November already? This month always seems so cold especially after a mild October, so don’t forget that the change in temperature will also be a shock to some of your outdoor plants. Wrap outdoor terracotta pots with bubble wrap and lift them from the ground to keep them free draining and away from ground frost. Even if not ready, many late crops will need to be brought in now for ripening indoors on a sunny windowsill, such as squash and tomatoes to protect them from frost. However, frost can improve the taste of parsnips and Brussels sprouts outdoors.
When preparing a bonfire for the 5th November, please remember to keep an eye out for hibernating creatures such as hedgehogs and do not destroy empty nests as many birds like to return the following year.
As you wear your poppy with pride on the 11th of the month, you may think about growing your own. There are many different varieties and colours available and they self-seed readily, hence why the poppy has been recorded alongside agricultural crops for centuries in the Old World. Due to ground disturbance during WW1, corn poppies bloomed between the trench lines and so featured in the poem “In Flanders Fields” written in 1915 by Canadian physician Lt Col John McCrae.
Despite the onset of winter, there is still much to do in the garden this month. If you do get any free time, start making plans for next year by reading books and catalogues for inspiration. You could also tune in to Lincoln City Radio on 103.6FM to listen to my fortnightly slots about the history of our food at 1pm on Wednesdays.
The November Garden
If you have been diligent, the garden will now be relatively tidy in preparation for the winter months. Winter brassicas, chard, spinach and Asian salad leaves may be available for harvest now.
Hoe between perennials and overwintering crops, removing weeds and destroying the roots. Protect overwintering crops from pigeons. Rake the last of fallen leaves from the lawn and from Mediterranean herbs, such as lavender, to prevent frost pockets, collecting this valuable commodity for the production of leaf mould. Don’t be over zealous in clearing as dead foliage in mature beds can be left for worms to pull it into the earth and decaying stems are a sanctuary for beneficial insects. In cold areas, tender bulbs and tubers, such as dahlias, should be lifted and stored in a cool, frost free shed. In milder areas, they can be mulched alongside bare plots of light soil before the cold sets in. Heavy bare soils should be turned and left in clods to be broken down by frost. If you know where you are to grow your beans next year, add rotted manure or compost. Alternatively, dig a trench, line with newspaper and add compostable kitchen waste before covering over.
While there is still some warmth in the soil, hardy perennials and bare-rooted trees and shrubs can be planted to become established before the extreme weather. It is also time to plant bulbs of flowers or garlic. Some bulbs in pots can be moved indoors for forcing towards the end of the month to make ideal Christmas gifts. If you wish to force a few stems of rhubarb, lift and pot an established crown, leaving exposed to a few hard frosts, before moving into a warm dark place for harvesting after a few weeks. It can be replanted outdoors in spring but do not weaken it by forcing the same crown two years in a row.
You do not need to stop growing food over winter as an indoor edible garden is easily created in a well insulated greenhouse or sunny conservatory. Spray crops with a light mist of water regularly if centrally heated. Natural light can be supplemented by artificial grow lights.
Many edible plants are attractive enough to decorate the home and dwarf varieties have a bushy growth habit in pots. The Hestia runner bean has attractive blossoms followed by sweet pods that grow away from the soil. The pods of dwarf French beans remain tender when mature and continue to produce if picked regularly. The Borlotto variety is particularly attractive with red pods that can be eaten whole when young or left to harvest the beans for drying. Many edible flowers can be grown in pots including nasturtiums and roses. These can then be added to a trifle or champagne flutes at parties!
Even on a sunny windowsill, salad leaves and herbs can be grown all year. A favourite of mine is basil, as it can be used in many dishes and there are many attractive varieties, such as Purple Opal. Fine Verde produces a compact plant with tiny fragrant leaves on stems that can be added whole to salads and cooking. Basil is generally added at the last moment in recipes as cooking reduces its flavour. The herb contains a number of essential oils in different proportions in various varieties. Try steeping Thai basil or cinnamon scented basil in milk or cream for an interesting flavour of ice cream or chocolate. Make sure that you keep pinching out the basil plant as foliage production stops once flowered. As usual, all varieties are available at www.originaltouch.co.uk.
Basil is originally native to Asia, having been grown there for over 50,000 years. Its name stems from the Greek word “basileus” meaning “king” and it is often referred to as the “king of herbs”. In France, it is still known as “l’herbe royale”. There are many beliefs associated with basil, some religious, and in certain parts of the world it is placed in coffins to ensure a safe journey to the next life. John Keats’ poem “Isabella or The Pot of Basil” was based on Boccaccio’s 14th century tale “Decameron” in which a lady buries her dead lover’s head in a pot of basil. Be warned!
Samantha Ford, World Garden Seeds by Original Touch – www.originaltouch.co.uk – 01673 866677