Basic tips for prepping the garden for fall🍁winter❄️spring🌱
- Balance the soil or remineralize.
- Prime the biological flywheel.
- Keep it covered.
- Wake it up.
- Ideally, remineralization happens after reviewing a recent post-harvest soil test report. A soil test can be taken any time of year as long as the soil is not frozen or too saturated, but after the growing season has wound down is a good time. Visit this post to learn more about the different types of soil tests.
- If you have yet to test the soil this season, no worries, you can still amend the soil with a broad spectrum rock dust, like basalt. Basalt is an igneous rock that is a good source of silica and 55 plus other elements in trace amounts. Basalt also has the added benefit of being paramagnetic. Azomite is another broad-spectrum input derived from volcanic ash. Add 2 to 4 pounds per 100 square feet of garden space in the fall.
Thinking Ahead – Boost the digestion of rock minerals by cycling them through a compost pile first. Do this by adding between 10 to 20 pounds of broad-spectrum rock dust in the start-up phases of a biologically active compost pile, estimating that the pile will be about 1000 pounds of fresh compostable material. Once the compost pile is fully digested and mature, add the bioavailable, mineralized compost to a garden at a rate of 25 to 50 pounds per 100 square feet.
Prime the biological flywheel
- Keep the soil critters and microbes fed.
- Living plants do this best through their root exudates and their plant residues. In cooler temperate regions, these plants are winter hardy plants and perennials. If these plants are not a part of the growing system this season, top the soil with a layer of plant-based mulch.
- Simple DIY Soil Feed. Before putting the mulch blanket on, make an end-of-season meal for the soil. Take 2 gallons of clean water, rainwater preferably, and add one tablespoon fish hydrolysate, one tablespoon molasses, 1/2 teaspoon soluble kelp extract powder, and one tablespoon live probiotic serum; this could be the whey from yogurt, kefir, LAB, or EM1. Mix in a container and strain the blend into a pump sprayer. Two gallons can cover up to 2500 square feet. Spray lightly over the soil’s surface and top with a thick mulch blanket. I will review some more pro-fungal beneficial soil feeds in a forthcoming post.
Thinking Ahead – Undersow a diverse cover crop mix near the close of the year’s growing season. Pick a blend with at least four plant families represented. Broadcast the seed under the canopy of your mature vegetable plants and lightly work into the soil surface, water in. As your preferred crop plants transition out of the garden, your cover crop will be ready and willing to maximize on the newly available sun.
Keep it covered – Chop it, drop it, and top it.
- When putting the garden to bed for the winter, leave the roots in the soil. Cut the plant off right at the soil surface. Doing this will leave tasty roots in the soil for winter feeding of the decomposing critters and microbes. This in situ root digestion will help protect and build soil structure. The next plant will reuse the vacant root pathways.
- If the above-ground plant residue is manageable, can be processed quickly to lay directly onto the soil, and is not an identified vector for disease or pests, then chop it and drop it.
- If you have quality compost to add to the soil, spread that just before chopping the garden’s residual plant material.
- Put on a nice blanket. Organic straw or hay, fall leaves, pine needles, and bagged lawn clipping are all great sources of mulch. Lay it on thick, at least 3″ to 4″ thick, a nice blanket where you can not see any soil.
Wake It Up
- Pull back the mulch to help the sun warm the soil when you are ready to plant in the spring. The darker the color of your soil, the faster it will warm.
- Keep your soil exposed and bare for only a short time. Once the soil has warmed to above 45ºF, get something planted like cool-season greens, herbs, and veggies like spinach, claytonia, lettuce, cilantro, scallions, peas, and fava beans.
- This would be an excellent time to apply another round of the DIY Soil Feed to assist in waking up the soil and starting to activate biology.
Thinking Ahead – Go ahead and order a quality broad-spectrum seed and transplant inoculant to have it on hand for the first seeds sown in your soil. I really like this one. Also, consider planting some cool-season legumes; direct sowing those as soon as the ground can be planted in spring. Fava beans are my current favorite. I love them for many reasons, but to name a few, they can germinate in cool soils below 55ºF, are hosts to nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and cultivate an acidic root zone. These characteristics lend energy to activating nutrient cycling in cool soils.