Growing for winter harvests: what to sow and when!

Now is the time to start planning and sowing for late autumn, winter and spring harvests, no hungry gap in 2018! Over the next few weeks I will be sharing my sowing, planting, soil preparation and other seasonal plans for growing under cover and outside.

First of all… be prepared!  Check your seeds and make sure you have everything you want for September sowing. Now is also a good time to make sure you have garlic for planting in October and broadbeans for late October or early November. And overwintering peas.

Check that you have enough compost for sowing into (heading out to the greenhouse with your seeds and a heart filled with sowing happiness, only to find a few handfuls of dried up compost at the bottom on the bag, is a sorrowful experience) and that you know where your seed and module trays are… mine can wander off into the strangest places over the summer…!

Tip: we never wash our pots, seed trays, etc. There is no need. Save your time! Lightly tap out any bits of old stuck compost over a bed. 

Another tip: check under modules for hiding slugs or snails and remove. I always leave spiders, useful friends in the greenhouse.

I’ve been sorting through my seeds, to make sure I’ve got everything I need. These are some funky brassicas that I grow in the polytunnel, for cropping in late winter.  They produce versatile edible shoots and leaves, cropping for months right through until April. By ‘undercover’ I mean a polytunnel or greenhouse.

As I mentioned in this post, I am clearing my polytunnel of summer crops and planting for the winter earlier this year, which is probably around the right time for northern UK, and earlier than necessary for southern parts of the country. I’m also sowing for outdoor beds too, including my work kitchen garden beds which are always open to the elements.

*** I am clearing the polytunnel at the end of September, about 2 weeks earlier than usual, not just yet as it is still full of delcious loveliness ***

If you don’t already have the seeds you want there is no need to worry, a few more days won’t make much difference. You should be able to find most of these at good garden centres or online, where I buy most of my seed. Seed sharing is most popular in the spring, but now is also a good time to get together with friends and allotment neighbours to swap and share seeds or transplants.

I’ve already been sowing some things for the new kitchen garden I am setting up at The Bull Inn and the garden at Roth Bar and Grill. Most things are sown into modules; the seedlings in seed trays will be pricked out into modules when large enough.

Here are different oriental (funky!) brassicas, chard, beetroot, spring onions, spinach, kale, white turnip, coriander, spring onion, parsley, chervil. The white turnips are looking a bit leggy so I have moved them, I think they were too close to the shelves so not getting adequate light.

Tomorrow (Sunday 10th) I am sowing homesaved Grenoble Red lettuce, mustards, endive, rocket, pak choi and all salad type leaves. This is good for indoor and outside planting.

Sow them now for both inside and outside beds. The inside salads will last all winter, outside planted salads should last until the end of the year, depending on the weather. You can always make a cloche or use other protection for your salads (for example a fleece) to help them crop for longer.

Lambs lettuce, American Land Cress, mizuna, wild and salad rocket are delicious and great to grow outdoors because they are more tolerant of our winters. I have successfully overwintered salad and bunching onions outside too.

Every year I choose one of my Grenoble Red lettuce plants, stop picking it and allow it to go to seed. The polytunnel is ideal for this because it protects the plant and keeps it dry when in full fluffy seediness.



I sow the lettuce into a seed tray, prick it out into modules and plant out when they have grown into little plants, like the one above.



Charles’ winter polytunnel is full of salad leaves because this is the main cash crop of his market garden. I plant my polytunnel with a wider selection of vegetables and herbs, because mine feeds a family, The carrots are direct sown in October. I also direct sow winter hardy radishes then.

Some of last winter’s veg….

The spring cabbage, kale and spinach can all grow outside too (in a polytunnel, they crop earlier and for longer) but in most parts of the UK, Florence fennel has to be overwintered undercover.



So to recap, here is a list of some of the veg that is good to sow now. Choose what you want to eat! If you are growing outside then it is good to sow as soon as possible so that the plants have time to establish before the daylight hours get much shorter and the nights get colder. For indoor plantings, you’ll be fine for another week or so, if growing for yourself (different for commercial growers, but that is another story).

outside or inside (may not all survive the frost without protection but should be good until end of year, some will over winter as a small plant and crop in the spring)

Winter lettuce – my favourite is Grenoble Red. Choose varieties which are winter hardy

salad and wild rocket, including wasabi rocket

spring and bunching onions

kale – many varieties to choose from

spring cabbage

spring greens

unusual oriental brassicas (see photo above, I will explain further in another post)







lambs lettuce

land cress

Sow for growing in a greenhouse or polytunnel, all of the above and….

Florence fennel, I grow Solaris F1



module sown radish

sweet white turnips


Have fun! If you are shopping for seeds, remember to add overwintered peas, carrots, garlic (if you don’t have some saved, I mostly use the children of last year’s crop) and broadbeans.

I will blog about the brassicas I sow now to overwinter tomorrow evening, to share ideas for some unusual, delcious and productive greens.

++ update: I’ll be blogging on Monday 11th about this as I am so tired after a weekend working, making a lot of food for our no dig gardening courses.





12 thoughts on “Growing for winter harvests: what to sow and when!”

  1. Thanks for the list and tips, I am always very unorganised so will take notice of your recommendations. 😀
    The Lettuces I am trying for the first time this year are Grenoble Red, Jack Ice and Reine de Glaces. I have a 10 foot by 20 foot Polytunnel but it is too cluttered with pots and other stuff that shouldn’t be in there!
    I have to get serious and make use of this valuable asset, as a Polytunnel certainly extends the growing season and I shouldn’t take it for granted.
    Thanks once again for putting pen to paper and giving me some guidance as the right way to get nutritious food from my allotment.

    1. It is amazing how quickly things can take up residence in a polytunnel…! Good luck having a clear out, you’ll be so happy when you have the growing space back 🙂 I had to do the same thing in my greenhouse to get it ready for the autumn sowings,.

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  3. Great info. Grow in pots in my greenhouse and poly. The poly skin has lots of holes in it now(it,s a green one) but done me through the summer, sometimes didn’t have to water my plants but will try and grow over winter in the polystyrene boxes as well.

  4. Great posts really informative thanks.I have a question …you mentioned sewing carrots in the poly tunnel in October ! I have an early hotbed with fleece/ net cover do you think they would work in this ? If so what types is it just the early types or will main crop grow? & when did they mature ? Thanks

    1. Hi Mandy, a hotbed might work and is certainly worth a try, but as I haven’t tried one over winter I can’t say for certain if it would work, or when they might mature. We have sown early carrots in a hotbed in late winter at Charles’ garden, Homeacres, so I know that works!

      My carrots are mainly Nantes, with a few extra experimental ones. Last year I also sowed a purple carrot, all of the purple ones bolted and were woody so I won’t be trying those again over winter!

      Last year, I started pulling carrots in March, with most harvested during April.

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