Updates from November 2010.
Growth is now much slower, despite the recent warmth, and there should be time in November to continue preparing your plot for next spring and summer. Apart from sowing broad beans outdoors, in November’s first week – or until month’s end if module sowing indoors – much time can be spent from now on to create good soil conditions for future growth, right through to the end of next year, and even beyond.
Briefly looking back at October, it has been drier than usual here and I was amazed at how dry some lumps of soil were when I dug out a wonderful selection of extremely long parsnip roots. They have clearly been pulling out a lot of moisture to grow (and were never watered) and we have not yet had enough rain to make the soil moist again, let alone flow through to replenish groundwater. It is a concern for next year, with many forecasts suggesting a dry winter ahead.
So all organic matter that you can add during winter is going to be even more valuable next summer, for the moisture it is able to hold, as well as for its ability to feed soil organisms and to add nutrients. Animal manures have most of the latter but I’m afraid you do need to ask questions of the suppliers, about aminopyralid herbicides that may have been applied to the animals’ grass. Procuring a little of the manure and sowing tomatoes (especially susceptible) in indoor warmth will inform you within a fortnight whether there is any herbicide contamination. I have done this and am impressed by the healthy growth of all seeds and plants in pure, well rotted cow manure which has been stacked for about a year.
Winter salad leaves
Also I have filled old mushroom boxes with either manure or 9-12 month old home made compost, pressed in firmly; then I planted salads such as rocket, pak choi, spinach, mustards and endive.
There is still just time to plant these, as opposed to sowing them as seed. Salads sown at this time of year, even in the greenhouse or indoors, take extra time to germinate and grow to any worthwhile size, so you may have to wait until February or March for worthwhile harvests from November sowings.
Whereas seeds sown in September have grown into plants that are now offering leaves, even outside but more especially undercover. If you missed the boat, make a special note to remind you next year, because sowings missed in the autumn do not catch up when sown later, unlike in the spring.
There are plenty of harvests to enjoy in November – brussels sprouts now coming into their own, cabbages of all kinds and kale, leeks, even some late calabrese in my garden which survived the frosts better than I expected. We had two nights of moderate frost, down to -4C, and I was in a state of some agitation the following days, especially for my salad leaves.
However they have come through with only slight damage, mainly to the oldest lettuce plants, while endives in particular are now re-growing well. Chinese cabbage and many chicories are continuing to heart up nicely: it looks as though I sowed them on almost exactly the right day (July 23rd) for having large plants which are not hearting too early. Ideally I seek to have hearts for harvest throughout November and even up to Christmas if it is not too frosty. They act as a ‘reserve’ of salad leaves at a time when new growth outdoors is slow, and when their leaves are added to mustards, mizuna, rocket, leaf radish and chervil it means that I can source about three quarters of my November salad from outdoor plants.
After cutting any hearts or taking last harvests of summer sown lettuce, bulb fennel, celery, cabbage, roots and so forth, I simply clear any remaining leaves and spread 1-2” of dark compost or manure. The only roots I am careful to remove are of chicories and chards or leaf beet, because they re-grow with some persistence. Most vegetables’ roots can be left in the soil when clearing beds, after pulling out their main stem. At the same time, all weeds want removing when you are practicing no dig, so that compost is then spread on clean soil.
On the other hand if you are making new beds and/or mulching weedy ground with thicker dressings – say 4-6” which I recommend as a one-off mulch on any weedy, poor soil, in its first year – you do not need to weed first because the compost is then thick enough to keep light off existing leaves and thus creates a clean surface for sowing and planting, as long as there are not too many weed seeds in the compost or manure you are using. Keep the cleanest for a top layer.
In my garden the composts and manures I use are the main source of next year’s weed growth, and necessitate some careful spring hoeing or hand weeding of small weed seedlings. However this is manageable and is a worthwhile price to pay for the added fertility. Also I find that after about May, few new weeds are germinating and the undisturbed soil/compost settles into a lovely clean state, allowing most of my energy to go into growing vegetables and flowers.
One golden rule is to deal with weeds as soon as you see them, even when time is short. This is seldom realised and before you know it there is a thick carpet of weeds which is FAR harder to deal with than it would have been a week or fortnight earlier. Do keep your eyes open at all times and be prepared to make some extra effort when you see weeds emerging, in order to enjoy happy gardening later on.
A word on carrot root fly. It is extremely prevalent around here this autumn and I have vowed to use some protection next year. Either a mesh over all carrots from early August until harvest time, or a polythene barrier 18” high around the carrot bed. Damage is currently so bad that a lot of roots have to be thrown away, and few of the rest will keep well. I was lulled into a sense of false security by the absence of any damage to summer carrots.
At least the leeks are mostly recovering from attack by caterpillars of the dreaded leek moth. It appears that well grown plants have an ability to shrug off the damage, with most of the caterpillars having now turned into pupae and overwintering moths. Make a note to sow leeks in good time next year, during the first half of April, for planting out before the end of June.