By Clint Kearns
Ah, fall. The time when our thoughts and garden labors turn to putting beds to rest, stuffing the compost bin with the leftover vegetation and draining our irrigation lines.
But it doesn’t have to be a time of ending; cool fall days are an ideal time to begin something new. Whether you are an old hand or wrapping up your first experience gardening in 2020, it’s likely you could make some improvements for next year.
You might choose to run a tiller or double dig to break up hard soil to prep a new bed, or turn in compost and other amendments to improve an existing bed to increase your harvest next year. Perhaps an underperforming area would benefit from some slow-release fertilizer, or several bags of quality compost applied at about a 3-inch thickness.
Maybe you discovered the challenges associated with pocket gophers. Now with the soil loose from harvesting your potatoes, it’s a good time to try an exclusion technique. Remove all the soil down several inches and line the garden bed with half-inch galvanized hardware cloth, folded up on the perimeter. Hopefully, this will deter tunneling critters from feasting on your root crops.
Improving your soil’s tilth, amending and then covering your new bed with a water-permeable cover, such as straw, cardboard or weed barrier fabric, will allow the soil chemistry and beneficial insects to go to work under a layer of winter snow. I tilled a new bed, turned in compost and fertilizer, covered it in hay and mulched around the perimeter. It will get several good waterings until the weather and soil gets too cold. As long as the soil is above about 45 degrees, you should keep watering your beds and trees.
The National Weather Service – Climate Prediction Center’s extended outlook for the next six months shows a 50% to 60% trend of warmer and drier than normal conditions for Southwest Colorado. Soil is a living organism, and your garden will need support through these difficult times. So get out there and show it some love in the wonderful fall weather.
Clint Kearns is a Colorado master gardener and La Plata County resident. Get Growing, written by the La Plata County Extension Office’s Master Gardener Program, provides timely tips and suggestions for your garden and landscape.