Sow delicious easy to grow and store vegetables for a taste of something homegrown throughout the winter and into spring. Here are a few of my favourites. What do you like to grow for winter recipes?
Some are botanically fruit, but we mostly use them as vegetables in the kitchen 🙂
*** Coming up this week, I am talking no dig and have a stall at Toby’s Garden Festival at Powderham Castle, Devon on Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th May. Hope to see some of you there, do come up and say hello!
To celebrate, I have a goody bag give-away including a VIP ticket for Saturday. Ends tomorrow (1st May) at 6pm. If you would like a special day out in Devon on Saturday – and can get there of course – do give it a whirl. ***
A kind of runner bean, czar beans produce a tasty white ‘butter bean’. Full of flavour, vitamins and fibre, the beans lend themselves to all kinds of recipes: hummus, soups, pates, curries, stews, pasta dishes, salads.
Sow individually in modules or small pots (see my tutorial here for making your own paper pots) using potting compost in early to mid May, depending when your last frost date is. The beans grow quicky!
Plant out when no more frost is likely, it will kill the plants off*, along a bean frame made from hazel, bamboo or similar, spaced 30cm (12″) apart. Water in to establish and then leave them to grow! In my mulched beds I usually do not need to water the beans much all summer, unless the weather is super-hot, when I water around once a week. The beans do not need feeding if you have mulched with and inch or so of compost, otherwise feed with homemade comfrey and nettle feed, or a bought natural plant based liquid feed.
(* it can be possible for frosted beans to re-grow, but to guarantee a harvest it is better to re-sow if your crop is frazzled by frost).
Here, I grew czar beans up supports in one bed, sweetcorn in an adjacent bed and squash trailed all around. This is a variation of the “Three Sisters” method, a growing style from South America. I find it far more productive in our climate to grow them in different beds and use canes as a support, rather than up the sweetcorn as is recommended in the Three Sisters. Here in the UK beans usually grow much faster than sweetcorn!
Although you can eat the green pods as a runner bean, I leave them on the plant to swell and dry. Do try a few mature fresh white beans – bring to the boil and cook for 20 minutes until tender, dress lightly and savour the flavour, they are super-delicious.
During a dry autumn, the pods turn brown and rustle in the wind. If it is a cool, wet autumn, harvest the beans and pod them into trays lined with tea towels (I like to use the blue plastic stacking mushroom trays that are often thrown away by grocers). Leave to dry for a few weeks, checking every few days, until they are dry and rattle when run through the fingers.
Store in large clean glass jars or similar containers, out of sunlight. The beans keep for at least a year and you can use the previous year’s beans to grow the following year’s crop.
To use, soak overnight in plenty of water, drain and place in a pan. Cover with water so the level is 5cm (2″) or so above the beans, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes, until tender. Fish one out with a spoon carefully, to test and cook for a further 5 minutes or so if nor tender. Drain and use. Cooked beans store for several days in the fridge and freeze well.
Alternatively, if you forget to soak the beans overnight, place in a pan with water (covering with 5cm (2″) water) and bring to the boil. Boil vigorously for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and leave, covered with the lid, for at least 2 hours. Drain, add more water, bring back to the boil and reduce heat. Simmer for 30 minutes until cooked through.
I also highly recommend Borlotti beans, which can be grown, cooked and stored in the same way as Czar beans. There speckled pods look lovely in the garden: the beans have a deep, rich flavour and beautiful texture.
Try sowing Carlin peas too. These red peas grow prolifically in our climate and are easy to grow, dry and store. I get my seed from Hodmedod’s – not a seed company, the packets are for culinary use but they germinate beautifully and make sturdy plants with abundant pods filled with delicious peas.
Uchiki Kuri Squash
I grow many different kinds of squashes, all shapes and colours. This is one of my absolutely favourites for abundant productivity, flavour, storage life and you can eat the skin! The seeds are edible too, as with all culinary squashes.
