By now most of our fall planting is behind us, the long warm summer days are over and the arrival of the first hard freeze is on its way. This time of year we tend to forget about our summer garden, thinking there is not much to do until next spring. However, there is much that we can do now to prepare for the spring vegetable gardening season that will give us great results.
First, have your soil tested. Especially if you havenít had it tested in a few years. Soil test tell us what our soil ph and nutrient content is, and no matter where you live, your garden soil may be high or low in a particular nutrient. Having your soil tested now gives you plenty of time to add the necessary mineral amendments and incorporate them into the soil. You will also beat the spring rush of soil testing, getting your results back sooner. We (Extension Office) have all the necessary forms, bags and instructions for taking a soil sample if you choose to use the Texas A&M Soils Lab.
Second, you can add organic material to your soils through composting. Organic matter helps sandy soils hold moisture while helping clay soils drain well by building their internal structure. One method of adding organic material is to spread organic material (leaves, pine needles, manure etc.) over the soil surface and rototill or spade this into the soil. Just remember not to spread over 2 to 3 inches of material at a time; otherwise it will be too thick for the rototiller to work properly. Once you have rototilled the soil, spread more material and repeat. Also, leaves will be falling, and thatís a good time to stockpile leaves for future composting or to make a compost pile. Now is the time to decide what type of composting system you will use so that you will be prepared to hold the leaves until they are needed. If adding compost or organic matter to your garden, always test your soils to monitor nutrient levels. Organic matter, compost, manures, etc. all have nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potash) in them, and applying them year after year while not producing enough from the garden to utilize the nutrients can cause the nutrient levels to increase. In some cases they can become unbalanced and cause issues with plant growth and utilization of those nutrients.
Another method to improve soil is to plant a winter cover crop. These cover crops are grown to simply protect the soil surface over winter and produce more organic matter to turn under to build the soil. Legumes contribute extra nitrogen to the soil by fixing it in nodules on the roots. Cover crops need to be turned under several weeks prior to planting in order to give them time to decompose before the garden plants are set out.
If you currently donít have a garden and would like one for next season, now is the time to prepare your planting bed. If you live in an area where soil depth is very limited, or you donít have enough space, you may want to build a raised bed or buy containers for a container garden. Youíll want to start now, purchasing materials or containers and good gardening mix soil to fill the raised bed or container.
Whit Weems is an Erath County extension agent. His column appears weekly and online at yourstephenvilletx.com.