County Extension Agent
By now most of our fall planting is behind us, the long warm summer days are over and the arrival of the first hard freeze is on its way. This time of year we tend to forget about our summer garden, thinking there is not much to do until next spring. However there is much that we can do now to prepare for the spring vegetable gardening season that will give us great results.
First, have your soil tested. Especially if you havenít had it tested in a few years. Soil test tell us what our soil ph and nutrient content is, and no matter where you live your garden soil may be high or low in a particular nutrient. Having your soil tested now gives you plenty of time to add the necessary mineral amendments and mix them to begin reacting. You will also beat the spring rush of soil testing, getting your results back sooner. We (Extension Office) have all the necessary forms, bags and instructions for taking an accurate soil sample.
Second, we can add organic material to our soils through composting. Organic matter helps sandy soils hold moisture while helping clay soils drain better by building their internal structure. One method of adding organic material is to spread organic material (leaves, pine needles, manure etc.) over the soil surface and rototill or spade this into the soil. Just remember not to spread over 2 to 3 inches of material at a time, otherwise it will be too thick for the rototiller to work properly. Once you have rototilled, spread more material and repeat. Also our leaves will be falling, and thatís a good time to stockpile leaves for future composting or to make a compost pile. Now is the time to decide what type of composting system you will use so that you will be prepared to hold the leaves until they are needed.
Another method to improve soil is to plant a winter cover crop.† These cover crops are grown to simply protect the soil surface over winter and produce more organic matter to turn under to build the soil. Legumes contribute extra nitrogen to the soil by fixing it in nodules on the roots. A couple of legumes that grow well here are hairy vetch and clovers. Cover crops need to be turned under several weeks prior to planting in order to give them time to decompose before the garden plants are set out.
If you currently donít have a garden and would like one for next season now is the time to prepare your planting bed. Sometimes late winter and early spring the soil is too wet to work and by the time it dries out we are behind.
Or maybe you live in area where soil depth is very limited, or you donít have enough space. In that case you may want to build a raised bed or buy containers for a container garden. Youíll want to start now purchasing materials or containers and good gardening mix soil to fill the raised bed or container.
Donít forget to order your seeds early. Ordering early helps ensure you get those new varieties as well as old varieties that may be hard to find and in limited quantities.
If you were worried about not having anything to do this fall and winter, well, as you can see there is much to be done now to get ready to have the best garden in the neighborhood.