If you ask any seasoned vegetable gardener about their soil and how they keep it healthy, you’ll probably get a bunch of different answers. But the message will be the same: Invest in your soil. Autumn is a perfect time to improve soil because there are many organic materials you can collect and add to your garden beds, including the three that follow:
Adding shredded leaves to my raised beds is one of my favorite ways to enrich garden soil. Chopped leaves lighten heavy soils, feed the worms, add nutrients and help the soil retain moisture. You can compost them first to make leaf mold or you can dig several inches of shredded leaves into the soil in autumn. Chopped leaves can also be used a winter mulch on top of garden beds to reduce soil erosion.
Animal manures are a good source of organic matter, as well as nutrients like nitrogen. Common manures used in gardens include cow, sheep, horse and chicken. Rotted manure is that which has been composted; it has no smell and it is typically applied to the soil in spring. Fresh or partially composted manure can’t be used in the spring garden, because it may burn plants or introduce unwanted pathogens. It can, however, be spread on top of or dug into beds in the fall.
If I had more space in my yard, I’d love to build a compost factory, where I would have bins lined side by side to produce plenty of homemade compost. Compost, a crumbly soil-like material, is alive with worms and beneficial fungi and bacteria. It enriches soils, provides nutrients and increases the soil’s ability to hold moisture. Several inches of compost can be piled on top of vegetable beds in autumn. Worms and other organisms will slowly work it into the soil.