The Kitchen Garden In November
We have had absolutely glorious fall weather here on the west coast. Lots of sunshine and warmth, followed by a smattering of rain here and there. Only the occasional frosty morning thus far. Perfect fall weather!
I have so many things to post about this month. Will try not to be too wordy, but you all know me, I sure do like to talk! Who would have ever thought there would be this much to say in mid November? Usually we are hunkered down for winter by now, but not this year …
This extended warm autumn weather has me missing my late summer garden. I did my garden clean up much earlier than usual, as I had to go out of town for a bit in early fall. At the time, I felt really good about getting it all done, clean and ready for winter before I left…. turns out I could have waited till I got back and enjoyed a couple extra months of homegrown veggies. Oh Mother Nature, so fickle, you just never know how it’s going to go. Next year, going to leave it in much longer… and watch, we will likely get snow in October ; )
That said, the fall and winter vegetables are thriving and thoroughly enjoying this weather.
We are picking sweet lettuce and spinach from the garden for salad fixings, fresh greens from the garden seem to always taste much better than store bought.
The beets have been so delish, simply roasted with crunchy pink salt and evoo. Toss some tasty celeriac (in the picture above) into the roaster, too, for a fantastic fall supper. We usually make this mild tasting root veggie into a pickled salad, but it can be eaten raw, roasted, or mashed.
The carrots are still waiting for that good frost to make them super sweet. They are still yummy, of course, but a good frost will bring out the sugars so they taste even better. Also… leave your carrots in the ground to harvest as needed, they keep well till spring. They tops may die back in a cold snap (or the bunnies eat them) but the roots themselves will be fine, even under a layer of snow.
Leave the crowns of your spinach plants in the ground after you harvest. In spring it will shoot up brand new sweet leaves again, allowing for an earlier crop while you wait for your spring sown plants to produce.
Fall Garden Clean Up in the Vegetable Bed
The work you put into your soil now makes a huge difference in how successful your garden is next summer.
Clean up all the debris, dead foliage, leaves, etc… from the surface of your vegetable beds.
Roots and such can be left under the soil as they will compost down and feed the soil, but anything left on top of the soil provides nesting material for garden pests to over-winter in, or lay eggs in. The only things left standing in my beds for winter are fall and winter veggies. If any bugs were to trying to hide in them, they are ousted as the veggies are harvested.
Pests like pill bugs and earwigs eat mostly decaying plant material, but will also nibble on roots and vegetable crops. You really do not want them over-wintering in the garden and waking up next to your newly planted spring onions, lettuces, and greens.
Now here is the thing… I am not saying to not have leaf piles, leaf mould, or compost piles. I’m not even saying that that you should take down everything in the yard … just saying that you do not want any of this in your actual veggie plot. Leave safe nesting places for critters in other parts of the yard, not where you grow your food.
Our endangered native bees burrow into the ground or into hollow stemmed plants for the winter so I highly advocate that you do not do too thorough a clean up in the rest of your yard. Leave stuff like raspberry canes, hollow flower stems, etc… standing for the bees to sleep in until spring. Make leaf piles and wood piles for ladybugs to nest in…. away from the veggie plot.
To mulch or not to mulch? As you probably gathered, I do not. For the reasons mentioned above, none of my veggies are mulched, not even the garlic. Winter veggies are hardy here in the lovely west coast winters, and garlic is the hardiest of all.
However, if you do wish to mulch over some half-hardy or tender plants, wait to do so till the weather turns cold and we have had a few light frosts first, so that the bugs have already nested elsewhere. Push aside the mulch in spring to warm the soil.
Feed The Vegetable Bed Now
This is also the time to feed your garden. While it is not to late to do so in spring, if you do it now, it has time to break down and make a difference in the garden before you begin planting in spring.
Add a few inches of finished compost or manure on top of your beds. Do not dig in, just rake it out smooth and let the elements and micro-organisms do their work to distribute the nutrients. You can also add other amendments to your beds now, if needed, to break down over the winter. This may be bonemeal, bloodmeal, alfalfa meal, rock phosphates, worm castings, lime, etc… Do a soil test and find out what you need. Add now and you are ready to plant in spring, no waiting, no muss or fuss.
