Our harvesting tasks wrapped up in late October, but we have been able to get a head start on preparing a couple of new plots for next season thanks to some warm November weather. The one I will focus on here is at the site of a new home build so we are pretty much starting from scratch. I have been told that the yard once boasted an amazing garden but the well established mat of quack grass suggests that it has at least been a few years since those glory days, and even though the topsoil seems to have been left in place during the build, it was heavily compacted. It is going to take some time and energy to get this site back into shape beyond what I can do in just a couple of weeks.
Productive soil needs to be teaming with life and that life needs oxygen so the first step was loosening the compacted ground. It was too compacted for my rototiller to penetrate so I began by hand digging everything with a spade. After this, I was able to make a few passes with my rototiller to churn things up a little deeper. The digging exposed a multitude of quack grass roots so those also needed to be pulled out by hand to prevent them from springing back to life in spring. I am sure we missed hundreds of root fragments but we at least started the process. Thankfully, the quack grass only seems to be a problem over the back half of the plot because it will be an ongoing challenge at this site for at least the first couple of years.
After the top few inches of soil was loosened up, it was time to add some life in the form of compost. Eight yards of this black gold were distributed over the site to top each bed with a layer a couple of inches thick. There is more work to do still, but at this time, the subsoil is just to hard and dry for any implement to penetrate deeply. Once the snow has melted into the ground next spring, I am hoping the added moisture in the soil will make it easier to work. I will return to each bed then with a broadfork to loosen the soil even deeper and this will help the compost mix in as well. Once a plot is active, I typically just apply compost at the surface, but in this case the soil is so sandy and lifeless that I want to incorporate some organic matter at deeper levels to help retain moisture and build up the microbial community a little faster in the root zone.
Here is a view of the prepped beds yesterday morning with their first kiss of frost. The edges and pathways will eventually receive a thick layer of leaf and/or wood chip mulch and a drip lines will also be laid next spring to irrigate each bed. Are all of these setup decisions the right ones? I wish I knew! They are based on a lot of reading and my experience with other sites so far, but every location seems to have a few unique characteristics and I can't predict them all. I am curious to see how our crops respond to the growing conditions here next spring because there will no doubt be a few surprises.