Growing veg: The best plants to grow over winter
Growing your own is a great way to reduce food waste, with zero air miles and total control over pesticide use.
Jenna Thompson, an ethical living journalist, shares her advice on some of the best crops to grow and harvest from now until February.
Fri 19 Oct 2018
There’s a lot of satisfaction to be gained from sitting down to a meal that you grew yourself.
A packet of seeds can cost as little as 50p and produce vegetables worth considerably more – a huge saving compared to the cost of buying organic.
Growing your own is a great way to reduce food waste, with zero air miles and total control over pesticide use. What’s more, studies show that working with soil is good for our mental health.
So if you’re looking to get stuck into growing your own food this autumn, here are some of the best crops to grow and harvest from September to February.
Growing veg for beginners: What are the best plants to grow over autumn and winter?
By now the weather will be cooler – maybe even frosty. Green manure crops are probably out but you still have time to plant overwintering onions and garlic. Late October is a good time to sow broad beans unless the soil is particularly wet – if so, start a few of them in pots to be safe. If you have a greenhouse, you may still get away with planting a hardy lettuce like Arctic King.
Most of your greenhouse crops will probably finish this month; cabbages can come up now too. These should keep relatively well in a frost-free shed. While there’s still some light, October can be a good month to do some digging, mixing in manure or mulched leaves to enrich the soil.
As the nights get longer, finding time for gardening can be trickier. Luckily, there’s not too much to do at this time of year. Garlic should go in now if it hasn’t already, and if you didn’t get round to planting beans in October, there’s still time for hardy broad bean varieties like Aquadulce. Continue with your digging, but leave it if the ground becomes too frozen or boggy.
For those who started growing in spring and summer, most crops will have been harvested and either used or stored away, but certain crops like parsnips and artichokes are happy to stay in the ground until you need them.
Winter cabbages, cauliflowers, leeks and turnips should be ready to harvest in November. You might even see your Christmas sprouts starting to come through.
As the winter solstice passes, the days slowly begin to grow longer again. However, the coldest weather is still on its way.
There’s not an awful lot to sow in December, unless you fancy trying some onions or winter salads from seed in your greenhouse. This will only work if you can keep it frost-free. It’s not too late to plant garlic cloves either, just make sure they’re not sitting in water.
If you’ve been hyper-organised and finished your work outdoors, you can spend this month staying cosy indoors, sipping mulled wine and ordering seeds for the upcoming year. Bear in mind that you often get far more seeds per packet than you’ll need, so whatever you don’t use you can reseal and keep for next year.
Leeks are still good to harvest now, as are winter cabbages, cauliflowers, artichokes and winter radishes. If it’s getting particularly windy, stake young trees and tall brassicas to stop them getting blown about.
Use netting to protect your brassicas – the birds will be getting hungry! Give them something tastier to eat instead.
"Don’t be tempted to grow plants too outside of season, even if it’s uncharacteristically warm. It’s not just about temperature, it’s also about daylight"
January usually brings hard frosts; definitely not the best time for outdoor sowing and planting. But you can still get busy in the greenhouse – summer cauliflowers can do quite well.
Don’t be tempted to grow plants too outside of season, even if it’s uncharacteristically warm. It’s not just about temperature, it’s also about daylight. There’s simply not enough solar power available at this time of year for many plants to thrive.
You can still feasibly be pulling leeks at this time of year, as well as beet leaves, winter spinach, chard and curly kale.
January is the ideal time to start chitting potatoes and building a runner bean trench. If you have vegetables stored in the shed, take care that the temperature doesn’t drop lower than 2°C.
Often the coldest winter month, yet spring is just around the corner. The days are getting longer and you may be able to start planting out, but only if the weather allows.
Don’t plant outside just because it says so on the packet – look at the conditions. Cold, wet ground won’t germinate seeds effectively. But you can start seedlings in pots to be planted out in March: broad beans, peas, shallots, summer cabbage, cauliflowers, onions, hardy lettuce, rocket and radishes are all raring to go come spring.
Some say this is the time to sow parsnips, but you’ll have more success planting them in March or April. If you didn’t plant your garlic cloves in November, pop them in now – even if it’s frosty. Fresh from the ground you could still be enjoying leeks, parsnips, swedes, winter kale and Brussels sprouts.
All of this can be hard to remember, which is why one of the most useful items for any gardener is a diary. Take note of what you sow and when, as well as what the weather is like. And be adventurous - you don’t need a huge garden or a huge budget to start growing vegetables – let us know how you get on.
Got any useful tips to share? Email us at [email protected].
Jenna Thompson is passionate about sustainable living. Visit her website to find more of her work.
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