Friday, October 9, 2009

Mmm, Mmm, Mulch

Every day I look at the calender and it amazes me that it's October - almost MID-October at that! Fall has definitely settled in, bringing its sweaters and puffy vests, mulled cider, and cold rains. If you've had a garden in your backyard like many of my friends and family, you very well have harvested your last vegetable within the last couple weeks. For many of you, this garden was your first, and you may be wondering "what do I do now?" My friend Crystal asked me that same question a while back, telling me that many "new" gardeners might not know what to do with their green patch at the end of the season. Here are some helpful suggestions.

Rake It Up!
If you planted vegetables, there's a lot of plant matter left on the ground. I suggest taking a couple rakes and hoes and remove the plant material from the garden and put it into compost. If you live in an urban area and your backyard space is limited such that you cannot have a compost pile, bag up the debris and shove it to the curb. If you happen to live in the "country," burning the pile is an option, although adding the plant matter to your compost pile is a better option, environmentally. Be sure to check your local village/city's website for appropriate inofmration about public removal of plant wast, burning laws, and composting suggestions. Getting your garden CLEAN will help prevent plant pathogens from entering the soil from the decay of dead plants. This will help keep your next year's crop healthy!

Put Your Back Into It
Renting or borrowing a router-tiller to give your garden a good mixing is a good fall activity. This will help incorporate any leftover fertilizer and plant metter into the soil, building your garden's soil oranic matter and nutrient levels - higher levels of organic matter and nutrients leads of course to happier, healthier plants! Doing so in the fall is better than the spring, when snow thaws and rains can lead to runoff of these valuable resources if left on the soil surface. But before you do bring in the machinery, be sure too...

Mulch It Up!
Mulch (either plant- or animal-based) is a great organic matter builder for any soil, and is a staple for many conventional and organic farmers. Mulch helps build soil fertility by adding nutrient resources, improving soil structure (giving roots room to breate), and brings in "good" microbes that help breakdown matter into forms usable by plants. Adding mulch in the fall will help build your garden's fertility over winter, locking in broken-down nutrients when the upper layers of soil freeze, and later preventing "plant food" from being washed away in the spring.

All of your hard work this fall will bring rewards next summer to your garden. Plus, a long day of hard work makes chick soup taste all the greater in the fall!

Plant on and rock on,

Song for the garden: Night By Night - Chromeo (a shout-out to Pixel - I'll miss your Wild Zeros!)