Catch Crops and Cover Crops for Your November Garden

Gardener’s Notebook by Joshua Burman Thayer

Baby chard as a catch crop (photo by Joshua Burman-Thayer)

Sitting in the early dusk, sipping tea, and looking out the window at the now dry tomato and squash vines in our summer garden, we can’t help but recall with longing the daily gifts they gave to our tables.

But now is not the time for nostalgia! The seasonal shift is the signal to get out and clear those vines from your summer veggie zone and plant some cool season crops! Take the time to do these steps in the coming month and you will look out the window with pride, knowing that you set the conditions for your garden to thrive throughout the coming year.

Catch Crops

Catch the gap between summer and fall (and again between winter and spring) with fast- and easy-growing crops like radish, peas, arugula, and chard that you can direct sow. These cool-season vegetables are tolerant of lower soil temperatures and (potentially) constant moisture.

Find Josh’s Bay Area Planting Guide here.


Grow Your Soil with Cover Crops!

Cover crop plants top to bottom: fava (photo by Nicki Rosario), sugar snap peas (photo by Carole Topalian), and red clover (photo by Gardenkitty)

Once those winter rains come, the daily pummeling of raindrops can do a number on your soil, which is why some people put their gardens to bed through the winter with a layer of straw as a protector and insulator. I challenge this approach here in the subtropical East Bay, where we get little frost and reap a bounty of 300 or more growing days per year. That’s nearly twice the number of growing days per year we had in my home state of Virginia. even though the East Bay sits at the same latitude, 37° north.

Since we can grow here all winter, try growing your soil with a diverse soil-building cover mix of crops that will:

  • feed the soil with nitrogen and micronutrients,
  • create more fluffy soil tilth for summer via decomposing cover-crop plant residues,
  • feed the pollinators with blossoms, since sources of nectar become scarce in winter,
  • and protect the soil from the compaction of raindrops.

It’s easy to do, provides food for the soil, and creates a splendid array of winter-loving bean and pea plants that make food for our tables!

Joshua’s Cover Crop Mix

Fava beans (Vicia faba)

Sugar snap peas (Pisum sativa) 

Snow peas (Pisum sativa saccharatum)

Red clover (Trifolium pratense)

Arugula (Eruca sativa)

Radish (Raphanus sativus)

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

More on cover crops here.

Joshua Burman Thayer’s Gardeners Notebook is a monthly feature in this newsletter. Look for his feature articles in Edible East Bay’s print magazine. Check out his design site:


Red clover image by Gardenkitty is licensed under CC-by SA-3.0.