Posted by Gardener Marc | Posted in Basic Gardening Tips, Vegetable Gardening | Posted on 07-06-2011
For a truly sensational garden, soil should be really important to you. It is full of life, flora and fauna. It is your whole foundation. Most backyard gardeners don’t pay nearly enough attention to the soil. The more the soil is built, the fewer disease, the healthier the plants, and the more bountiful the harvest. The soil is truly the foundation of your garden. Double or triple your attention to the soil and you will be rewarded.
In the Spring, we are often anxious to get a new garden in the ground that will come out healthy and bounteous. However, the Fall garden tasks are most times the most important to get those wonderful and bounteous crops.
Garden is a Living Ecosystem
Remember, a garden is a living ecosystem. It is full of important microbes and life that generates fertile soil and bounteous harvests. The work you do in the fall can either improve or hurt the ecosystem.
The most important fall garden task for you should be to build the soil with organic materials and compost and let nature do the hard work during the winter. While we are staying in our warm homes during the winter, nature continues naturally breaking down the organic material throughout the winter. The most important thing that we can do in the fall is to provide a rich layer of organic material soil. The smaller the particles the better. I have found a mixture of leaves and grass to be my best ratio of carbon to nitrogen. It is much better if it can be chopped, but even if it is put directly onto the soil, the winter will take a 8-12 inch layer of leaves and grass and break it down.
So the four steps to preparing your soil are these:
- Gather your leaves.
You may have enough trees in your own yard, but if not, ask the neighbors for all the leaves they want to get rid of. Or, if you do not want this, maybe do a service project for the local church or civic center. Generally they have trees and the leaves need to be gathered in the fall. Usually it’s not that hard to find sources of a variety of leaves.
- Chop and mix the leaves.
If you can use a lawn mower to pick up the leaves, it will chop the leaves and mix it with the grass. (A note of caution. You should not include grass that has been chemically treated! That will pull those chemicals right into your garden and in your plants next year. Just don’t do it.) Put the leaves and grass into sturdy lawn bags. If you purchase quality lawn bags, you can use them for two or three or more years. If you buy cheap bags, many will tear the first year. Buy thick bags.
- Spread the Leaves.
Haul the leaves and grass into the garden. I try to spread 6-8 inches (or more) of unchopped leaves or about 3-6 inches of chopped leaves and grass.
- Till lightly.
The final step is to take the tiller and till the leaves into the soil. If you have to rent a tiller, you can also wait until spring, but it works much better if you can till in the fall when the soil is perfect for working. The tilling will further break down the leaves, but more importantly it mixes the leaves and grass into the soil where the micro-organisms are heavy at work. You have just given the “good guys” the food supply they need. Along with the moisture of the fall and winter, the micro-organism will do what they do best. They will eat the food and break it down into nutrient-rich soil. You will be surprised how all of those leaves and grass will disappear during the winter.
Of course, in spring you could also use this “good” soil for indoor or container gardening. If you have enough you can for example also fill your raised beds.