The cold is creeping in but that doesn’t mean it’s time to put your gardening tools away! Your winter garden may be a bit different from your summer garden but that doesn’t mean it’s any less worthwhile. Charles Dowding tells you everything you need to know in How to Grow Winter Vegetables:
“Vegetables for winter
So what might a winter garden contain in the way of vegetables for harvesting between about December and April? Here I offer some ideas to help you imagine what is worth growing, in four categories according to how much space and protection each vegetable needs. The first four vegetables and some of the salad plants too belong to the same plant genus called Brassicaceae, the cabbage family. Their attributes that interest us most in winter are the ability to resist frost and continual wetness, and being able to make new leaves in weather that keeps most vegetables dormant. Remember that successful winter harvests depend on the soil being in good condition, with sufficient organic matter and good drainage. I have found that this is best achieved by surface composting without any digging or cultivation – see Chapter 3, pages 32-8, for advice on soil.
- Brussels sprouts, when given plenty of room and also a long period of growth, offer tasty harvests in winter, when cold weather helps to sweeten their flavour.
- Kale is probably the easiest green leaf to grow for winter harvest and is one of the hardiest. There is a good choice of varieties with a range of colours and leaf shapes, and there are also flat-leaved kales, which taste sweet in salad.
- Purple sprouting broccoli is mostly for early spring, but some varieties, such as ‘Rudolph’, can make new shoots in milder midwinter weather.
- Cabbage can cover a long season according to the variety you grow – do make sure you buy seed or plants of varieties that heart up (more or less) at the time you hope to be eating them – for instance, ‘January King’ (although this one may mature any time between November and February).
Savoy cabbages are the hardiest of all, and late varieties of savoy will heart up from February to early April at a time when greens are extremely precious.
Some salad plants, although making little new growth in winter, are able to resist most frost and keep their leaves in reasonable health outdoors. Corn salad (lamb’s lettuce) is the most reliable and maintains a lustygreen colour at all times. Land cress is equally hardy but suffers more from slugs and birds. Winter purslane resists frost and pests but sometimes discolours in midwinter.
Winter harvests under cover
If some protection can be afforded, especially for salad plants, the possibilities for new growth are multiplied many times. In the severe weather of early 2010 I had a cloche full of lettuce, rocket, mustard, endive and chicory, which endured temperatures of -15ºC (5ºF) and long spells of dull, wet weather. By March they were nearly all growing strongly again.
- Swede grows little in winter but is extremely frost hardy and can safely be left in the soil for harvesting when needed. Sometimes my swedes have all their leaves eaten by pigeons yet still sit proudly and in good condition until early April. Swede has a more solid and sweet flesh than its cousin the turnip, which is less frost hardy and best stored indoors.
- Parsnip is the king of winter roots, much denser, sweeter, hardier and stronger tasting than potatoes. Parsnips sit happily in the soil all winter, ready for harvesting when needed at any point until about late April, when new growth takes goodness out of their roots.
- Leeks are not all capable of surviving hard frost, so be sure to choose a variety such as ‘Bandit’ or ‘Atlanta’ if you want harvests in a cold winter. Leeks can put on a lot of new growth in March and up to the end of April, so are a most welcome addition to the small group of hungry gap vegetables.”
To start your journey to a winter garden today, go to www.greenbooks.co.uk/how-to-grow-winter-vegetables