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Vegetable gardening is as popular as ever. The pandemic, plus the desire to eat fresh produce, created a wave of new gardeners. Whether you are new to this rewarding hobby or an old pro, a few chores are yet to be done this year. Fall garden preparation will ensure you are ready to hit the ground running come spring. Remove old debris Pest problems and weeds are some of the most significant challenges for gardeners. Insects and disease overwinter in decaying plant matter. Removing frost-killed plants is one step to reducing problems. Squash bugs, the nemesis of gardens, hibernate in debris. Come spring, it is a short trip to start feasting on your plants. Tomato leaf disease overwinters in infected leaves on the ground. As the temperatures begin to rise, the disease is all set to start again. Also with the warm weather, weeds full of seeds are ready to sprout. Do not compost any diseased vegetable foliage or weeds. Discard this material instead. Any vegetable debris free from insects and disease can be composted and eventually returned to the soil as rich organic matter. Add organic matter To till or not to till the soil in the fall is a good question. Previous recommendations were to turn over the soil and incorporate organic matter for spring planting. However, current recommendations challenge the yearly tilling of the soil. No-till, or limited tilling of the soil, is the newest trend. Research has found tilling the soil reduces the benefits of adding organic matter. Instead of incorporating the organic matter into the turned soil, the rich layer is added over the top of the bed. After clean up, spread around a 4-inch layer of compost, composted manure or other organic sources. Let the materials remain on the surface. Over the winter into the growing season, allow the soil microorganisms to incorporate the material. This layer of organic matter can help smother weeds and diseases. Come spring, simply plant in this rich soil layer. Soil test Soil testing gives the pH level and baseline nutrients of the soil. Information gleaned can be used to make pH adjustments and build a program for success. Testing in the fall allows time to make any changes to the pH, getting a jump start on spring. Remember never apply any material to alter pH without a soil test. Do not apply lime as frequently recommended in many gardening books since Kansas City soils tend to have a higher pH. Your local Extension office provides soil testing services. Properly store seeds Most garden seeds left over from last season will remain viable for several years if properly stored. Seeds keep best when stored in a cool, dry location. Place airtight containers in the coolest part of the home or the refrigerator. Freezing or hot temperatures quickly reduces germination. A little effort this fall will make getting into the garden less of a chore next spring. Instead of prepping to plant your bounty, you will be ready to plant the seeds of success for another season. Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Have a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to [email protected]
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