All in all, the past growing season was a pretty good one, and now that the harvest is stored for use over the winter, it is time to think about how to make next year’s crop even better.
The best way to ensure good results next summer is to prepare your soil so that it is balanced. You can prepare it now to make that happen.
I had some problems with the pH in a couple of my gardens where some of my soil tested at 7.5 this summer from having used some compost that was way too alkaline (which I realized too late). I will always from now on check the pH of any amendment to the soil that I add – lesson learned. Before using this compost, my soil was pH 6.3, which is very close to optimal for vegetable production, even though potatoes grow better and have less scab in more acidic conditions.
Knowing the pH in soils and correcting it to suit food plants is key to having healthy plants. The nutrients in the soil are more available to the plants when the pH is closer to neutral (7). If soil is too acidic (under 5.5 for instance) it can be amended with dolomite lime stone. If it is too alkaline (above 7.5) regular garden sulfur can be used. Fixing pH in soil takes many months, so it is a good idea to work on it in the fall (now) and again in the spring. Simple pH testers can be bought at places like Canadian Tire or from any seed catalogue. It is a good idea to always have a pH tester in your “garden doctor’s medicine bag.”
Taking a full soil sample and getting it analyzed is well worth it, and should be done in the spring before planting, assuming you live in a place where you can easily get ahold of various amendments. Taiga Labs in Yellowknife is a good place for soil analysis. If you live in a remote community with only an ice road in the winter, it will be a good practise to assess your soil fully in the fall so you know what kind of amendments you want to bring in on the ice road.
The very best thing is to make your own compost, which many people now do. Actually, the best way to make compost is to have chickens. Although I know keeping chickens is not possible for everyone, they provide excellent manure, perfect for increasing soil health. Whatever you do, it is never too early to plan for an even better garden and increased production next year.
Over the winter months, when it is dark and cold, is a great time to sit and read and learn more about gardening from soil to plants and all the many growing techniques that are being developed these days. There is always more to learn about growing food. Living so far north I look for stuff written with the North in mind. Many gardening books written in the USA will refer to the Northwest, but they don’t mean high latitude (60 and above). Authors of gardening books, unless they have lived above 60, may not know all the various aspects of what will work and not work in our gardens. I prefer to find publications by the University of Alaska and I will be delving into these over the winter.
Now, as I sit down for a well-deserved rest by the fire in the wood stove, I utter a relieved “aaaah” as I sip a cup of mint tea. What a wonderful growing season it was!
Lone Sorensen is the founder of Northern Roots and has lived and grown food in Yellowknife for 27 years.