If you've harvested the last of your vegetables, it's time to get the garden ready for the winter. It might be tempting to just walk away and deal with the garden next spring, but a little work now will result in a healthy, productive garden next year.
Cucumber vines, squash vines, and the dried remains of tomato and bean plants are most likely to harbor plant disease. If you allow this disease-carrying residue to remain on the soil's surface, there is a good chance the organisms will live through the winter and infect your new plants in the spring.
I gather and discard plant material that is severely infected and plow or spade under the remaining plant debris. Turning under crop residues exposes disease-causing organisms to the action of benefical soil organisms. As the plant residue breaks down it helps improve the soil.
Tilling under leaves, stalks, and vegetable plant debris is helpful in other ways. For example, during the winter the action of alternate freezing and thawing on the rough, uneven surface of a tilled garden helps break apart heavy soil clumps.
Soil test results will indicate current pH and nutrient levels and include recommendations for liming and fertilizing to help maintain good plant growth. Lime applied and incorporated into the soil during the fall months prepares the soil for next season's vegetables.
A final step in fall garden clean up is to evaluate the garden and make notes to help you plan for next year's efforts. Include information on the crops and varieties you grew this year to help you decide about seed and transplant purchases next year. Note the crops and varieties that did poorly. If there was a problem with a particular plant disease, note that too, so you can look for disease-resistant varieties. Even if this year's garden was the best ever and you don't want to change a thing, it's still a good idea to jot down what you did.
I think vegetable gardening is such a rewarding hobby that it's hard for me to face the end of the season. But it's time to draw this activity to a proper conclusion by paying attention to these all-important fall chores. Once done, I can look forward to a healthy, well-prepared garden plot, ready for early spring planting.
Patt Kasa is the NGA Regional Reporter from the Pacific Northwest.