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October 2nd, 2014

fallow [fal-oh] adjective – 1. (of farmland) plowed and harrowed but left unsown for a period in order to restore its fertility as part of a crop rotation
Fallow is a word we don’t often hear when it comes to gardening, especially when it comes to the home garden. Yet it’s a word we should be saying and something we should be doing. Our gardens need rest because the soil needs time to rebuild. Ideally, it should be covered with some form of organic mulch and left to rebuild for a season. Even better is planting with a cover crop, cutting, then allowing the soil to rest for a season.
Main Garden in back 2
Two years ago I planted a fall green manure on half of the main garden out back (covering a section about 20 x 70 ft). The pigs worked the cover crop into the soil and added manure last summer, in the fall I covered it with cardboard and a foot of chipped wood.
cover crops 3
The soil in this garden needed rest, it’s structure was gone from overfilling and too many years in service growing vegetables. The result was soil that doesn’t hold water very well and crops that don’t grow as well as they could. My goal is to rebuild structure and fertility.
Mulching the Main Garden 3
Now it’s like night and day when you look at the soil in the side that has been cultivates the last two summers and the side that has been allowed to rest and rebuild. The soil food web is clearly visible in the fallow side, there are worms, mycelium and other tiny microbes. There is structure, it’s no longer dry and sandy, it will hold together when I lift a shovelful. Not only does fallow apply to the garden, but also to the gardener. We often need a season away from the garden to rebuild and rest. We come back to our gardens renewed, ready to grow once again.
making mulch 1
I encourage you to let your gardens be fallow this winter, add rock powders and mineral dusts this fall, cover with a nice layer of organic mulch (grass clippings mixed with chopped leaves is my favorite), and be amazed at how a time of rest improves not only the soil, but you as well.

Do you allow sections of your garden to go fallow?

3 Comments to “Fallow”
  1. PennyAshevilleNC on October 2, 2014 at 8:42 am

    Suzy, you have talked before about rock powders and I think recommended a resource- do you have that title/source handy? I definitely need to rest the soil this winter and would like to try using some rock powders in addition to the other things. Thanks!

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  2. Nebraska Dave on October 2, 2014 at 9:15 am

    Susy, my plan some years ago was not really to let the ground stay fallow for a year but to rejuvenate the soil every seven years. By rejuvenate I mean to remove the soil from the bed and mix up two five gallon buckets of soil from the garden bed, two five gallon buckets of compost, one five gallon bucket of peat moss, a three pound coffee can of perlite, and a handful of Epsom salts. I put it all in a composter barrel and mix it up good. Then it’s returned to the bed. I use the same mixture for container planting. Of course in between crops in the raised beds I use compost and grass clipping for a mulch cover which slowly decomposes into nutrients for the next crop. My new growing system for the backyard will get some soil amendments every year. Even at Terra Nova Gardens with two feet of topsoil, soil conditioning is required. The soil may be rich but it lacks the organic matter to lighten up the texture. If not conditioned the soil is very sticky and unworkable when it rains and very dry and hard when it dries out. I’m in the process of amending the soil in the different growing areas. It will take many years until I can get the entire garden amended and in excellent growing condition.

    Have a great garden fallow time day.

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  3. Sara on October 2, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Definitely. One nice thing about gardening in the North is we don’t have much of a choice, ha! I feed and mulch everything I can before the snow comes. Even in my little greenhouse I have been trying to leave one quarter to rest for the winter, I feed it well and it gives me a blank slate for planting first thing in the spring.

    I have been thinking of taking a fallow year myself, I just have a hard time figuring out how to make myself stop :)

    Reply to Sara's comment

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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