November: Gardening through the Winter Blues

November: Gardening through the Winter Blues
It’s November in the Bay Area. That means rain. Rain brings slugs. Slugs bring rotting fruit. Walking through the garden can be pretty gruesome, especially after a rain shower. The tomatoes, still producing a decent amount of fruit, are bursting from the excess water, and mold grows in the wound. The pumpkin vines and corn stalks are spotted black with mold. The only veggie that looks even half inviting is the ever-perky kale. For me, this is the worst time to be a gardener.
Annoyingly happy kale
Kale is so happy in the cold and the rain.
I love dirt: digging in it, growing things it, etc., but when it’s wet and cold, I just want to stay warm and dry indoors. The thought of a wet branch brushing against me gives me the heebie jeebies. Ugh. So what’s a gardener to do to get through the rainy winter doldrums? Well, plan for next year, of course! Right when the rain hit, I was delighted to receive the “Bare Root Fruit Trees” Edition of the Peaceful Valley catalog (they send multiple catalogs each year, each one themed for the current time of year). It has more than bare root trees, though: it’s got garlic and potatoes (two of the easiest things to grow, period), strawberries, artichokes, and rhubarb. It’s a perfect time to dream of future tomato sauces heady with homegrown garlic, yogurt topped with garden Ollalieberries, and crunchy, young, just-cut asparagus. If you have checked out the SF Bay Gardening Planting Calendar¬†you may know that not much can be planted in November–but what can be planted is mostly an investment in a beautiful gardening future.
  • Strawberry sets should be planted now, and the low price of bare root bundles of 25 ($6.99!) is staggeringly cheap, especially when you realize you’ve probably spent more than that on a few baskets of organic berries at a Farmer’s Market. I recommend reading about strawberries in Pam Pierce’s Golden Gate Gardening, though Peaceful Valley will also send a planting and growing guide if you order from them, and many nurseries and suppliers will do the same.
  • Artichoke roots can also be planted now, and your work now will mean a huge plant (5′-6′ wide) and several fruits. If you don’t eat the fruits, you’ll enjoy an amazing display as purple flowers erupt from each green pod.
  • Garlic and shallots are so easy to grow. If your soil is decent, just break off cloves and plant, keep watered, and enjoy garlic next fall! If you have lousy soil, amend with some compost, or just grow garlic in a container! Its roots do not take up much space, nor do they grow too deep.
  • Peas are happy to grow now, from seeds, with the caveat that the plants are delicious to slugs and other moisture-loving bugs.

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