What do you need to do to get ready for next year’s garden now? First you should consider what kind of plants you will grow, the size of your garden, soil PH levels, whether you will grow organically or conventionally, & soil preparation. You should start to decide now what type of plants you will be growing. For example Summer Squash, Winter Squash, Peas, Beans, Melons, Rhubarb, Lettuce, Tomatoes ect. These are separated into cool or warm weather crops. Peas, Beans, and Lettuce are cool weather crops that you will plant seed in March.Summer Squash, Winter Squash, Melons, & Tomatoes are warm weather crops that are typically planted after Mother’s Day in Colorado. Although you want to consider which of these types of vegetables you want to plant you don’t need to worry about the different varieties yet.
Next you should determine the size of your garden and soil PH levels. For larger gardens you may want to have a soil test done. The CSU county extension office does free soil testing, and they will be able to tell you what you need to add to your soil for the different vegetables. Contact your county extension office for further information. Also, your can get a soil testing kit from your home improvement stores garden center. However, sometimes people choose to have their soil tested even for small gardens, so it is entirely up to you. (Soil PH is not necessary, but it will be helpful to your success.)PH range for common vegetables:
You should also consider whether you want to grow conventionally or organically. Conventional growing habits include chemical fertilization, pesticides, fungicides, weed killers ect. You can spray weedy areas prior to planting & depending on the weed killer during the growing season. Pesticides will kill harmful as well as beneficial bugs. Fungicides fight disease spoors in the soil, microorganisms – again the beneficial organisms will be killed along with the bad ones, and other fungi related plant diseases. Chemical fertilizers typically need to be applied several times during the growing season. Read all labels carefully for directions. You can kill or hurt your plants if you don’t apply according to the directions!!!You can purchase most of the fertilizers ect at your garden center. It is a good idea to ask if any weed killers you plan to purchase will kill you vegetables or any plants you want to keep in the surrounding area. We do not recommend using conventional chemicals as many feel it is not as healthy. Most people do not realize just what is in those chemicals. For example chemical fertilizers base is petroleum and pesticides use a base of natural gas.
Organic growing methods use alternate methods to chemicals to achieve the same thing. Organic fertilizers such as manure typically need to be applied several weeks before you plant so that the excessive Nitrogen and Ammonium that the manure gives off will not burn your plants.Another great way to fertilize is to use an organic fertilizer called Biosol. This great fertilizer can be applied at any time as it is a slower releasing fertilizer and will not burn your plants. This is the fertilizer we use to grow our produce. I do not know of any chain store that carries it yet, but we can supply you with it. For garden preparation apply at a rate of 14 pounds per 1,000 sq. feet. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.Typically you apply a larger amount of Biosol early in the spring before you plant, then apply a smaller amount 2-3 times through the growing season for best results.
There are a couple things you should do for soil preparation. These are best done around February-March.
1. Tilling: I recommend tilling in the spring before you plant, even if you till in the fall too. This way the soil will be loose and have good germination and plant establishment properties. You can till in the fall which helps the soil by allowing plant matter to decompose longer, but those of you with a large garden that is exposed to a lot of wind you need to plant a cover crop to prevent erosion.
Below is an excerpt from Soil Preparation by Alex X. Niemiera, Extension Horticulturist, Virginia Tech.
“Gardeners often wonder whether to plow/till in the spring or fall. Working the soil in the fall has several advantages over the traditional, spring plowing. Fall soil preparation allows for earlier spring planting, since the basic soil preparation is already done when spring arrives. Turning under large amounts of organic matter is likely to result in better decomposition when done in the fall, when temperatures are higher than in the early spring, and there is more time for the process to take place. Insects, disease organisms, and perennial weeds may be reduced by killing or inactivating them through burial or exposure to harsh winter weather. The physical condition of heavy clay soils may be improved by the alternate freezing and thawing, which breaks up tightly aggregated particles. Also, snow is trapped between the hills of roughly plowed soil, so more moisture is retained than on flat, bare ground. Incorporation of limestone or relatively insoluble fertilizers in the fall gives these amendments more time to react with the soil and influence spring plant growth.
