It was a beautiful November day today. It was sunny, about 50 with little wind. I had been wanting to get out into the garden for days, but it was chilly, windy and cloudy and there was too much going on in other areas of my life. So what does a gardener do in November? Harvest, plant, transplant, cover, uncover, clean up and compost. There are new experiments and experiences each year. It is all really quite satisfying and exciting.
Harvesting all the cole crops (broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbages and collards) is best this time of year because the vegetables have a mild, sweetness after a frost.
There are still beets and carrots, cilantro and parsley, celery and lettuce, leeks and chard, Jerusalem artichokes and green onions of many sorts. With minimal protection, all these crops will produce well into December most years. I used hoops made from old tubing (from radiant heat) or wire. I cover that with garden row covers (the heavy ones) and then plastic for the more tender plants (beets, carrots, cilantro and broccoli). I never cover my perennial herb garden and it produces until covered with snow.
On nice days (above freezing) I remove the covers and let the plants soak in sun and rain. Once there is heavy snow this system doesn’t work too well, but if I keep things covered all winter I am rewarded with many plants wintering over and producing again in the spring. To solve the problem of winter harvest, mostly of greens, we tried a new experiment.
This spring we built two new cinder block beds, one three blocks high and the other only one block high with an isle between them, the taller bed on the north. The hope is that the low winter sun will heat the concrete and prolong the growing season. We placed a plastic “greenhouse” over them this spring and were delighted with the rapid and healthy growth.
I planted the coles and they got so tall that they touched the roof – 9 ft. The twelve windows and two doors all have screens and I felt very smug that they wouldn’t be bothered by pests in their screened in castle. I carefully zipped and unzipped the screens each time I watered or picked, but still a cabbage moth found her way in. I was unaware of the visit until the house was filled with the moths. The growth of the plants was so vigorous, that I didn’t even notice the caterpillars (but then I wasn’t watching, sure that the plants were safe). Hundreds of white moths and caterpillars later, I removed the now struggling plants and replanted the one bed with lettuce and kale. One bed was replanted in August and the other one today. I pulled up parsley, celery and cilantro that were growing in the cinder block “holes” in the main garden and replanted them in the greenhouse. There are chives, welch onions, marjoram, cilantro, lots of lettuce and chard and a smart pot of baby beets. The days may be too short and the temperatures too cold for the lettuce, beets and small kale to come to maturity. We will see. Often the winter won’t kill the small plants, but they just hibernate until spring and supply early harvests.
Another experiment this fall is building a hugelkultur (see here http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/)
The bed starts with big logs stacked in a rectangle. Smaller logs, branches and twigs follow. I am at the point of putting garden waste on top (artichoke stalks, half done compost, spent plants). I will add leaves and compost and some dirt and sand as it is available. The bed promises to produce for 30 years or more without water or fertilizer, the rotting wood providing moisture and encouraging all the microbes to work on decomposing. This action releases nutrients for plants. If it works well, I will take more pictures and report back next year.
Finally, the beds that are empty are prepared for spring planting. It is good to do it in the fall when it is dry and cool. We have just about finished collecting leaves. This year I have stored many in empty tomato cages to keep them in the garden. I will distribute them in the spring.
Inside I garden all winter. The planter bed is too full right now and in need of pruning back to let the sun come in. I love that I can bring in many plants to join our resident house plants. Mexican sage produces long, velvety blue blossoms in the fall and adds color and interest when tucked in with the green plants. Ginger, jasmine, bay, lemon verbena and pomegranate all seem to be glad to be inside again. I save the geraniums, oxalis, dahlia bulbs in the garage with the squash and other winter stored vegetables.
I am looking forward to reading about gardening as part of my winter activities. Next month we can share our favorite books.