How to Prepare Your Soil in the Fall


Learn how to prepare your soil in the fall for planting in spring and give yourself a leg up on next year's growing season! #fallgarden #fallgardening #healthysoilThe number one secret to success for any home gardener lies in having good soil. No, scratch that… It lies in BUILDING good soil. Because even if you start out with the best soil on Earth, if you continue to grow in the same soil season after season without amending it or adding in any nutrients, eventually it will become not-so-good soil, and you’ll get not-so-good production out of your garden.

Plants are just like us: they need good nutrition to survive and thrive. The only difference is that we take in nutrients through our mouths, while they get their nutrition through their roots, by taking up nutrients from the soil. In turn, they grow bigger and produce more, and contain more nutrients for us to consume with our mouths when we harvest our crops!

Then we add our leftover, nutrient-rich veggie scraps to our compost or feed them to our chickens (who turn them into manure) and eventually it all makes its way back to our garden beds to help a new round of crops grow and thrive.

It’s kinda the circle of life, and it all begins and ends with healthy soil.

Needless to say, putting in a little time and effort building up your soil definitely pays off in the long run. So before you finish with your garden for the winter, take a little time this fall to enrich and improve your soil and you’ll undoubtedly thank yourself next spring and summer.

Related: 10 Fall Gardening Tips For A Productive Garden Next Year

There are a few things you can and should do in the fall to ensure rich, fertile soil come spring. While you can technically do some of these things before planting in the spring or at other times of year, the best time to focus on improving soil is in the fall so that any amendments that you add have ample time to break down over the winter and ensure your soil is ready for planting come spring.

 

How to prepare (and improve) your garden soil in the fall

Once you’ve tidied your garden, weeded it one last time and pulled out any summer annuals, there are a couple more things you’ll want to do to make sure your soil is ready to produce another abundant harvest next season.

 

Add organic matter

The first is to add organic matter. This could be in the form of compost, manure, mulch or a cover crop, all of which I’ll go into in more detail below.

Adding organic matter is important because this is how you add nutrients back into your soil.

Organic matter is the foundation of healthy soil, and is basically what makes the difference between soil and dirt. Soil is alive and full of organic matter. Soil grows healthy, productive crops. Dirt is dead, and won’t grow much of anything at all.

 

Cover your soil

The second is to cover your soil, which can either be done with mulch or by planting a cover crop.

Covering your soil (and not leaving it exposed) helps to protect the soil from weed seeds that might otherwise fall on bare soil and germinate in your garden. It also helps keep the soil structure intact and prevents erosion of nutrients, and prevents the soil from compacting too much over the winter months.

 

Other ways to amend your soil in the fall

These first two steps are pretty much non-negotiable if you’re serious about gardening and building healthy soil, however it must be said that there is one more thing you might want to consider doing to improve your soil in the fall, and that’s to actually test your soil PH and test for any specific deficiencies, and then add amendments to help balance the PH or to help with those deficiencies.

So, for example, if your soil is high in most nutrients but low in nitrogen, you could add amendments like blood meal or chicken manure. Likewise, if your soil is too alkaline you could add elemental sulfur to lower the PH and make it more acidic. Or if it’s too acidic you can add lime (as in limestone) to raise the PH and make it more alkaline.

Honestly though, that’s getting a bit more technical than I want to get here, and unless you suspect you have a specific deficiency, adding organic matter and covering your soil with a natural cover is really all you need to do to ensure your soil is ready for planting come spring.

Alright, let’s get into the nitty gritty of how to prepare your soil in the fall…

 

4 ways to improve your soil in the fall

 

1. Add compost

Whether you have a compost pile of your own or you purchase organic compost from your garden centre or from a nearby farm or supplier, adding compost to your garden beds in the fall is one of the easiest and most popular ways to add organic matter and nutrients to your soil.

You can use your own compost, which ideally should be a mixture of about 25 to 30 parts carbon (dead, brown material) to one part nitrogen (fresh, green material). But don’t worry too much about knowing the exact ratio. As long as your compost resembles dark, fluffy soil (and not stinky, sludgy slime), well then your ratios are probably pretty bang on and you can go ahead and add that homemade black gold to your garden beds:)

Otherwise, you can choose from various types of compost (ie. mushroom compost, fish compost etc.) and purchase bags from your local garden centre.

