University City

November is good for eating, not so much for planting

On Thanksgiving, our traditional harvest festival, we celebrate the bounty of the Earth and relish the benefits of being a multicultural nation in our feasts and celebrations.

But there’s an irony for food gardeners. November is great for chowing down, but planting season is pretty much over for the year.

Still, there is much to be thankful for, especially the way personal involvement with gardening can transform people.

Consider the garden raffle last weekend at the N.C. Community Gardening Conference in Asheville. Gardeners from Wilmington to Cullowhee joined in.

The raffle featured garden-themed items: native plants, seeds, fancy trowels and more. Most were environmentally friendly, save for one cheerily decorated basket containing a box of chemical fertilizer and a bottle of carbaryl, a bee-toxic pesticide aggressively marketed to home gardeners.

Not a single gardener put a raffle ticket in the jar for the pesticide basket. Not one. Nobody wanted it. Now that’s something to be thankful for.

Tips for November

Stay on top of basic chores this month. Clean up remains of summer crops, and of fall crops as they finish producing. No need to leave them as hosts for diseases and pests.

If gardeners deal with squash vines and sweet potato tops (this applies to the popular ornamental sweet potatoes, too) before the frost, it makes life much easier, since they turn to slime.

Cool-season weeds, such as henbit, dead nettle and chickweed, are sneaking in. Control with timely hoeing and mulching, especially in your garlic.

Speaking of garlic, if you must plant something outdoors, garlic and elephant garlic can continue to go in through mid-month.

If you are a strategic thinker, you can also set out asparagus crowns. Remember to prepare their soil very well, and put them in a sunny place where you will enjoy them growing for the next 20 years.

Jack Frost is about to show up (if he hasn’t already), so get your protection ready. Some fall crops are so resistant to cold – collards, kale, carrots, greens, turnips, spinach – that they won’t need protection for weeks, if ever.

Others, including beets and broccoli, have only intermediate resistance. A light frost is no problem, but as it gets colder, protection will help them keep growing happily.

Lettuce can stand heavy cold, but its quality is compromised by cold, windy, rainy conditions, so a cover can help them stay nicer looking.

The easiest effective way to protect crops from cold is with a lightweight “floating row cover” fabric laid directly over the plants. These are available online, at Renfrow Hardware in Matthews and at other local garden shops.

A refinement is to put the cloth on hoops (imagine a covered wagon) made of whatever works. Farmers use strong wire (No. 9 wire is standard) and PVC, rebar and conduit are popular with home gardeners. I’ll share details on cold protection in a future column.

Row covers open a “pushing the edge” option for adventuresome gardeners:

Market growers such as Doug Hall of Pittsboro plant spinach, lettuce and greens mix in early November under row covers to “overwinter” the crop. It will start growing vigorously in February and be ready for harvest in early spring of the following year.

Super-cold tolerant crops such as mache (lamb’s lettuce) and miner’s lettuce are also ideal for that.

Once the leaves stop falling in large numbers from most trees – they will hang on beech trees until spring – put up your cankerworm prevention bands between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

Get your materials together now. Don’t wait. I’m often guilty of waiting, then pay the price in the spring. Work as a neighborhood and you’ll get even better control.

Meanwhile, rake up leaves to start compost piles. Add those spent summer and fall veggies and the young winter weeds as they pop up. If you want, divert some leaves to mulch. Run the mower over them for shredding, if you want.

If you have not done so yet, bring your tender houseplants inside for the winter before the frost shows up. Frost kills tropicals that have thrived outside all summer, so take action now.

Locate bright places indoors for them, and prepare to back off on water. Do not fertilize them now, either; you want them to cruise through a drowsy winter. Before bringing them in, remove dead or diseased foliage and control any pests.

Almanac

In most years, November is pleasant enough if cool, but night temperatures can drop below freezing at times. Day length drops from 10 hours 45 minutes at the start 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., and sundown at 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, and average lows in the low 40s. The chance of nights below freezing increases as the month goes on.

The first frost is usually in early November. Normally, we get a bit more than 3 inches of rain this month.

The moon will be full on Nov. 6 and new on Nov. 22.

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