The Oklahoman

Improve soil now for spring vegetable garden

- Chris McKeown

Vegetable gardening is very gratifying when we successful­ly harvest the food we’ve worked so hard to grow. Vegetable gardening is not for the weekend gardener. It takes dedication, as vegetable gardens need to be tended to on a semi-daily basis during the growing season. This week I’d like to offer you some tips on how to be better prepared to have a productive vegetable garden next season.

To grow strong, healthy vegetables, you first need to have strong, healthy soil. If you’re considerin­g a vegetable garden next year, you should decide soon because fall is a great time to prepare your soil for planting next spring. The same applies to existing vegetable gardens. After a successful growing season, gardens are often left tired and with needed nutrients depleted.

The best way to getting strong, healthy soil is by adding compost. Compost is to soil what a healthy, well-balanced diet is to a human body. Compost replenishe­s and feeds soil by adding all types of life-giving organic material, microbes and nutrients. It this material in a form that is easy for plants to absorb and take in.

During the growing season, compost improves the ability of the soil to absorb and retain moisture. This is a great benefit, as we have hot dry summers. Soil with the right balance of compost will make the rainfall we do receive more beneficial, while at the same time reducing the need for supplement­al watering.

It is best to work the compost into the top couple inches of the existing soil. It should be manually cultivated into the soil. If you want to use a tiller, I recommend you use a mini-tiller so that you are still only working in the first couple inches of the soil.

It is not necessary to use a large tiller. If you do, you will be tilling too deep and will need considerab­ly more compost than is necessary.

Another concern of tilling deeply is the possibilit­y you will wind up with a bumper crop of weeds in with your vegetables next spring. There are thousands of weed seeds lying dormant deep in the soil. Tilling brings them to the surface, where they will germinate and grow.

Compost can come in different forms. It is very common for gardeners to have a compost pile as a sustainabl­e way to reuse garden waste. If you do not have a compost pile, fall is a great time to start one while you are cleaning up the landscape. Starting a compost pile now will not provide you with usable compost this fall.

If you need compost, it can be purchased at garden stores. A great product to use is from Baccto and simply called “The Cow.” It is a combinatio­n of odor free manure with composted peat. It is OMRI listed, making it safe to use in organic gardens.

You can also use falling leaves to improve your soil if they are shredded. Shredded leaves will decompose quickly, adding fresh organic matter into the soil. The shredding can be done with the lawn mower.

Just like compost, work the shredded leaves into the top couple inches of the soil in the garden. Avoid using oak leaves. They are too acidic and can have a negative effect on the garden.

 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? Add organic matter now to improve your soil for planting next spring.
GETTY IMAGES Add organic matter now to improve your soil for planting next spring.

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