November is a great time to be productive in your vegetable garden.
Here are a few things you should be doing this month.
Evaluate your garden layout
Use a gardening journal or simply a scrap piece of paper and sketch out your garden layout, if you haven’t already. Jot down what you planted where and how well crops produced in that area. Think about the light that spot received, how well the soil drained in that area and what problems you faced.
What can be improved upon for the next growing season? Did you have problems sowing seeds directly in the ground? Perhaps adding raised beds or using containers to grow crops could be a better plan for next year. Did you have a problem with garden pests? What kind of pests created problems? You might need to fence in your garden or add other pest specific deterrents.
Did the trees nearby or new construction obstruct the sunlight your garden, or part thereof, received? You might need to move your garden, or at least part of it. Have you outgrown your garden space? You might want to consider expanding your garden.
Improve your garden soil
The leaves are falling rapidly, in most areas, so now is a great time to start making leaf mold. This isn’t a common action Americans take, but it should be. It is a very popular thing to do in Europe however. Leaf mold is fairly easy to make and very beneficial to your garden. It’s also free so that’s a fantastic positive.
What exactly is leaf mold? Much like composting, leaf mold is creating a habitat where you can decompose matter. You simply gather fallen leaves into a pile and let nature take its course to break them down. It takes a long time though, six months to a year. Now is a great time to get started. Once you gather leaves, run them over with a lawn mower a few times to make them smaller. This will help them decompose faster. Then you can either make a pile of leaves, put them in a bag or place them in a container. Moisten the leaves; don’t soak them. If you make your leaf pile on the ground, it should be about five feet wide (1.5 m) and four feet high (1.2 m). Covering your pile of leaves with a tarp is a great way to lock in heat and speed up the process. You’ll need to keep your leaves moist so check on it every other week or so to see if you need to add water. If you decide to use large trash bags, just poke a few holes in them to allow air circulation. That’s all you need to do.
What good is leaf mold? Leaf mold is an excellent way to improve soil. Simply spread it about three inches (7.6 cm) thick in your garden. You can work it into the soil by hand, or till it. You can also just leave it on top of the soil as a mulch. It will improve your soil’s ability to retain moisture. If runoff is a current problem after it rains, leaf mold can help with that by retaining water. It will also keep the roots of a plant cooler when the temperature heats up. You don’t have to worry about it changing your soil’s pH. Decomposed leaves have a neutral pH.
If you choose to go the traditional style of composting, now is a great time to add organic matter to your garden beds. While your fallen leaves are decomposing, use your current compost to add nutrients to your soil. Don’t have a compost? You can start one any time throughout the year, but fall is a great time to start one. That is because there’s plenty of natural carbon and nitrogen materials readily available. The easiest way to compost is heap composting. This is when you simply make a pile out in the open. Composting in a bin is also a great option. When choosing a location for your compost, look for a flat area that is in partial shade and has well draining soil. Start with a layer of brown matter, such as twigs or pine needles. Then add a layer of green matter such as grass or leftovers from your meals. Alternate layers and keep the pile moist. Once you have a few layers, turn the heap over. You can also add fertilizer or manure to speed up the decomposition process. Soon, you’ll have wonderful compost to add to your garden.
If your garden is still producing, keep harvesting. It’s November and we still have tomatoes growing here in zone 7a. Some gardeners get tired and choose to pull up their plants and take a break from gardening. That’s ok too. We rather keep harvesting though. It might not be sunny and warm enough for tomatoes to ripen quickly on the vine, but you can harvest them and ripen them in a window or place them in a bag with an apple. If you planted a fall garden, some crops such as broccoli, brussels sprouts and lettuce might be ready to be harvested as well. If you are growing leaf lettuce, harvest a few leaves from the outside of each plant to promote further growth. When harvesting brussels sprouts, harvest them from the bottom up. You can cut off a broccoli crown and leave the plant to grow side shoots for an extra harvest.
In some areas, you might be able to continue growing vegetables all year long. Knowing your gardening zone can really help you know what to plant and when to plant it. For many of us, November is the time to plant bulbs. Spring flowers and garlic are planted in the fall when temperatures start to fall. We like to plant bulbs around the outside of our garden so that at the beginning of spring, we’ll have beautiful flowers to start attracting pollinators. Garlic is planted in the fall and is harvested in July. You can use a bulb planter tool to keep the depth of planting consistent. Make sure when planting bulbs, to point the pointy end up. Check out this article for a complete guide to growing garlic.
If you aren’t planting any more fruits and vegetables, consider planting a cover crop. This is also known as green manure. A cover crop is something that you plant specifically to help increase the quality of your soil. It can also help with erosion. There are two types of green manure: legumes and non legumes. Legumes are crops such as alfalfa, clover, and soybeans. Non Legumes are ryegrass, buckwheat, and oats. Simply spread the seeds over your soil and cover lightly. It’s best to plant the seeds just before it rains.