Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Get Growing in November

This is the last in a twelve part series for new gardeners. If you have never planted vegetables before but always wanted to, this is the series for you. Robin, who writes the blog Vegetable Matter, was posting through August. Robin lives in Houston and I live in Boston. We will be posting about what to do in the garden that month and giving advice. So if you have always wanted that vegetable garden, but didn’t know where to start, you have no excuse. Get growing!

November in New England brings frozen ground. Even most of the hardy plants will die soon without protection. Some root crops can be harvested if they are well mulched - beets, leeks, carrots, parsnips. Some brassicas could still producing like kale and Brussels sprouts, but not much gardening is going on in this month. Typically the last of the garden is cleaned up and the plants put in the compost bin.

My old garden at the end of November

Looking Back and Looking Ahead

November is a time of reflection for me. The first thing I do is look back on the growing season and take stock of what did well and what did poorly. If you took records throughout the season this part is so much easier. I don't keep a garden journal, but many do and that is a good way of record keeping. My blog is my record of what happened, but I do keep other records. I have a sheet that has all the seed that I'm going to plant and it lists what date I expect to plant. It has a a place fill in for when it was started, how well it germinated, and when it was planted outside. In early spring I'm really good about filling it out. As summer hits I quit. Lets just say record keeping isn't my strong suit. I really try, but sometimes I fail at it. When don't record things, I have to go back to my blog to try to figure out when something was planted.

I ask myself questions like, "Did my carrot crop fail because I planted too early?". "Should I have harvested my garlic later?" "Should I have put my zucchini under a row cover early on to avoid the squash vine borers?" "What were my favorite varieties?" "Was it worth growing Amish Paste again?" Step through each of the crops and take notes for yourself. I do mine on my blog every November. Look to the right panel on my blog and look for my 2009 Overviews. For each set of crops I list the good and the bad from the year. This way I have a place I can go back to and see what happens when I plant carrots in the middle July versus the middle of August. Your notes don't need to be as detailed as mine, but it is good to have all this information to tell you what works and what doesn't where you grow. Next year when you plant carrots, you can go back to your notes and see what worked for you in previous years.

Looking back at your growing season will help you plan next year's garden. Yes we have come full circle to planning your garden again. But this time you have information. Looking back will tell you if you planted too many beets and you need to only plant a three foot row rather than an eight foot row. And if you are like me and read blogs looking back on what you have read will give you an idea for what you will want to plant for next year. I know I want to try celery for the first time next year.

As you plan next year's garden. You should keep in mind one thing that I talked about once before in June. But it bears repeating because it is so important. Rotation. You will often hear that you should rotate your crops. This means that if you planted tomatoes in a spot last year, you shouldn't plant tomatoes in that spot this coming year. Different crops have different rotation schedules based on the diseases they have and how long they last in the garden. Each crop is rotated with the other in its family. These families are plants that are all closely related and tend to have the same needs and diseases and insect pests. The following is a list of the families of the common plants in your garden.

  • Amaryllidacaea Family often called the Alliums: leeks, onions, chives, garlic
  • Brassicaceae Family often called Brassicas or cole crops: broccoli, cauliflower, mustards, cabbage, rutabaga, kale, collards, cress, radish, rocket, turnips, Asian greens
  • Chenopodiaceae Family: beets, Swiss chard, spinach
  • Compositae Family: artichokes, sunflowers, lettuce
  • Cucurbitaceae Family often called cucurbits: squash, pumpkins, zucchini, gourds, melons
  • Gramineae Family: Corn
  • Leguminosea Family often called legumes: beans, peas, peanuts
  • Solanaceae Family often called nightshade crops or solanums: peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, tomatillos, eggplants
  • Umbelliferae Family: dill, carrots, coriander or cilantro, fennel, parsnips, parsley, celery

Typically the solanaceae rotation is on a 3-4 year basis. So don't plant tomatoes where ones of the solanaceae family has been in the last few years. The brassicas are typically on a 6-8 year rotation because club root can be very persistent in the soil. The others I worry less about as their diseases aren't as persistent in my garden. In fact I often keep the peas in the same bed with my leafy greens. And then beans come in the next year. So I occasionally have legumes following legumes. But I am adamant about not following a solanaceae with another solanaceae.

