Developing a plan should be your first step. What are your goals? Growing fall vegetables? Adding nitrogen back in the soil? After identifying your goals, what are the necessary actions? This is an extremely important step because it leads directly to the third step, resources. Once goals are in place, you need to make sure the necessary resources to achieve the goals are obtainable. If not, the plan will need to be modified. Some things to consider are location, layout, soil health, crop rotations, planting methods, and weed control.
A key to successful gardening is having good soil health. The Soil Science Society of America defines soil health as the fitness of a specific kind of soil, to function within its capacity and within natural or managed ecosystem boundaries, to sustain plant and animal productivity, maintain or enhance water and air quality, and support human health and habitation. A key aspect of good soil health is soil organic matter. Soil organic matter can act as a slow release fertilizer, increases the soil’s water holding capacity, buffers the pH, supports good soil drainage and aggregation, and has major positive impacts on overall yield.
Part of having good soil health is having good soil fertility. Soil fertility is defined as what the soil is capable of doing if under the best possible conditions. When most of us here the term soil fertility we think of fertilization. While this is true, how do we know the amount of nutrients that need to be added to the soil? Soil test. If you do not soil test, it is just a guess. Soil testing will help us reach the “best possible conditions” while minimizing waste and ultimately saving us money. Also, lime reacts slowly with the soil, so fall is a great time to apply it.
In the fall and winter, the cold temperatures limit root growth and phosphorus uptake. Fertilizing with a liquid fertilizer with a high percent of soluble phosphorus will often help young plants start to grow.
As you transition from summer to fall, the garden will need to be amended again. These amendments may include fertilization, and the incorporation of more organic matter. These practices will help ensure that the nutrients used by the last crop are being replenished back into the soil. Also, if you plan on seeding fall/winter vegetables, consider planting 1 ½ to 2 times deeper into the soil.
For more information of fall gardening or other topics, please call the Jones County Extension Office at 478-986-3958.