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10 Ways to Prepare Your Fall Garden

As August continues, I am looking toward the fall (and, then, winter), thinking about what preparations I need to be making on the farm. Below are ten tasks that I have already started or have on my list for August and September as I look ahead.

Start hardy annual seeds. I have already started seeds for hardy annuals and am regularly watering and fertilizing those seedlings as they grow under grow lights. If you haven't started seeds yet, start them now. Don't wait.

Plant seedlings. I will need to get those seedlings in the ground in August so they can get a head start on winter. Seedlings are planted into prepared beds and regularly fertilized with weed tea.

Pull out and prepare hoops and take stock of row cover for the seedlings who benefit from an additional layer of protection from the cold. Now is the time to place an order for new row cover, if needed.

Clean up beds. As I finish using beds that had spring or summer flowers, I will cut out plants at the base of the stem and clean up any debris that I don't want on the bed. For most plants, I just leave the stalks on the bed to break down and decompose over time; however, there are some crops like dahlias and roses where I remove the debris and haul it to the burn pile. Another challenge to cleaning up flower beds may be weeds. I get it. Some of my beds look amazing with mulch and compost. Others are losing the battle to the encroaching grass and weeds. This is the week that I suit up and rip out the offenders, turning the majority into liquid gold.

Broadfork beds. After pulling out a crop, I like to take a pass over the bed with a broadfork to let in oxygen and break up compacted soil.

Plant cover crop. If the bed will not be used for hardy annuals or perennials, I plant a cover crop. However, you could also experiment with planting a cover crop around hardy annuals and perennials. If you do that, make sure that it is killed with cold weather.

Plant fall bulbs. In late September/early October, some of the flower beds will get turned over to tulip, ranunculus, and anemone bulbs. I will make sure to have hoops over the ranunculus and anemone beds. The tulip beds may get emergency hoops in case the temperature dips really low.

Collect leaves. As we get closer to fall, when trees start dropping their leaves, we begin to mow and collect those leaves. I prefer to have the leaves run over by the mower into smaller pieces, but I use leaves in all shapes and sizes.

Mulch beds. If a bed doesn't have a fall crop or cover crop, it gets mulched with the leaves. Many of the beds on the farm will get leaf cover over the winter. In the spring, we pull the leaves off and add them to the compost pile or work them into the soil with the broadfork.

Turn compost. Any extra leaves get added to the compost pile, along with chicken bedding and garden scraps. We usually end up starting a new pile in the fall as we have used up the compost that developed over the summer.

Bonus (I couldn't help myself): Get your soil tested now. Avoid a backlog in the spring and get your soil tested now so that you have enough time to add amendments and prepare for the spring.

For seasonal garden preparation strategies, check out Winter, Spring, and Summer.


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