Or­ganic Grow­ing

While Novem­ber brings rich har­vests of a va­ri­ety of veg­eta­bles, it is also the month for sow­ing broad beans and turn­ing at­ten­tion to soil main­te­nance, says Charles Dowd­ing

Country Smallholding - - Inside This -

Novem­ber has com­pen­sa­tions for it’s sud­denly short days. The or­na­men­tal qual­i­ties of veg­etable beds at this time can be a bril­liant con­trast to the gloomy light. I like to ad­mire the depth of colour in leaves such as red cab­bage, chicories, chard and beet­root. You can also en­joy the sculp­ture of sharp-edged leek leaves, re­clin­ing broc­coli plants, as­para­gus ferns turn­ing from golden to brown, and globes of cele­riac as they do a fi­nal swell be­fore win­ter. Frosty morn­ings em­pha­sise these qual­i­ties.


An­other glit­ter­ing as­pect of Novem­ber is the range of har­vests on of­fer, as many as in al­most any other month. Cab­bage hearts, root crops, kale and leeks are prom­i­nent, as is spinach if you sowed it in Au­gust. Sal­ads are still crop­ping out­side and they in­clude rocket, mus­tards, en­dive, radic­chio, lambs let­tuce, land cress and win­ter purslane.

Har­vests of salad leaves are smaller with each week, as both day­light and tem­per­a­ture de­crease, so it is worth grow­ing some plants un­der­cover, say in a box of com­post on stag­ing in a green­house. You can pick a few leaves all through the milder spells of win­ter and these salad plants grow again af­ter any frozen nights in an un­heated green­house. Make a note to sow some mid Septem­ber next year.

Sow­ing broad beans

The ab­so­lute best sow­ing in Novem­ber is broad beans and I find the top date in Som­er­set is around 10-12 Novem­ber. Fur­ther north it will be around 1 Novem­ber, or pos­si­bly late Oc­to­ber.

This is pre­cise be­cause if you sow ear­lier, even as of­ten rec­om­mended in early Oc­to­ber, the plants have time and warmth to grow as tall as 10-15cm be­fore win­ter hits, but with weak stems be­cause they have been drawn up­wards by the low light lev­els.

Tall bean plants are more sen­si­tive to frost than smaller, com­pact plants and you of­ten see dam­age dur­ing frozen win­ter weather or in high winds. Plants sur­vive best when short at Christ­mas, say 5cm tall.

Mean­while, out of sight the root sys­tem in win­ter grows more than the leaves, putting plants in a good place to profit from new warmth and light in the spring. Leaf growth of­ten takes off as early as March and the re­sult is fine early har­vests.

Over many win­ters I have grown dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of broad bean and I al­ways come back to the old favourite with a lovely name, Aquadulce Clau­dia. It has four great qual­i­ties:

Har­di­ness to freez­ing and win­ter weather gen­er­ally, as long as it is not sown too early; Strong and fast growth in early spring; A high yield of long pods; Beans which turn creamy and tasty when large over a long pe­riod of har­vest from the one sow­ing.

Pest and weather pro­tec­tion for beans

Broad beans sur­vive a lot of freez­ing, but nonethe­less ben­e­fit from be­ing pro­tected by mesh against wind and birds too. Last Novem­ber I sowed a bed of beans into dibbed holes and three weeks later I saw that they were just emerg­ing. The next day most of them were flat on the bed af­ter be­ing pulled out by rooks who had eaten the ger­mi­nated seed, leav­ing the

pale stems. I could have re­sown them and cov­ered them with mesh, but there is the risk of mice eat­ing seeds in De­cem­ber, so I sowed into mod­ules in the green­house and set up a mouse­trap nearby. Broad beans trans­plant well and I set those plants out on 14 Jan­uary, cov­ered with mesh over hoops (see photos). They cropped well in June.

Au­tumn sown peas

Sow­ing peas in au­tumn is of­ten sug­gested, for over­win­ter­ing as small plants which then crop ear­lier in spring. I tried this last year with Al­der­man, with the idea of hav­ing early har­vests of pea shoots. How­ever, the Oc­to­ber and De­cem­ber sow­ings both pe­tered away by March, at which time the Fe­bru­ary sow­ing was grow­ing strongly.

One is­sue for au­tumn sown peas is choos­ing a suit­able va­ri­ety and for over­win­ter­ing you need round-seeded va­ri­eties, in par­tic­u­lar Feltham First. But for all the ef­fort of keep­ing them weeded and pest-free over win­ter, I ad­vise hold­ing off now and in­stead sow­ing un­der­cover in late win­ter to early spring when they grow so much faster.

Veg­etable har­di­ness

Be­fore the tem­per­a­tures plum­met at night be­low about -4°C/25°F, har­vest hearted cab­bage and chicory, beet­root and car­rots to store. I sim­ply put them loose into boxes, sacks or crates, with a lit­tle of the har­vest soil on the roots. Keep as cool as pos­si­ble with­out freez­ing.

Veg which can stay out­side in­clude cele­riac, parsnips, leeks, Brus­sel sprouts, savoy cab­bage, spinach and kale. Some win­ter sal­ads may sur­vive un­pro­tected as well as chervil and co­rian­der, but will crop more in win­ter if given a cover.

Fleece for frost pro­tec­tion

I rarely leave fleece on all win­ter be­cause of po­ten­tial wind dam­age. It is most use­ful on out­door veg as a tem­po­rary pro­tec­tion be­fore any brief frosty spells. For ex­am­ple, you could lay it over fen­nel and cel­ery, which are dam­aged by freez­ing, when frost is fore­cast. For a longer term cover, us­ing mesh is an op­tion, al­though it holds less warmth than fleece. How­ever, it is much stronger in wind and gives pro­tec­tion against birds, rab­bits and deer.

Soil main­te­nance

Au­tumn is a prime time for feed­ing soil or­gan­isms, whose habit is to search for food on the sur­face, rather than in­cor­po­rated in the soil. No dig copies na­ture by leav­ing soil undis­turbed, while cov­er­ing soil with a mulch.

Clear any crop residues be­fore mulching, twist­ing out larger roots rather than pulling. Then hand weed if you see only a few, or lay card­board if there are too many to hand weed. Fi­nally, put com­post on top of the card­board.

For grow­ing veg­eta­bles I spread up to 5cm/2in com­post of any ori­gin, in­clud­ing well de­com­posed ma­nure, leaf mould and home-made or bought com­post. There is no need to sieve com­post. Sim­ply break up larger lumps as much as you can be­fore spread­ing. The weather then con­tin­ues the break­down. This is the only feed you need to give all year — just one ap­pli­ca­tion of com­post now. Give a mulch to all beds, what­ever you are think­ing of grow­ing be­cause this is about feed­ing soil, which then feeds plants. Com­post is not a fer­tiliser of sol­u­ble nu­tri­ents: the food is held for months or longer, un­til soil life or­gan­ises its re­lease to plant roots as con­di­tions al­low. For flow­ers, less com­post (say 3cm) is needed in the an­nual dress­ing. How­ever, when you are mak­ing new beds as a startup ap­pli­ca­tion it is worth spread­ing 7-15cm.

Out of sight the root sys­tem in win­ter grows more than the leaves, putting plants in a good place to profit from new warmth and light in spring

Charles with red cab­bage to store

The bed where broad beans were sown in Novem­ber. Only these sur­vived the rooks

The same broad beans in early March, fol­low­ing their re­plant­ing in Jan­uary

Homeacres west side in very early Novem­ber with many har­vests to come

The same view six weeks later af­ter tak­ing many har­vests and spread­ing com­post on the beds

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