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Gardening in November and December: Common Questions and Answers

For the vast majority of gardeners, November marks the end of the growing season. At this point in the year, gardening tasks have slowed to a crawl. Sure, there are probably a few crops left to harvest, and possibly a couple of potted plants that are still on the patio that need to be pulled inside for protection, but for the most part, your work is done, right? Well, this line of thinking is incorrect, especially if you don’t mind moving a large part of your growing operations indoors.

November is a great time for sowing a large selection of seeds that can use the freezing cold environment for stratification. November is also a great time for planting cover crops, amending and rejuvenating your garden beds (as long as the ground isn’t too hard to till), preserve tender roots and bulbs, So don’t pack up your tools and gardening gloves just yet, you’ve got plenty of tasks to keep yourself busy

What can I do in the garden in November?

  • Clean and oil your gardening tools and sharpen or replace blades of pruners, knives, hedge trimmers, etc.
  • Bring in all of your potted plants that are not frost hardy.
  • Plant seeds and bulbs for spring blooming (Be careful not to overwater bulbs, especially just before frosts).
  • Trim back and protect rose bushes.
  • Work on soil preparation by adding in lots of organic materials, compost, and other nutrients (As long as you can drive a spade into the soil, the soil is workable, if the ground is frozen, wait until it starts to thaw in late winter or early spring).
  • Dig up root crops that are still in your garden beds (Though many root veggies improve in flavor after multiple frosts, once the soil freezes, it becomes incredibly hard to dig into to rescue your subterranean produce).
  • Plant cold hardy crops (Mulch heavily to protect seedlings as they start to sprout. Usually, the seedlings will get a head start, other times, sprouts won’t shoot up until the beginning of spring.
  • Water trees as much as possible before the ground freezes to give them plenty of nourishment before the long cold winter that they’re up against.
  • Plant cover crops to help replenish nutrients in the soil and keep weeds from invading your garden beds.

Cold Hardy Vegetables to grow in the winter!

 Some vegetables, herbs and fruits will tolerate light frosts and continue growing until a hard-killing frost comes along.  Other plants will overwinter under the snow without damage and enjoy brief periods of growth during mid-winter thaws.

Brussel Sprouts

One of the very hardiest vegetables, Brussel sprouts can thrive in your garden for up to 6 weeks after the first frost.  Snow really doesn’t seem to bother them, and their waxy leaves will keep growing once it melts off on sunny days.

Once it really gets too cold outside, dig up the whole plant and bring it indoors in a bucket.  Strip off the leaves and bring the brussel sprout plant to a cool dark room or basement.  Bringing the plant indoors once daytime temperatures are well below freezing will extend the brussel sprout harvest into January even in cold northern climates.

Broccoli and Cauliflower

Both cold weather crops that just don’t grow well in the summer heat, so in hot areas like California, these can only really be grown through the cool winter months.  Even in the north, they’re often planted later in the spring or early summer so that the weather will be cool in the fall when they form heads.

Cabbage, Kale and Collards

Closely related to Brussel sprouts and broccoli, other vegetables in the Brassicaceae family share the same cold hardiness.  There’s a reason that cabbage is a staple vegetable in Russian and Eastern European cooking.  They’ll hold in the field long after first snows, and then tightly packed heads will keep in a root cellar until the first vegetables of spring.

Kale and collars are similarly hardy in the field, though they don’t store quite as well when they’re harvested.

Root Vegetables to grow in the winter!

Beets, Carrots and Parsnips

Root crops are evolved to withstand cold, and in fact, they have to overwinter if they’re going to set seed.  Beets, carrots and parsnips are biennials, which means they take 2 years to mature and seed.  The first year is spent growing a large root to store nutrients over the winter, and fuel fast growth in the spring.

Since the roots of biennial crops need to begin growing again in the spring to produce seed, they must remain viable all winter long.  The first fall frosts actually sweeten them, so it’s best to wait as long as possible to harvest them.  Root crops are one of the most dependable winter crops, and they can be stored out in the field all winter.

Turnip and Rutabaga

Though these old-time vegetables aren’t grown in most modern gardens, they surprisingly tasty.  We much prefers rutabaga oven fries to potato fries. Consider adding these to your garden if you’re at all excited about winter crops.  Both can be harvested well after the last frost and will store until the spring in a root cellar or refrigerator.

Potatoes

Potatoes are a tuber, rather than a true root crop, but growing underground helps protect them from frosts.  Potato plants evolved at high altitudes in Peru, where they needed to withstand occasional frosts and still bring in a crop to feed the people.

Other varieties of large storage potatoes are harvested late in the fall, well after first frosts.  We’ll wait until the frosts kill the plants to get every last bit of growth into the potatoes below, and then harvest, cure and store our winter crop.

Radishes

While radishes are a root crop just like beets and carrots, they grow a bit differently.  Many varieties grow extremely quickly and can be ready for harvest in just a few weeks.  Left in the soil too long they become bitter and woody, therefore, it’s not a good idea to store radishes in the ground over winter if you intend to eat them. Planting them very late in the fall will give you a winter crop after the tender summer vegetables are long past.

Winter Salad Greens

There are way too many winter salad greens to list individually.  Many crops, like arugula, only really grow well in cold weather, therefore, you can plant a large mix of winter salad greens if you have a greenhouse and enjoyed fresh salads in February. 

Outdoors, winter salad greens can survive in milder areas without protection (zone 5 or 6).  A simple row cover in zone 3 or 4 will extend the fresh greens season for several months, allowing for a winter crop of greens without a greenhouse.

Cold hardy winter greens include: spinach, arugula, mache, claytonia, tatsoi and cold hardy lettuce varieties like romaine, butterhead and cutting varieties.

Asian Greens

There are a number of Asian greens that can withstand snow and freezing temperatures to extend the harvest.  We love Tatsoi, which is a bit like Bok Choi but more tender and suitable for either salads or cooking.  Bok Choi is also hardy in the snow, as are heads of Asian cabbage.

Onions, Leeks and Scallions

Again, you might be noticing a theme with cold-hardy crops and vegetables that grow below ground.  The ground is an insulator, and most root crops are planning to grow in the soil for more than a year at a time.  Onions aren’t quite a “root crop,” they’re a bulb, but none the less they’re cold hardy.

In the US, a very early hardy leek crop comes from the wild leeks found throughout the northeast, therefore, If you don’t know where to find a wild patch, you can actually just plant wild leeks in your backyard.

Cold Hardy Herbs

Many herbs don’t seem to mind the cold and will keep on growing right through snow and early frosts. Besides, they will thrive if planted in vertical containers. You can harvest chives into early December, months after the first frost.  They’ll also pop up through the snow in the early spring.  Other cold hardy herbs include:

  • Cilantro
  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Lavender (leaves, not flowers)

Not surprisingly, the list of cold hardy vegetables has a heavy overlap with vegetables that grow in shade. That about covers all the winter crops we grow on our homestead, but I’d be interested to know if we missed any of your favorites.  I’m always looking for new cold-hardy vegetable varieties.

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  1. Pingback: How to build a DYI Winter Garden! | Amazing Creation

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