Diseases aren't the only reason to rotate crops. Different plants have different nutrient needs also. If you always grow the same crops in the same place. Your soil is more likely to become unbalanced. The typical rotation is to put a heavy feeder (like corn or leafy vegetables) in after a heavy giver (the Legume family puts nitrogen back into the soil), then follow that with a light feeder (like a root crop). Which gives you a three year rotation. This is the typical advice. Which I never follow. My rotations are as follows. Solanum is the first rotation, followed by a mix of brassicas, lettuce, root crops, herbs and peas, followed by a mix of beans, squash, and corn. I put my legumes in with my heavy feeders typically. There is no one right way to do a rotation. Do what works for you.

Since we are busy looking ahead to next season. Now is the perfect time to look ahead to your compost pile. We talked about this last February, but this is the month to collect leaves for you piles. If you live in the suburbs the easiest to find carbon source is leaves. And during this season other people do your work for you. They bag them up and put them right on the curb for you to collect. You might have enough leaves already that fall in your own yard, but if you don't, your neighbors can supply that need. I collect enough for a whole year of composting in my garden. In fact if you collect more than you need for your compost. You can save the rest in a pile for a couple of years to make leaf mold. This is just the leaves broken down into organic matter. It makes a fabulous and free much if you have enough room in the garden to do it.

Other Posts in the Series

Determining your growing zone and planting peas (Vegetable Matter - December)
Planning a Garden (Daphne's Dandelions - December)
Growing Lettuce (Vegetable Matter - January)
Starting transplants indoors (Daphne's Dandelions - January)
Growing tomatoes (Vegetable Matter - February)
Compost (Daphne's Dandelions - February)
Snap Beans (Vegetable Matter - March)
Peas and Spinach (Daphne's Dandelions - March)
Eggplant (Vegetable Matter - April)
Brassicas (Broccoli, Cabbage, Asian vegetables) (Daphne's Dandelions - April)
Edamame (Vegetable Matter - May)
Tomatoes (Daphne's Dandelions - May)
Lima Beans (Vegetable Matter - June)
Disease Control (Daphne's Dandelions - June)
Chili Peppers (Vegetable Matter - July)
Insect Control (Daphne's Dandelions- July)
Southern Fall Garden (Vegetable Matter - August)
Preserving the Harvest (Daphne's Dandelions - August)
Season Extension (Daphne's Dandelions - September)
Garlic (Daphne's Dandelions - October)


  1. I loved this series and learned a lot from it even though I've been gardening for a while.

  2. Great advice Daphne. I find that rotating crops can be a rather tricky proposition in the home garden where space is limited and sun exposure varies greatly. It would be so much simpler if everything was just planted in long single rows on a farm!

  3. Daphne, I just love your blog. It's so educational. I hope you convince more people to collect leaves and make compost. I store up a dozen bags of leaves from our deciduous trees. I alternate the leaves in my compost bin with kitchen waste and bulk coffee grounds from a "secret source." By the end of the season, all that organic matter has composted into rich humus that is loaded with worms and worm castings. I love composting.

  4. The thoughts and knowledge you shared, you give lots of ideas. Thank you so much=)

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your well thought out information on vegetable gardening. I know crops are supposed to be rotated, but when the rotation is for years at a time, it becomes impossible in a small garden like mine. I would run out of vegetables to plant that I actually use. I garden in approximately 1,500 square feet in my back yard in Virginia, in Zone 8a. I garden organically, and am blessed to have crops year round with this climate. While I do plant things in different locations, there is not enough space to practice genuine rotation when I am getting basically three harvests per year. Spring, Summer, and Fall/Winter. I am a composting fanatic, and have developed my own strategy for the actual process of composting. From January to April, I gathered 2,047 pounds of coffee grounds from Starbucks for use in my composting efforts. I collect bagged leaves and grass clippings from neighborhoods around my location. Over the winter, I will be sharing my composting methods in a post to my vegetable gardening blog. My blog address is:


    Recordkeeping is vital to successful gardening. Like you, I use my blog to record my activities, but I also use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets for the main tracking. This way, I know that I have harvested 1,359 pounds of produce from my back yard this year, with more to come.

