12 months of gardening | Vanburen
The hot weather lasts a little longer this year and it looks like the first frost will last for another week or so. If not, bring tropical plants and tender perennials indoors. Frost is possible at 39 degrees, if the dew point is below 40 at sunset and there is little wind. To be on the safe side, cover your crops in hot weather if expected. Many cool-weather crops easily survive up to 28 degrees, with the exception of seedlings, which can expire at 33 degrees. So cover them up if you started late in your fall garden. As a rule of thumb, and there are several exceptions, most plants freeze when the temperature drops to 28 for five hours.
Gardeners who fed their crops in hot weather during times of drought and insect attacks last summer are now reaping the rewards of those efforts. I still harvest tomatoes, green beans, okra, peppers and zucchini.
Fall crops in cooler weather also benefited from the mild conditions, although my first set of lettuce went into seedlings due to faster growth in warmer weather. Subsequent plantings show vigorous development. Pods formed on the snow peas. Onions are harvested as needed. Small thinning carrots for salads. The late planted garlic has come, and the leaves are chopped for soups. Kale, collard greens, and Swiss chard are my winter pot green picks this year and are doing well.
My friend and mentor, Lalla Ostergren, used to say that she had a garden plan for every month of the year. His contagious enthusiasm made me take a closer look at my approach to gardening and made me push harder during what some call the ‘off season’. Let’s see what can be accomplished in November.
Fall gardens don’t need a lot of weeding or insect control, but they do need to be watered. Since plant growth slows down with cooler temperatures and less sunlight, less water will be needed. When watering, water deeply and allow the surface to dry before watering again. This is especially important inside season extenders, as too much humidity can promote the growth of mold and fungus. Letting things dry out between waterings helps slow this down.
It is not too late to plant trees and shrubs. Remember to water during the winter because their roots have not yet grown.
Spring flowering bulbs can still be planted. If you like potted flowers, plant the bulbs in pots and then poke them into the ground or cover them with a thick layer of mulch. At the end of winter, take them out and place them in decorative places. These should also be watered during dry periods. And if you have existing areas with bulbs in your garden, now is a good time to fertilize.
Cut the grass low during the last mowing of the season. If you have a mulching mower, use it to shred dead leaves for your compost pile, flower beds, and garden. Drain the gas from your mower before storing it.
Before buying a mulching mower, I raked all my leaves into huge piles. Dogs loved to play in them and used them for sleeping. During the winter I would flip them over and miss again. Between my efforts and those of the dogs, the leaf piles in the spring looked like compost and made a great addition to the garden.
Remember to turn the compost pile regularly. Add coffee grounds if you are using them. And unless you’re a master level composter, remove your diseased yard waste to a remote location or burn it.
Now is a good time to take notes on what worked in the summer garden and what did not and why. Better yet, keep a permanent log of the weather, the impact of insects and critters on the garden, productivity, varieties and products used, costs, disposition, flowering times, photos, etc. Such a record can be invaluable in planning the garden for the next year. A successful garden happens more frequently for the savvy.
Now is a good time to have your soil tested to see what amendments it needs to start spring well. Soil is made up of living and dead organic matter, minerals, water and air. Improving your soil will increase the vigor and productivity of the plants.
An important element to check is the pH of the soil. It is the measure of the alkalinity or acidity of your soil. Partly due to the large number of pines and oaks here, many places in the county tend to be acidic. Most garden plants prefer almost neutral soil, so it’s likely your location will need some amendments to achieve this balance. Test kits are commercially available.
If your soil is found to be acidic, garden lime or limestone is generally recommended to reduce acidity. It contains calcium and magnesium, both essential for healthy plants. This is often not a quick fix and may take multiple applications. Fall is the best time to start.
On a related note, gardens that use large amounts of compost rarely have pH imbalances. Finished compost will naturally lower the pH level in too alkaline soil and increase it in too acidic soil. It has the ability to balance pH levels, which makes it another reason to start a compost heap.
In November, Lalla was still spreading sulfur and lime around her fruit trees, vines, and the area where she planned to grow tomatoes next year. She then covered it with shredded leaves. In addition to the pH balancing and minerals added by the lime, she used the sulfur to slow the growth of fungi. She was sure her “perfect” grapes were the result.
She had also protected the peppers and tomatoes in her garden with anti-freeze blankets that she had made by sewing together used drying sheets. During the month of November, she would dig up a few pepper and tomato plants, put them in 5 gallon buckets and move them to her greenhouse. I was impressed and started this practice myself. The cherry tomato and hot pepper plants worked the best for me. I put them in when it’s cold and I take them out when it’s hot.
The potatoes can be planted now. Plant about four inches deep in loose soil and cover with eight inches of mulch. Keep adding mulch as it settles.
And finally, I encourage frequent walks. This is one of the most beautiful times of the year, as all the foliage turns color and falls to the ground, once again revealing the incredibly picturesque configuration of this land we are fortunate to live in. It contributes to my sanity and nourishes my soul.
Lalla was a great example of healthy living and she was a good storyteller. Here is one of his stories.
“We were very poor and couldn’t find any toys in our house, so we made do with what we had. I remember a sunny but cold November Saturday with my nephew. We sat in the sun, sheltered from the wind in the corner of the fireplace. We were happy as larks, smashing black nuts and choosing the treats with horseshoe nails. When I had my first handful of hearts, I ran around the house and offered them to Moma. She was busy in the kitchen as usual but took the time to look at the gift lovingly cradled in my dirty, dirty little hand. “Honey, you eat them,” she said. I happily returned to my nephew, wondering how anyone could refuse black walnut hearts.
Hope to see you in the garden next month.