The leaves are falling and the lawnmowers stored away for the winter, but the growing season is not over yet. There are still plenty of wonderful vegetables you can grow through the winter.
With the help of a little cover (fleece or perforated polythene) it is possible to extend the growing season for vegetables and herbs year round. Until around the end of October you can sow leeks, sprouts and parsnips in the ground.
Don’t turn your back on the winter garden; here is a range of tasty crops for the bleakest mid winter.
If you don’t have a vegetable garden you can use containers or make a sack garden.
What to grow
Kale, chard, brussel sprouts, spinach, parsnips, sprouting broccoli, broad beans, onions, garlic, winter salad and peas are just some of the vegetables you can grow during the winter months.
My favourites include:
Onions, shallots and spring onions
Autumn planting onion sets are easy to grow and will just about look after themselves through the winter months. Choose well-drained soil in a sunny spot (onions don’t like acid soils).
Sow onion seeds from late winter until mid-spring 1.3cm (½in) deep in rows 20cm (8in) apart. Thin out first to 5cm (2in) and later to 10cm (4in). Closer planting will result in more bulbs and a heavier crop, but smaller bulbs.
Sow shallots a little bit later from early to mid-spring. Unlike shallot sets, seed-grown plants will only produce a single bulb. Thin out as required to 2.5-7.5cm (1-3in) apart.
Spring onions are a fairly quick growing crop and if you sow in early autumn they should be ready to harvest by early spring. ‘White Lisbon’ is a popular winter hardy variety.
Autumn planted sets will ripen and are ready for lifting by early to mid-summer.
One of the easiest crops to grow it can be planted from the autumn right through into February, as long as the ground is not too hard or waterlogged. Like onions, it has a long growing season and won’t be ready to harvest until next summer.
Spinach likes moist, nitrogen-rich soil. Great in salads (one of my all time favourites). Early autumn sowing will give you tender young leaves throughout the winter. One of the advantages of sowing in the autumn in that it will not bolt.
Sow late September to mid – November and, as they grow, protect them from the coming winds with cane sticks and string, much as you would in the summer. If you’re growing them in an exposed position keep them shorter than you would during the summer (perhaps no more than a foot in 2 or 3 foot in height).
Sow in well drained soil. Seeds can be sown directly into the soil in early November or February for a May harvest. If winter is particularly severe, cover your young plants with a cloche or fleece.
Varieties for Autumn growing include (recommended by the RHS):
- Aquadulce Claudia: A large, very hardy long-pod cultivar for autumn or early spring sowing
- Masterpiece Green Longpod: A reliable, slender-podded cultivar ideal for freezing
- Medes: A popular, high-yielding, uniform variety
- Scorpio: A commercial cultivar bred for the frozen vegetable industry with white flowers and small, mild-flavoured beans
- The Sutton: A dwarf favourite producing small, tender beans ideal for containers
- Witkiem Manita: An early-maturing cultivar with heavy yields
Sow your seeds now for an early crop in the spring, especially in mild areas. Try varieties such as ‘Meteor’ and ‘ Kelvedon Wonder’ which are particularly hardy. Plant one inch deep and about one inch apart, direct into the ground.
To be honest I have never tried to grow asparagus before so this year will be the first. I have always been put off by the common perception that it is difficult to grow and that it has to grow for 2 years before it can be harvested..
If you’re good at growing asparagus, let me know. There seem to be plenty of autumn varieties available.