Add a thick layer of compost (2-3 inches, ideally) right on top of your soil. You don’t need to till it or even turn it in. As you water and/or the rains come over the winter, the nutrients in the compost will get watered into the soil and will replenish it for planting next spring.

 

2. Add manure

You can also add manure instead of compost in the fall if you choose. Honestly, aged manure (aka. “composted” or “rotted” manure) is just another type of compost anyway, so you can add one or the other, or even blend a mixture of the two. All of it will add nutrients to your soil.

Chicken manure, cow manure and horse manure are the best options (although horse manure is cautioned against because it can contain hay seeds that can sprout and grow like weeds in your garden).

If you’re adding aged manure, go ahead and add a thick layer (2-3 inches, preferably) just like you would with the compost. No tilling or turning required.

If adding fresh manure, it needs a period of about 120 days to sit and decompose before it’s safe to harvest from. For one, fresh manure is high in nitrogen, which makes it very hot. This can prevent seeds from germinating or burn seedlings or the roots of plants, so it needs to break down over a period of time before you can even plant in it.

The other reason is that fresh manure contains bacteria and pathogens that could contaminate crops and make the food you’re growing unsafe to eat if harvested while the manure is still fresh.

The general rule is to let it age and decompose for at least 120 days before harvesting from it. (This is another reason why fall is the best time to add these amendments, as you typically won’t be planting again until spring.)

When adding fresh manure, it’s best to mix it with a bit of aged compost or work it into the soil to help it decompose faster, and so that you’re not adding such a high concentration of nitrogen to your soil all at once.

 

3. Add mulch

Adding organic mulch is another good way to add organic material to your soil AND cover it at the same time.

We usually apply a thick layer of compost and then cover that with a layer of mulch in the fall. We usually opt for bark mulch (we use an “SPF” mixture of spruce, pine and fir). The mulch helps to protect the soil from weed seeds and pests and keeps soil from eroding over the winter. Plus it breaks down over time and adds more organic matter to your soil.

Mulching also helps to insulate your soil, which helps keep overwintering crops like garlic warm. I always add an extra thick layer of aged compost or manure on top of the soil after I’ve planted my garlic and then I cover with a thick mulch. It grows beautifully every year!

Other choices for mulching include straw, grass trimmings, chopped up leaves, seaweed and even shredded newspaper.

Add about 2 to 3 inches of mulch on top of your soil or on top of a top dressing of compost, if adding both compost and mulch.

 

4. Plant a Cover Crop

Another option is to add a “living mulch,” which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: mulch that’s alive (aka. a cover crop).

Planting a cover crop in the fall is another option for covering your soil and adding organic matter at the same time. Like mulch, a cover crop will help cover and protect your soil, and can be turned in in the spring to add organic matter before planting.

The added benefit to growing a cover crop is that the roots will help to break up compacted soil and keep it intact at the same time, and certain cover crops (like those in the legume family) will actually help to fix nutrients like nitrogen in the soil.

If planting a cover crop, you’ll want to plant your seeds at least 4 to 6 weeks before your first frost, to ensure it’s warm enough for germination and initial growth. You’ll also want to make sure to turn your cover crop into the soil in the early spring, before it goes to seed.

Some of the cover crops you may want to consider include:

  • Fall Rye
  • Clover
  • Hairy Vetch
  • Alfalfa
  • Oats
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat

Different cover crops are good for different things, so do some research before you decide which one to plant. We planted fall rye this year because it’s supposed to be the best cover crop for clay soils (which is what we have). But your soil or garden might benefit more from another type of cover crop.

Check out this article by True Leaf Market (affiliate link) to learn more about the different types of cover crops and find out which one is best for you and your garden.

To check out True Leaf Market’s full range of cover crop seeds, click here.

 

Other things you should do in the fall to prepare your garden for winter

There are a number of other things you should do to your garden in the fall to put it to bed in the winter and prepare it for planting next spring. You can get my step-by-step Fall Gardening Checklist from the Gardening section of my Free Resource Library for a comprehensive list of actions to take now to ensure a productive growing season next year!

 

Want more modern homesteading??

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Wishing you homemade, homegrown, homestead happiness:)

 

 

 

 


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ABOUT ANNA
Hi! I’m Anna, and I’m a city girl turned modern homesteader who’s passionate about growing, cooking and preserving real food at home, creating my own herbal medicine and all-natural home and body care products, and working toward a simpler, more sustainable and self-sufficient life each and every day. 
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Okay, I’m just gonna come out and say it: I’m a total sucker for pumpkin spice.

