Master Gardener: Fall is the best time to till garden soil with next growing season in mind

Chris Himmelwright
Pratt Tribune
Now is the time to fix and till garden soil for the next growing season.

Amend and Till Garden Soil Now

Fall is the preferred time to prepare garden soil for next spring's vegetable garden. Spring is often wet making it difficult to work soil without forming clods that remain the rest of the season. Fall usually is drier allowing more time to work the soil when it is at the correct soil moisture content. Even if you work soil wet in the fall and form clods, the freezing and thawing that takes place in the winter will break them down, leaving a mellow soil the following spring.

Insects often hide in garden debris. If that debris is worked into the soil, insects will be less likely to survive the winter. Diseases are also less likely to overwinter if old plants are worked under. Also, the garden debris will increase the organic matter content of the soil. Working the debris into the soil is often easier if you mow the old vegetable plants several times to reduce the size of the debris.

Fall is an excellent time to add organic matter. Not only are organic materials usually more available in the fall (leaves, rotten hay or silage, grass clippings) but fresher materials can be added in the fall than in the spring because there is more time for materials to break down before planting. As a general rule, add 2 inches of organic material to the surface of the soil and till it in. Be careful not to overtill. You should end up with particles like grape nuts or larger. If you work your garden into the consistency of dust, you have destroyed the soil structure.

Storing your Pumpkin

If you buy your pumpkins early, there are some tricks to make them last. Make sure the pumpkin wasn't harvested too early; before the rind developed a hard, waxy layer to keep it from drying out and shriveling. Test the pumpkin with your thumbnail. If it penetrates the fruit easily, it was harvested too early. Pumpkins also keep better in cooler weather. Even mature pumpkins may benefit from a light application of a spray wax such as that used for cars. If you carve your pumpkins consider that the seeds can be saved and roasted. Scoop out the seeds, rinse them well to remove any strands of tissue that have remained and spread them out so they can dry. Once dry, they can be roasted on a cookie sheet for 10 to 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Roast larger seeds for the longer amount of time. If you prefer salted seeds, soak the seeds in a brine. Make the brine by combining 2 tablespoons of salt for every 2 cups of water. Add the seeds to the brine and bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain, toss with a tablespoon of olive oil and spread on a cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Check the seeds during the last 5 minutes and remove when done. Note that carving reduces the longevity of pumpkins with carved pumpkins doing well to last a week.

Why Late Lawn Seedings Often Fail

We normally recommend that Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue be seeded in September but no later than October 15. Though plantings later than October 15 can be successful, the odds of success diminish as time passes. The problem with late plantings is not that the seed will not come up or that young grass plants are sensitive to cold. Most often, the problem is with rooting. Unless the young grass plants have a fairly extensive root system, the freezing and thawing that takes place during winter heaves plants out of the ground, and they dry out and die. Regardless of when planted, be sure the new lawn is kept watered through the fall. More mature lawns will need less frequent watering but all should go into the winter with moist soil.

* Adapted from the Kansas State Horticulture Newsletter by Pratt County Gardener Chris Himmelwright.