The old coats are dusted off. Gardening in hats and coats, boots and string tied trousers. Hardly moving against the wind, spectacles splattered with fat raindrops that fly up the valley looking for someone to annoy. In and out of focus the last blooms of Autumn brighten us, feeling warm-hearted and wondering how on earth dahlias face the weather with such exuberant joy.
But cold fingers and cheeks make working in the November garden peevish. Snatched jobs, unfinished projects punctuated with promises of getting back on the job, later, tomorrow, when I have warmed up a bit, when it stops raining, maybe.
The opposite of November is April, when we are sowing and planting, and although it is cold in April, snowy cold, somehow it’s not so doom laden as November. But there is plenty to do, between the showers. At least April warms up, November gets darker and colder, and even though we are all glad of the clocks going back, we gardeners regret the sudden disappearance of the light.
Sowing and planting:
It is possible to sow and plant. Lettuce, radish, spinach, onions. Yes, you can sow onions in a cold greenhouse. You have to wait a while for germination, but by the time Spring arrives, they are well on the way to being transplanted.
Believe it or not you can sow peas now. Keep them under a cloche, more for protection from mice than anything else. They will germinate, and then stop growing when the temperature really drops, and burst into life in the Spring.
The cabbage variety ‘All Year Round’ can also be sown now with pretty much the same results. Now I have a trick with cabbage at this time of the year. I sow the same variety in pots of compost indoors. What you get is a plant that grows tall and doesn’t look much like a cabbage at all. But the leaves are edible, they still cook like cabbages, they still taste like cabbages. I tend to eat them in salads. They do just as well in the cold greenhouse.
You can still plant onion sets and garlic, particularly garlic. It rather reminds me of my grandmother, who used to call me ‘brass-neck’ quite a lot, can’t think why. But garlic comes in two forms, hardneck or softneck. Hardneck varieties have a thicker central stalk and bigger corms, softneck have smaller corms, more paper and more flavour.
Of all my favourite is Chesnock Wight, a hardneck. If you don’t manage to plant garlic this month, Solent Wight can be planted as late as January.
Jerusalem artichokes can be planted now. Treat them a little like potatoes, bury them at about 30 cm and they will pop up in Spring when the soil warms. Why November? They get the earliest start, and since they are very hardy, they are not bothered by frost, though I do plant them a little deeper than Spring planted tubers.
Actually it is a sunflower, not a relative of the globe artichoke at all. And they are said they are aphrodisiac in nature. The queen of Henry IV of France, Catherine de Medici was said to eat hardly anything else.
I rather envy pipe smokers. Well only inasmuch as it seems cosy, sitting in the shed on rainy, sleety days, puffing on a pipe, keeping the fingers warm. But there are plenty of things to be doing indoors in November.
Cleaning and disinfecting pots and utensils. Sharpening tools, especially spades and cutting tools. A good grindstone is one of your most important pieces of equipment. And get into the greenhouse, if you haven’t already, and clear out all the old compost filled pots with dead plants in them, shift the moss between the glass before the frost comes and freezes, expanding to cause a broken pane.
Clear your gutters, and add some bleach to your water butt. This will clear any algae or other nasties growing within, and will have all vanished away before you come to use it again.
Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.
He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.