A good summer garden starts in the fall. My garden is (mostly) living proof that you can have a decent summer harvest even if you do nothing until the very last minute. In this instance it wasn’t because I was negligent, we moved to this home on March 28, two weeks before my regular planting date. I was ripping up grass, throwing stuff in the ground, and hoping for the best. Even for a non-planner like me it was a little too chaotic.
For my garden, decent isn’t good enough. Good isn’t really good enough. I want the biggest, best, and most nutritious. If I’m going to put out all this work, by golly, I want the best possible harvest! I’m very excited to be starting my summer garden properly…in the fall.
We covered some of this in the “Prep” portion of my fall planting series, but I want to go into more detail because I really believe this is the most important time of the year.
- Mulch- Keeping the ground covered in winter is particularly important to prevent erosion of our precious topsoil. The original topsoil depth that used to be 20 inches is now 7 and we continue to lose soil at the rate of about 1% year. If the ground isn’t covered in the winter then weeds and grass, nature’s erosion control, won’t be able to take over and once topsoil is gone, there is no getting it back. (need some free mulch ideas?)
- Cover crops- Another option to prevent soil erosion is the use of cover crops. Local gardener Calvin Bey suggests Austrian winter peas and oats (common) both of which will be growing in my garden over the winter. Cereal rye is another option for winter growing, but it’s extremely deep root system can make it difficult to remove in the spring. As a member of the legume family, Austrian winter peas are nitrogen fixers – they add nitrogen to the soil as they grow – so they are an excellent choice for beds intended for heavy feeders like corn and tomatoes. If you’re growing a winter cover, plant it before the end of September.
- Lasagna gardening- Perhaps the best way to prep a brand new bed is using the lasagna method. Lay newspaper, cardboard, or paper bags on the desired garden location and cover with compost, wood chips, grass clippings, or leaves. The paper goods will suffocate weeds while attracting earthworms to aerate the soil. Instead of tilling in the spring, we simply dig holes for our plants through the layers and add more mulch.
If you are interested in seeing these methods in action, I will be offering a class at the end of October in my little backyard garden. I will be taking reservations since space is limited so follow me on facebook to be the first to get the details. Just because we are talking about prepping for next year, it doesn’t mean this season is over! Visit 20by20 for a list of veggies that can be planted outdoors right now.