Country Gardener

Widely regarded as the authority on gardening in the south west

Autumn - time to keep the garden going

After a series of mild autumn and winters more gardeners are finding autumn sowing a way to keep the garden alive.

It’s likely every year gardeners all over the country start to think that September and October are the times to start ‘putting the garden away’ for the winter.

Yet a series of mild winters would suggest that the much better option is to think of the autumn as the time to decide to keep the garden going through the winter.

It’s a decision which gets you outside in the fresh air, allows you to exercise and can give you brilliant home-grown produce with a great selection of winter vegetables.

With the autumn’s cooler weather and crisper mornings, planting late in the season can produce a plentiful garden and harvest. 

Some vegetables that thrive in such conditions include the heartier varieties like broccoli, lettuce, kale, cabbage and Swiss chard. Planting seeds in September is the best time to do so; however, it is not too late to plant in October, but you need to remember to plant vegetables that are considered to be ‘frost tolerant.’ 

Most vegetable gardens can accommodate winter crops. Some vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, take up a lot of space for a long time but are still well-worth the investment. Choose an open site with free-draining soil, cultivated thoroughly prior to sowing or planting and enriched with organic material. 

Where ground is in short supply, containers will support a few plants. If a greenhouse or polytunnel is available, it can be used to over-winter some crops and start others off early. However, heating greenhouses for year round harvests is rarely efficient.

Five to enjoy this winter

Leeks - Leeks are an absolute must in a winter garden. If rust is a problem in your area (it tends to be more problematic in mild, moist autumns) choose a variety showing strong resistance such as ‘Oarsman’. Leek moth is more widespread these days so if it’s known in your neighbourhood, cover plants with fine mesh netting or fleece to thwart it. Purple-leaved varieties tend to be hardier, such as the French classic ‘Bleu de Solaise’ and the British bred ‘Northern Lights’.

Brussels sprouts -  ‘Montgomery’ is always the variety to grow – it’s an F1 hybrid with a deliciously mild taste. The RHS like it, too, and have given it an AGM. Everything you read about having your own sprouts for Christmas is true so make an effort to grow them. Beginner growers take note: plants need to be sown in April for a winter harvest; sprout tops are delicious, too.

Spinach - Spinach is ideal as it provides pickings all through winter and well into spring –’Tetona’ is a classic arrow-shaped green spinach; the leaves develop a beautifully meaty thickness and deep colour as the weather cools, but they remain incredibly tender. A hassle free crop.

Parsnips - There are a few things to watch for with parsnips: the seed’s shelf life is short so buy fresh each year; avoid over-rich soils, as this can give excess leaf at the expense of root; don’t sow too early as germination will be poor on cold soils and it also increases the likelihood of canker disease; sow seeds in clumps in the soil, then thin to the strongest seedling. 

Sprouting broccoli - Most of us are familiar with the purple form of this brassica. There is also a white form, which is underrated, prolific and delicious. Both types make large plants when grown well – at least one metre tall and wide – and they need to be sown in April in order to give 
you crops worth waiting for. 

What to grow for winter

Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, kale, leeks and parsnips are hardy vegetables and will stand through the winter. Leafy crops such as chard, parsley and rocket should also over-winter with a little protection.

Other crops such as carrots, onions, turnips and winter squash can also be grown to enjoy in winter if stored correctly.

Sow leafy crops such as chard, chicory, landcress and parsley in early summer for autumn harvests that can last into winter if they are provided with some fleece or cloche protection.

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