Fall can be deceiving! The sky gets gray. The morning temperatures start to dip. The afternoon sun can still be pretty strong. And, every once in a while the temps will climb back to an almost summer-like day. But don’t be fooled. Once the calendar hits that autumnal divide, the days of light and warmth are numbered, and the cool and darkness of winter are not far off.
I love gardening in the fall. It’s a time of energy and excitement for me. I like that suppertime becomes suppertime again and that I actually start feeling like going to bed by 10pm! Fall is that great season of change. The sun is moving from the earth and the world starts to begin the hunkering down process that takes us all the way until the first bulbs of spring explode on the scene.
The best thing that we can do in the fall garden is grow, and I mean grow soil! Yes, fall is wonderful for transplanting the plants that have outgrown their containers, or for getting those fruit trees and shrubs into the ground, but if you really want to make a difference in the garden next spring, make sure to focus on growing your soil this fall.
Here are 5 Ways to Help Grow Your Soil this Fall…
1.) Compost. This is the actual process of composting, or applying compost to the garden. If you’ve made compost, and it’s finished, that's wonderful! Then use it. If it’s still breaking down, then maybe you’ll want to turn it and let it finish the composting process. Putting out, or using unfinished compost is a drag on the soil as it takes up energy and biology from the soil to break it down. With a finished compost, you should be able to put down 1/2” to an 1” of compost over the entire garden, then water it in if you don’t have rain in the forecast. I always use the best organic compost, Bu’s Blend Biodynamic Compost, from Malibu Compost: It’s farm-made, True Organic, Biodynamic and Non-GMO, plus it's one hundred percent finished and screened for maximum efficiency in the soil.
2.) Mulch with your shredded leaf litter. If you have a bunch of leaf litter and dry branches like we do, then fall is the time to take healthy, non-diseased litter and run it through a shredder. We have a small plug-in, electric one that is fantastic for this job. It creates buckets and buckets of fresh mulch. This is perfect to put down over 1/2”-1” of compost that you just spread in the garden. In the spring, when it's time to compost again, just throw the compost on top of any left over mulch and water it all in.
3.) Compost Tea - This is a great way to add biology, microbes, to the soil as another food source or biological building block that will help breakdown organic matter in your garden through mineralization over time. Mineralization is the process that grow plants worldwide. It is what happens when bacteria and fungi break down organic matter and release the nutrients that are locked inside for the plants to uptake. I recommend doing compost tea as an extract, versus an actively aerated compost tea. It’s as simple as dropping a tea bag into water! I use the compost teas that come in a four pack, or "coffee sleeve" from Malibu Compost. They have 5 different types of Compost Tea for your entire garden. You drop the organic cotton muslin tea bag into 5 gallons of water and let it soak overnight, roughly 8-10 hours, then give it a squeeze and put it into your watering can or 1/2 gallon sprayer to use for a foliar spray. If you're going to do a tea drench, then you can pour it directly into the soil below your plants from the 5 gallon bucket. If you’re going to apply as a foliar with a sprayer, remember that the sprayer must be clean because you're applying microbes, which could be harmed or killed in an unclean sprayer. Using compost tea extractions is so easy and such a quick clean-up, I cannot recommend this highly enough for all gardens and gardeners of varying degrees of experience.
4.) Cover Crop - Everybody always says to plant a cover crop. The reality is that a lot of us gardeners just never get around to it. It’s so easy and effective. For many, the cover crop seems unsightly to the fastidious and tidy gardener, but the reality is that once you have that living green mulch that is doing so much for the health of your garden, you’ll get over it. Cover crops are fantastic, natural and true organic ways to fix nitrogen in the soil, build organic matter, fix nitrogen, suppress weeds and help with compaction and erosion. We’re big on clovers in our garden: crimson clover, white clover and medium red are all excellent cover crops as well as hairy vetch! For more info on cover crops check out one of my favorite places: https://www.highmowingseeds.com
5.) Microbial Inoculation - One of the other things that I love to do that not many gardeners do is to look at everything from a biological perspective. I am a biological farmer, gardener and grower. To me, it’s all about the microbes, and the more beneficial biology in the soil, the better. One of the things that I like to do is to occasionally give my soil a nice drenching of EM-1 from TeraGanix: https://www.teraganix.com - EM-1 is a natural, organic probiotic for the soil and much more. Adding it to the soil helps with soil structure and drainage, as well as adds even more diversity to the soil. It is also a great biological inoculant that will promote plant and soil health in your garden.
I know that looking at the garden from a soil and biological perspective is new to some of you and “old hat” for the rest. If you constantly ask yourself, “What can I do to make my soil better?” than you will be on the road to happier and healthier gardening.
We’ve got just over a month and a half of fall left. Make the most of it and enjoy my favorite season of the year…
© Randy Ritchie 2020