Just as you’ve worked your way through “500 Ways to Cook Zucchini and Tomatoes,” the Equinox thankfully rolls around and you can finally begin to compost all those spent plants.

Not that they haven’t given you great joy and abundant fruit, but all good things must come to an end.

Your soil works hard to produce those gorgeous vegetables and flowers, working in unison with Mother Nature to put forth her very best — even if that road is sometimes bumpy along the way.

Now is the time to return some of those valuable nutrients to the soil in anticipation of another season of gardening. Once all those spent plants are removed, you’ll want to let the soil dry out somewhat (but not totally) so that you can either hand turn, or till in, an amendment such as Peat Moss prior to sowing a cover crop. Tilling will ensure that the amendment gets thoroughly mixed into the soil and helps control weeds that compete with crops for moisture and nutrients; however, this method should only be used very judiciously. Too much tilling tends to destroy the structural qualities of the soil where as hand cultivation will ensure a healthier soil long term.

An excellent winter cover crop in the Gorge area is crimson clover, about a half-pound of seed to 1,000-square-feet of garden space.

The same “not too wet” rule applies to turning your cover crop into the soil in the spring, either by hand or tilling. Generally late April is a good time-frame to turn, working approximately 3-4 pounds of much needed nitrogen from the cover crop, into the soil of a 1,000-square-feet garden space.

For more detailed, research-based information for the home gardener, I highly recommend the Oregon State University Extension Service brochure “Growing Your Own”, available at catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/em9027 as a free pdf; download or a paper copy for $2. If you have specific questions the Central Gorge Master Gardener’s virtual plant clinic, is a great resource.

Submit your questions online at extension.oregonstate.edu/mg/hoodriver or call 541-386-3343 ext. 39259 to leave a detailed message regarding your gardening problem. This free service is provided by the Hood River OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Now you can relax and start planning next years garden ... and what to do with all those cucumbers!

Jewel McKenzie, is a CGMA OSU Hood River Extension Master Gardener volunteer.

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