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What you do in your vegetable garden right now can have a huge influence on how well it does next year. This is the time to get your soil in shape. Start by doing a good clean-up. What crops in your garden have finished production? Get those broccoli stumps and bolted lettuce onto the compost pile. You can work around the tomatoes, squash and beans that are still bearing.
How often have you seen a vegetable garden in winter that was abandoned in October? You can picture it...dry bean vines still on the netting, rotten tomatoes on soggy vines hanging on their stakes, bolted spinach and seedpods on radishes. Resolve right now that your garden won't suffer that fate and start with sanitation.
Sanitation simply means keeping the garden clean. Don't leave old pots, stakes, plastic bags, etc. in the garden. Cleanup plant wastes as soon as the crop is harvested. Keep weeds pulled. Remember not to compost perennial weeds or tomato or potato vines that have late blight.
Why is this so important? Slugs and bugs over-winter in plant wastes and weeds. Crop disease organisms will also survive, ready to infect your next crop. Weeds will seed themselves and be a much worse problem the next year. And a good clean-up helps your yard look tidier all winter.
When most of your soil is clear, you can start your fall soil improvement. Three soil amendments are needed in a productive garden, lime, organic matter and fertilizer. This is the best time of the year to work on the first two.
Most of our Western Washington soils are naturally acidic, needing lime to "sweeten" it or make it more neutral. Add lime about every other year or every third year for heavy soils. For every 100 square feet: use 4 pounds of lime on a sandy soil, 6 pounds on a loamy soil and 8 pounds on a clayey soil. Blend it into the top 8 - 10 inches of soil.
Lime is powdery. It mixes best with a dry soil, so adding it in the late fall during a dry spell is perfect. (It's kind of like mixing up a cake recipe. If you mix the dry ingredients before adding them to the wet ones, they will blend more thoroughly.) Lime takes about 3 months to fully change the soil chemistry, so, if you put it on in fall, the soil will be ready to go in early spring.
Organic matter can be added to your soil at any time in the form of compost. There are two kinds of organic matter additions that are commonly done in fall. At the end of the season you can mix in organic mulch like straw that has been used to keep the soil moist and to prevent weeds. Also, once the garden area is empty, you can till in fresh manure.
The best thing to do with fresh manure is to add it to the compost pile and then use the resultant compost when ready. Uncomposted manure may contain disease organisms that could contaminate produce, so must never be spread on the soil when crops are present. Applied now, however, it will break down and harmful organisms will die, before the area is planted again next spring.
If fertilizer is added in fall, it will often get washed down through the soil to contaminate groundwater or washed off with surface run-off to contaminate streams. Nitrogen and phosphorous are good for plants, but bad for salmon! (Even if the fertilizer doesn't move that far, winter rain may leach it down below the root zone.) There may be leftover nutrients in your soil right now. In order not to waste them, you can plant a crop to absorb them. The crop will cover the soil and protect it from the beating winter rains.
Such crops are called cover crops or green manure. Several different kinds of plants can be used including vetch, field peas, crimson clover and fava beans. Annual grasses can also be used. I favor the legumes, since they add extra nitrogen to the soil when you turn them under in the spring. Some green manures need to be planted earlier than others and some will take poor soil better. You can scatter the seed around and under the foliage of the crops that you are not quite ready to take out yet.
Last but not least, let me say a few words about record keeping. Each year we want to improve upon what we did the year before. That is how we grow as gardeners. But will you remember next year or the year after what you did and learned this year? While it's fresh in your mind, start writing notes. If you don't already have one, do a sketch of your garden. Record what soil amendments you used and what crops you grew in each area. That will help plan your crop rotations.
Let have some fun with our gardens and enjoy the fruits of our labor!
Disclaimer: ActiveRain Corp. does not necessarily endorse the real estate agents, loan officers and brokers listed on this site. These real estate profiles, blogs and blog entries are provided here as a courtesy to our visitors to help them make an informed decision when buying or selling a house. ActiveRain Corp. takes no responsibility for the content in these profiles, that are written by the members of this community.