Growing Winter Veggies

Winter Vegetables

Footprints in the snow at the plot

It’s only May and I need to start thinking and planning on what I want to grow and eat for winter, sounds ridiculous to be thinking of winter when we’ve just had one of the hottest and driest April’s on record, but if I don’t start sowing now I’ll miss my
proverbial boat.

The first couple of years on my allotment saw me concentrating on spring and summer veg with little going on in autumn or winter other than a few Leeks and some Purple Sprouting Broccoli. Last year changed – partly because of my curiosity as to what I could grow well in the depths of winter, how I could push the seasons a bit – i.e. keeping salads going through autumn, conversations I had with fellow gardeners, and I guess time and energy to plan ahead. The thought of eating fresh veggies and salads in winter was the real driver though – that and the thought of eating shop bought salads, read largely tasteless, made me shudder, so I got my act together.

I can’t say I was wholly successful (but what gardener can?), many things keeled over, or went into hibernation/shut-down, some things were nibbled by slugs and the like, plus some veg like the radicchio rotted from the insides, but on reflection my 1st real attempt at growing food for the winter table was agreat experience, I learned loads, and had some successes besides we had some meals from home grown veg. But I know I can improve on it.

The major problem, so I’ve discovered is that the light levels in this part of the Northern hemisphere are miserable in terms of wanting to grow veg over winter – the sun simply doesn’t get out for long enough or get high enough. Added to that, a classic British winter is not just cold but damp and wet. I’ve found over the years that I’ve lost more to the damp and wet in the garden than to the cold. The one positive I have on my side is being on the south coast, which means the frosts aren’t as severe as they would be 10 miles inland. We do get frosts, but they don’t tend to be heavy or go on for long. On the negatives, living on the coast means dealing with strong winds and gales, so means that whatever protection I try to give my plants it needs to be firmly in place, otherwise after a storm the structure will be found several plots away.

What I have to try and remember is that last winter was exceptional – cold in December and lots of snow, we didn’t have the atypical days of cool and wet, so maybe that is why my winter veg survived so well, and without much protection. Only time will tell.

What to grow for winter?

  • Salads – Lettuce, Mache, Radicchio, Endive, Chicory, Land Cress, Rocket
  • Leeks
  • Purple Sprouting Broccoli – eaten in Spring but overwintered. Eaten like Asparagus, at its freshest and barely cooked.
  • White Sprouting Broccoli
  • Brussel Sprouts – Christmas dinner just wouldn’t be the same without them. But to really relish them at their freshest fry them with redonion, garlic, maybe a bit of ginger and if a meat eater add some bacon!
  • Leeks – Picked when tender and small they are a classic but homegrown Leeks pack a huge taste punch.
  • Spinach including Perpetual Spinach – just think of a spinach dal or a spinach omelette in mid-winter and this is a must
  • Chard (Blette) – For earthy greens that will stand the cold and damp it is a classic winter/spring crop
  • Parsnips – a classic winter veg. Home grown they are sweet and tender, and apparently appreciate a bit of frost
  • Carrots – yet to successfully leave these in the ground until autumn, largely because I eat them all!
  • Radish – winter grown radish were a revelation to me. From the Spanish Round to the Daikon’s – all have huge flavour, can be eaten raw or cooked, and stand well over winter.
  • Spring Onion – Again a success for overwintering with minimal protection, a bonus considering I didn’t priginally plan to grow them specifically for over-wintering!
  • Oriental Leaves – I had some success with overwintering some Pak Choi’s last year, with minimal protection, plus Mustard Greens, Chop Suey Greens.
  • Kale – both the curly and the Cavelo Nero or black Kale
  • Cauliflower – I had so,me success with the Purple kind, the plants had a small amount of frost damage to the tops, but were perfectly edible
  • Cabbages – various winter cabbages, but I’ve found if I don’t plant them early enough they have a tendency to bolt when the weather starts to warm up, before they heart up. And Chinese Cabbage – if the slugs don’t get to them first

My plan is to write-up some details about how I grow these veggies over winter and in particular the varieties. I think the key to successful winter gardening is chosing the right variety for your location and conditions. I’ll update the blog and the Winter Growing Page with the info I put together.

Eating the winter greens and salads and now sowing the summer salads makes me realise that I crave fresh, raw, crunchy salads. Lett the sowing commence.

Further reading –

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