November Vegetable Gardening Tips
by Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange author of Grow Great Vegetables in Virginia
Fall and winter are my favorite garden seasons with the second chance to grow all the delicious greens and wonderful roots we savor in spring and a bonus of decreasing weed pressure and limited need to water. Many winter greens like kale, collards, and spinach taste even sweeter in fall as they concentrate sugars to withstand colder temperatures.
I thought it would be fun to share what we have ready for harvest now and as younger plants that will grow rapidly as the days begin to lengthen in early spring. Elliot Coleman coined the term “Persephone Days” for the period when there is less than 10hrs a day of sunlight and plant growth slows to a halt. Here on our central Virginia Farm that is Nov 21- Jan 21and a little longer because of the ground temps. So what you see in the garden now is what you get until early February for practical purposes unless you are growing under cover in a greenhouse, cold frame or low tunnel.
In many case we had to do a second and sometimes even a third succession planting to get the beds full of thriving plants. In the case of spinach and kale our last and most successful sowing was in early October. For an idea of what and when we sow most years for fall and winter harvest read our blog post on Summer Sowing: Continuous Harvest All Summer into Fall or look at our Southern Exposure Fall and Winter Growing Guide.
Spinach, Collards and Kale are our largest planting for winter greens because of their versatility in the kitchen and dependable winter hardiness. Because our earliest succession plantings had spotty germination we have a lot more plants from the later sowings. Luckily for us the unusually warm temperatures continued into November so we have nice full beds of Abundant Bloomsdale spinach and Lacinato Rainbow kale, many different varieties of heirloom collards and Asian greens going into December. Fortunately half grown ”juvenile” plants like those from our second and third plantings often survive the winter and last longer into the spring.
We have already harvested many of our oriental greens like bok choy, mizuna or Tokyo bekana for stir frys and to make Kimchee. Our Tatsoi greens are still looking and tasting great. In winter we enjoy the shiny dark green leaves in salads, stirfrys and soups. One interesting thing with the spotty germination on some of our early sowings is seeing how large the plants can get in fall and still be sweet and tender.
Another favorite green for us and many other in our region are Creasy Greens and its’ cousin from grower Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seeds in the Northwest Belle Isle Cress. They are both lightly spicy and crisp in winter and likely to naturalize if left in the garden to produce seed. Let’s not forget Arugula another winter salad favorite. We also grow a lot of winter lettuce. I especially like red varieties for the deep color they develop in winter. Outredgeous and the Wild Garden Lettuce mix are favorites that have been joined by the heirloom Crawford, a Texas winter salad Lettuce.
We also still have some winter roots in the ground, carrots, beets, salsify, parsnip and winter radishes with potatoes and sweet potatoes in storage.
Until next time, enjoy your garden!