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The best time to improve your garden soil for spring planting is in the fall. These 10 simple tips will have your soil in its best shape ever, without you having to do hardly any work. Learn how to improve your soil today and what you need to get started.
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Reader Question of the week: What is the difference between a pressure cooker and pressure canner and can you can in both?
Answer: A pressure cooker is just for cooking, you can not can in it. A pressure canner is made for canning and has a gauge or dial that allows you to control and change the pressure to 5lbs, 10lbs, or 15lbs per recipe specification. Some pressure canners are also pressure cookers, but will say so.
The fall is the best time to make amendments to your soil for spring. These are my tips to making sure you have your best growing season ever come planting time next year.
1. Remove all old plants. You don’t want to leave this years plants in the ground and rotting in your garden all year. If you have plants with any signs of disease or fungus, leaving them all year will lead to the spread of disease. Plus, rotting plants will encourage mice, rats, and other rodents. Throw away or burn any plants with obvious signs of disease. Other plants can be tilled back into the soil or chopped up with a hoe to small pieces to break down over the winter months.
2. Plant a cover crop. Cover crops are an excellent way to improve your soil. They require little work on your part, but do a lot of work for your soil. By planting a cover crop you’ll benefit from the following.
3. Control soil erosion. Cover crops protect your soil from being eroded by wind, rain and snow washing away the top soil. The top soil is where most of the nutrients and organic matter lay to feed your plants. A cover crop keeps it in place.
4. Breaks up hard packed ground. A cover crop breaks up hard packed or compact soil. The roots of the cover crop will help oxygen get down into the soil and allow for easier growth of spring plants.
5. Adds nitrogen into the soil. Cover crops help nitrogen get into the soil. Many crops, including brassica’s like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts all are heavy nitrogen feeders. Cover crops and legumes or beans, help introduce nitrogen back into the soil.
6. Controls weeds. Cover crops help control weeds by not allowing seeds to land in the soil during the winter month via the wind and birds. This means the seed won’t be able to sprout and take root in the spring after dormancy.
7. Adds organic matter back into the soil. When add you till or hoe the cover crop back into the garden come spring, it will break down and organic matter back into the soil after serving it’s purpose.
There are several types of cover crops. Always make sure you purchase annual versions of cover crops so they don’t reseed and add more weeds. Most farmer supply stores have large bags at an inexpensive price.
Sow cover crops 4 to 6 weeks before your first hard frost date. Scatter the seed by hand or with a seed spreader over the soil, being sure the soil is damp and seeds are kept moist until they sprout. Let them grow all winter. You may notice the cover crops doesn’t grow as fast after the first hard frost and picks back up again once it starts to warm up in the early spring or late winter.
Cover crop options are annual rye grass (this has a long root for breaking up hard soil and also germinates rather fast), buckwheat, clover, oats, and hairy vetch. Hairy vetch is actually part of the legume family and has a pretty purple flower.
In the spring, mow down your cover crop and allow it to dry out for a few days before tilling or hoeing it back into the dirt.
8. Put down a layer of manure. Another option before sowing your cover crop or if you aren’t using a cover crop is to put down a layer of manure. You can use chicken, cow, horse, llama, or pig manure. It will break down over winter and provide natural fertilization for your garden.
9. Use leaves to cover soil. Don’t have time or access to cover crops or manure? Use fallen leaves to cover your soil with. They will protect from soil erosion and weed control. Use a layer of straw to help keep them in place. You can also place leaves on top of manure.
10. Use an edible cover crop. We used kale for part of our cover crop last year. In a portion of the garden we scattered kale. It got to be about 4 inches high before the first hard frost. After that, it didn’t grow, but come spring, it started growing again, making it one of the first edibles for harvest.
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.