Story by Peter Wrapson
All months have their charms, but even so I find November the hardest to love. Last month’s autumn colour, so good this year, will soon hang like limp rags and that extra hour in bed a few weeks ago is poor compensation for the clocks going back. It does provide the welcome excuse to launch rockets and burn effigies in defiance of the long nights but otherwise November is a month in limbo, waiting for the first proper frosts to stop the world and draw a line under the old growing year. Yet those first clear winter days are wonderful when they arrive and make November still worth the price of admission – just.
There’s none of the urgency of spring or summer in the vegetable garden but plenty to do nonetheless, when light and weather allow. The jobs are largely worthy rather than exciting but save valuable time in spring if done now.
Now’s a good time to add organic matter to the vegetable plot to replenish the nutrients taken out by this year’s crops. Garden compost and well-rotted manure are both good soil-improvers; leaf-mould is lower in fertility but still useful both as a soil-improver and a weed-suppressing mulch, and it comes for free. All you have to do is rake up fallen leaves and stack them somewhere where they won’t blow about and can rot down in peace. After a year they’ll be ready to use.
Organic matter can either be dug in or simply spread on the surface for the worms to gradually bury. It’s a good idea to dig if you have trampled over your plot all year, since digging relieves compaction and plants find it harder to grow in compacted soil. Choose a dry day to dig, however, or you’ll compact it further. Soil should not be sticking to your boots. Digging has the disadvantage of bringing weed seeds to the surface, where they’ll later germinate, but it’s enjoyable and warming winter exercise. The second approach, where the worms do the hard graft for you, works well if you grow crops in raised beds. Compaction is less of an issue here as you can avoid walking on the soil. I’m glad to say that this is what we do at Jamie’s because I have enough digging to do on my own allotment!
Bad weather is the ideal time to hide in a shed or garage cleaning and oiling tools. Take it from me: when the handle of your favourite fork cracks for lack of linseed oil you feel very guilty. Evenings can be spent poring over seed catalogues or trawling websites to decide what to grow next year. I always look to try new things every year. If you plan on growing anything other than the most common varieties of potatoes then it’s sensible to get an order in this month, since seed companies have a habit of running out by the New Year.
The best November job has to be the sowing of over-wintering broad beans, in that you are already looking beyond winter to the food of early summer. A hardy variety (‘Aquadulce’ or ‘The Sutton’) sown now will be ready two weeks before ones sown in February. Beans sown any earlier in the autumn run the risk of putting on a bit too much leafy growth by the time the first hard frosts arrive and losses can be considerable. Even with a November sowing it’s still worth putting in more than you need so that you have plenty of spares to transplant into any gaps come the spring.
About the Author: Pete Wrapson is a very experienced gardener who lovingly takes care of Jamie’s garden in Essex.
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