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With the colder weather coming in, most gardens are going away. It’s time to start thinking how your garden can best recover during the winter months. Fall and winter soil restoration are crucial when it comes to soil quality in the spring. If you start off with good soil, you’ll end up with great results. But if your soil is still tapped out from the previous growing season, chances are your fruits and veggies won’t be as pretty.  

So what’s the first step in fixing your soil for next year? Testing. Get your soil tested so you know exactly what cover crops and composting materials would benefit your soil most. The first place I would look for a soil test is at the local Extension Offices. Usually they will have options for soil tests at a small fee. Plus you have less of a chance at getting an incorrect reading as you might with a do it yourself kit. If the Extension Service aren’t testing then ask them where you can get an accurate test or what test you should look for. They will point you in the right direction. Home store and garden supply store usually have soil testing kits as well. 

So the first thing I would look at is your soil’s pH levels. A lot of veggies prefer slightly more acidic soils with a pH of 7.0 or below. Some like it especially acidic. Think about what plants are going where next year and adjust your pH accordingly. To make your soil more acidic, but you’d rather not add chemicals, try adding some sawdust, composted leaves, wood chips, or peat moss. If you want to get fancy, add some calcium sulfate or elemental sulfur. If your soil proves to be too acidic, try adding some limestone. Into more organic solutions? Bone meal, crushed oyster shells, or hardwood ash are some natural solutions for a more alkaline soil. 

If you have your pH all sorted out, the most general solution is to add compost. It is the best thing you can do for better soil quality regardless of season. It provides more food and nutrients for plants. It supports more microorganisms in your soil that digest organic matter and create better soil structure. Soil structure is very important when it comes to gardens. Sandy soils can be too dry and lose nutrients, while clay filled soils are tightly compact and hold water. Compost can provide something for nutrient and water to cling to in sandy soils, and provide dense clays with some breathing and drainage room. When adding compost though, you don’t have to mix it in. Adding a few inches of compost to the top of your soil will be just fine. See, the little organisms and worms will pull the compost downward, incorporating it into your soil. plus the nutrients from the compost will soak down through the top layer of soil through rain. You don’t want the good stuff percolating into the lower soil horizons because your plants are going to be on top. 

Let’s talk about manure. You can get manure in bags at the garden supply store, or if your lucky and know someone with horses or cows, you could get some fresh stuff off them. However, use caution with fresh manure as it can contain high level of salt. It isn’t recommended that you put fresh manure on your soil immediately before planting but adding into your soil now will be just fine and will give it some time to age over the winter. 

So now you know some good things to add to your soil. But let’s talk about what you shouldn’t do. Don’t go walking all over your future planting areas. Soil compacting is a big no no. Instead create pathways between beds and make sure your beds are narrow enough for you to reach across. Don’t mess around with your soil when it’s wet. Not only will you get filthy, but it will interrupt your soil structure. What will look like a nicely tilled piece of land, will dry into a solid brick.  And lastly do not add chemicals to your soil. Fertilizers and pesticides are hard on the important microorganisms. Synthetic nitrogen is also a big no. Adding blood meal, fish meal, and alfalfa meal can add nitrogen if you need it. 

                                           – Happy Planting!