How many of these cabbages could you eat in a month?
One cabbage a month. That’s more than enough for anyone when they are growing their own.
One large plant can provide enough greenery for about five meals, and like kale we sometimes grow a bit too much of it. It’s good news for the compost bins though.
Growing your own veggies is always a fine balance between feeding yourself and family or the compost bin so the longer we can stretch the season, the less likely we are to get fed up of one type of vegetable. How many times have you looked in the cookery books to find yet another way of cooking up your courgettes? A lot I’ll bet. With the help of a bit of cover, and carefully selected varieties of seeds, it is possible to grow vegetables and herbs all year round in our climate, and there are advantages to doing this too.
Advantages to growing vegetables in winter:
Mature overwintered veg keeps growing until December under cover, stands for the winter then comes on quickly in February. They can be picked for much of the winter. There might be lean pickings in January but there is usually something – perhaps a bit of kale, land cress, claytonia, lamb's lettuce, herbs and carrots.
Later autumn sowings will overwinter as seedlings that get going quickly again in February and are ready long before spring sowings. This eliminates the 'hungry gap' – that period of time when seeds have been sown in spring but little is ready to eat.
Vitamins and minerals are harder to obtain in winter, especially vitamin C. Having something fresh from the garden can make a big difference.
Fresh organic produce is more expensive in winter. Therefore winter veg saves you more money than summer veg. Rocket, radishes, salad leaves, parsley and mint are all expensive in winter yet easy to grow at home and the ground is as well growing something as sitting there empty.
What to grow in winter
Loads of vegetables can be overwintered. Perpetual spinach, chard, parsley, rocket, lettuce , radish, Land cress and lamb's lettuce, Pak choi, leeks, broccoli and greens can be juiced, used in salads or frozen
Cut-and-come again varieties, such as Niche Mixed, can be sown until very late in the season. Plant under a fleece.
Planting these beans stops nutrients leaching through otherwise fallow soil, which allows its structure to deteriorate.
They are ready a good month earlier than those sown in April, and they don't get black fly. If the beans are in an exposed position and grow too tall (above a foot ) over winter, they can wave around and split just above ground level, so put in canes or sticks and string if necessary.
If you pick out some tops to cook before the pods are formed you will delay pod production, which can help stagger your crop. Small pods are delicious cooked and eaten whole.
Asparagus varieties are now available for autumn planting, which helps them establish that bit quicker. You do wait for two years before you can cut them, but it is a small price to pay for a gourmet extravaganza.
Peas and pea shoots
For a late spring crop, it's worth trying sowing seeds now. 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.
With peas, don't forget the pea shoots are tasty: just pick off the tips and add to stir fries and salads for that intense, delicious fresh pea flavour.
Although not usually known for sowing now, their slow growth over winter helps to produce a crop of smallish, edible pods earlier next year.
This is the easiest crop 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.
Onions, spring onions and shallots
There are quite a few varieties of onions from sets that can go in now. This is the easiest way to grow onions, and they can be harvested earlier on in the year.
Many garden centres have shallots available for planting now.
This is good filler: it's undemanding, easy to grow and useful for bulking out the salad bowl.
It is useful in that it does not need high light levels and tolerates low temperatures, and so can be sown up until the end of October outside; it can be picked until December or into the New Year with some fleece or milder weather.
Pick it young and just wilt the leaves rather than ruin it with overcooking. It’s great in salads, too.
Young plants can be bought now.
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. Remember though, there’s no need to plants too many unless you are thinking of giving them away to passers-by.