Fall Tilling

by Jackie Carroll


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Fall is a good time to till your garden soil, especially if there is sod to be turned under. This will reduce erosion, expose heavy soils to frost, kill exposed insects, aid the decay of organic matter, and enable earlier planting. Work in any organic matter you have available when you till. If you do this every fall you will find that your garden takes less time and work to prepare every year. It's best to wait until spring to fertilize, but the addition of granular (not pulverized) lime in the fall will help condition the soil for spring planting.

Organic material that can be tilled into the soil in autumn:

Material % Nitrogen % Phosphate % Potash
Bark 0.3 0.2 0.2
Bat Guano 10.0 4.5 2.0
Garden Compost 1.5 2.0 0.7
Leaf Mold 0.4 0.2 0.3
Chicken Manure 2.0 2.0 1.0
Cow Manure 0.6 0.3 0.7
Horse Manure 0.7 0.5 0.6
Pig Manure 0.6 0.6 0.4
Sheep Manure 0.6 0.3 0.7
Turkey Manure 2.0 1.5 1.0
Mushroom Compost 0.6 0.5 0.9
Peat Moss 0.3 0.2 0.2
Seaweed 0.3 0.3 1.0
Spent Hops 1.1 0.3 0.1
Straw 0.5 0.2 0.7

Never work wet soil, especially clay. You may ruin the soil structure for the entire season and end up with solid, sun-baked clods. Use these guidelines to determine if your soil is dry enough to till:

If you pick up a handful of soil and can squeeze water from it, it's obviously too wet. If the soil compresses into a ball and stays that way, it needs more drying time. If it is dry enough to crumble in your hand, it is "friable" and is ready to be worked.

Growing green manures is another way to improve your soil. These nitrogen rich crops can be grown in the autumn, then tilled into the soil once they have reached a height of 8 inches. Green manures will return more to the soil than they have used. Choose plants with a rapid growth rate. Refer to the chart for some suggested green manures.

Green Manure % Nitrogen
Borage 1.8
Comfrey 1.7
Mustard 2.0
Red Clover 3.0
Rye Grass 1.2

GardenGuides has a wealth of gardening information and resources including articles, seasonal tips and advice, guide sheets on hundreds of plants, and much more. Come grow with us! www.gardenguides.com copyright GardenGuides.com

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