Tips to prepare for a top notch veggie garden next year

As our vegetable gardening season comes to a close, what are some things I can do to prepare for next year?” — J.W.

It’s always a sad day when we must admit we are done for the year, but there are some things you can do to help you be more successful next year. Let’s talk about some of those.

First of all, while your 2022 garden experience is fresh in your mind, make some notes about what you planted and where. I’m guessing that during the growing season you noticed some varieties did great while others seemed to flounder. Write that down. At this point in the year, it’s easy to say “I’ll remember,” but then next year comes, and it turns out we don’t remember. So, just write it down.

Something else to do is to make a quick sketch of your garden noting and identifying the areas where you planted your vegetables. Crop rotation is a great way to help minimize disease in your garden. Planting the same crop in the same spot each year makes it easier for disease to build up in that location. You can minimize this possibility by rotating your crops at least every three years.

To rotate crops successfully, you need to spend a little time learning the vegetable crop families because it’s easy to think planting potatoes one season and tomatoes the next is good crop rotation, but potatoes and tomatoes are in the same plant family. And plants in the same families are vulnerable to the same diseases.

Here’s a quick overview of the vegetable plant families:

Solanaceae or Nightshade Family — tomato, eggplant, bell pepper, potato

Leguminosae or Bean Family — peas, green/string beans, fava beans, cowpeas, peanut

Curcurbit or Gourd Family — cucumber, melons, watermelon, winter squash, zucchini, gourds, luffa

Malvacea or Mallow Family — okra, cotton, hibiscus

Alliaceae or Onion Family — onion, garlic, leek, chive

Poaceae or Grain Family — corn, rice, wheat, lemon grass, sugar cane

Asteraceae or Aster Family — lettuce, artichoke, sunflower

Brassicaceae or Mustard family — broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, mustard, radish

Chenopodiaceae or Goosefoot Family — beet, chard, spinach

Apiaceae or Parsley Family — carrot, parsley, coriander, fennel, celery

Next, let’s talk about cover crops. Cover crops are an interesting topic but, in a nutshell, cover crops are crops you plant, typically in the off season that add nutrients and organic matter back to the soil. Cover crops are sometimes called “green manures” because they add nutrients similar to the way manure does except, they are “green” plants.

Using a cover crop can benefit your garden in a number of ways such as reduced soil erosion, reduced runoff, reduced evaporation, pest suppression, improved soil quality and improved soil fertility. Since some of these benefits are the same as using mulch, cover crops are also sometimes known as “living mulch.” Good choices for cover crops include clover, beans, peas, annual ryegrass, oats, winter wheat, winter rye or buckwheat. Seeds for many of these can be found at a local farm supply store.

Essentially, you would plant one of these crops now in your vegetable garden as the season is coming to a close and then till it into the soil in the spring before replanting your vegetables. So, how does cover cropping help your soil?

Plants such as peas, beans, and clover grow in cooperation with soil-dwelling bacteria. These cooperative bacteria live in nodules on the roots. Essentially, the plants take nitrogen from the surrounding air and convert it into a form the plants can use, storing this nitrogen in their roots.

In the spring, when you mow down and till these plants into the soil, that nitrogen is released back into the soil. Then when you plant your spring vegetables, nitrogen is available to your new plants. Now this will not supply all your plant’s nitrogen needs, but it will help, and the organic matter you are tilling back into the soil doesn’t hurt either.

Last but not least, don’t forget about your tools. Properly maintained tools not only work better, but last longer. The first thing you can do is clean your garden tools. If it’s a trowel, shovel, hoe, or rake etc. I bet there is a certain quantity of dirt lodged on these tools. So, begin by getting that dirt off. You can do this with water and possibly a stiff brush. Once you get the dirt removed, dry them off well to prevent rust. Depending on the tool, you might want to consider sharpening it.

You can sharpen them with something as simple as a file. A few carefully placed strokes with a file can restore the edge of your tool, making it work better and lessening the effort you need to accomplish the task of the day. This is especially true of shovels and trowels. After sharpening, give them a spray of lubricating oil, rub it in, and your tools will be ready to do their best when the spring garden season arrives. See you in the garden!

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You can get answers to all your gardening questions by calling the Tulsa Master Gardeners Help Line at 918-746-3701, dropping by our Diagnostic Center at 4116 E. 15th St. or by emailing us at mg@tulsamastergardeners.org.

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