Your Spring and Summer crops are thriving - you’re likely hauling in bushels of peas, beans, cucumbers, herbs, and alllll the greens, but guess what? They’re thriving because they’ve drawn all of the wonderful nutrients and goodness from the soil. If you want to continue to grow in the same space, you’ve got to put the goodness back in!
If you’re planning a Fall garden in the same space you’ve been growing all Summer (and we hope you are!), before you sow a single seed or plant a seedling, you must replenish your garden soil.
Clever growing techniques, like Succession Planting, can help you maximize your growing space - but growing intensively only works if you build up the soil between harvesting and planting.
The nutrient cycle
To grow healthy food for your body, you have to grow healthy food for your plants.
We often think of a garden as something that nourishes us rather than something that we need to nourish. The wonderful thing is that if you focus on nourishing your soil, which in turn nourishes your plants, you will receive nourishment as well.
Vegetables grown in healthy soil taste better, look better, and are better for you. The more nutrients in your soil, the more nutrient dense the food that grows there.
It's pretty incredible, really. Plants absorb nutrients from the soil and store them inside themselves - then, when we eat them we store those nutrients, until we pass on and become soil again. This is the sacred alchemy that is the nutrient cycle - and we are part of it!
Signs your soil could be depleted
If you’ve been growing in the same soil for several seasons and haven’t given it much love, your plants are likely telling you they need a better environment to grow it. If your plants don’t look healthy, aren’t producing good yields, and succumbing to pests and diseases, your soil is in desperate need of your attention. It likely can’t retain moisture or any available nutrients because of poor soil structure.
If you haven’t paid much attention to your soil before, you’ll be amazed and delighted by the results you’ll get by showing it some TLC.
- doesn’t retain moisture well because it has either too much sand or too much clay and not enough organic matter.
- is washed away by rainfall or water pools on surface
- hosts few worms or insects
- grows poor plants, promotes disease and pests
- is fluffy and crumbly
- retains moisture well
- provide good drainage
- is home to lots of creepy crawlies
- supports healthy, thriving plants with few pests and diseases.
Bugs - especially earthworms - are a good sign! There should be lots of worms and insects in your soil - a strong creepy crawler community in your soil is a sign of lots of organic matter a.k.a. plant food.
If you want to learn more about your soil, you can test it. There are home soil test kits available or you can send a sample to your local Government Department of Agriculture. A soil test will tell you your soil PH, or acidity, indicate what nutrients are lacking, and gauge the health and fertility of your soil,
The basics of caring for garden soil
Different crops require different nutrients (a topic for a future article!), and you can amend your soil in a variety of ways, but most crops will benefit from lots of rich, organic matter.
Adding organic matter to your soil regularly does three important things:
- Protects Soil Structure
- Feeds the soil with nutrients
- Increases biodiversity in the soil
Here are some of our favourite ways to boost soil fertility between Summer harvests and Fall planting:
Organic compost is an incredible soil builder and you can make it yourself from food and garden scraps. You can dig it into your soil, apply it as mulch under trees and shrubs, or make compost tea, a wonderful liquid organic fertilizer for whenever your plants need a boost.
We like to add a dose of micronutrients using a locally produced seaweed emulsion called SeaBoost.
In between Summer harvests and Fall planting, add a few inches of compost to your garden beds and dig it into the top six inches of your soil.
Learn how to get your own compost pile going in our Guide to Backyard Composting
Green Manures or Cover Crops
We love using cover crops to boost soil fertility, suppress weeds, mulch plants, and give garden beds a rest.Green manures improve soil structure, add nutrients, and increase biodiversity - check, check, check! They can also fix nitrogen in the soil. In between Summer and Fall crops, we prefer clover and buckwheat.
You simply sow the seeds, give them a few weeks to grow and flower (for the pollinators!), then dig them into the soil before planting your next crops.
Once you learn first hand how wonderful mulch is, you will be converted! Mulch will add nutrients to the soil, suppress weeds, retain moisture, prevents soil compaction, and so much more.
There are many mulch options - we encourage you to use something natural and local. We love seaweed here on the East Coast, but you could use any of these: ramial wood chips, shredded cardboard, straw, newspaper, grass clippings, compost, or well composted manure.
* Be wary of using sawdust or wood chips from softwood trees. During their fungal decomposition process, softwood actually locks up nitrogen until it is completely rotted.
Apply mulch under plants, in pathways, or in resting garden beds. It will decompose and add rich, organic matter to your soil. Mulch after you apply compost or dig in your green manure and replenish regularly.
Crop rotation is a smart and effective method to use if you want to maximize production, whether your garden is small or acres and acres. An example of this is to plant root crops in Spring, then after your harvest those, plant leafy crops in the same bed. In the beds where heavy feeders grew - like tomatoes or squash - plant a cover crop and give the bed a chance to replenish nutrients before replanting.
Crop rotation reduces disease and pests and increases biodiversity in the soil.
Prepare for next Spring
Even if you're not planning to plant a Fall garden, rebuilding your soil for next Spring is still important. As your beds finish up for the season, composting, planting cover crops, or mulching now will give you and your garden a head start for next year.
We’ve got our big greenhouse where we grow our Winter food, so when our outdoor gardens are done for the year, we’ll be letting our chickens have some fun. They’ll create and dig in plenty of fertilizer!
Enjoy your Fall Garden
When you start paying attention to your soil, you’ll truly deepen your understanding of plants and get even more enjoyment out of your garden.
If this is your first Fall garden, be sure to take the time to replenish the soil, and then get planting! If you’ve already started transplants, like kale, broccoli, lettuce, etc, that’s amazing! If not, there is still time to plant some Fall crops.
If you want to extend the harvest into late Fall and beyond, check out Our Guide to Season Extension.
We’ve put all greens, carrots, radish, and beets on sale for 50% OFF. We hope this makes it even easier for you to garden into the Fall this year.