November in the garden
The first frosts usually arrive in November so try and complete all your autumn digging work as soon as possible. The cold winter weather gradually breaks down the large clods of earth leaving your soil a finer, more crumbly texture by early spring making it easier for planting and growing. Collect fallen leaves and store in a separate compost bin. Don’t forget to order your seed catalogues now.
Don’t leave your plots as bare soil once you’ve dug them as weeds will soon germinate and cover the area, taking valuable nutrients out of the soil and acting as a host for pests and diseases. It’s not too late to sow a green manure crop which is an excellent covering for ground that is not in use. Green manures improve soil fertility, increase the humus content, help to keep down weeds and loosen the soil. Field Beans and Rye are particularly good for heavy soils or try Forage Peas. Alternatively, cover the bare earth with organic mulch, either garden compost, well rotted farmyard manure or leaf mould; this improves the texture and water and nutrient holding capacity of the soil. You can also put an old carpet or lay thick black polythene sheets over the soil during the winter to discourage weeds from growing plus this gives protection from heavy winter rainfall. Feed winter crops like calabrese, Brussel sprouts and cabbages with a handful of bonemeal: scatter onto soil between rows and lightly rake in. This will add some much needed slow release organic nutrients to the crops.
Make sure raspberries, blackberries and other cane fruit have had this year’s fruiting canes removed down to the base. Cut out any new canes that are weak or over-crowded as well. For these and your other fruiting bushes and trees, remove weeds and lightly dig over soil, incorporate organic matter and mulch. Remove any diseased strawberry plants and burn them, tidy up the rest of the bed and mulch with organic matter.
Bare root plants are now available and if you haven’t yet prepared the planting site for new stock, do this as soon as possible. Check that all supports and ties for existing trees are firm enough to withstand autumn and winter gales and if you have a separate fruit cage, check the condition of this and repair as required. If you have trained fruit grown as espaliers, especially pears and apples, prune these now to maintain shape and size. Plum trees are the only fruit you shouldn’t prune now as this is done in the summer: plums are susceptible to a fungus, silverleaf, if you prune now. Rake up and burn leaves around all fruit trees as these could harbour pests and diseases.
Continue with leaf clearing and composting: check last year’s leaf compost pile for leafmould which you can put straight onto vacant plots which will mulch the bed, retain moisture, keep weeds down and enrich the soil during winter for you. Have a look at how your main garden compost heap is doing, too. Turn and mix the compost together and retrieve any well rotted stuff that you can use on beds. Keep your composting heap covered to maintain heat and protect from the winter rains which can make it go slimy and wash away nutrients.
- Broad beans for over-wintering and early peas
- Garlic, but make sure you use named varieties and not left over cloves from the kitchen as they may introduce diseases
- Onion sets and shallots can be planted now and will put on good root growth before winter comes
- Lamb’s lettuce and winter lettuce can be sown directly outside; cover plants with cloches to protect from the worst weather.
Root crops such as beetroot, carrots, celeriac, turnips and swedes can be harvested now. Store in a cool, dry, frost free place or bury in a trench, covering with soil, for use later. Parsnips can also be lifted but benefit from being left in the frost for a while as it enhances their flavour. Cauliflowers need to be protected from the frost; simply break some of the larger leaves and fold them over the curds.
Make sure you harvest all your tree fruit before the frosts arrive and store the fruit in a cool, dry, frost-free place. Only store fruit that is unblemished and disease free and wrap each fruit individually in newspaper, making sure they don’t touch each other when stored.
Philippa Pearson is a professional horticulturist and gardener, and she looks after a large estate in Hertfordshire amongst other projects. A keen and passionate gardener all her life, Philippa lives in rural Cambridgeshire where her ever increasing organically maintained vegetable and fruit garden provide a year round harvest of interesting crops, despite being on heavy clay.