November: Preparing the Garden for Winter

by Charlotte Walker

November has arrived and for our homestead this means it’s time to pull out the mitts and toques, finish up outside work and batten down the hatches. Winter is on its way!  The farmers Almanac is predicting that this will be a particularly frigid and cold winter in Canada. I am actually hoping the old book is right as I’ve learned that the consequence of a mild winter is excessive bugs.

We have a few more weeks of garden work to complete and need to get it all done before the ground freezes. We also have two cords of wood arriving soon, piles of mulch are en route, hoses need to be blow out, equipment needs to be cleaned and put away, the chicken coop needs to be winterized, the greenhouse needs repairs and there is plenty of other winter prep to get done. November is promising to be busy.

Garlic is to blame for an extra busy November.

We had this great last minute idea to buy a LOT of garlic (thousands of baby garlic seeds and hundreds of cloves) but the ground is going to freeze soon so we need to get it planted in a hurry.  While prepping the field we discovered that the far field consists of clay soil. Garlic and clay are not an ideal combination and it’s been a bit of a challenge to get it ready for planting.

Testing for Clay soil

I did a simple soil test by kneading a small amount of soil in my hand. It stuck together into a nice pliable lump and held together when I squished it into a ribbon. If it broke apart when squishing it would be a clay loam (what I was hoping for). Clay soil has benefits, it retains moisture and has a lot of nutrients but it can be challenging to grow things in it. We will have to work hard at amending it and making it loamier over time. For now we are fluffing it up, adding some manure, planting garlic and adding a thick layer of mulch.  You do the best you can with what you have.

clay soil

Working the clay field

Today I worked the big field that’s been causing us some grief due to its heavy clay content.  We’ve got the harrow hooked up to the ATV.  I got the fun task of dragging it around the field raking down the massive ruts the plough had created.   I couldn’t help but laugh a lot, it was exhilarating to drive around all wild and crazy.  The dogs were chasing me and having their own fun. We got it raked down saving us quite a few hours of work and back ache. The  down side is of course that the machines driving across the field compact the wet clay. We will be doing the rest of the work in this field by hand to avoid any further compression of soil.

ATV and harrow

The Kubota side by side used to pull the harrow around the field. The harrow is flipped upside down here so I can pull it across the grass and put it away.

Plowing up new land

While I was racing around the big field, Ryan was busy on the tractor plowing up a new field. He was cutting up a smaller section of land into an L shape (not quite finished in this photo). We will pick up the sod and pick out any big rocks and then let this new field rest. The soil on this part of the property has more loam and is not quite as heavy with clay as the large back field. In the spring we will plant a cover crop and work at building up the soil quality. In the front field nearest to the wooden fence  we have planted  garlic bulbil (seeds) and will be laying mulch on top soon. They will be moved to the back field next autumn to finish growing. In the far back way in the distance where the tree are is the field that I was working today.

plowing up a small field

These fields are new this autumn. Thousands of teeny garlic bulbils are planted here. Way in the distance near the trees is a much larger field that we worked this spring for the first time.

The November greenhouse

As for the rest of the gardens: The kale that we planted in early spring is still growing in the greenhouse. We had three greenhouse Kale plants and they have  produced such a lot of kale over the spring summer and autumn. We will be making this a recurring part of the plan. I found a snake skin on the ground so the critters are already getting settled in for winter, I have not seen any of them and hope to keep it that way! We have some tidying to do in here and the greenhouse itself needs a few repairs before winter.

Greenhouse kale

The greenhouse kale and some carrots that were planted in the gaps between some taller, shallow root plants.

The lonely greenhouse lavender plant is flowering which is quite a sweet surprise for this time of year. Herbs have been planted randomly in the greenhouse and hopefully they will come back in the spring. In our zone 4a a lot of the herbs don’t overwinter well and are rated as annuals. We have had success with fooling our greenhouse herbs into thinking they are in a warmer growing zone. The benefit of doing this is that plants get bigger and start producing faster than those that you start from seed in the spring. You also get harvests far later in the season that the plants grown outdoors.

lavender growing in the greenhouse

Greenhouse lavender. We have oregano, thyme and summer savory growing as well. The Basil has died off and will need to be started from seed again in the spring.

The November garden

The root vegetables are still happily in the ground. We probably have a few more weeks before the ground freezes and we will keep them in the ground until the last possible moment. The longer they can stay in the ground the longer they will stay fresh when we bring them in and store them.  We have Carrots, beets, parsnips & sunchokes (Jeruselum artichokes) still in the garden. They are handling frost and cold just fine. Some of the vegetables will be cold stored and what we can’t eat in a few months will get canned. Someone at the feed store was raving about his dad’s parsnip wine. We hadn’t really thought about root vegetables for wine making but after some research there are loads of recipes online (mostly from the UK). We are thinking about making a parsnip or beet wine. Why not?

The late autumn vegetable garden

Straw covers the hard neck garlic and the remaining carrots and beets waiting to be harvested.

The strawberry plants had made it through their second growing season.  The plants have grown quite a bit larger and we got a reasonable harvest from this small patch.  We used netting over the entire bed during the fruiting period to prevent theft. Last year a critter broke into the garden and took a bite out of every single strawberry. We never found the culprit but decided to take extra precautions this year and it paid off. We ate most of the strawberries fresh but still managed to make some strawberry jam as well.  To prepare the strawberry plants for winter we have tucked plenty of straw around the plants to keep them insulated and protect them from winter damage.

strawberries tucked in for th winter with straw.

Strawberries in raised beds have worked well for us. We are able to control its growing conditions far better this way.

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The homestead pantry

In the house most of the canning is completed and the pantry is well stocked.We’ve got garlic, onions and herbs hanging from rafters and jugs are fermenting on counter tops. Having plenty of food stored in the house is reassuring as we move into what promises to be a particularly cold winter. We’ve also got apple wine brewing to replace the nasty batch of dandelion wine. We just bottled a mini batch of rhubarb wine and there are jars of apple cider turning into vinegar. Really there are jars of things everywhere. Fingers crossed they all turn into what was intended!

Homestead pantry

The pantry is well stocked. Lots of plastic bins holding dry goods as well to protect from humidity and well … mice.

Heating the house with wood

The wood stove that we had installed in the spring is taking the edge off of those colder nights. It saves us having to fire up the big outdoor wood furnace for a while. We ended up getting a model that is not a cook stove but does have trays at the top that slide open to reveal a cooking surface and warming tray. It works great but wont hold big pots.

The outdoor wood furnace needs to be fired up and tested.  We have stacked four cords of wood and have two more cords arriving this week. We pay CAD $250 per cord. Our heating costs this winter should not exceed $1250 (5 cords) for Nov – April which is about $6.94 per day. Hopefully it will be less than this but with the warning of a particularly cold winter we don’t want to fall short.

wood stove with cooking surface

We added a wood stove in the house this year. It seemed out of place to not have a stove in a log home!

As the sun becomes lower on the horizon we also need to adjust the solar panels for the correct winter angle and do a walk around to make sure everything is good there as well.  Oh and don’t hate me for saying this but Christmas is closing in. We try to make some of our gifts so we need to get cracking if we want to get them to the post office in time. What I really need to do is make a check list so we don’t overlook anything.

November is shaping up to be another busy and productive month on this homestead!  What does November look like for you?  Note: if you live in Mexico or Australia please don’t tell me because I will be super jealous (kidding, sort of).

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