HUERFANO— Before you walk away from the vegetable garden for the year, take some time to clean up the garden to help reduce disease and insect problems next year.
But, before you start, sit down and make notes about where you planted what this last year, so that you’ll be able to rotate your crops. What is crop rotation and why do it?
Planting the same crops in the same location each year encourages buildup of diseases and insects in the soil. Prevent over-wintering diseases and pests from spreading when their target plants are removed.
Also, each crop has different fertilizer requirements. By changing crop location, you can avoid depleting the soil of specific nutrients. Some plants, like legumes, actually add essential elements, like nitrogen, to the soil, so you can build up the soil over time.
For rotation, I have designated crops that share similar growing requirements: (1) peppers, tomato, eggplant, potato, (2) squash, cucumber, melons, corn, pumpkins, (3) greens, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, lettuces, (4) peas and beans, and (5) carrots, parsnips, turnips, beets, and radishes. So, if you have planted squash in a particular area, rotate to planting beans in that area next year. Make a map of where each family is planted and then switch that area to another family each successive year. Because, in my example, there are five basic plant families, in five years you will have completed the rotation cycle.
Also, before you remove the plants, take notes about the performance of this year’s crops. Are there some you want to plant again or some that just did not live up to your expectations? Now is the time to record these facts while they are still fresh in your mind.
To begin cleanup, remove trellises, cages, pots, stakes, plastic bags, and other non-organic materials. Completely remove any plants that have insect or disease problems. Collect any fallen tomatoes, fruits, or vegetables, so that insects cannot over-winter in these crops. Diseased plants harbor pathogens that can re-infect next year’s vegetables. A compost pile usually will not reach a high enough temperature to kill pathogens, so discard or burn diseased plants.
Crop residues from healthy plants, however, are a valuable source of organic matter. Add these plants to the compost pile or dig them into the garden.
When the soil is clear, now is the time to start your fall soil improvement. If your compost is ready, spread and dig it in. If you have manure, you can add it now, so that it can break down. Uncomposted manure should not be applied to growing crops, but harmful organisms in the fall-applied manure will die before next spring’s crops are planted.
Do not apply fertilizers in the fall, as they will get washed down through or off the soil. Many nutrients are left over in the soil right now. Apply straw, composted hay, grass clippings that are herbicide-free, leaves, or other organic matter to the bare soil. A layer of organic material will prevent soil erosion and loss of nutrients, and will add some more organic matter to the soil during the winter.