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!

 

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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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First of all, I just want to say a huge THANK YOU for all of the support during this difficult time.

(See my last post from yesterday if you're not sure what I'm talking about).

Second, despite the lows of the past week, it does bring me joy to announce that I've opened up the doors to my Yes, You CAN! home canning course once again, and for a limited time only, I'm offering an additional $20 discount off the total cost of the course.

(Just use code TAKE20 at checkout).

Over the course of 12 video lessons, I'll walk you through everything you need to get started canning food (safely) at home.

You'll learn about canning safety and equipment, how to operate a water bath canner and a pressure canner, and I'll show you in detail how to can everything from jams and pickles to stocks and vegetables.

You'll also get some pretty awesome bonuses, including my Jams and Jellies 4-Part Mini-Series, my brand new Home Canning Handbook (complete with 30 of my favourite canning recipes), and access to our private Facebook group, where you can ask questions and get ongoing support.

Plus, if you enroll before midnight tomorrow night, you'll also get a free copy of my Herbal Infusions Masterclass and eBook, so you can preserve your herbs by making your own extracts, tinctures, oils and herbal medicines.

I hope you'll join me in putting up the harvest this preserving season.
While we may not have control over most things in life, this is one area where we have complete control, and that's a good and comforting feeling.

Click the link in my bio @thehouseandhomestead or go to https://thehouseandhomestead.com/yesyoucan to learn more.

(Remember to use code TAKE20 at checkout to get your discount)

I hope you’ll join me in putting up the harvest this canning season.

While we may not have control over most things in life, this is one area where we have complete control, and that's a good and comforting feeling.
...

We lost a baby last week.

We’ve now lost 4 pregnancies in a row, and every loss is heart-wrenching.

I still don’t have the words to describe what we’re going through, nor the heart to share everything right now. It’s tough to be a content creator whose job revolves around sharing your life with the world when your own world comes crashing down, over and over again.

While I’m in the very unlucky 1% of women who lose three or more pregnancies in a row, I know I’m not alone and that there are many more grieving mamas with broken hearts and unconditional love for their unborn babies.

We don’t talk enough about pregnancy loss and its impact on families. I hope to change that in my own small way as our own family continues to navigate this journey together, but right now we’re healing.

And today we’re celebrating our beautiful Earth Angel’s 5th birthday. I truly don’t know how or if I’d be able to cope with all of the losses without her, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

I’ll be back with more “regularly scheduled content” tomorrow as I’m opening the doors to my home canning course this week, but if I’m otherwise a bit scarce right now, you know why.

Thanks for being here and for your ongoing support through all of the ups and downs 🙏
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I get a lot of questions about how to know if a canning recipe or method is safe.

Often times these messages come from people who have been handed down old canning recipes and cookbooks from their parents and grandparents, or have fond memories of old recipes but want to know if they’re safe to can according to today’s standards.

The fact is, many of the canning recipes and methods that our grandparents and even our parents used are no longer considered safe. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to make them safe!

Join me this Saturday, July 24th for my free live training, How to Stock Your Pantry Like A Pro: 6 Simple Rules for Safe Home Canning.

I’ll teach you what you absolutely MUST know and do to ensure your home canned food is safe to eat, as well as how to safely adapt canning recipes and even how to take favourite recipes and make them safe for canning!

Plus I’ll be answering your canning questions live at the end of the training!

Click the link in my bio @thehouseandhomestead or go to thehouseandhomestead.com/safecanning to save your seat!

In the meantime, leave your canning questions below👇 in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them all on Saturday!

I hope to see you there 😊
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Sometimes when I look at our pantry full of home-canned food, even I find it hard to believe that I started canning just six years ago.

But while I’m 100% confident when it comes to canning food nowadays, I definitely didn’t start out that way.

When I canned my first batch of applesauce, I was so afraid that it would make my baby daughter sick that I refused to feed her a single spoonful, and I ate the rest with my fingers crossed that I’d live to tell the tale!

Then came my first batch of green beans. I hid around the corner as the pressure canner hissed and rattled, afraid it would blow up my kitchen. And after all was said and done, I was so scared to eat the beans that I had lovingly grown from seed and preserved that I ended up tossing every single jar in the garbage. Talk about a waste of food! (Not to mention time and effort).

After A LOT of time spent researching, learning and honing my canning skills, I now can HUNDREDS of jars of food each year, and I do so with absolute confidence knowing that each and every jar is safe to eat.

Nowadays I cringe when I see bad and even downright DANGEROUS canning advice floating around on the Internet (and sadly there’s A LOT of it out there). Because the last thing you want when you’re canning homegrown and/or homemade food for your family is to make them sick… or worse!

Luckily, canning food is 100% safe so long as you know the few simple rules you need to follow.

If you’re ready to start canning your own food at home so that you always have a pantry stocked with healthy, delicious and SAFE home-canned food to feed your family, ai’m hosting a free webinar this Saturday, July 24th where I’ll be teaching you the 6 simple rules for safe home canning, as well as how to safely tweak and adapt canning recipes, and even how you can take a favourite family recipe and make it safe to can.

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You may know him from his popular YouTube channel, @thejustinrhodesshow or like me, you may have first discovered him from his 2018 feature-length documentary, The Great American Farm Tour. Or maybe you’ve been lucky enough to have met him in person at one of the Homesteaders Of America conferences. Either way, odds are if you’ve been part of the modern homesteading world for any length of time, you’ve probably come across Justin Rhodes and his family before. And if you haven’t, then I'm thrilled to be the one to introduce you to the man of the hour!

A self-proclaimed "apron-wearing, permaculture chicken ninja-master," Justin opens up his permaculture homestead to almost one million people every week through his YouTube channel and inspires people to live a more sustainable and abundant life through homesteading, and specifically, through implementing permaculture principles and practices to their own homesteads in order to work smarter, not harder and produce more with less input.

