Thursday, November 1, 2012

Starting a garden: What to do in the Fall

If you're thinking of starting a garden this is a good time of year to begin.  In the northern part of the country the ground will be freezing soon, but even in our northern location it's still soft enough to work.  Turning the soil over in the Fall will kill off a lot of the grass or weeds that are growing on the site where you want your garden to be. 
In this picture my husband is using a rototiller to turn over the soil on his sister's garden site.  This garden was just started last year, so it has been plowed up before, making it easier for him to run the tiller through it.  If you have a tiller or access to one, it'll make your job a lot simpler and less work.  You might be able to offer gas money to a neighbor who owns one, in return for having him/her come over and work up your ground for you.
Otherwise you can tackle the job with a shovel.  Don't try to make it look pretty and plowed like a field.  Just jam the shovel in the ground every few inches and turn the dirt over.  In the spring you can chop it up more, but if all you have time for is to turn over the dirt, then at least you've gotten started.
If you have a lot of leaves or can get them from other yards, pile them next to your garden site.  If your winter is mild enough, go out a few times over the winter and stir them up or turn them over.  In our part of the country they get wet and freeze into a solid clump.  Grass clipping can be piled this way too, throughout the growing season.  Leaves and grass add nutrients to the soil and they also add "loam", which breaks up hard soil such as clay.  We've added so much grass, leaves, and old hay that we can shove our arms into the dirt almost to our elbows.
Don't spread a thick layer of leaves or other plant matter on top of the soil where you want to plant a garden if you live in a cold climate.  In the spring it'll keep the soil from thawing and warming.  It's better to compost the plant matter in a pile and spread it in the spring. 
If you have no place to get leaves or grass, consider putting a notice on free bulletin boards asking for old hay or straw to use for composting for your garden.  A lot of times farmers and horse owners will get rid of old hay and straw when they buy a fresh supply for the upcoming winter. 
A lot of people don't have pick-up trucks these days, so you'll have to use other options to get your hay or straw home.  If your car has a roof rack you might be able to put a bale or two up there and tie it down with rope, straps, or bungee cords.  You can also buy some of those huge "lawn and leaf" garbage bags and slip one over a bale, tie it shut, and put it in the truck or back seat of your car.
Even if you can't get any of those things, or don't have time, it's still good to at least start with breaking the ground of your garden site.  If you have the funds you can buy compost and other soil enhancers at garden centers of even Wal-mart in the spring.  I'd wait until then.  Why have the nutrients leaching into the soil over the winter while nothing is planted?
Here at home we grow organically, mostly because we have access to what we need to make compost and build up our soil.  But I would buy products like plant food, miracle grow, or whatever I could find, to help my plants along if I had no other choice.  Some people probably oppose that thought, but it's one step better than buying regular commercial produce.  At least it's grown locally and probably not as heavily sprayed or treated as agribusiness produce.  Plus it gives a person the chance to learn how to garden.
If you don't have room for a regular garden you could build raised beds out of any kind of landscape trim, even those cheap rolls of black plastic edging for flower beds.  Or plan for container gardening.  There are often books on the kindle free downloads on the subject of container gardening.  A good place to watch for them is on this site:  She does a daily post with free e-books related to gardening, food storage, cooking, preparedness, and healthy living.  She makes no money off these free downloads, so I'm not promoting something that benefits anyone except you, the reader!
As we get toward spring I'll post more steps on starting your garden.  I welcome any additional information you have on this subject, especially input from a variety of climates and gardning conditions.  There is no 'one size fits all'!


  1. Don't forget the cheapest fertilizer of all: your own urine, diluted 1 to 10.

    1. I have a friend in Ohio that tried it with her tomatoes. It worked well and they got great tomatoes this year! Some people might think it's kind of gross, but sometimes you do what you have to do, and producing food can be something we have to do!

      Thanks for bringing this up.