November is the month when growth in the vegetable garden finally grinds to a halt. Temperatures fall and daylight levels decrease, the season is over and other than harvesting any remaining crops there is very little plant tending to be done.
We get plenty of calls at this time of year from optimistic new gardeners looking for Winter crops they can sow or plant but in reality there is very little you can do. Once the temperature drops growth stops; we can see this around the garden when we look at grass or weeds which either die back or grow very little until the following Spring. In fact, weeds are the best indicators of when to sow next year as when the soil reaches growing temperature again the weeds come back to life.
November is more about storing any remaining crops and preparing the garden for next season by feeding and covering the soil. I rather like the expression ‘putting the garden to bed’ as in reality that’s exactly what you should be doing – adding a blanket of compost or manure mulch and covering to protect from the inevitable rain.
‘The Vegetable Garden in November’ aims to give you a comprehensive list of things to do in the garden in November based on our experience in our own gardens. Obviously if you have a tunnel or a greenhouse there will be a little more you can do and can still sow Oriental salads like rocket or mustard greens along with early carrots if it doesn’t get too cold.
Harvesting vegetables in November and storing crops.
Some crops can be left in the ground over the Winter like kale, brussels sprouts, sprouting broccoli etc… but I prefer to harvest any root crops to make sure they don’t either rot in the ground or become meals for any birds, animals, insects or slugs that may have their eye on them.
Potatoes can be stored in boxes of damp sand but I prefer to use a large wicker basket and layers of newspaper which i find works very well. Build the potatoes up in layers with a couple of sheets of newsprint separating each tier. Store your baskets of spuds in a cool, dark shed of garage where they should keep till the following spring.
You can view suitable wicker potato storage baskets here.
Carrots can be left in the ground over the winter if you are growing in raised beds or have a nice well drained, sandy soil but I prefer to lift them at this stage and inspect for carrot fly damage. If the damage isn’t too bad you can still use carrots (you will see little tunnels on the skin of the root) by cutting off the bad bits but they won’t be good for storage. Remember parsnips also suffer from root fly so if you have damage on your carrots you should lift your parsnips too and sort for immediate use or storage.
As with most root vegetables carrots are best stored in boxes of moist sand to prevent them loosing moisture. Homegrown carrots seem to spoil a lot quicker than shop bought varieties so get them into the boxes of sand quickly after pulling to ensure they retain their crunch.
Storing other root crops
Other root vegetable crops are stored in the same way in boxes of moist sand to retain moisture. You should store the following vegetables in this way: Beetroot, carrot, celeriac, parsnips, swede and turnip.
If you have any overwintering brassica crops like kale, sprouts or sprouting broccoli keep them healthy by removing any yellowing or dead leaves. Dead leaves can encourage disease if left lying around but removing them also increases airflow around the stems which helps keep problems at bay.
If you’re growing tall brassicas like sprouts and broccoli it is useful to stake them at this stage to prevent them rocking and eventually falling over in the Winter winds. Hammer a stake beside the plant and tie with gardening twine.
Kale is a very hardy plant and will survive even the coldest of Winters. Pick the leaves around the stem of the plant rather than the smaller leaves at the growing tip. Kale will keep growing upwards as you remove the lower leaves resembling an odd little palm tree shape by Spring, if you remove the growing tip the plant will stop growing.
If you missed sowing garlic in October you can still put it in at the beginning of November before any hard frost arrives. Autumn/Winter garlic usually gives much better yields than Spring planted cloves but is not recommended if your garden is prone to waterlogging in wet weather. If you have a wet garden garlic can still be grown in large pots or better still, in timber raised beds.
You can read more about planting garlic by reading our article ‘Growing Garlic‘ by clicking the link.
You can purchase premium quality seed garlic bulbs by visiting the ‘Alliums’ (that’s the garlic and onion family) section in our webshop.
Fallen leaves are high in carbon but low in nitrogen so are an excellent addition to your compost heap if you find (as most people do) you have too much green material. ‘Leaf mould’ or leaves rotted over a year or two also make an excellent soil improver which helps with soil structure and improves the moisture holding capacity (well rotted leafmould can hold up to 500 times its weight in water!). Leaf mould also acts as a stimulant for beneficial microbial life in your garden soil which in turn make nitrogen and other nutrients available to your plants.
You can read more about the benefits of collecting Autumn leaves, how to build a leaf mould cage and how to use leafmould by reading ‘Collecting Autumn Leaves‘ here. The best tool we’ve seen for collecting Autumn leaves is the ‘Golden Gark‘ which you can purchase by clicking the link.
