11/29/11

November in the Veggie Garden


Goodness... November is nearly over, and I haven't done my garden post. Life has been busy, even with my gardening work greatly reduced. My November garden looks empty, compared with previous months, but there's actually lots growing now. This autumn's weather has been the nicest in the seven years I've lived in East Tennessee. The first light frost didn't hit my garden until Nov. 10th, with a heavy frost one week later… late for our zone. Day length is short, but the leaves are off the trees so the garden gets lots of warmth from the sun. The warm weather crops have been dug up and added to the compost bin, and I've covered tender plants when the temps dipped below 32. I'm not certain about  some new things I've planted surviving the cold, but they will be on their own from now on, I'm not going to bother covering them any more. Here are the details:

  1. BEETS - The chioggia heirloom beets went to seed and replanted themselves, so I"ve been harvesting both the roots and the greens continually. The heirloom "bull's blood" beets which I planted from seeds didn't germinate real well, but I have about a dozen plants growing so I've been harvesting the leaves for salads. I'd like to let them reseed, but I'll need to be sure both varieties don't flower simultaneously or I won't get new plants true to the parent.
  2. LEMON GRASS - I moved the biggest clump of lemon grass to this part of the garden, and I also planted a clump in my "surplus garden" where I can let it grow without restriction. I am not certain it is winter-hardy here, so I've also taken a pot inside and it's growing well enough for me to harvest leaves occasionally… this way I'll have some to replant outside in spring if necessary.
  3. STRAWBERRIES - The main strawberry bed is still looking very healthy, and I bought some half-price Halloween straw to nestle around the plants, protecting them better from the winter cold. I loved my strawberries, and I want to be sure they produce next spring!
  4. CALENDULA - Also known as "pot marigold", the pretty yellow and orange flowers of the calendula are medicinal as well as edible. My summer plants bloomed profusely and I must have been neglectful in removing spent blooms, since I discovered many seedlings at the end of the summer. I organized them in a small patch, surprised that they would grow in fall. Mother Nature has her own tools for keeping growth to specific seasons; some seeds can lay on the ground for months, needing the freezing and thawing process to prepare them for warm weather growth. I had thought of calendula as a summer plant, like french marigolds, but this self-seeding might prove me wrong. In the meantime, I have some color in the garden, and I can harvest the petals, extract their vital components in oil, and create some nice salves and lotions with the filtered oil.
  5. BRUSSELS SPROUTS - The four seedlings planted a few months ago all have formed lovely little brussels sprouts at the intersections of the main stem and each leaf. A little cold is supposed to "sweeten" them, so I am anxious for harvesting soon! The plants I started from seed are still alive, but only a few inches tall, so I should have started them much earlier… next year I'll know better.
  6. ROMAINE - All the lettuce I started from seed is doing well, although everything grows much more slowly this time of year. Our occasional salads have been wonderful. Most recently I mixed lettuce greens, the dark red bull's blood beet leaves, the last tomato which ripened on the kitchen window sill, the last of the sweet green/red peppers, some crunchy sliced raw jerusalem artichokes, and fresh sprouts (alfalfa, clover, broccoli) grown in a jar indoors. Topped with my homemade Olive Garden style dressing it was a great meal. Lettuces can generally withstand temperatures as low as the mid 20's. I've also planted some in the cold frame, along with a few bull's blood beets, spinach and parsley.
  7. KALE - I haven't witnessed a return of the "woodchuck" type critter spotted eating my sweet potato vines in October, but something ate the gorgeous curly leaves off my kale plants. To protect them from further damage, I have covered them with the collapsable net hampers which I used last summer to ward off fleas from my eggplants. So far it's working, and I just pull up the stakes to harvest leaves.
  8. SPINACH - I love spinach, and I've now got it growing well in many areas of the garden, some still too small to show up well in this photo. This is one plant I know grows continually all winter, although slowly, and then takes off fast once the days lengthen in February. Yum!
  9. PARSLEY - The curly and flat leaf parsley will likely grow all winter too, and since the onions have strong green tops I can harvest and I still have mint in the herb garden I plan to try using dehydrated tomatoes to make some taboulli.

OTHER GARDEN NOTES:
SWEET POTATOES - I had only planted half as many sweet potato hills as last year, since I was overloaded, but my harvest this year was very disappointing. I am blaming it on the grasshoppers, zapping the energy from the plants to grow more leaves instead of roots.

WINTERING OVER PLANTS - Where I have empty space in the vegetable garden, I have submerged some potted outdoor plants in the soil. Plants in pots are more susceptible to freezing, but burying them gives added protection. I've done this with a lilac bush I had rooted during the summer as well as with some chrysanthemums. By spring the temperatures will be warm enough for me to dig them up and plant them in permanent locations.

HORSERADISH - Two years ago I bought a big ugly horseradish root from the supermarket and planted it in the veggie garden. It grew! Beware: it can be very invasive. So this spring I replanted the major root elsewhere, where it can flourish, and I kept digging up all the little volunteers which popped up. It grew vigorously all summer and I've dug up some roots recently. I'll do a later blog post on how I've preserved some of this spicy condiment.

HERBS - Many of my herbs, besides the parsley and fennel still growing in the vegetable garden, can be continue to be harvested, such as mints, thyme, rosemary, and lemon balm. I discovered a few years ago that cilantro is a cold-weather plant, when I found it had reseeded and was growing strong in the fall. So this year I planted cilantro seeds directly in the veggie garden. They are very slow to germinate, but I have a two foot bed of seedlings growing now. I'd rather have it when the tomatoes are ripe, to use in fresh salsa, but I have other recipes for which there is no substitute for the taste of cilantro.