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What to do in November

by Mark Ridsdill Smith on

in Blog, Month by month

As we descend into November, temperatures cool, days get shorter and light levels drop. Growth in the garden slows or grinds to a halt. This is a quieter month in the container garden, but there are still some useful jobs you can do.

  1. Care for winter crops.
  2. Get your wormery ready for winter.
  3. Sow broad beans and garlic

And if you haven’t protected your tender herbs and other crops yet, see What to do in October.

1. Care for winter crops

If you planted some winter crops (hopefully you have?) these should be well enough established now to survive the cold snaps. Remember to remain vigilant about slugs (they don’t usually hibernate for a while yet), and to water the containers during dry periods (it can be easy to forget when its cold).

To get the best growth out of your winter crops, you may want to create some protection for them but they’ll often do fine without (see October).

This chard has now grown large enough to be able to withstand quite hard frosts - and should hopefully provide us with a steady trickle of leaves all the way through until summer next year.

This chard has now grown large enough to be able to withstand quite hard frosts – and should hopefully provide us with a steady trickle of leaves all the way through until summer next year.

2. Prepare your wormery for winter

Worms work best at temperatures between about 12 and 24 degrees centigrade. When the temperature falls they will be become less active and will require less food. Take care not to overfeed them at this time – or the extra food will become rancid and smelly.

As it gets colder, you’ll also want to move your wormery to the warmest, most sheltered space you can find (unlike in summer when a cool, shady place is better). 

It’s also important to make sure that you keep your wormery at least two thirds full. When its cold your worms will retreat into a huddle in the middle of the wormery – and the more biomass (ie stuff!) you have in your wormery, the more insulated your worms will be from the cold. So keep it topped up during the winter, and wait to harvest the worm compost until it gets warmer in the spring.

Some books also advise wrapping your wormery in insulation (like an old carpet) to help the worms survive the winter.  I’ve kept four different wormeries (both wood and plastic) alive through cold winters in London and Newcastle, without finding this necessary. However, if you’re concerned your wormery is getting too cold, this is another option you can consider.

If your wormery is nice and full like this, the worms will be well insulated when they huddle together in the centre in cold weather.

Keep your wormery nice and full over winter. In colder weather, the worms will burrow down and huddle together – and the fuller your wormery is, the more insulated they’ll be.

3. Sow broad beans and garlic

Broad beans are one of the less productive crops to grow in containers – they take up lots of space for little return. Having said that, I love them so much I find it hard to resist growing a few. The advantage of sowing them now is that they will crop earlier next year and they’ll be more resistant to the dreaded black fly than those sown in the spring. Make sure you sow a variety of broad bean suited to winter growing – a popular one is aquadulce.

Garlic is a slow growing crop but has the advantage that it doesn’t take up a lot of space in a container. And its smell can help deter some pests. Now (or early spring) is a good time to sow it. You can take a chance and sow it from a clove of garlic you’ve got hanging round in your kitchen – if you do this, you need to be aware that it may get diseased or the variety may not be suited to your climate. A more reliable option is to buy planting garlic suited to your climate from a seed merchant or garden centre – or, even better, plant the cloves from a garlic plant you grew successfully this year!

Your turn

What are you doing in your container garden this month – have you put your feet up for the winter orr are you growing a whole range of winter crops? Whatever you’re doing, I’d love to hear!




{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Marlene Herself November 20, 2013 at 8:31 pm

I love your tips and updates and save them. I am waiting till next spring when I buy a place that is permanent to implement your ideas. I don’t want to have to move pots from a second story apartment. I thoroughly enjoy reading them and find all the information useful. Please keep my on your list. :)


jill ineson November 19, 2013 at 7:42 pm

I like the idea of winter purslane and broad beans for my winter containers. I am in Vancouver Canada and have just harvested one of my last tomatoes I have sage, rosemary and a bay tree some nasturtiums that have just started to flower !! some sorrel that over wintered last year and is wonderful in salads,chard and have planted kale for this winter .I had some green beans and peas and some mini white cucumbers in the summer but only a few so need to feed the
soil over the winter .


Mark Ridsdill Smith November 20, 2013 at 9:26 am

Hello Jill, much enjoyed reading about what you are growing – the white mini cucumbers are new to me. I’m with you on sorrel – a wonderful container crop. I particularly enjoy the way it just keeps going and producing leaves from year to year. Also, the slugs don’t seem to like it as much as some salad crops! Good luck with your winter growing. Mark


Patricia November 10, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Living in Middle Germany (Leipzig), it will get quiet cold soon… :( The last seasons, we had up to -20°C in Jan/Feb.
Anyway, I started spinach, lamb’s lettuche and pak choi in oktober.
At those with hard winters: do you know winter purslane/ indian lettuce? It’s a crop that germinates only at temperatures below 8-12°C and is very resistent against frost. You can harvest it all winter long for a fresh and healthy salad even in January. Its the first time, I try to grow it and I’m looking forward the first harvest =)


Mark Ridsdill Smith November 10, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Very interesting Patricia – are you able to keep some crops alive when it gets as cold as -20 or does everything die off then? It gets pretty cold here but not -20! Winter purslane is a fabulous crop – and high in vitamin C. I love it. It also has very unusual and pretty white flowers that grow out of the middle of the leaves in the spring. It is a very keen self seeder – and I’ve noticed that it had migrated to my neighbours window boxes in London, although I don’t think they ever new what it was!


MaryAlice November 9, 2013 at 7:35 pm

I started collards which are supposed to be for container gardens, and lettuce. My small raised beds are contained, but not containers, and contain a bit of cilantro, green onions, radish, carrots, fennel, chinese cabbage, kale, daikon, parsley, bok choi. I live in far northern California, not far from the coast, get frost, but not much.


Mark Ridsdill Smith November 10, 2013 at 5:50 pm

What a wonderful mix of winter crops you’re growing MaryAlice, my mouth is watering just reading your list! Thanks for sharing it with us. Mark


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