This squash is firm and has a nutty, sweet flavour. When cooked, the vibrant orange colour shines in your dishes (it makes the most fantastic vivid hummus!) and it keeps its texture well roasted and in soups, stews and curries. A good size for family meals (it’s not too big, some of my squashes could feed half of my little town!), this is a perfect squash for stuffing. It also tastes good in cakes.
Do leave the skin on, it is full of flavour and has a pleasant texture.
Sow this now. Uchiki Kuri seeds are widely available online and germinate easily. I sow individual seeds into modules first and then pot on (to save space in the greenhouse, I grow a lot of squashes), but if you grow a more sensible quantity of squash than I do, it saves time to sow individual seeds into small pots of potting compost and put in a warm place. The seeds are loved by mice so if you have small furry visitors in your garden, best to start indoors on a windowsill until they have germinated. Keep frost free at all times.
When the last frost date for your area has passed, plant out in a mulched bed, 80-100cm apart. Young squash plants can be nibbled by slugs, so keep an eye on things until they ‘take off’ and start growing in all directions. As with the czar beans, they do not need feeding if your bed is compost mulched (if not, use a plant based feed).
In the autumn the fruits will ripen to a deep orange and the stalks will be dry and crispy to touch. A good test is to try to push your thumbnail into the stem: if it can’t go in, the squash is ready to harvest. If frost is forecast, it is best to harvest – frost can damage the squash and make them rot in storage.
Cut the stalk carefully, leaving it attached to the squash. (If you knock it off, don’t despair – it won’t store as long so just make sure you use it first). Allow the squash to ‘cure’ on a sunny windowsill for a fortnight and store indoors somewhere dry and frost free. Mine are mostly on tops of bookshelves in the front room; Charles uses his conservatory windowsill.
My squash usually keeps until May.
Beetroot has such gorgeous colours, each with its own delicate variation of the earthy, sweet beetroot flavour. Years of pickling it in harsh vinegar has given this beautiful, productive and vitamin-packed vegetable something of a bad name but happily now it is enjoying something of a renaissance in the kitchen garden.
All of the seed companies now offer a rainbow choice of beetroot seeds. There are almost too many to choose from – but I certainly try to grow as many varieties as I can.
The only one I tend not to grow is the white beetroot, which lacks flavour. For a tasty white root vegetable that is sweet and flavourful, I prefer to grow turnips or kohl rabi.
I sow beetroot in modules, 4-5 seeds per module which are thinned to 6 or so seedlings once germinated. Planted out as little transplant, to grow in a huddle with their friends, to harvest just remove the large from each clump as needed.
See this blog post for more information about module sowing.
May plantings can last me right through the winter until the following spring with some protection (I use a double layer of fleece, covered with enviromesh to prevent the risk of the fleece getting shredded by wild creatures or the weather). This has worked even through icy conditions and snow, but wouldn’t be ideal in colder locations.
May sown beetroot, mostly Chioggia and Yellow, overwintered at my allotment and harvested in late March, with parsnips also overwinter in the ground.
Alternatively, harvest in the autumn, remove the stalks and leaves and store in a box in a cool, dry place. Beetroot stalks and leaves are delicious – use them as you would chard.
Charles stores his celeriac, beetroot and other root vegetables in crates in a tiny brick barn on the side of his house.
If like me you don’t have a frost-free space like this outside, try the cupboard under the stairs or another cool, dark indoors space.
I use beetroot to make all kinds of dishes including soup, hummus, roasts, (tasty!!) pickles and preserves. Dried beetroot ground into a powder makes a natural red food dye.
Many recipes and ideas for cooking and preserving these and other homegrown vegetables are in my book The Creative Kitchen.
There’s still just time to enter my book giveaway on Instagram – more information here.
For more information about sowing, growing and harvesting many other kinds of vegetables for year round growing and winter harvests, see my latest article in the information packed 100th edition of Permaculture Magazine. Available to buy in shops an online now, a subscription gives you online access to all 100 issues of this interesting publication.