Call me #basic, but it’s the truth.

In fact, I’m all about everything fall: the colours, the coziness, the sweater weather, and yes, pumpkins and pumpkin spice. There’s just something comforting and nostalgic about it; Like grandma’s kitchen or the warm scent of pumpkin pie that wafts from the table at holiday dinners with family and friends.

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As much as I'm honestly kinda over the garden by this time of year and ready to tuck in indoors and rest for a while, I know that the effort I put into my garden in the fall will pay a huge return come next spring and summer when we're ready to plant and then harvest our next round of crops.

For one, fall is the best time to amend and enrich your soil, so adding compost or manure or some sort of organic matter is pretty crucial this time of year.

Also, you should always cover your soil, especially over the winter months when soil is more likely to erode and nutrients can get washed away. A cover crop or a thick layer of mulch is a good idea to help keep your soil protected and intact.

And of course, garlic should be planted in the fall before your first frost to ensure huge bulbs next summer. Us homesteaders always have to be thinking ahead a few seasons!

I'm taking you into our garden as we're tearing it down and planting out our garlic. I'll show you our fall gardening routine and I'll walk you through planting garlic so you can start growing it at home too! (It's honesty the easiest, most rewarding crop that we grow).

It's time for the grand finale in the garden this year as we tear it down and prep it for next spring. Will you join me for one last hurrah?

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I make at least a batch or two (or three) of these scented soy wax candles every year around this time. I burn a bunch of them myself over the winter and we gift them for Christmas. I’ve even sold them for upwards of $15 a piece!

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Sometimes I question why I do what I do. Why do I take on so much? Why do I bother making everything from scratch and growing a garden and preserving food when I could just as well buy it from the store and save myself a ton of time and effort?⁣⁣⁣
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Why am I working hard to build a business out of my passion when I could just as easily go to work for a pay check and just enjoy homesteading as a hobby on the side?⁣⁣⁣
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Why do I choose to do everything the hard way and see against the grain? Why not just go with the flow and hope for the best?⁣⁣⁣
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I can’t say for sure that I would have chosen to follow all the same paths that I’ve gone down over the past few years had I not become a mother, but what I 𝘥𝘰 know for sure is that my beautiful daughter is worth every ounce of hard work; every dollar I’ve invested in our future goals and dreams; every late night work fest and canning session; every seed planted and loaf of bread baked.⁣

She’s worth it because I want to give her the best I can in life. I want her to eat good food and live a long and healthy life. I want to teach her how to be self-sufficient so that she has the skills she needs no matter what kind of world awaits her in the future. And I want to show her that anything is possible and any dream is worth pursuing, even if the work that it takes to achieve it is harder than following the herd and taking the road of least resistance.⁣⁣⁣
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This little human right here: this is my why. This girl and her goofy smile make everything worthwhile ❤️⁣⁣⁣
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What (or who?) is your why?
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This growing season has seriously been the strangest I’ve experienced so far. Summer came so late we thought it wasn’t gonna come at all. Our greens and peas and spring crops produced for weeks longer then they normally do as we waited FOREVER for our tomatoes and peppers and summer crops to grow and ripen.

Now that we’re into October, we’re having a warm spell and the garden is acting like it’s summer! The tomatoes are all just starting to turn red, the cucumbers and zucchini are still givin’er, the pumpkins and squash are having another growth spurt, and now the green beans are starting on round two after about a month of dormancy!

We’re supposed to be going fishing tomorrow, and I’m wondering if the salmon are a little late this year too...

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Can you imagine how bland and boring our food (and life) would be without spices??⁣

Seriously! We take them for granted nowadays because they’re so readily available in our pantries and on grocery store shelves. But for thousands of years throughout history, spices were coveted, revered and hard to get. For around 1,500 years, spices travelled overland on camelback and horseback on the Silk Road from China to the west. And then, just over 500 years ago, explorers set out into the unknown to find a maritime trading route, and one of those explorers just so happened to stumble on the Americas along the way, essentially shaping history and the modern world as we know it. ⁣

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I’d love to tell you so much more right here, but I’m a bit limited on space! However, you can read more about the fascinating story of spices, their culinary and medicinal uses, how to put them to use in your kitchen and yes, even how to grow them at home in the October issue.⁣

So if you’re already subscribed, be sure to check your inbox for the latest issue (it came out yesterday). And if you’re NOT yet subscribed, then head on over and click the link in my bio @thehouseandhomestead to subscribe for FREE, and get the latest issue delivered straight to your inbox!⁣

