If only politics worked like gardens. Prepare the soil well, plant good seed, water and keep the weeds under control, and voila, you’ll grow a beautiful salad.
Come to think of it, though, there are some similarities between politics and gardening. If you don’t get involved, your garden won’t grow very well. And, if you don’t vote, democracy won’t work very well, either.
So, with a local election coming up, take advantage of having a bit less to do in the garden this month, and vote on Nov. 3.
That said, there are still important tasks on our garden to-do list for November.
Start with a fall clean-up. The weather can be very pleasant in November here, so it is enjoyable to work outdoors. In the vegetable garden, in particular, get rid of weeds, debris such as wood and stakes, and spent vegetable plants – okra, if you still have some lingering around, can grow trunks as big as trees.
Garden debris invites rodents and other pests to spend the winter by providing shelter and food. Cleaning up also makes it easier to spade the soil in the dead of winter, a traditional pest control practice that takes advantage of the cold.
Unless there are signs of disease, put plant debris aside for the compost pile. Soon we will have a wealth of fallen leaves for making compost and mulch. Take a hint from Mother Nature. She uses leaves to build rich deep soils you find in Piedmont forests. There’s no reason we gardeners can’t do the same.
Set aside a suitable place for your compost pile(s) – most people prefer it out of the viewscape. As taxpayers, we save money by composting leaves at home instead of shipping them to Mecklenburg County’s Compost Central (though they do a fine job there, and sell an excellent product for those who need large amounts.)
Your lawn and pansies also benefit if you rake up your leaves. Pansies, as Mike McGrath, former editor of Organic Gardening, says, “love sun, but hate heat.” Keeping leaves off your lawn also helps grass get the sun it needs to thrive.
You can apply a moderate application of fertilizer this month to your fescue lawn, while it is actively growing, and pansies won’t mind an application of soluble fertilizer, either.
“Season extension” is a hot topic for cool gardeners. A simple version is lightweight cloth made for the purpose, available at good garden stores and online (a familiar brand is “Reemay”.) You can either place it directly on plants or over simple hoops of metal or PVC.
In the fall, covers protect the harvest against damage. You won’t be able to start new vegetables outdoors until next spring, cover or not. However, lettuce will look better with a cover to protect it from cold, wind and rain.
Right after Thanksgiving is a good time to put up sticky bands against cankerworms. You can wait until the warning goes out that the females are climbing in early December, but late November is reasonable. Just make sure to keep bands clear of fallen leaves.
Fancier “Bug Barrier” bands are designed so leaves are not a problem. The best idea is to “band together” and work with your neighbors to treat the whole neighborhood. For information, visit: cankerworm.charmeck.org.
Now that the ground is cooler, plant or move landscape plants such as shrubs and perennials. The best way to prepare for them is to think “bed,” not “hole.” In other words, dig a broad area, perhaps for several shrubs or shrubs plus perennials, one shovel blade deep (6-8 inches,) working in good compost.
Do not dig a pot-sized hole and fill it with compost. In our clay soils, you may be committing “hollycide” (or “azaleacide” or “camelliacide” – you get the idea.)
One of the greatest blessings a food garden bestows is the chance to eat something you’ve grown yourself on Thanksgiving. This year, we will be eating fresh crops that take a bit of cold, such as spinach, lettuce and collard greens, and cured crops harvested earlier this year, such as winter squash and sweet potatoes.
If you do not have anything to harvest, mark your calendar to plant a fall garden next August, and switch to plan B: Visit a local farmers market and support our hardworking market growers when you buy Thanksgiving ingredients.
Throughout November, night temperatures can drop below freezing. Day length starts at 10 hours and 45 minutes at the beginning of November to barely 10 hours by the end of the month. Sunrise at the beginning of the month is about 7:45 a.m.; sundown about 6:30 p.m. By the end of the month, sunrise is about 7:12 a.m. and sundown 5:12 p.m.
Average high temperatures are in the 60s, with average lows in the low 40s, with the chance of nights below freezing increasing as the month goes on. The moon will be new on Nov. 11 and full on Nov. 25. Normally, we get a bit over 3 inches of rain this month. El Niño conditions remain strong, suggesting a wetter fall and winter ahead.
Don Boekelheide is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org