If you want to feed your soil with garden or kitchen waste, trench composting is the way to go. Only do this if you are sure that you will not have dogs, raccoons, rodents, cats, etc… digging up your trenches and eating the compost. Dogs can get very, very ill from eating compost that is in the process of breaking down. If in doubt, ask me about our little Pekingese cross Snickers sometime.
To do trench composting, you want to dig a deep trench down the middle of your garden bed. It sure be at least a shovel width wide and 6 to 12 inches deep, wider if you have more to compost. Add your goodies to the trench and cover with several inches of garden soil. The soil life will break down that compost into garden gold. My dogs will dig up the rotting foods so I am unable to do this method, but it really is a fantastic way to feed your soil.
Lemons, limes, and other citrus trees need to be over-wintered in a bright location where it is not too hot or too dry or they will lose their leaves, flowers, fruits, and may even perish. They do not like it indoors! A greenhouse or sunroom is perfect for this, kept above freezing, ideally between 5 to 10 degrees Celsius for the night time lows. My greenhouse is set at 5 to 7 degrees, so it goes higher on sunny, nice days, but never dips lower.
If you do not have a greenhouse with a heater (portable or built in), leave it on the porch, under the eaves and close to the house for warmth. Bring in during cold snaps and then pop it out again.
Alternately, many build poly wrapped wood frame ‘greenhouses’ around their plants for the winter. First wrap the plant in old fashioned Christmas lights (not LED), build a shelter for the tree, plug in the lights to emit heat inside the mini-greenhouse during the night. Will look nice and festive on your porch and keep the tree warm enough to not lose it’s fruits or leaves. Time to think outside the box. How to keep it bright, warm, not too hot, and happy for the winter? Christmas lights and poly frames are the (inexpensive) answer.
Other citrus tips..
Keep them on the dry side in winter. I water once every 3 to 4 weeks.
Wash the trees down well, spray for aphids, and check for scale. Citrus (and Sweet Bay trees) are prone to soft scale. If you find it on the undersides of the leaves, you will want to use a small kitchen brush and soapy water to scrub down the stems and branches, and then wipe down each leaf with a soft cloth or baby bum wipe. It is a lot of work but a necessary task. Put them out in spring and leave till late fall so that the birds and beneficial insects eat the scale before it becomes a problem.
I met a gardener last year who says that she does not bring her citrus trees out of the house because she’s afraid of them getting scale. I found this to be such a sad statement. Plants can get scale no matter where you house them, but if they are always indoors, they won’t produce fruits. I guess I just don’t get it … I would much rather chance it and harvest lemons!
Do not feed at this time of year as they are currently not doing much besides finishing off some fruits. Begin feeding again in February with an organic slow release or a water in fert.
A quick note about geraniums (pelargoniums), lantana, fuchsias, and other hardy annuals..
Wash them up, spray with Safer’s Soap for bugs, and bring them indoors into a bright window. You can repot now or leave it till spring, I tend to prefer spring as they are still full of blooms in autumn and add such cheer to the greenhouse.
These hardy plants can be housed in the greenhouse, basement, shed, or the house. They don’t mind being cool but do not want to freeze. You can even remove geraniums from the pot, shake off most of the soil, toss them into a paper bag or cardboard box, mist a little bit, store in a cool spot, and walk away. So easy to over-winter.
If kept in the pot, do not overwater, you want them on the dry side so as not to rot out the roots while they are dormant. The cooler the spot, the less you water. Remove spent blooms and yellowing foliage else they will go fuzzy with mould. In February, cut them back hard so that they begin to put on nice, new, bushy growth and do not get lanky.
Feed the birds!
Birds of all kinds love these homemade birdseed wreaths, even the sapsuckers and woodpeckers.
They are easy to make, made with really good quality seeds chosen for our local birds, suet, and peanut butter. No crazy ingredients like corn syrup or flour, just high in healthy fats and seeds to keep the birds happy and healthy through the winter months. I will share the easy peasy recipe in the next post.
The seed catalogues will soon start rolling in, when this postal strike is over, and we can begin dreaming about next years gardens!