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In the garden, some plants are dead or dying. There’s brown, crispy stems, dried pea pods bursting with next year’s seeds and a natural layer of mulch in the form of fallen leaves. But at the same time there’s still so much life. So much greenery and colour. So much of summer still left.⁣

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But this year our return to our “normal” fall routines is anything but. For many families, there is no return to school. Not in the traditional sense anyway. Instead, more families than ever before have found themselves educating their children at home for the first time, whether by force or by choice. And trying to balance all of the usual September tasks with navigating full-time homeschooling can feel daunting, to say the least.⁣

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It’s also Ginny's first time guest posting so be sure to leave a comment while you’re there and let us know what school looks like for your family this year.⁣

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I’ve been feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders lately. Between balancing work and the garden and all of the canning and preserving tasks this time of year, I’ve already got enough on my plate. Add a string of social commitments, back-to-school and extracurricular activities, and I’m definitely feeling the pressure, as I usually do this time of year.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
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But lump on a pandemic, worsening political tensions, division and civil unrest, intensifying environmental disasters (we’re currently socked in with smoke from the California wildfires), and it all just becomes too much to bear some days.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
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I know I’m far from the only one who’s feeling this way. And yet, we all have to just keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep going even when we’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed and burnt out. Even when the present is frightening and the future is uncertain.⁣

I’ve developed some strategies over the past few years that have helped me keep moving forward and get things done even when I’m feeling overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, and I want to share them with others who need help coping with stress and overwhelm right now too.⁣⁣
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You can check out my list of 10 tips for managing stress and overwhelm on the homestead (and in life!) by clicking the link in my bio @thehouseandhomestead and then clicking the link to the full blog post at the top.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
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You can also grab my free time management planner by clicking the link in my bio and then clicking on “Free Resource Library,” (find it under “Homesteading & Self-Sufficiency Resources” in the library).⁣⁣⁣
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No matter what you’re struggling with right now, I hope some of these tips help keep you navigate these extra stressful times and stay focused and moving forward with your to-do list, as well as with your big goals and dreams. But most of all, I hope it reminds you that if you are struggling and feeling overwhelmed right now, you’re not alone.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
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Link in bio @thehouseandhomestead to read more.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
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I don’t think I have a jar big enough for this pickling cucumber 🥒 ⁣

What do you do with the huge pickling cukes that inevitably get missed in the garden??⁣

Please leave suggestions below! I’ve got two of ‘em! 😂
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Late summer is truly the time of abundance (and by far the busiest time of year for us).⁣⁣⁣
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We’ve got so much food that’s ripe for the picking in our own garden, plus baskets full of produce that we purchase locally when it’s in season and preserve for the winter.⁣⁣⁣
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Between harvesting and preserving (and trying my best to document it all for you along the way), there’s little time for much else in August.⁣⁣⁣
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We’re busy sweating in the garden and the kitchen, working around the clock to preserve all of the fruits (and vegetables) of summer so that come winter we hunker down and relax knowing we’ve got a pantry full of food to sustain us.⁣⁣⁣
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While there have been more times than I like to admit when I’ve asked myself why we do this when we could be at the beach or floating down the river like everyone else, come winter I am ALWAYS grateful for the time and energy we invested in the spring, summer and fall to grow and preserve all of the food that lines our pantry shelves.⁣⁣⁣
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With everything that 2020 has brought so far (and more uncertainty to come), this year I’m feeling grateful even in the thick of it; Even while I’m sweating and pulling late night canning sessions and constantly scraping dirt out from under my nails. This year it’s more apparent than ever how much growing and preserving our own food is worth the time and effort that it takes.⁣⁣⁣
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If you feel the same way and you’re looking to get even better at gardening, preserving and homesteading in general, or maybe you’re finally ready to start living a more sustainable lifestyle where YOU have control over your food supply, I highly encourage you to check out the Gardening & Sustainable Living Bundle (link in bio @thehouseandhomestead). It’s packed with almost $600 worth of resources designed to help you take control of your food security and live a more self-sufficient life, and it’s on sale today only for just $19.99!⁣

If you ask me, we would all be wise to invest in our own food security as we head into fall and winter 2020, so click the link in my bio @thehouseandhomestead to grab your bundle now. The sale ends tonight at midnight so don’t wait!!
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