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November: What Needs to Be Done in the Garden and on the Homestead in Upstate New York?

Updated on May 1, 2018
Fredrickvanek profile image

Fredrick Vanek is a former Market Gardener with over 40 years of experience in Organic food production and sustainable living.


The North Country Book of Changes.

(Musings in the spirit, if not the eloquence, of Aldo Leopold and Thoreau.)


Putting the garden to bed.

Feed the asparagus and rhubarb plants now. Use anything. I use rough compost; that which hadn’t completely broken down, or chicken coop litter. Just mound it right on top of the plants, burying them. A half bushel on each plant will reward you with vigorous plants next spring. This is a good place to dump your wood ash as well.

Wood ash: Spread it where you'll be growing melons, tomatoes, and Cabbage-family crops. Don't use it where you will be growing potatoes, and never on Blueberries.

If your ground isn't frozen yet, fork up the soil to expose insect larvae etc . Make sure your beds are level to avoid erosion. Clean up and toss on the compost heaps all the crop residue. Pests overwinter in the garden under it.

Cold frames for lettuces no longer need to be cracked open during the day. However, wait to harvest any greens until the afternoon when the temperature in the frames has been above freezing. Frozen lettuces don't recover well if cut.

Wrap your young fruit tree trunks with an rodent-proof wrap at least 2 feet off the ground. In snowless winters there is not usually much damage, but when there is a good snowpack the damage from meadow mice (voles) can be devastating. Below the snow. Rabbits gnaw bark and twigs too, but only above the snowline.


Get the Chicken Coop Ready...And it is butchering time.

If you haven't changed out the coop's floor bedding; it's time. Dry fallen leaves are an excellent, free alternative to purchased shavings or hay/straw. It might take the foolish birds a little while to get used to it, the leaves being strange and making rustling sounds. But it is an excellent insulator, and by spring the birds will have pulverized and fertilized it thoroughly, making it ready for working in to the soil in the spring or making compost with. The nest box bedding should be changed if it hasn't been yet too.

Chickens do not need any heating, but they do need plenty of fresh air and yet have refuge from the wind. For being originally southern Asian birds, are remarkably inured to winter weather. On sub-zero nights I have seen them sleeping peacefully on their roosts with frost covering their backs; their feathers are that good an insulator.

I've always found it more practical to buy enough feed to get through the winter: Less concern about having to drive through snowstorms. Feed should be stored in metal trashcans, metal being the critical adjective. Woodrats (Neotoma floridana) will invariably find your coop and get into your feed if it isn't protected. The rats are not the only reason I suggest closing up the coop every night, but they are a main one. They only move at night, so closing up the coop will slow down their entry. As they chew right through wood about the only thing that will keep them out is to line the floor and walls with hardware cloth. (If you keep a light on in the coop that will keep them at least in the shadows. Like all rodents and disreputable people they hate the light.)

If you bought chicks in the spring, any you don't want to keep are ready for slaughter now. A very good beginners guide is "Basic Butchering of Livestock and Game" by John J. mettle, JR, D.V.M. (Available at

Make Sure Your Compost bins for the winter are Ready.

If you intend to continue making compost throughout the winter, you'll need not only enough bins to make the compost in, but an equal amount of bins or space to store the dry material used in making it. (Called “Cover Material” if you need a name for it: Such as hay, straw, flower garden clean-up debris, etc). This needs to be kept dry with either a tarp or something otherwise it will all freeze into an immovable mass.

Wherever the bins are, they need to be accessible even through the snows. And DO NOT throw meat or food scraps onto that pile. It WILL attract pests you don't want: Rats, possums, skunks or raccoon when there is a thaw, or dogs. However vegetable scraps are fine. We keep a small covered pail in the kitchen for that. When full it is tossed onto the compost heap then Cover Material is tossed on to hide it. Once a week the chicken manure from the coop is sprinkled on top too. Wood ash is better spread directly where its needed. (Finished compost is neutral in p.h. ) The piles will freeze solid, but in April or May they will thaw and begin to heat up.

Look to your bees and make sure they are prepared for winter.

Check that your mouse guards are in place. Some of the older Beekeepers up here who still retain the imprinting of so many of those harsh winters in the past still wrap their hives in tarpaper and fiberglass insulation, or just tarpaper. A few add a shallow super stuffed with hay above the top board on top of the hives. (The hay must be checked periodically and changed when it becomes soaked with the effects of the bees’ respiration.)

If we get a “Throw-back winter”, a regression to the old mean, such measures would help. However, over the last couple of decades the winters have been too warm for such measures. Those who wrapped their hives often found them dead after an unusually warm spell: The bees basically overheated in mid-winter and died.

Despite the possibility of an occasional bout of well-below zero temperatures in the future, I'd still recommend NOT wrapping your hives. As long as they are in a location with protection to the north and a southern exposure, they will do fine 9 out of 10 years. They have more problems now over-wintering what with Hive Collapse than cold weather.

It's a good habit to get into to put your ear to each hive and listen for them on a cold day. You'll be rewarded with a low, content hum from a healthy hive. If at first you hear nothing; give the hive a quick rap with your knuckles then listen again.

On mild sunny days, the bees will fly to defecate, and if the weather is mild, to find water.

Care of the woodpile and wood-cutting equipment.

If you burn wood, it is getting to be wood-cutting season. We always preferred to do our cutting beginning in late November and continuing till done, or when spring arrives, whichever comes first. If you buy cut and split wood now, it shouldn't be green unless you are getting in next year's wood for burning (which shows prudence).

For best burning the wood should be under cover of some sort, preferably under a roofed shed. Wood stacking safely requires a little attention to detail and knowledge of the stresses exerted by piled wood. Whenever possible stack between 2 immovable objects like load-bearing walls.

Regardless, its a good idea to build “Endcaps” to stack the wood between. Endcaps are built using wood that has been split fairly evenly, each tier stacked at 90 degrees to the one below it. If the wood is not resting steadily but rocks, shim it up with scraps of wood. Be aware the Endcaps need to be built straight up and down in all four directions. If it wants to tilt at all, make sure it is tilting in and back, not out and forward. Two well built Endcaps will hold a 8 foot wide, 6 foot tall wall of wood.

If stacking small diameter stove-wood which is not split, extra force is exerted sideways and forward by the cylindrical wood as it settles. This is very powerful and will topple even the best made stack in a month or so. When stacking wood like that use extra Endcaps in the center and/or stack some of the wood sideways to break up the direction of the stress.

Time to check your splitting mauls, axes, and wedges for sharpness and any cracks or chips. Rub wooden handles with an oil-soaked rag. Wind soft steel wire around the handles just below the heads to prevent damage to them because of hitting the wood.

Look over the chainsaws. Have dull chains sharpened or replaced. A dull chain makes an easy job hard and potentially dangerous. It saves time to mix up chainsaw fuel now, and make sure there is plenty of chain oil on hand.

For those few who cut with bucksaws, I will have an article on setting and sharpening them later.

A well-stacked store of firewood.
A well-stacked store of firewood. | Source
Stove-wood stacked to break up the side-to-side stresses.
Stove-wood stacked to break up the side-to-side stresses. | Source


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