What to do in November

My container garden in November

As we descend into November, temperatures cool, days get shorter and light levels drop. Growth in the containers slows – and can even grind to a halt if it gets very cold (winters are becoming increasingly variable – and it’s hard to know what to expect at this stage).

This is a quieter month in the container garden, but there are tasty crops to pick and some useful jobs to do:

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

This month, the main harvests usually include delicious salad ingredients, like rocket, sorrel and pea shoots; herbs like parsley, rosemary, sage and mint; and the last tomatoes. Pickings will start getting a lot smaller – but you can still add lots of flavour to a salad with just a few home grown leaves.

An early November salad: rocket, watercress, sorrel, chives, mint, society garlic flowers, and nasturtium leaves and flowers. The nasturtiums will die with the first hard frosts.
An early November salad, picked from containers: rocket, watercress, sorrel, chives, mint, society garlic flowers, and nasturtium leaves and flowers. The nasturtiums will die with the first hard frosts.

1. Care for winter crops

If you planted some winter crops 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), and to water the containers during dry periods (it’s easy to forget when its cold).

To get the best growth out of your winter crops, you may want to create some protection, like cloches. 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 Celcius (53 – 75 Fahrenheit). Below this, they become less active and will require less food (and no food at all when it is freezing). Take care not to overfeed them. The extra food will become rancid and smelly – yuk.

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 – and the more biomass (ie stuff!) you have in your wormery, the more insulated your worms will be. So keep it topped up during the winter, and restrain from harvesting the worm compost until it gets warmer in the spring.

Worms can survive outside in winters in most temperate climates – but if your wormery is in an exposed, windy place, it’s a good idea to move it to a warmer, more sheltered space if you can. A garage or shed is ideal – but as most of us don’t have this luxury, any protection from the wind will help.

Some people 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 over ten years through winters in London and Newcastle, without finding this necessary. However, if your wormery is exposed to cold winds, I’m sure this would help.

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 not the most productive container crop – they take up a lot of space for a small harvest. But if you love broad beans (like me!), you may want to grow a pot or two. By sowing them now, you’ll get an earlier crop next year, they’ll be more resistant to blackfly, and you’ll add greenery to your pots over winter. Sow a variety of broad bean suited to winter growing, like 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 few bulbs for fresh garlic are always a treat. It’s smell may also deter 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 or are you growing a whole range of winter crops? Whatever you’re doing, I’d love to hear!




19 thoughts on “What to do in November”

  1. I have been re-using compost for a few years now. I have some 3ft square containers which I grow flowers in, and they have had the same compost for 8 years, although it has now broken down and is very fine, almost like dust. I have just re-placed it with compost that is 1 year, but still use the fine compost and mix it in with newer multi-purpose, and my own garden compost, so still going strong. How else can you get rid of old compost? This must be a problem for many people, but as you have found it is not necessary. Keep up the good work I always enjoy reading your blog.
    Keith Johnson

  2. There’s not a lot to report in my containers right now. I have leeks, purple sprouting broccoli, some walking onions and a little chard on the go. Last month I was gifted some wild garlic clumps and strawberry plants so next yr already looks hopeful. Indoors I have a trough of chard and spinach on a windowsill but the short days mean everything is considerably slower here in the NW. I’m already looking forward to Spring!

  3. So interesting to read about your wormery! A bit late commenting this post but in November I was planting garlic in one of my containers. Unfortunately the climate in Stockholm, Sweden was so mild during November they started to sprout. It will be very interesting to see if they survive and give some harvest this summer. I also have mint sown from seed spring 2018 that are thriving in really small pots placed in a large plastic box despite deg. below zero and snow.

    1. Hi Josefin, garlic is pretty hardy and survives well through the winter – at least here in the north of the UK. You are quite a few degrees cooler in stockholm, I think. It will be interesting to learn how your garlic do! Fingers crossed. Mint normally dies after a few frosts but then comes back with new vigour in the spring.

