written by: Rip Winkel – Horticulture Agent, Cottonwood Extension District
Fall is a great time to start prepping the soil for next season’s vegetable/fruit garden. Spring is often wet making it difficult to work soil without forming clods that become a nuisance when planting, and then remain the rest of the growing season. However, with exception to this year, the fall season is usually drier. This allows more time to work the soil when it is at the best moisture level. Even if you work the soil wet in the fall where clods are formed, the freezing and thawing that takes place during the winter will break them down, making it more malleable by the time spring arrives.
If your garden area still has the previous seasons plants laying around, insects as well as diseases often piggy-back on the old garden debris for the duration of winter. If that debris is worked well into the soil, those little critters will be less likely to make it through those cold months. Besides, that same garden debris will increase the organic matter content of the soil. Hint; turning the debris into the soil is often easier if you mow the old vegetable plants several times, forming an organic mulch. If that is not possible, at least chop the plants up by using your shovel.
As fall is an excellent time to add organic matter to the garden soil, there is more than just the old garden debris to use. There are dried leaves, rotten hay/silage, grass clippings, etc. Fresher materials (green) can also be added in the fall rather than in the spring because there is more time for them to break down before planting. As a rule of thumb, add 2 inches of organic material to the surface of the soil and till it in. Be careful not to over till the soil. You should end up with particles like grape nuts or larger. If you work your garden into the consistency of dust, you will have destroyed the soil structure.