Fall plowing alone is not recommended for hillside or steep garden plots, because it leaves the soil exposed all winter and subjects it to erosion when the spring rains come. If a winter cover crop is grown to improve soil and prevent erosion, the ground will have to be tilled in the fall to prepare the soil for seed and again in spring to turn under the green manure (cover crop; to be discussed). Spring plowing is better for sandy soils and those where shallow tilling is practiced. Generally, most gardens must be disked or rotary tilled in the spring to smooth the soil for planting.”
2. Soil Amendment: soil amendments primary purpose is to enhance the soil to the best growing conditions. They adjust the PH level, add nutrients, increase aeration, and increase the soils ability to retain water. You can use wood ashes as a soil amendment. They contain potash (potassium), phosphate, boron, and other elements. Wood ashes also raise the soil pH. Ashes should not come into contact with germinating seedlings or plant roots as they may cause root burn. Spread in a thin layer over the winter, and incorporate it into the soil; check the pH yearly if you use wood ashes. Never use coal ashes or large amounts of wood ash (no more than 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet), as toxicity problems may occur.
Your garden may need other amendments added specifically to improve its soil nutrient levels. Granite meal is a source of potassium. Granite meal is finely ground granite rock that releases its potassium slowly. it should not be considered a sole nutrient source. Other nutritional amendments you can purchase for garden use include cottonseed meal, kelp meal, bone meal, leather meal, and worm castings, as well as an array of synthetic (inorganic) fertilizers. The organic amendments are particularly useful where a trace-element deficiency exists, while synthetic fertilizers are generally more available, less expensive, and have quicker results. The need for any of the previously mentioned amendments will be determined by your soil-test results.
Amendments to improve soil qualitiesOrganic matter is a great improver for both clay and sandy soils. Compost, manures, leaf mold, sawdust, and organic amendments improve soil structure and thereby increase its water-holding capacity, aeration, and water infiltration. These materials are decomposed in the soil by soil organisms and their byproducts release plant nutrients and provide sites for nutrient retention. Various factors, such as moisture, temperature, and nitrogen availability, determine the rate of decomposition through their effects on these organisms. Adequate water must be present, and warm temperatures will increase the rate at which the microbes work. The proper balance of carbon and nitrogen in the material is needed to ensure adequate nutrient availability both to growing plants and decomposing organisms. Adding nitrogen may be necessary if large amounts of undecomposed leaves, straw, sawdust, or other high-carbon substances are used. Nitrogen is used by the decayers to make proteins for their own bodies, and if it is not present in sufficient amounts, the microbes have no qualms about stealing the plants’ share. Generally, fresh green wastes, such as grass clippings, are higher in nitrogen than is dry material.
Using compost is one way to get around the decomposition problem. A gardener usually makes compost from plant and/or animal wastes. Correct composting is an art that can result in a valuable nutrient and humus source for any garden. The basis of the process is based on the microbial decomposition of mixed, raw, organic materials to a dark, fluffy product resembling rich soil, which is then spread and worked into the garden soil.
Amendments to change pH and nutrient levels Lime and sulfur are common amendments to change soil pH. The correct soil pH is essential for optimum plant growth. Dolomitic limestone (calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate) adds calcium and magnesium and increases the pH. Agricultural (elemental) sulfur is used to acidify alkaline soil. The amount to add depends on the current and the desired pHs, which is one good reason to have garden soil checked periodically.
What you need to do the most now is decide what types of vegetables you want to grow, how large you want your garden, how serious you are, and what you are willing to do to make this upcoming year as successful as possible. If you want to plant a perennial bed such as Asparagus or Rhubarb you should really consider having your soil tested because those perennial crops require building up the soil before planting and if conditions are right a bed of Rhubarb or Asparagus can last for 15 years or more.
After considering these various things, don’t worry you will learn as you go about doing your garden. Enjoy taking the time to plan how you are going to do your garden, and go at the pace you feel comfortable with and remember to do it in a way that you will have peace. God bless.