|Healthy Soil Surface - image courtesy of USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service|
A traditional fall activity for many gardeners
is preparing the soil for its upcoming winter slumber as well as getting a head
start on improving the overall health of the soil in advance of the spring
There are a few simple steps to fall soil
preparation, whether you're working a large garden plot or individual raised
all weeds that are flowering or have gone to seed, along with any large or
coarse plant materials from your garden.
Removing any existing weeds along this year's plant debris is a good,
general sanitation practice. Weed seeds
as well as those from various garden plants, if left on site, may be the first
plants you see emerging in the spring, so you can get a head start to your
spring gardening chores by removing as many as possible in the fall. Plant
refuse makes a great place for insects and disease to overwinter if left within
the garden plot. If you had any issues
with disease or pests on your tomatoes or peppers, you should remove these
plants completely from the garden. Other
garden refuse is a good candidate for composting.
on improving your garden soils health by adding organic material and
implementing wise cultivation practices.
|An example of good soil aggregation after
minimum cultivation - image courtesy of USDA, Natural Resources
Keeping our garden soils healthy and productive is an important concept
to consider every year. Adding organic
matter from the compost bin or other sources is a good practice to perform in
the fall when the soil is still warm and workable, and the soil
biological community is still actively performing it’s beneficial organic
material decomposition process.
Incorporating these organic amendments into the
soil is important, but be sure to not over cultivate the soil, as this can
impact the overall existing health of the soil. Consider working your soil
gently but deeply by using a garden fork, or even a broad fork to aerate the
soil and allow for the organic material to be redistributed throughout the
soil, and maintaining beneficial soil structure and aggregation. This will also minimize the impact on your
soil biological community and keep them content, situated at a depth they have
been comfortable with, through the remainder of the growing season.
Below is a link to a video on use
and application of a Broad fork for beneficial low impact soil cultivation.
The USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service
has recently updated information regarding Soil Health Awareness and has
developed a series of videos and factsheets that are applicable to gardeners as
well as farmers.
3. Minimize soil erosion over the winter and early spring by adding
mulch or even consider planting a cover crop.
Take care to make sure all of your hard work
does not blow away with winter winds or early spring rains. You can mulch the
plot with materials such as fallen leaves or even additional compost to protect
the soil surface from wind and water erosion.
Another alternative is to plant a cover crop in
the fall to both enrich the soil as well as prevent erosion, and keep and weeds
While our cold winters limit the variety of cover crops that we can
successfully grow there are several plants that seem to do very well.
A great reference on the use, application, and benefits of cover crops
can be found in this can be found in CSU
Garden Note # 244 on Cover Crops and Green Manure Crops
4. Have your
soil and compost analyzed
Fall is a great time to collect soil samples for testing
in order to keep current on your garden's nutrient status. Testing in fall
allows plenty of time to receive your results and act on recommendations.
If you have been composting and plan to add this to your
garden, you can also have this analyzed so you have an idea of what you are
applying to the soil.
The Soil, Water
and Plant Testing Laboratory at Colorado State University can perform these
analytical services for both your soil and soil amendments and is open year