When it comes to your soil you can usually never do enough to improve your soils ability to provide you with beautiful, nutritious, sustainably grown food. I say usually because it is possible to overdo everything if you really put your mind to it. But with a well thought out plan you can easily and consistently improve and maintain your soil at its peak performance. I find the best way to lay out a soil improvement plan is to do it by the season.
Excellent cover crop mix of rye grain, vetch, fuba bean
and red clover Assuming you already have your garden layout planned, early spring is a great time for some soil improvement. I would start off with a manure/compost application across the whole garden as soon as I can begin to work the soil. Give that a couple weeks to incorporate fully into the soil as manure can be a little "hot" in both temperature and nutrients when first added to the garden. If you tried seeding directly after a good manure application if could affect seed germination success and cause you to have to replant. After a few weeks have past you can start planting cool season crops like carrots, beets and radishes assuming it's not to early for them.
For gardens where you will be planting transplants or warm season crops like peppers watermelons and tomatoes I would also suggest planting a cool season cover crop that has a legume in it. This not only catches any nutrients that may be lost from the manure but it also adds organic matter to the soil through the roots and mulch that can be created from the tops of the cover crop. Again you will want to terminate the cover crop 2-3 weeks before planting as that will give it time to decompose a little and provide a good bed for seedling transplant.
Summer is the time when the most activity takes place in the garden. This time is also a great time for soil improvement as you can use a variety of techniques to help your soil out. The number one thing you can do is cover your soil up with a nice layer of mulch. Keeping it covered helps the soil stay moist and constantly supplied by organic matter and nutrients. The organisms that live in the soil will love this constant supply of organic matter and will repay you by releasing nutrients and aerating the soil through their movements. If you feel really ambitions you can inter plant a cover crop like clover which can contribute nitrogen to the soil right where you need it
You can also do a top dressing of composted manure which again will add a ready supply of nutrients for your growing plants and will increase the amount of organic matter for next year.
Fall is the second best time for soil improvements that there is on the calendar. The steps to take are similar to springs with the exception that you don't have a planting time table to worry about. I would again add manure/compost and mulch as needed on the garden. Fall in my opinion is the best time for soil improving cover crops as well. By planting them as early as you take a summer crop off or by even under planting them with the summer crop you maximize the time they have to grow. The key is to get as much growth as possible before you get a hard frost. But they are something that you need to watch closely as well. If you have a long, warm fall they might start to flower and go to seed. This is something you want to prevent because if they are allowed to go to seed they may become weed problems the following spring.
Finally we have winter which after all the tools have been put away and the garden is all in order is the easiest time of year. All you should be doing here is making sure the garden stays covered by a good layer of mulch. By protecting your soil and the organisms that call it home all the work you put into it this year will not be wasted. They will continue to do some good work for you all winter long so it is best to not disturb them any more that you have to. Take this time to plan next years garden and enjoy some well deserved rest as well.
Hello my name is Josh Larson and I am the creator of the Green Living Library. Here on the blog you will find updates to content found in the Green Living Library as well as stories from those living the sustainable life already.