He sat down with me for the permaculture issue of Modern Homesteading Magazine to talk more about his own personal philosophy and approach to homesteading, work and life in general, and to help break down the principles of permaculture into practical steps and concrete examples that anybody can understand and use to lessen their own workload while increasing their yields, and to bring a little bit of permaculture to their own homesteads, no matter how big or small.

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Have you ever gleaned food before??⁠

If you're not familiar with gleaning, it's basically the act of harvesting and collecting excess or unwanted crops so that they don’t go to waste. Historically, gleaning was actually considered a human right in parts of Europe and the middle east. In fact, the right to glean was even written into the Old Testament!⁠

It was common practice to leave the excess crops in the field for the poor and peasant class to come glean, and in 18th century England it was the legal right of those without enough land of their own to grow food, to glean the fields of local farms after the majority of the crops were harvested. Similar laws existed in France too at the time.⁠

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This might sound a little crazy for a seasoned canner who knows what they’re doing, but it’s a legitimate fear for new home canners who don’t yet understand the process. ⁠

In the end I did eat it myself, and lived to tell the tale! But I was too scared to feed it to Evelyn until about a year later when I was confident in what I was doing.⁠

Nowadays we can hundreds of jars of food every year, both with our water bath canner and our pressure canner. But if you're just starting out, water bath canning is the way to go. It's easy, it doesn't require a lot of special equipment, and there are sooo many foods that can be water bath canned and preserved for the winter!⁠

Jams, jellies, pickles, pie fillings, sauces and salsas, fruits and fruit butters... The possibilities aren't exactly endless, but there are enough recipes to keep you going for a long time without ever getting bored.⁠

Now is the time to learn how to can if you haven't yet! I'll be opening the doors to my canning course next week, but in the meantime, click the ink in my bio @thehouseandhomestead or go to https://thehouseandhomestead.com/water-bath-canning-beginners/ to get started!
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🧺 I've heard some horror stories about homemade laundry detergent.

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It's enough to scare you away from ever trying to make your own laundry detergent at home 😱

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I sent a pretty vulnerable email out to my readers last weekend…

(Post 1/2)

I admitted that I spent my Sunday morning “crying in my coffee” because I feel like I’m really struggling in the garden this year; Moreso than any other year.

Our beans have been decimated multiple times by pill bugs (they even outsmarted my Diatomaceous Earth AND peppermint oil applications by resorting to eating the bean sprouts underground before they even had a chance to sprout!). Our cucumbers and squash are growing at a snail’s pace, and I’m still troubleshooting to figure out why. We’ve just overcome blossom end rot on our zucchinis and have yet to even taste one (normally they’re big enough to beat someone over the head with already). And I suspect the heatwave put a stop to our broccoli production, because we’ve got big leafy plants with no offshoots, and heads that were smaller than my fist this year.

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We also have our own compost for the first time ever.

(Continued in comments).
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*** CONTEST CLOSED ***

Congratulations to our winner @suzi.mayhem !!! Check your DMs for a message from me on how to claim your prize!

🍀Are you feeling lucky???

Because it’s time for a GIVEAWAY!!!

To celebrate Modern Homesteading Magazine’s upcoming two-year milestone, and in appreciation of our current sponsor @planttherapy (my favourite essential oils company in the world), we’re giving away a one-year membership level subscription to Modern Homesteading Magazine, which includes unlimited access to our entire digital library of issues, PLUS a 7&7 Set of essential oils from Plant Therapy.

To enter:

✨Like this post
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✨Tag as many friends as you like below who might also be interested in this giveaway (every person you tag = an entry to win!)
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Contest ends Wednesday, July 14th at midnight PST. Winner will be announced on July 15th.

In the meantime, if you haven’t yet subscribed (for free) to receive new issues of Modern Homesteading Magazine straight to your inbox, head to the link in my bio to subscribe OR become a member and get access to all past issues right away! (If you win and you’re already a member, you can either choose to get your next year free once your membership is up for renewal, or you can gift your membership to a loved one:)

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Links in bio @thehouseandhomestead to check out all of the above ☺️

Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favour!
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Recipe link in bio @thehouseandhomestead or go to https://thehouseandhomestead.com/can-homemade-cherry-pie-filling/

Summer pie season (and canning season) has officially arrived 😉
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🍔 It took me 33 years to try making my own hamburgers from scratch.

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But if I’m being really honest, I never liked homemade burgers patties growing up. They were always dry and flavourless. My mom would bulk hers up with breads crumbs and huge chunks of onion, hardly any seasoning and then she’d cook them until they were charred and very well done. So when I grew up I found a grocery store brand that I liked and we always just bought those, along with some store-bought buns and called it good.

But as I started making my own mayo and BBQ sauce and pickles and relish and started topping our burgers with homegrown tomatoes and lettuce, I just couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I was using store-bought buns and patties.

Now, don’t get me wrong: we use store-bought burgers as they’re good in a pinch, but we’ve also perfected our homemade burger game, from the patties to the buns to the condiments and everything else in between!

The secret to our homemade patties is using grass fed beef and BACON. And no extra filler, other than seasoning (salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and Worcestershire sauce).

But what really makes these next level are freshly made homemade hamburger buns! There is nothing like homemade bread of any kind, and hamburger buns are no exception. Plus they’re quicker and easier than you might think to whip together!

Click the link in my bio to get the full recipes for both my homemade Beef & Bacon Burger Patties AND my Homemade Hamburger Buns. You’ll also find links to my Homemade Mayo and Homemade Rhubarbecue Sauce to top your burgers with:)

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