Its never too early to start planning next year’s garden. Depending on how much of your own indoor seed starting you plan to do, you might need seeds and supplies on hand as early as January! December is a great time to reflect back on this past growing season and try to figure out what you can do next year to improve:
- Did you have too much of any particular crop?
- id you have too little of any crops?
- Did you learn about a new crop that you want to try growing next year? Do you know when that crop should be planted and what its needs are?
- Were you able to keep up with your garden chores this year? Are you considering expanding or contracting the garden space?
- Are there any pest or disease problems you struggled with? Have you researched solutions to the problem?
- Most importantly: how healthy is your garden soil?
No matter what else you do to prepare for this coming season, the health of your soil should be the primary focal point of your strategy. Without healthy soil: your crops will produce less food, you will have more pest and disease problems, and you will have a lot more work to do in the garden trying to solve problems…so lets think about soil for a minute:
1. The health of your plants depends on the health of the soil. This is the main tenet of organic growing: Build healthy soil and you will have healthy plants. And what makes healthy soil? Biological diversity. Your soil is a mini-ecosystem, and it will be healthiest when there are many different insects and microorganisms to keep each other in balance.
2. Your garden soil and garden health will improve with time. When your garden is just getting started, you can add as much compost and fertilizer as you want, but it still takes time for all of the right insects and microbes to arrive and build a healthy, balanced soil system. Nature has its own timeline, and the best thing we can do is try to work within that schedule. So even though your garden will be excellent next year, it should get even better in the future, as long as you follow the guidelines below.
Maintaining Healthy Soil in Your Garden This Winter
Each growing season, the compost in your soil will be broken down into nutrients and absorbed by your crops. To keep your soil in good condition for next season, this winter you can do these things:
- Add compost to increase the amount of organic material and nutrients in the soil.
- heck your soil’s pH.
It is important to add a few inches of compost to your garden beds each year. Fall or winter is a great time to add this supplement because it gives the compost time to break down and release nutrients before the next season and it protects your existing soil from winter rains. If you haven’t added compost to your soil for awhile, any time of year is a good time to add it!
Determining Your Soil’s pH
The pH scale measures acidity and alkalinity. It’s important to know the pH of your soil; if it’s not in the appropriate range, your plants may not be able to absorb all the nutrients you’re providing them.
As you may remember from high school chemistry class, the pH scale ranges from 1 to 14. A substance with a pH of 7 is neutral, 1 is very acidic, and 14 is very alkaline (also called “basic”). The ideal pH range for most vegetables is 6.3 to 6.8.
There are two ways to measure your soil’s pH: You can buy a test kit from your local nursery/hardware store, or you can have your soil professionally tested by a soil lab. Home pH tests give you a good baseline to start from (by the way, we’ve found that litmus paper pH tests, the ones that use the colored paper strips, are more accurate than many battery-powered electric testers), but you’ll get more precise and thorough information from the professionals.
Professional Soil Testing Lab: University of Massachusetts
Correcting Your Soil’s pH
First, note that adding a significant amount of new soil and compost will alter a garden’s pH. If you’re building a new garden, add your new soil and compost first, then test your sample.
If Your Soil Is Too Acidic:
Applying agricultural lime is the easiest way to bring acidic soil into the proper pH range (“lime” as in limestone, not the tasty green citrus fruit). To apply agricultural lime, note the application rate listed on the container, sprinkle it over the surface of the soil, and use a trowel or rake to mix it into the top 2 in. of soil.
If Your Soil Is Too Alkaline:
If your soil is alkaline, you should apply elemental sulfur or another “organic” sulfur-based soil acidifier. To apply elemental sulfur, note the application rate on the container, sprinkle it over the surface of the soil, and use a shovel, trowel, or rake to mix it into the top few inches of soil.