A vegetable garden should not be abandoned after the last fall harvest. Proper clean-up ensures that harmful bugs and snails will not spend the winter in the garden. Rather than ignore the vegetable garden all winter, seize the opportunity to lay the groundwork for healthy soil and a fantastic growing season next year.
Preparing the Vegetable Garden for Winter
Pull up all annual plants that are past harvest. If plants remained healthy through the season and do not have any bug infestations, throw them on the compost pile if you have one. Tomatoes will probably generate fruit longer than other summer crops, so work around them in the garden. Also work around perennials.
Dig up the garden. Using a four-tine pitchfork, press the fork into the ground with your foot. Press the handle down toward the ground forcing the fork up. Now bend over and remove excess roots and weeds (wearing garden gloves).
Drag the dirt rake over the freshly dug up earth. Remove roots and weeds by hand. Do not throw grasses or perennial weeds into the compost; doing so may bring them back with a vengeance next year. Repeat this process until satisfied that the earth in the garden is clean.
Purchase a pH soil test kit at a garden supply or hardware store; they are inexpensive and easy to use. Follow the directions on the package and if your soil has a pH higher than 7 you must lime your garden.
Choose a day when the weather has been dry so there is no mud in the garden. Spread hydrated lime in the garden. Lime is a powder that is available in garden supply centers and some hardware stores. Lime adds nutrients to the soil that are good for crops such as tomatoes, summer squashes, cucumbers, pumpkins and any "sweet soil" crops.
The amount to use varies with different brands of lime, so follow the directions on the package. In general, however, 2-3 pounds of lime per 100 square feet is sufficient. Rake over the lime and soil with a dirt rake, working the lime in just a little. Apply lime this way every 2-3 years.
Keep the leaves of deciduous trees that fall on your lawn. Instead of bagging up raked leaves in the fall, place them on the garden. Pile them up as high as necessary to use them all. This layer of compost will keep the garden healthy as it "sleeps" through the winter.
Do not pile evergreen branches on the garden. Evergreens will make the garden soil too acidic. If you have kept a compost pile over the summer, turn it well with a pitchfork and mix the resulting soil in with the leaves on top of the garden.
Let the garden sleep. After the last frost in early spring, rake off the top leaves if they seem not broken down, and til the rest into the soil. Put what you take off the top into the compost pile.