A good thing to remember about soil is that you almost never see it bare in nature, it’s always covered by vegetation of some sort. In fact the only time you do see bare soil is when we have something to do with it; either in a cultivated garden, in commercial agriculture or when we want to build something. The simple truth is bare soil is not a good idea as nutrients are washed down through it by rain and it becomes waterlogged which kills beneficial soil life.
The other good thing to remember is your soil is the single most important thing in your vegetable garden.
Winters in Ireland and UK tend to be wet (especially in Ireland) and can do untold damage to your soil if left unprotected. You can see valuable soil (and nutrients) being lost from runoff in the photo opposite where a field is left uncovered by vegetation.
Soil also needs to be fed to replace nutrients used to produce this years crops and to prepare for the demands of the following year. Luckily these 2 jobs can be combined into one by adding a thick mulch which feeds and protects. Remember vegetables are very demanding plants and take a lot from your garden so we need to constantly replenish or the soil will become exhausted and unproductive.
Mulching with a nutrient rich cover of garden compost, well rotted manure, seaweed or leaf mould will feed your soil and supply vital protection from the elements. I’m lucky as I’m near the sea and have a ready supply of seaweed washed up by Atlantic storms but clearly this isn’t an option for many of you. My recommendation is to add a feeding mulch and cover the area with black plastic (I prefer ‘Mypex’ or similar as it allows the material underneath to breathe), this has the added benefit of excluding light meaning your patch will be weed free in Spring.
My Winter bedtime recipe
If you can get your hands on seaweed and well rotted organic farmyard manure they will also be perfect but my Winter recipe includes soil improvers available on our website. Soil health is the keystone of our business and we pride ourselves on supplying the best natural mulches and additives you will get anywhere.
Add your nutrients on top of your beds and resist the urge to dig it in as you will damage the structure of the soil. You are also adding delicious layers of food for earthworms and other bugs who will dig it in for you, a bit like ‘The elf and the shoemaker’ when you come back in Spring you’ll find all the work done!
Here’s my Winter bedtime recipe:
1st layer: Envirogrind – Good soil 1 bucket per square meter, poor soil 2 buckets.
Envirogrind is properly composted green waste (much the same as good garden compost) which also has 25% composted fish waste.
Consistency is dark and crumbly with minimal woody material. I have seen this stuff being made in special aerated composting bays which get extremely hot so kill off any weed seeds and pathogens. Envirogrind adds bulky organic matter to feed your soil and improve structure.
You can purchase ‘Envirogrind’ soil improver here.
2nd layer: Lady Muck Horse manure – 1 bucket per square meter.
There really is no substitute for manure for adding bulk and providing an excellent source of slow release nitrogen. Lady Muck is organically composted horse manure which we have found to be the best in comparison to competing products (which often contain very little manure!) with a good, well aged consistency.
You can purchase ‘Lady Muck’ organically produced horse manure here.
3rd layer: Soil Renew bacterial soil invigorator – 50 gm per square meter.
Soil renew is a blend of specific composted plants and a compete ecosystem of microorganisms. The microorganisms break down the 2 layers of organic material you’ve added to produce humus far quicker than normal. Within weeks you will notice extra earthworm activity which further increases the production of humus and improves drainage in the soil.
Soil Renew works in a natural way harnessing nature to achieve a healthy soil which will in turn produce healthy plants, it is an organic and eco friendly soil amendment. Many of the microorganisms in the mix will be present in your garden anyway, the pellets just vastly increase the numbers and therefore the processing power of your soil.
You can purchase ‘Soil Renew’ soil improver here.
layer 4: Cover with woven weed control membrane.
Depending what the winter is like this may not be necessary but if you live in an area of high rainfall I’d highly recommend it. Weed control fabric is semipermeable so allows some air and water through the weave which helps the organic material below decompose. As we’ve said already the fact it excludes light is a big bonus in keeping weeds away which can be a problem in a mild Winter and definitely a nuisance in early Spring. Cover entire area weighing down with plenty of stones etc… to make sure it doesn’t flap about.
A woven weed control fabric like ‘Mypex’ is also better than standard black plastic because it won’t tear and can be re-used for a number of seasons.
You can purchase ‘Mypex’ weed control fabric here.
As the outside temperature cools your compost bin will slow down and unless you have a heavily insulated unit will probably stop towards the end of November until it warms in the Spring. If you have an open compost heap or bin it will benefit from turning in November to mix the ingredients and start the process again. Mixing will help to produce more heat and hopefully complete the process before it gets too cold.
Open compost bins should also be covered to prevent leaching of nutrients and becoming too wet in heavy rain. A slab of foam insulating board weighed down with a square of timber an a couple of bricks will help an open bin stay dry, if you have an open heap cover with black plastic.
You can view our full range of compost bins here.