One would think that with the onset of fall frosts, cooler weather and blustery winds, garden chores would have come to an end. But in reality, the success of next year’s harvest begins now. Fall is the time to replenish the soil with organic matter and certain nutrients that have been removed by plants grown in the summer months. Now is the time for fall garden care!
Begin your fall garden care by removing any and all plant debris from the garden so it doesn’t harbor insects or diseases through the winter. Relegate all organic matter to the compost pile unless it’s diseased in which case it should be burned. The last thing you want to do is perpetuate and spread any diseases by composting infected materials then spreading the finished product all over the garden in the future.
Cover Crops and Soil Testing
Next if you planted any summer green manures and haven’t turned them under, do so now and plant a hardy winter cover crop. In our case this means winter rye. Green manures and cover crops serve to increase organic matter in soils and they protect against erosion from winter rains and wind.
Before proceeding with the next steps, it’s a good idea to test your soil either with a do it yourself home test kit or by sending samples off to your local county cooperative extension service. The results will determine whether or not to add lime to raise the pH of the soil as well as indicate what fertilizers are needed.
Because lime takes time to work, it’s best added in the fall so the pH of the soil is corrected by spring planting. Wood ashes can also be used to raise soil pH but they are relatively quick acting as compared to lime so can be added closer to planting time, but care must be taken since because of their rapid action ashes can burn young plants on direct contact.
If the results of your soil test indicate you need to add nitrogen to your soil, you need to determine what is your nitrogen source of choice. If you plan to use fresh animal manure as your nitrogen source, it should be added to the garden in the fall and immediately worked in. Fresh animal manure is potent stuff and can burn seeds, seedlings and young plants so should never be added in spring before planting. The latest fresh animal manure can be worked in before planting is 2 to 3 months prior to planting. Hence the need for fall application. Because fresh manure’s nutrients are prone to leaching away from rains and melting snow as well as evaporating into the air, working it into the ground as soon as it’s spread is advisable.
If however, you plan to use composted manure, otherwise known as well rotted manure, there is no danger of it burning plants so it can be applied at any time during the growing season. Other nitrogen sources such as blood meal should not be applied until just before planting in the spring.
If the addition of potassium is needed, you can use granite dust or greensand. These should be applied in the fall because they take a long time to break down. However, some potassium sources such as seaweed and wood ashes release their nutrients quickly and would be lost to leaching if applied in the fall so are best added just before planting in spring.
Phosphorous fertilizers such as phosphate rock and bone meal also take time to break down so are best applied in the fall. Bone meal is expensive so we use it judiciously, applying it where it will do the most good, in the raised beds in the garden and greenhouse, as opposed to a liberal application throughout all the garden rows.
Mulch any perennials that need winter protection. For us this means perennial herbs such as thyme, lemon balm, rosemary and oregano. We also plant our garlic in the fall just before the ground freezes and mulch the patch with a thick layer of wood chips that comes from brush we’ve put through our chipper.
And lastly, don’t forget the orchard. Place collars around the trunks of your orchard trees to prevent mice from girdling the trunks. Make sure the collars are above anticipated snow depths. It is heartbreaking to go out in the spring once the snow has dissipated and look at the base of your young orchard trees to see mice have completely girdled and destroyed the orchard you took so much care to plant. We know first hand having lost most of our orchard at the homestead in northern Saskatchewan to mice damage. It never recovered.
Now that all garden chores are done for the season, we can look forward to the cold days of winter and the arrival of next season’s seed catalogs which make pleasant reading while sipping hot tea as the snow flies.
Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!
Ron and Johanna
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