To start this introductory post I cannot help but focus on just one word that completely encompasses my overwhelming emotion at the moment: gratitude. I am in complete awe and excitement over this place and the people around me. It’s only been a few weeks since we have arrived and there is so much ahead that is still unknown. I feel very settled here and thrilled about the inundation of so much new and interesting information; all the while being surrounded by the most extraordinary people. I am honored to be a part of this community and to share this experience with you!
In one of our recent sessions we were learning how to best prepare our garden beds for the winter ahead so that our soils are ready for spring planting. Prior to this class, I naively believed that once the garden stops producing anything you just ignore it until the following spring. Here at Maggie’s Farm we take the time to give back to our soil after the intense growing season we’ve just left. After all, the soil only has so much to give, and if we don’t give back to it, we will begin to see a loss of productivity and fertility in the years ahead.
Here’s what we do in the fall to “shut down” the garden:
- Clear off any debris from what was growing previously by cutting it back or pulling out completely. Add this to your compost as there are still nutrients those plants have to give as they break down further.
- If you have very thick weeds or sod that have taken over (or has worked its way in from the edges, diminishing your bed space) use a fork to loosen it up. Insert fork vertically into the ground and wiggle, strongly pushing back and forth, to loosen and separate the grass roots. Note: You are not turning the soil, just wiggling the fork back and forth to make weed removal easier. You can also edge along the sides to re-establish the intended bed size that has inevitably shrunk over the course of the growing season. Afterwards, come back through and remove the weeds, shaking off as much soil as you can in the process. If the bed is already bare, feel free to bypass this step of the process.
- Once the soil is bare, use a broad fork to aerate the soil. If you do not have a broadfork, a regular fork can be used similarly to the above step. A broadfork seems to be a fairly simple tool, but do not underestimate the time and energy a tool with great leverage can provide! Working in a backwards direction, simply step on the horizontal bar to insert the prongs into the soil and tilt the handles towards you all the way to the ground. Move about five inches behind and repeat until the entire bed has been aerated. Aeration puts oxygen into the soil and allows the limestone and compost to be more easily incorporated into the soil.
- After the aeration we add a layer of compost (ours is decomposed leaves, cow manure and bedding that has broken down over the last two years) at the rate of about ¾ of a five-gallon bucket for every 10 feet of bed. Spread fairly evenly across the soil so that the entire bed gets a bit of compost.
- Our soils are slightly acidic so we take the time now to add an amendment to our soil, to help keep the pH level in the right range. Plants can best take up the nutrients from soil when there is a mid-level pH, as opposed to either end of the alkaline-acidic spectrum. We know where our soils stand in that spectrum due to the results of our yearly soil samples, as well as generally knowing that New England soils tend to be more acidic as a whole. We shake on a thin dusting of limestone to help amend our soils which will slowly take effect over the coming weeks and months. Think of sifting powdered sugar on a chocolate cake and sprinkle the limestone at a similar rate. Then we used a grading rake on the surface, lightly, to gently work the limestone and compost into the soil.
- Next we add leaves from under our (mainly) maple trees. Maple leaves are less acidic than the leaves of some tree species and therefore they are preferred to add to the soil as it will not significantly alter the pH in a direction opposite to what we’re trying to achieve. We added a fairly thick layer of leaves as they are an abundant and free resource that we have to use, perhaps 4-6” or so. The leaves will continue to break down and add organic matter to the soil.
- Following the leaves we add a thin layer of hay to the top that will also slowly break down. The hay is then covered with netting and weighed down with rocks to keep everything in place over the long winter ahead. Now your soil is ready for the long winter ahead and will be in a great position for spring planting!
Happy Soil Prepping! ~Amber