Winter Garden Food Highlights

Garden furniture is being put under cover or stored away, the lawn mower has just a few more cuts before that too goes in to hibernation for the approaching winter months.

So is the garden now out of bounds until next spring? Not if you already have or want to start a vegetable patch. Keeping your garden going through the winter months gets you outside in the fresh air, provides some additional exercise and can provide you with some brilliant home-grown produce.

There are a good range of crops that can be sown to supplement the winter leeks, parsnips and sprouts that should already be settled in. Except for garlic, onion sets, asparagus and cabbages, it’s a good idea to sow seeds in cold frame or greenhouse for the plants to gain some size and strength before planting out a few weeks later.

Here are some of our favourite winter crops

Onion sets are by far the easiest way to grow onions. Electric is a good red set, Radar a good yellow and Shakespeare is a highly reliable white. Sow some spring onions now. Some varieties of Shallots are available for planting now; many however are best planted in December or after Christmas.

A fantastic seasonal crop with several varieties to choose from. You do wait for two years before you can cut them, but it is a small price to pay for a gourmet extravaganza.

Useful varieties that will tolerate being sown now until the end of October are Riccio d’Asti and Merlo Nero. The big advantage of autumn sowing is that there is no tendency to bolt.

For a late spring crop, it’s worth trying sowing seeds now, especially in mild areas. If you sow direct into the ground, plant them one inch deep and relatively closely at about one inch apart, to make up for a higher loss rate.

Meteor is a first early variety and overwinters well. To speed up germination, put seeds on a wet kitchen towel on a plate and sow (in modules) when the root starts to develop.

Spring CabbagesIf you’re lucky, you might well find some spring cabbage plants left at local garden centers. Plant 12in apart each way and earth up the soil around their stems after they have got going to help them against the cold. If it gets icy in colder areas, fleece or  cloches can help. You can thin early plants for spring greens and leave the rest to heart up.

This is without doubt one of the easiest and most versatile crops to grow. Plant the cloves individually to a depth of 2.5in deep on light soils and a lot less deep on heavy soils, but always a minimum of one inch below the surface.

Lettuces more often than not are associated with spring and summer. Cut-and-come again varieties, such as Meraviglia d’Inverno San Martino can be planted out under fleece or a perforated polythene sheet. Winter Gem is a good variety from and can be sown right through the winter till January in a cold frame.

Undemanding, easy to grow and useful for bulking out the salad bowl. Lambs Lettuce  does not need high light levels and tolerates low temperatures well, and so can be sown up until the end of October outside.

Although not usually known for sowing now, if you choose a variety such as Snow Pea Gigante Svizzero you can get slow growth (as with all the peas) over winter to produce a crop of smallish, edible pods earlier next year.

10 BROAD BEANS Broad Beans

Good autumn varieties of Broad Beans include Aquadulce Claudia and Super Aquadulce.

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