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Preparing the Vegetable Garden for Next Year

Fall should not be viewed as the end of the gardening season, but as the beginning of a new garden next spring. Proper soil preparation now will go a long way to improve next year's harvest and reduce the amount of spring garden work.

As vegetables are harvested, pull up the plants and either leave them on the soil surface to decompose, place them in the compost pile or, if diseased, burned or throw them in the garbage. I tend to do a combination of all three. To maintain a sustainable soil for vegetable gardening year after year, it is important to replenish the soil after each harvest. This is done by adding compost and covering the soil with mulch to eliminate moisture loss and soil erosion as well as to add organic fibre. Since all of the vegetables do not mature at the same time, a patchwork of stages will develop in the vegetable garden.

As the season comes to an end and the harvest is completed, your goal is to have added and mixed organic matter into the soil followed by covering the soil with mulch. A granular fertilizer which is low in nitrogen and high in phosphorous and potassium, such as 5-10-10, will help to replenish nutrients which were removed by the season's growth. A good tilling at the end of the harvest will eliminate the patchwork and put all areas at the same stage. This makes it easier to start with a fresh plan, if need be, next spring. Soil bacteria will decompose the mixed-in organic material and add valuable fibre and tilth to the soil. You want the soil to be rich in organic matter so that it is home to many soil organisms and able to hold moisture. You also want the soil to be free of perennial weeds and, hopefully, with few annual seeds.

The mulch can be supplied by several organic materials such as leaves, well decomposed compost or manure, fresh compost, sawdust or layers and combinations of these. Leaves are an excellent and plentiful source of mulch although they need to be removed in the spring and put in the compost pile. Shredding them first will help with their dispersion in the spring and speed up their decomposition. A concentrated amount of leaves, particularly maple leaves, can be detrimental to the soil because they can be highly acidic as they break down.

A living mulch or cover crop, called green manure, is an excellent way to both protect the soil from erosion and add organic matter to the soil. In late summer or early fall, the cover crop is planted and this will germinate and begin to grow prior to fall freeze-up. This crop is subsequently tilled into the soil the following spring and the garden is ready to be planted. The most common cover crop is annual ryegrass, planted at 1-2 lb per 1000sqft., because it is quick to germinate and breaks down quickly after tilling. Other selections are oats, barley, clover or other legume crops. If you have a high proportion of late season vegetables, you may plant a cover crop on the remainder of the garden and this will provide a wind break to prevent soil erosion as well as promote snow accumulation which will add moisture to the soil.

Another important step at the end of the garden season is to review your garden plan and see how to improve it next year. Did the sunflowers offer too much shade for the carrots, were the beans planted too closely together, was it a poor variety of beets? By making notes now, you can avoid making the same mistakes again. By discussing successes and failures, nifty techniques and tips with other gardeners you can generate a lot of excitement to sustain yourself over the winter.

Next year, I have vowed to plant more yellow tomatoes, to fence in my cucurbits because netting did not work to prevent groundhogs, to make deep trenches for the potatoes and bury them even deeper after the seedlings emerge because too many work their way up to the surface and are ruined by the sun and to plant many more varieties of beans. On top of that, I hope to plant more vegetables in the perennial beds to show off their ornamental qualities. Coriander will be a perfect companion to the summer flowering perennials and pumpkins will be a perfect ground cover in a particularly difficult site.

Having a well prepared vegetable garden this fall will allow you to get out into the garden sooner in the spring and possibly do more of what you dream about over the winter.

Daisy Moore, 1998.



Other autumn garden tips:

(click on the tip you want to read)


Fall Perennials
Planning New Beds for Fall Planting
The Garden in Transition
Dividing and Transplanting Perennials
The Dos and Don'ts of Staking Trees
Re-Seeding or Sodding the Lawn
Bulbs: Always Worth the Effort
Fertilizing the Lawn in Late Summer or Early Fall
Preparing the Vegetable Garden for Next Year
Growing Garlic ...For Food or Ornament
Priorities for Fall Gardening
Preparing the Garden for Winter





Home  |  Garden designs  |  Naturalized gardening  |  Help with your garden  |  Garden Tips Spring  Summer  Fall  | Contact Daisy


Daisy Moore 2006