November 2020 avoid unnecessary jobs, ease into winter, make new beds, love your fungi
Prepare for winter with a clear mind. Beware the seasonal misunderstandings which take root from misleading information. They waste your time and cost you money. My quotes below are to give you an idea, from November’s Organic Gardening Catalogue newsletter, and I balance them with my seasonal advice:
- “Use fleece and cloches to protect swede against frost and possible snow.” Actually swede/rutabaga is very frost hardy and suffers no damage from snow.
- “Sow sweet peas in root trainers or other deep pots”. In fact, sweet peas and broad beans do not need deep modules – I grow broad beans and peas in modules just 5cm/2in deep, see the photo.
- “Salad leaves can be sown now, every three weeks, and you’ll never again need to buy salad leaves”. Actually it’s best not to sow salad leaves (for the garden) from now until February, because they would take a long time to grow into plants large enough for harvesting. September is the month for sowing, even late August for plants to grow outside, see below. Or you can sow seeds for micro greens, say on a windowsill.
- “After the first frosts leeks, parsnips and Brussels spouts can be harvested” – this is of course true, but is also misleading. Here we have harvested many already, and they are delicious. Then they become sweeter in colder weather, but if you wait for a frost, your period of eating can be truncated!
- “Give pots and seed trays a good clean” – actually there is no need to clean pots! The pea plants below left are in a 35 year old tray which I have never, ever cleaned.
My online course 1 has a popular lesson about Myths in gardening. Look for answers in your garden, don’t be afraid to try things. Notice how nature is transitioning to the different season ahead.
Slow new growth compared to strong ‘stored growth’
Daylight levels are now low, the same as in early February. In the UK there is less than ten hours between sunrise and sunset, something of a cut-off point for new growth to be strong.
We notice when picking salad every week, from the same plants, how leaf size and thickness keeps reducing. New leaves weigh a lot less than a month ago, for the same number of leaves.
Hence my use of Chinese cabbage and radicchios in our bags of mixed salad leaves. We cut their hearts and disassemble leaves. I call them “stored growth”, from what they achieved in the days of light and warmth.
Sowing dates for these autumn harvests are critical, and my 2021 Calendar hung on a wall next year will give you the reminders of dates, plus seasonal advice. We offer two Calendars at a discount. And an eCalendar too, with a Spanish version in the pipeline.
No dig – too easy?!!
This is a comment to my book and Calendar video of 28th October, from Anita Swart:
“Hi really enjoy your videos, because I am dyslexic, this helps me a lot. Have just spread cardboard to extend my tiny garden. Most of the neighbours think I have lost it. So set in their ways. Wish BBC would show something new with your method of gardening.”
The resistance to simplicity amazes me, but it seems the BBC are growing more interested in no dig. The method is common sense, good for the huge amount of wildlife in soil, and such a saving in time. The leeks and spring onions below have needed almost no weeding. In fact I have pulled six so far, from that area of spring onions, making it so easy to grow them. See the next comment as well.
Weed and slug reduction
This comment is from Neil Munro in London, who had to spend a lot of time caring for an ill member of his family:
“Over the summer I was able to attend the allotment (double standard plot about 10m by 20m) on only a dozen occasions in that time. I was able to plant, water, harvest and nothing else. More recently, I managed to get back there for the first time in a fortnight a few days ago where the weeds had outgrown the plants and were about to set seed. Here is the good bit. My partner and I spent two hours weeding, and in that time, restored the beds to a weed free status.”
Weeds are not onerous in no dig, however do pull any you see. In this season here we might see willow herb, bittercress, groundsel, small meadow grasses, sow thistle, chickweed and cleavers(goosegrass). All are annual weeds and easy to pull.
Keep pulling perennial weed leaves you see too, such as couch grass. Or use a trowel to loosen and remove more roots just below surface level. You can put them on the compost heap. More details in Module 4 of the online course.
Having few weeds affords less habitats for slugs. Plus it helps to keep the garden tidy – see how many broccoli leaves (lower old ones) were removed 30th October by Chermayne. She has been working here for nine weeks and helped enormously, plus is great company. Her aim is to find some land for growing commercially, or to work for somebody doing that.
We have a delightful range of mushrooms appearing now at Homeacres. They like the autumn rains and mild conditions.
I am not good at recognising then, but the most common is a kind I think of Geastrum, as in the carrot bed photo. It’s native to woodland edges so is presumably stimulated by woody bits in my homemade compost, and the thin cover of wood on paths too.
I found some field mushroom too, close to the wild garden edge, and enjoy eating them, but not the others.
Compost to use for creating new beds
A question on You Tube from Jack Kardzhyan, on 29th October, caught a mood. What do you believe, among all the conflicting advice? I give my answers in the bullet points, and you will find a lot of details in my new No Dig book.
“What would you recommend I use to fill up my bed? Any suggestions or help would be appreciated as I watched so many videos and got more confused because everyone says something different.”
- Any compost is good, with lumpier quality at the bottom. Perhaps buy potting soil for a 3cm/1in top layer.
- Walk on it to firm down, unless smoking wet.
- Avoid soil where possible. It brings relatively little goodness or structure to the ingredients of a filled bed – which is sitting on plenty of soil.
- It’s as simple as that. Discover more details about compost making and using in module 5 of my first online course – you can now buy sections of the course separately.
Grass and weeds always spread to colonise any free space, so be organised with your edges. Mostly we keep the grass edges mown, and cut the sides monthly, where grass meets path, to prevent it spreading in. Long handled shears are useful.
With new beds, cardboard is quick and effective to define an edge. Also to increase bed size if you want to, by adding path width at the edge. The photos show this for beds which are 10 months old.
You have options. Either twist out the beetroots of your preferred size, leaving the rest to swell a little more. Or harvest them all, and larger ones will store for longest.
Leeks grow slowly all winter here so it can work to remove larger ones with a trowel, from a clump of three or four. Use a knife or sharp trowel to cut around the root edges below ground level, to avoid disturbing roots of the other leeks. Or remove whole clumps here and there, which thins out leek plants in the bed.
More planting?! And compost depth
It has been ild here and we had spare plants, so we popped them into a bed recently cleared of lettuce. We spread an inch/2.5cm new compost before transplanting. I am spreading less compost now, as soil structure is so good, and growth so strong.
We may or may not have big harvests from the new plantings – of not, they are a nice cover crop!
Peas sown now are for transplanting in the polytunnel, also in boxes in the greenhouse.
It’s that time of year, to cutdown the fast yellowing ferns. This helps you to pull any weeds, then spread some compost on the bed.
All is easier when the ground is more level that ridged. We put the stems into a middle path. Long term this maintains its level, alongside the compost we put on the two rows of crowns on either side. Learn more from the video embedded here.