Once you've harvested your summer crops, you might think that you're done working in your garden until spring.
However, as every serious gardener knows, there's always something to do!
We usually till soil at the start of the season to break up compacted bits, and we cultivate it while crops are actively growing to help remove weeds. But stirring your soil again at the end of the season can also have its advantages.
Using your garden tiller or cultivator in fall to till in amendments like compost, along with the roots and stems of harvested crops and cover crops, is a great way to provide nutrients for springtime gardening.
Adding compost is one of the easiest and most important steps you can take to refine your garden soil. Compost will improve your soil quality by adding nutrients and more absorbent materials, which produce healthier plants.
Applying compost in fall gives nutrients time to be incorporated into the soil well before seeds are sown or transplants are planted in spring.
After harvesting your crops for the year, spread a consistent layer of compost between one inch and two inches thick across your plot. Then, use a lightweight tiller or cultivator to blend it in.
You can also add other amendments that will improve the soil's structure and contribute humus that will help to aerate the soil and reduce the likelihood of disease:
Make several passes over your garden with a rototiller or cultivator until the soil is smooth and even with a balanced blend of dirt, compost, and residual plant material.
Even if you haven't been building a compost pile, you still can till in old plant matter that will break down over winter to nourish your soil. Simply run your tiller over your garden plot to blend in the roots of the summer crops you've harvested.
Tilling in leftover plant material is also a good way to clean up any living mulch that you grew alongside your crops throughout the summer. If you grew rows of beans, buckwheat, or clover as cover crops between your main crops, autumn is the time to till them in!
Once you've stirred in the remnants of your late summer harvest, you can continue to protect your soil throughout fall and winter by planting cold-weather cover crops such as rye grass or crimson clover. These will grow throughout early autumn and will create a protective layer against winter's frosts.
Then, when spring arrives, your winter cover crops will die back. You can till them into your garden soil for added nutrition, and the growing cycle will be ready to start again.