How To Prepare For Fall In The Garden And Compost Pile

How to prepare for fall in the garden and compost heap.

Happy fall, the shortest season of the year! Or at least it seems to be. Autumn is my favorite season, but it never lasts long enough to do all the things on my to-do list.

Summer's heat has gone. We'll have more hot days, but the fierceness is absent. Chilly mornings will give way to warm afternoons but it won't be unbearable to be outside.

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Preparing the vegetable garden for fall

Soon we'll have overnight temperatures in the 40's. The tomato plants will stop flowering and it will be time to bring in some very ripe tomatoes so I can save the seeds.

Then I'll take some cuttings from the tomato plants to over-winter indoors and plant again in spring.

How to prepare your garden for fall and start a winter compost pile.

And I'll try to hasten the ripening of the green tomatoes still on the plants. But I intend to clean up the tomato beds before the frost kills them, because I'd much rather deal with them before the foliage is black and slimy from the frost. Ick.

The sweet potatoes will be ready to harvest as soon as the vines die back. I've stuck my fingers in the soil just to be sure there really are sweet potato tubers in there, and I pulled a monster tuber that we had with dinner last night. I can hardly wait till they're ready to harvest.

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The only other thing still growing in my vegetable beds is a single, huge, winter squash plant. I'm watching the stems of the dozen squashes on the vine for the first signs of drying out so I'll know when they're ready to pick.

I noticed the other day that the herb bed needs to be topped up with soil; it was the first raised bed I built several years ago and the soil has settled. Adding soil and compost to the top of the bed will also help to insulate the roots of the herbs in that bed, which also holds my comfrey plants (you'll find 5 reasons why you should grow comfrey in this post.) I'll use a wheelbarrow-load of finished compost from the horse barn for this. It's a wheelbarrow-load of beautiful black gold!

How to prepare your garden for fall and start a winter compost pile.

Cleaning up the garden in the fall helps eliminate any insect pests that are planning to hibernate over the winter and attack your garden next year. At the same time though, watch for egg sacks of "good" bugs and leave any frog habitats you might have provided. I know, it's a bit of a balancing act.

After harvesting the tomato, squash and sweet potato plants I'll have a small mountain of plant material to deal with. I'll cut the tomato and squash plants at ground level and leave the roots to decompose in the soil over the winter. Then all the stems and leaves are chopped into pieces about 3-4" long with my garden shears and layered in a new compost pile.

Composting in the fall

Compost decomposes more slowly in the fall and winter than in the summer, and smaller pieces decompose more quickly than larger pieces. My goal for a winter compost pile is to be finished in the spring and ready to use in my garden to either top off beds that have settled or to fill a new bed, so the small pieces of plant material will work better for me.

How to prepare your garden for fall and start a winter compost pile.

This year I have a new, empty raised bed that The Chief built for me last summer that needs to be filled up and planted in next spring. Since I need a great deal of compost and soil to fill the bed, I'm going to compost right in the bed using the lasagna method.

Basically, you layer compost materials as though you're making a pan of lasagna: a layer of kitchen scraps, a layer of fallen leaves, a layer of plant material, a layer of wood chips, another layer of plant material, and so on. You just alternate "browns" and "greens" as though you're making a common compost pile. You can read all the details in the book Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza.

"Browns" are sources of carbon and "greens" are sources of nitrogen. You'll find a list of common browns and greens in this post.

Lasagna layers work well if you have a large space to fill AND a lot of compost ingredients to use. Autumn is a perfect time to build a lasagna bed because of the abundance of fallen leaves (browns) and plants you're cleaning up in your garden (greens).

We'll mow the lawn one more time and I'll use the grass clippings for another layer. I'll clean out the horses' barn for another. The scraps from my canning sessions and this month's kitchen scraps were stuck in the freezer in gallon-size bags so I could add them all at once.

How to prepare your garden for fall and start a winter compost pile.

There are compost materials all around you and this is the time to put them to use!

Use your imagination and use what you have, because compost ingredients are basically just trash. Clean up your garden. Rake your leaves and mow your lawn.

Perhaps you can source compost materials from friends and family - or ask your neighbors if you can have their fallen leaves and grass clippings (make sure they weren't treated with chemicals though). . Layer it all in a raised bed or in a large compost pile, wet it down well and let it work over the winter.

Don't worry if you don't have an empty raised bed to fill with your compost ingredients; just add them in thin layers to form a pile right on the ground. Top off the pile with a layer of carbon such as straw or wood chips to help hold in the heat.

How to prepare your garden for fall and start a winter compost pile.

Preparing the Garden for Fall in a Nutshell:

  • Clean up your annual plants before frost hits to avoid dealing with slimy, black foliage.
  • Put away your garden tools and hoses in a garage or shed.
  • Cut up plant material into small pieces; chop fallen leaves with the lawnmower.
  • Layer the plant material (a "green" compost ingredient) with fallen leaves, straw and other "brown" compost materials. Use thin layers.
  • Find a list of green and brown compost ingredients here.
  • Wet down each layer with a hose.
  • Top it with a layer of straw or shavings.
  • Let it rot until spring!

You'll find tips on managing your winter compost pile here. Should you turn it? Should you cover it?

Are you ready to learn more about composting and get started on a program of your own? Find out how in my new ebook The Down-to-Earth Guide to Composting.

I'll show you in plain, simple terms how to start your compost pile, demystify that "magic ratio" of greens to browns that everyone talks about, help you troubleshoot your compost pile if needed, and give you a crazy-long list of what you can and what you shouldn't compost.

You'll find more information here.

How to prepare your garden for fall and build a winter compost pile.

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How to prepare your garden for fall and build a winter compost pile.How to prepare your garden for fall and build a winter compost pile.


  1. It’s hard to believe that its that time of year again! I’ve used the lasagna method in my beds and love it! I also recently learned about huglekulture (sp?) and want to experiment with that some, too.

  2. Pinning! This post is another great resource, Kathi. I like that you are able to have your own home compost pile. It's so good for the garden, and for the environment. Thank you for sharing, and for being a part of the Hearth and Soul Link Party. Hope to see you again this week. Have a great week ahead!

    1. Thank you, April. I'll be there!

  3. Thanks for the tips! I love the overwintering tomato tutorial :-)
    Thanks for sharing on the Homestead Blog Hop.


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