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Nurturing The Soil In Your Autumn Garden

Get to know your soil so you can keep it working for you year-round. Enjoy 4 easy-to-follow tips for keeping your soil healthy through fall and winter months.

Getting To Know Your Soil So You Can Keep It Working For You

The seasons are changing and it's time to reap much of the harvest you have worked tirelessly to protect and bring to fruition during the spring and summer months. If you are in a temperate climate, you will be planting your winter garden and if you have harsh winters, you are preparing to put your garden to rest.

Autumn is a wonderful time to collect leaves for your compost pile, make preserves from your harvest, contemplate the successes and failures of this year's garden, pull out your journal to start planning for the spring, and to organize seed orders.

We have all been blessed with a limited amount of seasons to garden and we want to be proactive, squeezing as much nutritious food and wisdom as we can from our beloved gardens as possible. To ensure we can continue to reap harvests for years to come, it's imperative to properly care for our garden's soil.

What's In Garden Soil

The soil in your garden contains a microscopic workforce of biology that are diligently working round the clock to process minerals, organic matter, sugars, and enzymes into readily available nutrients for your plants. Not to mention earthworms, isopods, springtails, and all of the life we can see with our eyes when we dig into healthy soil.

Just like humans, the soil's microbiology and beneficial insects need food, protection from the elements, and companionship to thrive. A good way to think of soil biology is as your underground livestock, and you will need to tend them just as you would any other farm animals.

"The soil is the great connector of our lives, the source and destination of all.”
- Wendell Berry

4 Tips For Keeping Your Soil Healthy Through Fall and Winter

Some good rules of thumb that will make sure you are providing you soil with all it needs during the fall and winter months are as follows:

1. Remove old plants and weeds.

Clear out old plants and weeds before planting a cover crop or wildflowers. This will give the seeds a clean slate to germinate in. You can use the “chop and drop” technique where you cut up the old plants and use them as mulch or you can remove them completely and use them as green material in your compost pile.

2. Apply compost.

Compost is a fantastic way to give your garden a boost in the fall. Compost is the ultimate way to add organic matter, humic and fulvic acids, and to introduce powerful biology that acts a catalyst for nutrient cycling in your soil.

3. Add raw organic matter.

Adding raw organic matter such as shredded leaves, woodchips, or straw provides much needed insulation for your soil during the colder winter months while building up organic matter for your spring garden. It also helps to protect the soil from weed seeds and retains moisture.

4. Seed a cover crop and wildflowers.

Planting a cover crop such as clover or rye in the fall can help break down and add vital nutrients and organic matter to your soil and provide plant root exudates (sugars) that feed your soil microbial life. Cover crops also prevent soil erosion, suppress weeds, and act as green mulch in the spring building organic matter.

Wildflowers are best planted in the fall for several reasons:

  • Following the natural cycle of windflowers as they generally drop seeds during fall. Planting during fall is mimicking Mother Nature.

  • Overwintering: Fall planting allows the seeds to overwinter, which helps to break down the seed coat and prepare the seed for germination in the spring.

  • Optimal germination conditions: In warmer climates, fall is the rainy season, which provides ideal germination conditions for wildflower seeds.

  • The seed will germinate during the most optimal temperatures, rather than the hot, dry conditions that can kill tender seedlings in the spring. Wildflowers are a great early food source for pollinators and a habitat for beneficial insects.

 “Nature is a totally efficient, self-regenerating system. If we discover the laws that govern this system and live synergistically within them, sustainability will follow and humankind will be a success.”

- R. Buckminster Fuller

Autumn is a great time to show gratitude for the abundance that nature provides us with and to give back to our garden. Compost, mulch, cover crops, and wildflowers are all gifts that we can offer to the garden in exchange for the harvests we receive.

Nature is circular and functions from the law of reciprocity. The garden is one the best places where we can witness the laws that govern our world and participate in them. If you aren’t keeping a garden journal, consider this your invitation to start one. Learn everything you can from your garden, document it well, share what you’ve learned with others, and if you need help along the way don't hesitate to reach out.

Brian Maisenbacher

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