allow the still-flourishing plants to thrive with less competition. It will also allow you the room you need to add your soil amendments.
Test your soil.
Testing your soil is a vital element of gardening success. If you don’t have the soil tested and just add random things to your soil, you could actually cause damage. Some nutrients, when added in excess, can harm your garden for up to a year or more.
When you analyze your soil test results, make sure you keep in mind what you intend to plant in that soil. For example, if you’re growing a whole plot of corn, the nitrogen content in your soil should be higher. If you’re going to plant beans, you can actually be deficient in nitrogen and still get good results.
Testing your soil is a perfect start for your fall garden chores. With the test results, you can decide what should be done to increase the fertility of the soil. And many soil amendments are best added in the fall, to allow nature to incorporate them into the soil long before planting time.
Plant a cover crop.
You can plant many different cover crops to improve the soil, prevent topsoil erosion, add organic matter, and shelter your growing soil from the elements. Some cover crops can be used as forage for your animals. Others add beneficial nutrients into the soil.
Most cover crops can be started after the main gardening season is winding down. That’s why cover cropping is one of the most important fall garden chores. These crops need enough time to grow, but not enough time to go to seed.
Cover crops are also known as “green manure”, as it is an element that you plant in the garden that adds beneficial nutrients and organic matter. So instead of composting, and hauling wheelbarrows full of ACTUAL manure, you just plant it where you need it.
Legumes are a great cover crop to plant, as they actually take nitrogen from the air and fix it into the soil, thus improving the fertility of your garden. They are also a great forage plant for nearly every species of livestock. When you are ready to till your legumes under, cut them short and dry to use as animal feed.
Legumes include clover, peas, beans, and hairy vetch. These cover crops can put up to 300 pounds of nitrogen into each acre of soil. That will save you a lot of money instead of buying that expensive, not always natural, nitrogen-rich fertilizer!
If you plant legumes, make sure that the seed you purchase has been inoculated. This is the best way to ensure the legumes will do their best work in fixing nitrogen in your soil.
Grasses can be another effective cover crop. They are typically very cold-hardy, so they can be kept in the ground from fall until spring. Beneficial grasses include oats, barley, ryegrass, and winter rye.
The roots of these grasses help to break up compacted soil, aerating it as their roots dig down deep. They also provide a lot of organic matter to till into the soil.
There are a few cover crops that don’t fit into a main category, but can still be very effective. Brassicas like mustard and radish, and buckwheat can make excellent cover crops.
Mustard leaves behind a “scent” that most insects avoid, but you should “chop and drop” before it goes to seed to prevent it from becoming a future weed. Radishes (especially forage radishes) can reach down up to a foot into the soil, breaking it up and making it easier for future root crops to dive deep.
Buckwheat grows quickly, and can even be grown to maturity between your regular gardening season, and your fall gardening season. It adds a lot of rich organic matter to the soil, and decomposes quickly to provide nutrients.
If you’re going to add manure to your garden soil, fall is a great time to do so. This is one of the fall gardening chores that I try to do every year. Follow proper manure management guidelines on using manure safely. Aged manure is best, but if you’re not growing food-bearing plants this fall, you can even add relatively fresh manure. It will age throughout the winter and slowly release its nutrients into the soil.
Manure can even be used in conjunction with your cover crops. The two combined will produce great results in improving your garden area.
Adding dried fall leaves is great for the garden, and should be included in your fall garden chores. You’ve got to do something with all those leaves anyway, so why not use them to improve your garden?
Leaves can be layered over the entire garden and left there until spring. At planting time, they can then just be tilled in to the soil. They provide lots of natural organic matter, and help to break up clay or sandy soil.
I actually like to add a layer of leaves, then a layer of manure to the whole garden. The manure helps to keep the leaves from blowing away, and also helps to break them down.
Start a compost pile.
During the fall coop cleanout, I put all of the chicken litter into one big pile. I wet it down until it’s about as damp as a wrung-out sponge, and turn it frequently. If I feel it needs more “green” material, I’ll add some grass clippings. If it needs more “browns”, I’ll add dried leaves.
Fall is a great time to make compost, since it’s still warm enough to let the pile get up to a high temperature. But it is cooler so it makes turning the compost a little less of a chore.
Add mulch to your perennial beds.
If you have an asparagus bed or strawberry bed, it could probably use a new layer of mulch. Mulching these perennial plants will help protect them from the bitter frosts that are coming. Wood chips or straw make good mulch for these plants. You can read more about the benefits of mulch in the garden here.
What fall garden chores do you do?
Do you do these fall garden chores? Or do you have other fall garden chores that you do? I love to learn from fellow gardeners, so help me out and post them in the comments!
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