Fall Gardening 101: Prep for an Organic Garden Next Spring

This year, one of my goals was to plant a garden.  Unfortunately, with all of the time that H and I spent on the wedding and the honeymoon, there just wasnt time to get anything into the ground, and when H did plant some things for me (a tomato and a pepper plant) it was right before we left for about a month.  Normally, it would have been no problem but we didn’t get anyone to water our plants, so they quickly withered in what ended up being a hot summer.  This wasn’t exactly the best thing that could have happened, but I’m not suprised by the results – we focused most of our time indoors on repairs and I didn’t have much time to focus outside.  Next year, however, will be different.

Not only have I decided that I’m going to substantially increase my gardening, I’ve decided to try organic gardening, and here’s why:

  • It’s better for the environment – Our food typically travels about 1500 miles just to get from the farm to our plate!  That is so much wasted energy trucking a tomato from california or mexico when I could just walk into the backyard and get one.
  • It helps my soil – Instead of having to put on different fertilizers every year to make up for a lack of a specific nutrient, I can plant cover crops in the winter or early spring to fix the nutrients into the soil.  This way, there wont be fertilizer residue on my foods, and it wont wash into the storm drains in my town.  Healthy soil = happy garden
  • I know what genes are in my food – There has been a lot of controversey lately with GMO plants.  Some european countries require labeling of GMO foods, but here in the US we do not.  While I’m not convinced these are bad for you (yet), I feel like it’s a senseless risk – I can easily garden and know I wont be eating a GMO tomato, so why wouldnt I do that?
  • I’ll know more about what I eat – I’m not here to talk smack about the grocery store, but going to the store and buying something puts 1 more layer of stuff between me and my food.  I want to know more about my food, how it was grown and where it comes from.  Putting (another) middle man in there wont help me with this at all.  (This is one reason H and I signed up for a CSA)
  • My Food will Taste Better – Gardening is a great way to branch out from the traditional varieties of fruits and veggies that you see in the grocery store.  There are tons of varieties to choose from, and you can pick based on what you like best and what grows well in your area.  Some of the best varieties are available at seed savers, Including my favorite, Heirloom tomatoes!
  • My Garden will Save money – Gardening is far cheaper than buying an equivalent amount of produce from a store.  According to the University of Arizona Ag Dept, 1 properly cared for tomato plant can yield 15 lbs (!!!) of tomatoes!  If if tomatoes were .99 per pound (they normally are not) you could get about 4 plants (where I live) that are already started for 15 bucks – and that could yield you ~60 lbs of tomatoes!  The CPI (consumer price index) is also constantly increasing, and growing your own food is a great way to insulate yourself from unexpected increases.
  • Pride – There are few things more awesome than having some friends or family members over to your place and saying “all of this stuff came from the garden”.  Lots of work went into getting the food to grow, and they’ll appreciate the time that you put into it.
  • You can do it anywhere – Contrary to what you may think, you dont need a gigantic backyard (or a backyard at all) to start growing some of your own foods.  You can grow in pots and window box planters, and even tailor containers to your meals, like I did with my pizza pot.
  • Connect with Nature – This is a top reason for me.  I love spending time outside, and try to do as much as possible.  In the past, this meant hiking, snowboarding and climbing.  There’s no where I feel better about myself, life and everything that’s going on around me than when I’m outside.  Having an awesome garden will allow me this experience every day, instead of when I make time for being outside, as it is now.
  • Teach your family – this is a great way to show your kids where food  actually comes from.  You can teach your children that the food they eat comes from the soil, and that they need to take care of the soil if you want it to give you any veggies.  Like the wise ben franklin once said “A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself”.

One reason, is that

I’m getting my garden prepped right now for next spring – conditioning soil, cleaning up branches, getting new lawn sprinklers at Gilmour, etc.

Of course, since mine is an area that has not been gardened before (or at least not in a long time), I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me.

Cleanup is first, and probably most important.  I’ll be removing lots of branches, weeds and other cover (including a bed of rocks).  During the winter, weeds, dead leaves and other cover make great habitat for slugs, bugs and other undesirables in your garden.  Weeding is also extremely important, as weeds have the tendency to self seed and come back in your pumpkin patch twice as strong for next year.  Get all of your plants that have stopped producing out of the garden and into the compost pile (if you have one), unless they are blighted or otherwise diseased.