  4. Hello again,

    one year later, we are in a new flat with a balcony twice the size (and with 3 big built-in containers) than the old one. Today I put in the spring bulbs ( daffodils, tulips, snowdrops) and noticed that I need so many more, I am still not used to planning for so much more space.
    My aronia in its fair-sized pot still keeps on growing, this year it produced a big handful of fruits (resting in the freezer for now).
    With many things happening this year, I missed the right time for planting autumn-greens (the garlic in the aronia-pot has been in since june, against aphids). Is there something I still can sow outside for this year (the last nights were around 0°C)? Or shall I try my luck with indoor salads?
    Best wishes

    1. Hello Jurate
      My sincere apologies, I somehow missed your question last year…. For others with the same question, it is probably a bit late for most salads at this time. Pea shoots might be worth a try – they’ll probably do ok if November and December are not too cold. This said, micro-climates and winters vary considerably – so if you have a warm, sheltered space in London or another warm city, an outside crop of rocket or mustards might do ok – if you have the seeds, there is always no harm in experimenting.
      As you mention, growing salads inside is always a good option – if you have a nice bright window sill. Hope this helps and sorry again that I missed this at the time. Mark

  5. Hi Mark,

    I live in Istanbul and started a wormery a few months ago. It seems to be doing well (or at least I think so!), but now that cold weather is hitting I’m wondering what to do? Their bin is not particularly full, and I don’t have access to manure (I gather some people use this to keep the worms warm over the winter?). I’m wondering if it’s ok to add regular potting soil to the worms so they have more space to huddle together? It seems to make sense to me, but am wondering if that will just kill them. They’ve done ok so far (other than occasional over-feeding by me), and i would love to be able to really keep this going over the summer! They’re located on a closed-in balcony, so they are protected from rain and snow but not from cold.

    Thanks so much! Kim

    1. How cold is cold, Kim? As long as you have a fair amount of material in the box (even if not full), worms will happily tolerate temps of a few degrees below zero for a few days, in my experience. Having said that, adding a bit of potting soil won’t to any harm. You can also add some scrunched up newspaper to fill up the top, this will give more insulation. you could also wrap the whole wormery in an old carpet or something else to keep it warm. I never have and my worms have survived reasonably cold winters so I think they are quite resilient.

  6. The information on wormeries was very useful. When I first had mine there wasn’t a lot of information about other than how to start one – consequently mine didn’t survive. My worm bin has been out of use since so planning to start again in the spring now fully informed. If the bin shouldn’t be overloaded, are there any recommendations as to the type of food that should be put in?
    Going in autumn- I always do broad beans and shallots and garlic. Think I would go into a deep depression if I wasn’t growing during the winter. My girlfriend and I have been experimenting with hardy salads. Reine de grace and green in snow overwintered really well both in the greenhouse and the ground although we haven’t had a really hard winter to test the theory. Come March we had enormous lettuces. Green in snow tastes a little like horseradish so hopefully it is providing the bitters we need in our diet. Thank goodness for sorrel and rocket. I look at dandelions differently these days as food not as unwanted residents,

  7. Hello,

    I still haven’t gotten around to put my balcony garden to rest, though this weather here, in south of Germany, still allows my tomatoes to produce new fruits. Only my basil is starting to look a bit on the downside. I have big hopes of my, planted this summer, different kind of herbs to survive this winter. If it is anything like the last one then it should be no problem (I could pick the last tomatoes from outside till the 2nd week of January). I even planted an estragon, though I still haven’t used any. Any ideas?

    Best wishes

    1. A lot of perennial herbs will survive the winter (mint, chives etc), although only some have green leaves you can pick (in moderation) over winter. These include bay, rosemary and thyme – three wonderful herbs for winter.

  8. 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. 🙂

  9. 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 .

    1. 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

  10. 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 =)

    1. 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!

  11. 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.

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