This time of year, as our bodies adjust to the onset of another chilly Mendocino winter, it is easy to want to hide inside by the woodstove and let the garden do its own thing through the winter. However, with a little bit of work now, you will be rewarded in spring with stronger, more fertile soil with much less overall work. The key is to let the winter freeze and thaw cycle do you work for you.
The first thing to do is to check your soil nutrient levels. A simple $20 test kit will set you on the right path. Once you have a rough idea of your soils needs, it is fairly easy to lightly work soil amendments into the ground, and let frost heave and winter rains finish the job. While it is not recommended to add nitrogen until spring, you can boost your phosphorous and potash levels now with great results, especially if using more slow release organic nutrients like greensand, bone meal or wood ashes.
Now is also a good time to dump a bit of compost into your beds to get the earthworms working again to disperse your amendments. Once you add your nutrients and compost, plant a simple cover crop to be tilled down in spring. Not only do cover crops fix nitrogen in the soil, when tilled down in spring, they boost the organic matter in the soil giving a strong boost to the microscopic culture in a spring time bed.