Putting the garden to bed in fall is the first step to a successful garden the following spring.
Make a record of the current planting sites in your garden. Crop rotation is key to preventing diseases and pests, and also builds soil fertility. Make a map or video noting where things were planted and problems you experienced.
Remove old crop plant material and weeds from the garden, because material left can harbor diseases and pests. Garden refuse can be added to a compost pile only if it is disease free. If you have any doubt if it’s diseased, throw it out.
Gardens need organic matter to maintain a healthy soil. The more you till, the more organic matter your garden will burn, because tilling increases soil oxygen and accelerates microbial activity. Green manure is a good way to replenish organic matter. Also, consider planting a fall cover crop and tilling it under in the spring.
Leaving soil bare through the winter is never a good idea, as the unprotected soil will easily erode and soil structure can be lost. If a fall cover crop isn’t part of your gardening plan, consider a layer of mulch or decomposing leaves to protect the soil and its structural integrity. Mulch provides a great place for soil microbes and other soil-friendly bugs to thrive, creating a nutrient-rich soil for spring and building soil tilth.
Taking the time at the end of a long growing season to put the garden to bed may be a tiresome thought, but try to muster the energy; your efforts will be worth it.
By Michael Shamblin, WVU Extension Agent – Clay County