Jarrod E. Stephens
As much as I hate to say this, the gardening season for many is quickly coming to an end. Despite the intense heat and stretches of dry weather, gardens have thrived, and harvests have been bountiful. Anyone who thinks that gardening is easy has likely never taken on the task with much fervor. Even when the plants have stopped producing the garden does need to be tended.
Given the fact that you’ve spent countless hours in your garden fighting weeds, it would be senseless to allow the weeds to make a mess of next year’s plans by seeding out. Never allow hard grasses and weeds to mature and seed out after your garden has finished producing vegetables. Take the time to mow or cultivate the ground and stop the weeds from growing. Planting a cover crop such as winter wheat is advisable to cover the ground quickly and prevent erosion and to protect your precious topsoil. The wheat will grow quickly and slow the growth of weeds. Perhaps the most lasting impact that the cover crop will have is the fact that next spring when you plow your soil it will be turned under and create compost in the soil.
It’s no secret that this past season garden seeds were sometimes in short supply and hard to find. If you have planted heirloom seeds, then to ensure that you have seeds for next year you need to prepare to save your own seeds. Seeds for beans and corn simply need dried and stored in a dry location. Placing them in a freezer can preserve them perfectly. Seeds from moist garden goods such as squash, watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumbers and tomatoes should be properly cleaned before they are dried. One mistake that I have made is failing to label different varieties of tomatoes only to realize it too late. Several garden seeds look similar so take the time to keep them separated. Clearly label your seeds as you prepare them for storage to prevent yourself from mixing varieties.
Since the soil will be idle for the next several months, this is a great time to have the soil tested. Soil tests will give you a clear picture of any deficiencies that may be evident in your soil. If you’ve noticed a steady decline in the productivity of your garden, then you likely need to have a test to get it back in tip top shape. To take the sample, simply choose a few areas around your garden, scrape away any plant matter from the topsoil then use a garden trowel to dig a sample of the soil about 6-8 inches deep. Stay near the middle of rows and away from where plants were to prevent gathering inaccurate information because of lingering fertilizer in the soil. Mix each sample together in a bucket, remove rocks and allow it to dry. Remove about two cups of soil from the mixture to give a representation of your soil and put it into a bag. Samples should be taken for each garden plot or field.
Once you have collected your soil sample it can be dropped off at either the Greenup or Boyd County branches of the University of Kentucky Extension office. Due to current restrictions you will need to use their drop off service. You can find soil sample forms at the office. It’s important to put your name and phone number on the bags containing the soil sample form and samples. If you take samples from more than one location, you need to give a unique field name on each of your samples. The extension office will contact you once the sample is processed.
The end of the current growing season may be in sight, but true farmers and gardeners always have next year’s plans in their forethought. There’s no better time than now to get ready for tomorrow.