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You heard correctly — it is time to start your garden. This week at the Stoll Natural Resource Center, we started our 2020 no-till demonstration garden. It may be new thinking, but we suggest you think of October as the beginning of your gardening season (November is not too late). A few simple steps now can keep your garden soil working for you all winter. Read further for a step-by-step preparation guide.

2019 produced an excellent demonstration garden, with very little effort as we have reported. Forty people attended the September Open Garden evening with lots of great questions and information sharing. A big “thank you” to Chris and Jeanette Smith from Warren Township for mentoring the gathered gardeners.  

The Stoll Center garden aims to demonstrate soil health principles applied in a garden setting. Production farmers are rapidly learning to implement soil health improvement on a large scale. Any of us can use the same principles in a small garden. The keys to healthy soil are maximizing the number of days with living plants, keeping soil covered, minimizing disturbance (maintaining structure), and increasing plant diversity.

Here is one of many approaches you can take. You may apply this in an existing garden or in a completely new location. The main goal is Organic Matter. Supplying plenty of organic matter will keep worms and beneficial microscopic soil critters working all winter. The most readily available source of organic matter is often mulch hay. Leaves and other organic matter sources can also do the job.

Start with a good layout. Plan the size of bed areas that you can comfortably reach into from an isle way. Lay these out so that you can minimize foot traffic in the bed area. Maintain permanent isle ways for repeated foot traffic. One example layout is 4 feet wide beds approximately 30 feet long with 18-inch-wide isle ways between each bed. This allows you to reach 2 feet of your bed area from either side.

With a good layout, you are now ready to do your first gardening of the season! For a modest size garden this preparation may take one to two hours. If this is a new location, you can do this right on top of the grass. If you can get some manure or compost form a local farm, lay down a healthy layer in the bed area (if you don’t have access to manure, don’t worry, you can still build soil). Next, place a minimum of 12 inches of mulch hay over the bed areas.  Add a slightly thinner layer of mulch to the isle ways which will be the start of a weed barrier next spring. Next, go inside and hibernate for the winter, you’re done! The mulch will maintain higher soil temperatures for biological activity through the winter. You may be surprised at soil conditions for planting come spring time!

You can see a fun video of us starting our garden this week on our facebook page @BradfordCountyConservationDistrict. If you want some planting pointers for this type of garden, you may want to check back with us in the spring. For now, smile thinking about spring when your friends will ask, “start your garden yet?” You can say “Yea, I started it six months ago!”  

The Bradford County Conservation District is committed to helping people manage resources wisely. You can visit the Bradford County Conservation District at 200 Lake Rd in Wysox across from the Wysox Fire Hall. Contact us at (570) 485-3144 or visit our web page at www.bccdpa.com.