Producing vegetable can take it's toll on your garden soil - you need to replenish the nutrients each year.
Producing vegetable can take it’s toll on your garden soil – you need to replenish the nutrients each year.

There are no two ways about it. Your garden soil is tired and hungry!  It has been using it’s nutrients to feed your fruits and vegetables through the spring and summer – all the while being pounded by rain, wind and the baking hot sun.

It needs fed and put to bed this fall so that it’s ready to come to life again next spring!

When we talk about feeding your garden – we’re talking about giving natural, organic and long-lasting nutrition to your soil – not loading it up with synthetic fertilizers that do little to help the structure of your soil.

Commercial fertilizers are comparable to fast food for your body. They may taste good at first and provide a short term fix to your hunger – but in the long run – they can wreak havoc on your health, or in this case, your soil.

So this fall – here are 3 great ways to rejuvenate your soil naturally and inexpensively. Any one by themselves will add vitality and organic matter to your spent soil.  But at the end of the article, you can see how we use all 3 at once to keep our beds teeming with nutrients year after year.


This is great time to dig in compost made through the summer months.
This is great time to dig in compost made through the summer months.

Compost is to the soil what a healthy balanced diet is to the body.  It replenishes and feeds soil by adding all types of life-giving  organic material, microbes and nutrients.

We make a lot of compost throughout the summer. Each fall, we work about an inch or two of the “black gold” into the top of the soil on each planting row.

If you don’t make your own compost – fall is a great time to start your first pile with the availability of so many easy to find materials. (See – Making Compost 101)


 We use annual rye as a cover crop to add back nutrients and keep the soil protected through the winter
We use annual rye as a cover crop to add back nutrients and keep the soil protected through the winter

Fall cover crops play a vital role in developing and enriching the soil in your garden.  They minimize soil erosion over the winter, and hinder the establishment of weeds.  To top it all off – they then feed your soil with organic matter when turned over in the early spring.  Of all three of the methods in this article – this is by far the most important in the long-term life and vitality of your garden.  (See – Planting Cover Crops)

Here in Ohio – cover crops can be planted anytime from late September to the end of October – the seed just needs enough time to come up with a few inches of growth before winter sets in.

What is best to plant?

We prefer annual rye – it sprouts fast, grows fast and thick – and has deep roots that loosen the soil.  Other good crops to choose from are buckwheat, clover, and hairy vetch.


Maple leaves are some of the best to add to your garden.
Leaves are one of the most inexpensive ways to add nutrients back to your garden soil each fall.

Leaves are the most inexpensive way to provide your garden with organic matter each fall.

We take leaves and shred them up with our lawnmower – and then spread a 2” layer on top of each raised planting row. You can either dig it into your soil with a pitchfork – or let it decompose on top and turn it under next spring before planting. This latter method also helps to provide your soil with protection from the winter winds and erosion.

If you are not blessed with trees on your property – take a drive around and find neighborhoods that are – it usually won’t long to find them. Many times, the hard work is done for you – with the homeowners already raking leaves to their curb or even bagging them up curbside for pickup.  A simple asking of the homeowner can usually net you more than you can handle.

Although leaves are plentiful this time of year – some are better than others.  Maple, Birch, Ash, Beech and fruit tree leaves are fantastic to compost.(See – Tips To Composting Leaves)

Oak leaves on the other hand should be composted in moderation.  The leaves of Oak trees tend to be more acidic – too many in the compost pile can result in compost that is less than ideal for most vegetable gardens.


Garden Produce
Cover crops, compost and shredded leaves have kept our garden producing well year after year.

So if you really want to rejuvenate the soil – do all three at once – it’s what we like to call the Fall Garden Trifecta – and it has worked wonders to keep our garden producing heavy yields, year after year.

When your garden has run its course this year – clean it out and gently rake your soil.  Add a few inches of compost to your growing space and rake it into the soil.

Next, plant your cover crop in the loose soil and gently rake it in.

Finally – put on about an inch of shredded leaves on top of the seed.  The leaves will help to hold the moisture in and germinate the seed – and keep weed seeds from blowing in until the cover crop is established.  As your cover crops sprouts – it will grow through the leaves and hold it to the soil.

Next spring – you can turn it all under before you plant – and your garden will thank you!

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15 thoughts on “3 Inexpensive Ways To Feed Your Garden Soil This Fall For A Great Garden Next Year!

  • June 25, 2016 at 9:45 am

    Great article. This is my second summer growing veggies in my backyard and I am learning as I go. Probably a rookie comment, but do you harvest the cover crop? Thanks!

  • September 1, 2015 at 9:05 am

    Very glad to have found this blog. Great article. Have to stop by the garden store and pick up some rye today. My soil is heavy clay and will love the addition of compost, leaves and a cover crop. I am really enjoying this blog.

  • September 15, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    Hello Mary and Jim, and lets not forget the chickens – hello chickens 🙂
    You guys are such and inspiration to me! I have read your entire blog several times and I am implementing some of your wisdom into my small patio garden 🙂 I am in the process of buying af house of my own, to make a place like yours, with natural foods and – of course – chickens 🙂
    I need help to raise money for the renovation of the house, to make it livable, so I hope you dont mind me putting the link to my gofundme project on your blog: You can of course delete my message at any time with my full support 🙂
    Keep up the amazing work,
    Thank you from across the world!
    Regards Louise, Denmark

  • August 26, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Thanks so much for all the advice and instruction. My garden was the best ever this year!

  • September 12, 2013 at 5:37 am

    This is if you don’t have a fall garden. What then do you just stop using it for a season? Just wondering. We have better luck with fall gardening here in south Texas than spring because it gets so hot so fast.

    • September 12, 2013 at 5:43 am

      You can do this after your fall garden heading into the cooler months of winter. For those with really warm climates – some will plant a cover crop right after harvest and let it grow for a few weeks and then turn it back into the soil to add organic matter – this is really more of a “green manure” crop – but it is the same concept and helps with fertility. Hope that helps! Jim

    • September 12, 2013 at 10:03 am

      I have a very large garden and find small areas of the beds…like 4′ – long sections, where I have harvested and elect not to replant until next spring and devote that area to a kitchen compost burial ground. In our rainy and cold Oregon winter, I instead fill a compost ball near my back door to which I have added a small garbage bag of fall leaves. i let it roast and turn to compost all summer and fall, while using the garden burial technique. The only thing that does not break down well is avocado skins and pits, and sometimes egg shells.

  • August 30, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Also, it takes 3 to 6 months for limestone (pelleted or powdered) to break down and become usable for soil acid/alkaline correction. Heavy application in the fall is perfect under your leaf or compost layer. Unless you are growing blueberries or other acid loving plants, you can add up to 3 tons per acre over a 3 year period and not over do it. It’s never too early! It’s never too late!

    • September 8, 2013 at 4:20 pm

      Nona should i put the limestone then the cover crop or the other way around..

  • August 28, 2013 at 10:59 am

    Thanks so much , this has been so helpfull , ii have raised beds That consist mosly of sandy soil that I am trying to amend to hold water a little more also , if you have any tips on that I would sure apreciate them .. Thanks so much

  • August 28, 2013 at 12:26 am

    We just cut out lawn this year to extend the garden and the poor soil needs some nutrients. Thank you so much for your gardening wisdom. I love your blog!

  • August 27, 2013 at 1:35 pm

    To shred our leaves we dump them in the chicken run and let the girls rake through them. It gives them something to do and they find bugs too. In a week or two you will have the best mulch ever!!!

  • August 27, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Thanks for laying it out so well! I have mostly oak leaves! 🙁 But I DO love my trees!

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