*Part 5 of 5 of my Gardening 101 series.*
You've picked your last tomato, and your plants have stopped producing. Now what? Your garden adventure isn't quite over yet. You still need to put your garden to "bed" in the fall, which will give you a jump start on next year's growing season.
Adding to the compost pile: Pull up your dying plants and add them to your compost pile. Make sure there aren't any old shriveled up fruits or seeds still attached to them, throw those away in the trash, or burn them. *NOTE* Remove diseased or insect-infested plant material. This will reduce the risk of those diseases and pest problems popping up in next years garden. This debris should be bagged and put in the trash or burned, not in the compost pile. (I'll be doing a post, and hopefully a video as well on how to start a simple compost pile in the near future. Stay tuned!)
Remove Weeds: Don’t let those weeds overwinter in your garden. Clean them out to prevent them from going to seed, and popping up before you even get a chance to start on your garden next year.
Till the soil: Loosening the soil will make it easier for the amendments you are about to add to soak into the soil.
Add Organic Matter: Add compost, aged manure, and chopped leaves to your soil. Once you've added them, till your garden one more time to get them mixed into your soil thoroughly. So collect those leaves as they fall, place them in a pile, and run your lawn mower over them a few times. This will chop them up into smaller pieces, which will help it decompose faster in your garden soil.
Plant a cover crop, or "green manure" Green manure, or a cover crop isn't absolutely nessasary, but is a definite plus in my book. Not only does it add valuable nutrients to your soil, it also helps protect it from those nutrients leaching out of your bare soil during the winter months, as well as prevent erosion and weeds. It adds valuable organic material, along with plant loving nitrogen to the soil as the plants break down. Good choices are annual ryegrass, buckwheat, winter field peas, crimson clover, and white mustard. I like using a mixture of the winter field peas, crimson clover, and white mustard, as the peas and clover add nitrogen, while the mustard helps fight garden diseases. Sowing a cover crop is quite easy, just scatter the seed like you’re feeding chickens, then lightly rake the seeds into the soil. Make sure to plant the cover crop at least 4 to 6 weeks before your expected first frost, so it has time to grow before dying off from the cold. Give your soil one last till after they start dying, and you are good to go. *NOTE* If your cover crop starts flowering before the cold has a chance to kill it off, you will want to go ahead and till it under before it can go to seed.
And that's it! Following these steps will help ensure a healthy, productive garden next year, without having to use harsh chemicals and fertilizers.
I hope you have enjoyed my Gardening 101 series. If you have any questions, or some gardening advice of your own, please share them in the comments below.