Fertilizers, Pest Control and Soil Management
Preparing Your Vegetable Patch for Next Year's Bounty
As you harvest the last of summer's bounty, it's time to think about preparing for next year. Work you put in now will result in an earlier start and more abundant harvest next year.
Weed and clean up! Weeding out grass before it can spread and other weeds before they can set seed will pay big dividends in less weeding next year. Cleaning up plant debris reduces the chances of disease spores overwintering, and eliminates food and hiding places for slugs and other garden pests. Next, add some dolomite lime at the rate of about five pounds per 100 square feet.
Finally, you'll want to replenish the organic matter and protect your soil from erosion in our winter rains. You have two ways of doing this: mulch the bare soil with a two to three inch layer of compost, or sow a cover crop. Either way, next spring you'll till or dig it in prior to planting.
Everyone knows about compost, but cover crops require a little more explanation. The idea is simple: rather than trucking in compost to add organic matter, grow it in place! The Seattle P-Patches have been using this technique for years.
Plant the cover crop in September or October; let it grow through the winter, then till it under about two to three weeks before you want to start planting. The nutrients the cover crop used are returned to your soil along with all the organic matter the plants have created. Legume cover crops (clover, peas, vetch, and fava beans) actually pull nitrogen from the air and turn it into a plant-usable form, so these plants act as a mild nitrogen fertilizer.
A dense cover crop helps to reduce soil erosion and compaction during our heavy winter rains even better than mulching does. Studies in the Skagit valley show that cover crops also protect the soil from nutrient leaching. Finally, cover crops reduce the growth of winter weeds by shading and smothering them.
Sky Nursery carries the crimson clover favored by the P-Patches, but we also carry winter rye, Austrian peas, vetch, fava, and the Gardenways blend, which is excellent for a range of conditions. See our information sheet in the store or online for the pros and cons of each variety.
Put in a little work now for a bounteous harvest next summer!
Skylights Autumn 2008, Vol 23, No. 3
articles on edibles
articles on fertilizers, pest control and soil management
articles on organic gardening