I'm working on an entry, but it's been hard to write lately. Bruised brain and such little quiet time and all. I wrote an article for a local gardening newsletter, and I thought in the meantime I could share that.
How should I prep my vegetable garden for the fall?
Gardeners do a variety of things to prepare for the end of the season. Recently I’ve become a fan of what’s called the “no-till method”. Tilling soil, while a common method of garden preparation, is not without its consequences. Tilling contributes to soil erosion, can damage soil structure, results in loss of moisture, and disrupts the delicate ecosystem within the soil. Now, realistically, tilling a garden is often the fastest way to break ground, but once that garden is established there are a variety of ways to maintain the soil health and prepare the garden for another season.
The no-till method is a simple concept that can be executed in a number of ways. The idea is to use nature’s systems as a guide to help us build the soil rather than break it down. Here’s what I do for my gardens each fall:
- Establish the walkways from the garden beds. If you have a raised bed garden, this has already been established. However, if your garden is designed in another way it will be beneficial to distinguish pathways. In the long run it will conserve resources and improve the soil structure in the growing areas by limiting compaction from foot traffic to a designated area. The less you step on your garden beds the better!
- Pull up old plant matter gently, discarding any plants that have either gone to seed or had some kind of health issue. This includes any kind of disease or pest- we want to remove that so it is less likely to be an issue in the coming years. I also remove any pernicious weeds (for example, I always take out any grass and their rhizomes so they don’t take over my garden the next year). However, most plants I just pull up and lay right back down on the garden bed. I also remove any large rocks or litter.
- I sprinkle a good amount of compost over the area, right on top of any old plants/leaves/etc. Then I layer organic materials such as grass clippings, leaves, straw (I avoid hay since it tends to have more weed seeds in it), newspaper, wood shavings, chicken manure, kitchen scraps, etc. I use what is available to me! Some like to think of it like making a lasagna. I’ve done this even more simply with just compost and straw, alternating between layers. (Note: if you have serious weed problems you can combat them by using brown cardboard as your first layer in this process. It smothers the weeds while keeping the soil’s health intact, and will break down over the winter in time for new plant roots to push their way through in the spring.)
- Water well and then enjoy the winter!
The idea is fairly simple when you think about it. Rather than stripping the soil of its health-giving qualities, we aim to encourage and build on them at the end of the season. The benefits of this method are numerous.
- It’s less labor intensive. Kids can help with this! It also doesn’t require heavy machinery or fuel.
- Less soil erosion
- Conserves water
- Improves the soil by adding organic matter, lessens soil compaction, and encourages the activity of insects, fungi, and other vital microorganisms.
- With this method the soil will improve greatly, which will reduce effort and increase yield in the coming years. The healthier the soil, the healthier the plants!
In my experience, the beds that I’ve been using this method on are by far the healthiest and easiest to work with. There are less weeds and pests, less need for watering, have higher yields, and when I go to pull weeds I’m more impressed with the garden bed overall- plants come up easily and my hand just glides through the dark airy soil. Each year it gets better! I hope that all of you can experience the same success with this method.