Enrich Your Garden Soil Now: Four easy ways to revive your garden soil for spring

I stood and gazed at my beloved gardens today… My winter crops are growing beautifully and with the rain we were blessed with all through the night along with the warmer days and cool nights we’ve recently had, they look happy.

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My  gardens were so generous and fed my family lavishly this year. My heart gets a warm, fuzzy feeling just thinking about it… Then there’s all the goodness I’ve stored in jars and freezers from her as well.  Now it’s time to do for it, like its done for me… it’s time to feed the garden!

winter share

Fall’s when we need to prep our garden soil for next years crops. Just when you thought you’d be able to till it all under and forget about it until next spring, here I come with this news. Your gardens productivity depends much on how you care for it… the soil I mean. Feeding your soil nutrients in the way of manure, compost and cover crops will mean bountiful yields year after year.

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I recommend using at least one or a combination of all four methods to improve your soil as opposed to commercial fertilizers. They’ll offer short-term help, but the key to healthy, living soil is feeding it a healthy, regular diet.

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Here are four easy ways to revive your garden soil for springs planting.

1. Compost added to your garden in the fall will provide your soil with many types of sustainable organic materials and nutrients. If you have a compost pile you’ve been working at all summer, now’s the time to add it in.

After we’ve removed all the plant debris from our raised beds, we put some manure on and then top with straw. When spring arrives it’s nicely broke down and we top with a bit of compost. Then we’re ready to plant.

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If you think making compost seems intimidating, here’s a great article on how-to.
http://www.ehow.com/how_3541_begin-compost-pile.html

2. Cover crops are often referred to as ‘Green Manures’. In the Mid-West we can plant cover crops in September through October. The key is that it gets at least a couple of inches in height before our blustery winters come full force. In the spring once the crop is between three to six inches up, we’ll till it in.

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The benefits of cover crops include helping eliminate soil erosion and prevent weed development while adding essential nitrogen into the soil.

We don’t plant cover crops in our raised bed gardens because it would have to be worked in by hand. We feel that the manure, straw and compost add enough.

Dense stand of rye in April close-up.

Here’s a great article that gives info on cover crops for home gardens on a state to state basis. http://statebystategardening.com/state.php/wi/newsletter-stories/growing_better_soil_with_a_cover_crop/

3. Adding manure to your gardens in the fall will allow it enough time to compost over the winter and be tilled in come spring adding rich, organic nutrients to your soil. Manure makes things grow as the old timers use to say. If you contact a farmer, they may be willing to let you have some, especially if you’re willing to ‘help yourself’. Using cow, chicken, sheep or hog manure makes no difference… they’re all rich in nutrients.

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Here’s an informative article on how to use raw manure in your gardens.
http://www.ehow.com/how_7616352_use-fresh-manure-vegetable-garden.html

4. Leaves are free! That makes them priceless… at least to the serious gardener. We have a few large maples that we use the leaves from. We add them into the garden and even mulch heavily around and over some of the perennial crops such as rhubarb and asparagus. They’re both heavy feeders and adding leaves provides them with the extra they require to produce abundantly.

I often see lines of leaf bags along the side of the road just waiting to be picked up. Don’t be shy… it’s worth it especially if you don’t have any trees of your own.

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To learn more about using leaves to enrich your garden read this great article.
http://organicgardening.about.com/od/organicgardenmaintenance/a/autumnleaves.htm

Designing and planning your garden is the fun part, but the key to success is your soil.  The following information was found and adapted from “Michigan Gardener” magazine, April 2012 issue on page 9.

“Soil is comprised of three materials: sand, clay, and loam.  The best soil has equal parts of all three.  Problems arise when there is too much of one material. Sandy soil is too loose and drains too quickly… Clay soil is too hard when dry, repelling water and making it difficult for roots to grow. When wet, it holds too much water, leading to root rot….  Spending a little time becoming familiar with the soil type in your backyard will greatly improve your gardening success.  If you need help, bring a sample into your local garden center and an expert will help you determine your soil type….  You’re not necessarily stuck with the soil you’re given.  Adding amendments will help create a rich, loamy composition that’s a great environment for plants to thrive.  For sandy soil, add organic matter, such a peat moss or compost, to give it more texture add water holding properties.  To break up clay soil, add gypsum, pine bark fines or ceramic pellets.  It is also important to know your soil’s pH as well as nutrient composition before applying fertilizers…. Tests are available for about $20….” There is much information to be had on this topic that I wouldn’t have time to get into here.  I would advise you to get a soil sample done and get your soil prepped for maximum benefits.

Your soil is the number one component to growing healthy, abundant fruits and vegetables… Just like anything else in life, feed what you want to grow and starve what you want to die.

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Happy Day,
Jean

12 thoughts on “Enrich Your Garden Soil Now: Four easy ways to revive your garden soil for spring

  1. Jean, I adore his post. I really do. The love you have for nature and our planet makes me smile. I’m so glad there are people like you. And, on another note, these are great tips for preparing the soil. Thank you!

  2. Please beware of hay that has been treated with herbicides. (picloram etc) It will pass through animals without harm(?) but devastate your garden for years.

  3. I have read of all of these things from other sources, so its great and important information. However, I have also read that not tilling your garden is even better. Amending the soil and planting a cover crop is great, but not to till it under is better. Cutting the cover crop in early spring, then letting it die and lie there, then planting seeds -through- the dead cover crop is the way to go. It improves soil health, maintains soil health garnered from the previous year, and encourages worm activity. It also suppresses weeds much better than tilling it under. I wonder what everyone else thinks of this?

    • Hello Dixie!
      You are for sure right with the no-till option and honestly, we do not till our front perennial garden. I actually lay 4’x4′ sections of cardboard (what they use on pallets) down the isles and top with straw every spring. We only till the perimeter. In the back field where we lay 4′ wide plastic for our market produce is a different story.

      We have about 2 acres that we rotate crops with each year during the growing season, we need to till because of those rotations. As a market gardener, timing is everything along with consistent, timely succession plantings of crops. I’m sure there are market gardeners that practice the no-till, but with the limited amount of space we have, rotation and intense succession planting is what we feel works for us.

      I am very familiar with Eliot Coleman’s work with using a broad fork and he works on several acres as well. They’re system would be something you’d be interested in if you’re not already familiar with it. I’ve incorporated many of his philosophies/theories into our farming practice. Although, they have a staff that does much of the work… we’re a small family farm 😉

      The other alternative that our farm uses to the no-till is raised beds. Which I described in the article.
      This post was for sure geared more toward the home gardener as opposed to a market gardener and I’m really thankful for your input!
      Have a great season,
      Jean

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