    I really enjoy your blog, and it is inspirational to others to get in on the gardening.

    Thanks for what you do.

    (Sorry for the long "comment".)

    Veggie PAK

  6. GrafixMuse, gardening is always about learning. I learn things from peoples blogs every year. And from my own garden. You would think I would know everything after decades of gardening, but nope. So much more to learn.

    Thomas, It is very tricky. In my old garden I hated the years where the less sunny spot had the tomatoes. But then I added the lower bed in the rotation and used it with the upper bed so the tomatoes were in the sunny spot and the peppers in the shady spot during that rotation. It was a good compromise. I had three rotations there, but the brassicas were on one side during one rotation and the other side of the bed for the next three years. It worked. Now I have eight large beds and two small beds (which I'll consider one) so I'll have three beds for the larger rotations and three inside each one to rotate that way. Brassicas may well be on a nine year rotation that way. With the rest of the greens and root crops taking up my other two beds. But I'm not sure yet. The next few year will work out the kinks in my new rotation.

    Lou, I mix the leaves in with the same things. I also add lawn mowings. My coffee ground source is my husbands work and I get a lot. I didn't collect this year as I didn't have my compost up and running except for just my kitchen waste (and my townhouse mates, I've got them saving waste and eggshells).

    daphne, your welcome

    Veggie PAK, It is harder when you garden year round to rotate. I get two harvests for some beds and one for others. 1500 sqft is a big garden. The main area of my vegetable garden is about 48'x16', with another little potager area that is about 9'x15'. This is just 900 sqft which is bed and paths (though admittedly I have a nice 3' wide hardscaped path that runs along the short side of the beds). And I'm not counting my fruit area which will be mixed into the landscaping. It is hard to rotate but I will do it. My big issue is really the solanums. They are my favorite, but they are so disease ridden here, so I really want to rotate them. But I love peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, and potatoes. I would love more than a third of the garden in those crops, but it works. I actually trench compost all my tomato and potato waste. I don't like to put those in the compost. I love your composting. It sounds a lot like mine in previous years. Now it will be harder. I have a very small yard so I won't have the grass clippings I used to have. I'm hoping to get my neighbors to give me theirs next year. The coffee grounds are easy (as my husband will collect them from work - more than I really need too). The leaves are easy if I can store enough.

  7. You wrapped the series up with a great final post. It has been thoroughly enjoyable and I want to thank you for taking the time and effort to share so much information in such a nice packaged manner. Well done!

    I love planning my garden and getting hte rotations right is always a bit of a trick. I plant beds by plant family which makes care easier and rotations easier. Like you though, I have certain beds that get less than optimal sun and so they are not good candidates for plant families that need real sun and warmth. That reduces down the rotation potential significantly. I don't come even close to a 6-8 year rotation on cole crops but do manage to get a 3 year rotation on them and most everything else. With the exception that I often have legumes on a 2 year rotation and potatoes are always 2 years because I have two beds that I just switch each year. Not ideal but I have not had problems from it.

  8. Laura, I'm going to have to learn how my garden reacts. I see how the sun really is low in the sky right now and my fall veggie will do better if planted in one of the sunnier spots. I will rotate the families throughout all the beds, however the tomatoes will always get the best sunniest spot in the three beds allotted to solanums. I think I'm going to break them up so that solanums will be every third bed. That way I can guarantee I'll always have at least one good bed for them.

  9. Love your blog! Very useful information and great pictures. You aren't too far from me, so your info is timely and zone perfect - thanks!(I am in Acton)