This is a good time to concentrate on the soil rather than the plants.

The garden is cleared out, ready for a good mulching, and there really isn't a whole lot to do right now. But there are still a few good weekends left before you bid that little plot "good winter" and abandon it until the onions start pushing through in the early spring.

All of which brings us to soil samples. Getting a soil sample is a hassle, but if you have never done this in your garden, I would recommend the excercise at least once. And now is an excellent time.

ADDING LIMESTONE: You might decide simply to take your chances and add a few basic ingredients that would suit well for the general soil conditions in the area, which are acidy. Most garden products prefer a soil that is slightly acid, but neutral -- in technical jargon, a pH of 6.5 to 7. A good rule of thumb is to dump about five pounds of garden limestone to every hundred square feet. Wear a bandana over your nose and mouth when you're adding this, or you'll end up coughing and choking.

MULCH, MULCH, MULCH: I always think of fall mulching as keeping the worms warm over the winter. It's impossible to overemphasize how important mulching is -- not only because it adds rich organic matter (humus) but because it will make your life so much easier in the spring and in the long run, too.

Of course, the big problem is always where to get mulch. Almost any organic substance will help, keeping in mind that wood shavings, sawdust and leaves will add acid to your soil. Ideally you want manure-rich straw or spoiled hay, and inevitably, this involves a pickup truck or station wagon and a ride to the country. Check stables and close- in farms. Most places are only too happy to get rid of used straw and hay. Bring along bags to put it in, or ask the owner for woven plastic feed bags, which won't break with the weight as garbage or leaf bags will.

And, if all this is too much trouble, sow a cover crop of winter rye or clover, both of which will have to be tilled under in the spring, but make excellent winter mulches.