While August is a busy time for harvesting it’s also a time to start thinking ahead. Now is the time to plan for the long wet winter.
Writing this on the hottest day of the year it’s hard to imagine November. The incessant drizzle, the cold north winds, the tantilising idea of snow. But it will come. It does every year. Even if my heart is not ready for it, my seedlings will be!
So, take a break from weeding, blanching beans and desperately incorporating courgettes into every meal. Now it is time to sow.
Here’s a run down of some great winter veg that you can sow now:
These tiny little rosettes give mild salad greens when lettuces have bolted or frosted. One of the few things we sow in situ as they don’t really get munched and the results are so mini they are not worth the effort of transplanting. Sow thickly and eat as and when through winter and into spring. For us this is trouble free.
A great mild tasting oriental vegetable that you grow for leaves and thick stems. They tend to bolt if sown before midsummer so now is the time and you’ll be eating them from early winter. Pak choi can deal with a bit of cold but we’ve found it’s zapped by hard frosts, easily protected here in Bristol with a bit of fleece. It’s a brassica so treat as such if you rotate. Slugs do love it and so does flea beetle. Thin to around 10 cm apart and eat thinnings.
This is basically the same to grow as pak choi. You get leafy greens rather than cabbage hearts. We tend to harvest whole plants. The flavour is much less cabbagy than our standard UK cabbages, which I think is a good think. We tend to eat chinese cabbage and pak choi in stir frys, curries or steamed with soysauce. In our experience chinese cabbage is slightly less cold tolerant than pak choi. If you are planning to save seed, be aware the two will cross so just pick one to let flower. Or get a a slightly unpredictable but probably still edible hybrid.
Oh and you can eat the about to flower stems in spring, like basically every other brassica we grow.
We actually stopped growing this brassica as we didn’t really like it. Having said that, I have ultimate respect for this hardy japanese leay green. The leaves are spicy mustard style greens and are very plentiful. It is quick to produce and will form a massive clump that keeps producing for months. It happily just stands there, un-phased by snow and frost. We have never seen it die. Like ever. So if you like spicy cooking greens then it’s a winner. The red more spidery looking varieties are nice in salads.
Another peppery brassica but one that is good for salads rather than cooking. It makes little rosettes of leaves that taste like watercress although it’s unrelated. We find the clumps can get to be around 15 cm across. Pick the bigger leaves first to limit the size. Bigger leaves start to get too tough.
It throws up classic brassica flowering stems in spring (as in the photo) and has self seeded across our allotment. You could also collect seeds to use to grow micro-greens if that is your thing.
Something I was unaware of when we started growing this is that is sometimes grown to deter caterpillers.
Winter is basically about brassicas isn’t it. Turnips and mooli are glorified radishes. As such, you can eat the leaves as well as the roots (we are sowing cima di rapa, specific turnip greens too). This is our first year of genuine turnip growing as to be honest, I have not ever managed to get excited about turnips. I got an italian variety as I have more faith it might be nice. I hope, I will taste home grown turnips and see the light. I am imagining they would work great in a branston pickle style chutney if we can’t stand them straight. Or I’ll try them in cantonese style turnip cake (lo bak go), one of my favourite dim sum treats.
I’m sowing in stations 10cm apart.
It’s not too late to sow carrots and this time of year there should be less carrot fly around! This time of year you probably want little fast maturing ones or varieties that are specifically cold hardy. Or you can do what I do just chuck whatever I have left in pots and eat mini carrots. Carrot seeds are notoriously short lived and germination rates will drop loads by next spring so if you have space, bung it in.
Carrots don’t like being transplanted- you’ll get twisty roots. And they don’t like rich soil – you’ll get forked roots. Spent potting compost is ideal. We normally net or grow in raised beds to avoid carrot fly. Cool fact is that carrot fly do not fly higher than around 60cm, so raised beds or courtyard gardens are a great solution.
We have chard self seeding all year, everywhere. I love it and crave the earthy, mineral rich leaves. If you aren’t so lucky it’s worth sowing some ASAP so it can get established before it gets cold. While the leaves go mushy in the frost, in our experience the plants survive and just put out more leaves every time the temperatures rise. It doesn’t grow fast in the cold so we pick sparingly. Our autumn sown plants keep cropping until they go to seed around March/April the following year. perpetual spinach is a close relative and is much more hardy and less prone to bolting than ‘real spinach’.
I’m so in love with beetroot this year. After years of roasting it or grating in salads, we’ve returned to simple boiling with a dash of olive oil and pepper. I can’t get enough.
A close relative of chard, beets thrive in cooler weather. Autumn sown ones may not become monsters but the plants like it when it’s cold and minging. Extra points to them as they give both a leaf crop and a root crop in the winter. Sow around 4cm apart each way and thin our the smaller ones as they grow. Probably worth covering or harvesting when it gets frosty.
Obviously this isn’t a comprehensive list. We are also sowing kohl rabi and swedes. And more fennel as 58 of my 60 seedlings got slugged (silent weeping). Rocket is good to sow now and you can get away with sowing some kales, although the plants won’t get massive. Also spring cabbages if you are the type of person that can grow hearting brassicas. I am too neglectful!
While a lot of these can be sown straight, we do tend to do a lot of module sowing. This is largely to avoid slugs but also it allows us to fine tune timings. For example, our maincrop potatoes haven’t been lifted yet. Give it a few weeks though, and that ground will be empty and ready for a grown in pots winter crop to go in.