After your garden area is clean, determine what nutrients that your soil is missing.  Typically, the local extension of your state  university (or whichever is heavily focused on agriculture) will test your soils for a small fee, then tell you what nutrients need to be added.  For soil testing services in your area just search google for “soil test YOUR STATE”.  If you’re more of the diy type, go ahead and do a DIY soil test. Missing nutrients will depend on where you live and what you’ve been growing recently, depending on whether or not that crop puts nutrients into the soil, or takes them out.  Organic matter is a great addition to the soil in most cases.  Add organic matter (typically straw/hay) to the soil in the fall, will keep the soil moist and prevent weeds from growing in your garden.  This is a great time to work some manure into the soil – you can buy it, but a farmer would be happy to give you some if you asked.  Just make sure that it’s not a far drive so you dont have to deal with the smell.  Important: Do not add manure when there are crops present – it can carry organisms that can contaminate your crops.

Here at sustainable life blog, we are trying to build up our earths resources, and save money – not spend money on fertilizers that could infiltrate the groundwater and local streams.  Here are some of the most common nutrients that your soil will be lacking, as well as a few cover crops you can plant in the fall to put the nutrients back into the soil.  Planting these will build nutrients into the ground in a sustainable, natural way – ensuring great garden production for years to come.

  • Nitrogen (N) – Clover and Lucerne (great chicken feed) take nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil via their roots (this will probably be the route that I go).  Stinging nettle accumulates lots of nutrients in the leaves and can be a great soil fertility enhancer.  Till this under in the spring before you’re ready to start planting, and you’ll have excellent soil in no time!
  • Phosphorus (P)- Comfrey is a great for fixing many things, including calcium, nitrogen and potassium.  When you’re ready you can make a great liquid manure and really kick the garden into high gear.  (Dock is also good for this, but difficult to keep in check – I’d shy away from it.
  • Potassium (K) – Yarrow is a garden herb that is non competitive and will easily fix potassium and phosphorus into your soil.  Yarrow attracts good insects to your garden and repels bad ones, in addition to fixing nutrients into your soil.
my clover seeds, ready for planting and nitrogen fixing!
All of these plants are what’s known as “green manure”, because they are great at adding nutrients to the soil.  To turn them under, you cut the crop as close to the soil as possible using  a weed eater or shears.  Take the cuttings and toss it into the compost pile or make liquid manure, and you’ll be left with stubble.  Some choose to use a hoe to turn over the stubble, and some leave it, planting the crops between them.  If that sounds like too much work, you can always cover with mulch and a sheet of black plastic to decompose the stubble, but decomposition could take a month or more.  For those of you with raised garden beds worried about being able to get all the stubble out of the corners, that will probably be your best option.

Compost is also something you can add after you’re finished harvesting – the area where I live composts green waste and has a few “free dirt days” that you can go pick it up, free of charge or if I miss those days, it costs about $30 for a truck bed full of the stuff.  Once the spring comes around, I’ll grab a case of beer, some good natured but unsuspecting friends and a few shovels and wheelbarrows, and have some help getting all of that dirt unloaded.

I’ll reap the bounty in about a year, but lots of the prep work for the garden comes now.  What will you be doing to make sure you have an awesome harvest next year?

Readers:  Are you planning on planting next year?  If so, what are you going to plant, and how are you going to give yourself a kick start this fall?

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5 thoughts on “Fall Gardening 101: Prep for an Organic Garden Next Spring

  1. I think planting clover is a great idea. When we had a house, I was looking into that, but could never find the seeds. Now we live in a condo with a community garden. I don’t think we are planning to do much this Fall. People are too busy. Maybe when our kid is a bit older, we’ll try a cover crop.

  2. I tried to go completely GMO-free…. couldn’t do it. That garbage is everywhere. I say garbage not because I think it’s bad to consume, I’m actually not sure. I do know it’s terrible for our future… GMO crops that don’t allow you to replant from seed next year, GMO crop’s that encourage pesticide use, GMO crops that get farmers stuck buying the same shit from the same company. It’s disgusting. If you’re interested… ewg.org.

    I love what you’re doing with the gardening though!

    • Agree renee – I’m not sure if they are forced to label the produce where you are, but in the states they dont. If you’re looking for Non GMO seeds, check seed savers.

  3. We should be closing on our house in the next few months and if that works out then I’d love to get something going on the side or corner of the new property for a small garden

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