By Cameron Ford, Project Development Advisor at the Northern Ontario Farm Innovation Alliance

With September drawing to a close, harvests across the northeast are getting close to doing the same. Post-harvest, farmers know that preparing for winter is one of the busiest and most important times of the year. Indeed, work done in the fall can save time, effort, and money in the spring. 

After crops are off (and ideally before fall rains start in earnest) there is a window of opportunity to get into the field and do scouting. It’s a perfect time to conduct soil sampling, so that over the winter samples can be tested and nutrient and soil management plans can be drafted, ready to be put into action when spring arrives. 

While sampling, it’s also a good idea to scout tile drainage outlets for any damage or blockages. Damaged tile or blocked ditches can cause water to pool in fields in the fall and winter, where it can freeze and kill cover crops and take longer to thaw in the spring. These issues with ditches and pipes can also cause washouts during peak water levels in spring, sloughing off valuable topsoil. Having a well-maintained drainage system ensures that fields are accessible and can be planted as early as possible in the spring. 

Fall is also a good time to control perennial weeds. Applying an herbicide can knock the weeds down and reduce their ability to overwinter, without the concerns of the herbicide damaging growing crops. 

Spreading lime on acidic soils is another task that can be done in the fall. That way the lime particles have time to start breaking down and neutralizing the soil before planting. This helps to avoid the risk of crops being damaged by excessive alkalinity of lime that hasn’t had time to break down.  In no-till fields, the freezing and thawing process of ground in the fall and spring can help incorporate lime into the soil.

Equipment maintenance in the fall is just as important as any fieldwork. Before being stored for the winter, implements should be cleaned, greased, checked for leaks, and repaired if necessary. Equipment that’s not going to be used during the winter should be stored inside if possible. Equipment that can be cleaned with water can be hosed down, while pressurized air can be used to clean off more fragile equipment. Any parts that look worn can be ordered and replaced (or simply held in stock) during the winter. 

Equipment that will be used throughout the winter should be maintained similarly and winterized. Tractors that will be operated through the winter can be treated with a fuel additive to ensure that diesel won’t turn into jelly at low temperatures or gum up the filter. Block heaters and their cords should be checked to make sure they’re in good condition before the cold weather sets in. 

There’s nothing more frustrating than fixing a washout or having your equipment sitting idle waiting for a part while the sun is shining and your neighbours are planting. Always remember that regular maintenance in the fall can pay dividends in the spring. 

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