If you are planning on adding new garden beds next year, the best thing you can do is prepare them the fall before. As we learn more and more about soil health and particularly the beneficial microbes that are in the soil, we realize it’s important to have that process started well before the plants go in. Doing so will get the plants established quicker and also keep them healthy. I have found that doing the amending, tilling, etc. now gives the soil a chance to fully come to life over the winter months long before I plant. I call this creating a living soil profile, and it takes time to start working.
The process isn’t difficult and involves just a few basic steps. First, of course, is to mark off the area for your new bed. Once you’ve done that, turn the soil over with either a shovel or a tiller. Then add compost. Since we have horses, I have access to composted horse manure, but any kind of good compost will do. Make your own, or buy mushroom compost or any other kind. Just make sure it’s not sterilized. Another good source would be the leaves that are falling this time of year. If you can shred them using a mower with a bag, that works as well. Put them right in the bed. Even if they are fresh, they will be composted by the time spring rolls around. The beneficial microbes will break them down.
Be generous with the compost (I am, because for me it’s free!) and add 4 to 6 inches. Start by spreading it on top, and then go ahead and work it into the soil again with either a shovel or a tiller. Once you’ve done that, take a good rake such as a bow rake and level it out.
The next step is to do nothing and let nature take its course. What will begin to happen is those beneficial microbes will start to grow and come to life. If you want to jump-start the process and really make sure it’s kicking into high gear, you can add a microbial drench. These contain lots of beneficial microbes, and you simply water them into your prepared soil. They feed off the compost and will help break it down. That turns it into food that will be available to your plants come spring when you install them. The other great part about preparing a bed now is that fall is generally a time when garden chores are at a minimum. This gives you time to do it properly without having to worry about weeding, watering, or mowing the lawn.
The key to a good garden is a solid foundation, and that foundation is your soil. Prepare it right, and your gardening will be easier and more rewarding. I did a video on this process and also how to create a living soil profile in an existing garden bed without having to remove the plants. Here is a link to it on YouTube.