With the weather so wet outside it is an excellent opportunity to consider your vegetable garden and what remains to be done before winter. Last week we talked about harvesting cold tolerant vegetables and overwintering greens in your garden. This week we will cover amendments to the vegetable garden as fall is the best time to add amendments for healthy soil and plants next season.
We have talked about the importance of a pH test in earlier articles. Hopefully you already have received the results of your test as now is the time to make amendments. In the vegetable area if your pH was below 5.5, recommendations for adding lime were made and if your pH was above 7.5, recommendations for amending with sulfur were made.
Follow the instructions carefully. Amendments to pH take time and the comments section on your soil test may have instructed you to do additional applications during the next few months. Soil tests should be done every 3 years.
Regardless of pH all gardeners should give serious thought to adding organic matter to their soil and now is the best time. Why is it important to add organic matter to the soil? Organic matter is the lifeblood of soil as helps store water in the soil for plant growth in addition to reducing run-off. It also aids in buffering chemical imbalances and provides food for soil micro-organisms. Healthy soil cannot be maintained for long without additions of organic matter. Healthy soil equals healthy plants. Organic matter added now will have plenty of time to breakdown over the next few months.
What kind of organic matter you choose will largely depend upon what you have around you. Some examples of organic matter which can be added to the garden are finely shredded leaves, leaf mold mulch, animal manures, compost, well rotted sawdust (not from Black Walnut trees or from preserved wood) or untreated grass clippings. Fall is the only time to add animal manures to the vegetable garden as manures must compost for a number of months before vegetables are harvested. While there are many more types of amendments to add as organic matter, please consider whether your amendment may adversely affect soil. Wood ashes, while a great addition in very small amounts, are very high in pH and soil which is already high in pH should not have wood ash used on it. For soils with pH in a lower range, wood ash is beneficial in very small amounts.
One type of organic matter known as a green manure is actually a living cover crop over the winter and when mature in the spring, turned under in the soil. Cover crops, which are not necessarily green manures, are sown in late summer or early fall and can be purchased from feed stores, co-ops or online. If you have not already sown a cover crop to use as a green manure next season, it is too late for this season so consider doing this next summer or fall.
Remember to let the soil dry out from all the recent rain as working with wet soil will compact it. All organic matter should be turned into the top 4-6 inches of your garden for maximum benefit.