After the Harvest — Preparing Soils for Winter

A garden is a living work in progress that is constantly evolving. Building strong soils involves a variety of cultivation and maintenance techniques designed to provide a healthy, sustainable growing environment, and that includes getting garden soils ready for periods of inactivity. Now that harvest season is well underway, it’s not too early to think about putting the garden to bed for the winter. Properly preparing the soil for months of plant dormancy helps ensure thriving crops the following season. Following are several suggestions for building garden soils in autumn.

The first step in getting garden soil ready for winter dormancy is to remove dead vegetation. However, garden crops don’t all die on the same timetable — some tomatoes, onions, radishes, and broccoli, for instance, won’t be gone until the first hard frost, while melons, pumpkins, and other tender perennial vegetables may succumb to the first light freeze. Instead of waiting until all garden vegetation has all succumbed to autumn’s chilly nights, gardeners should remove vegetation as plants die. Leaving vegetative debris lying on the garden soil is an invitation to infestations of fungal and bacterial pathogens.

Root vegetables can be covered with a thick layer of clean straw mulch to prolong their growing season. Parsnips actually become sweeter after the ground cools in autumn, and carrots, beets, turnips, and potatoes can all be left in the ground until they’re needed at the dinner table but should be removed once the ground begins to freeze.

Organic soil amendments such as compost and Terreplenish™ should be added to the soil during fall while it is still workable and warm.  Terreplenish™ is a mixture of beneficial microorganisms that promotes plant health by fixing atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, creating a strong root systems that keeps harmful pathogen populations in check and allows plants to thrive. Planting winter cover crops such as cereal rye, buckwheat, or crimson clover helps keep the microbes in Terreplenish™ active during the cold season as well as prevents soil erosion. In the spring, these crops can easily be tilled into the earth for added organic material.

Getting a backyard vegetable garden ready for spring planting will be much easier with the help of the above suggestions. One of the main components of building sustainable soil is cultivating a balanced, living environment. Dead, sterile soils don’t produce good food, which is why successful organic gardeners strive to keep their soil alive.

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