Now is the ideal time to sow many different kinds of vegetables and herbs, for cropping through the winter and into next spring, and beyond!

September …. so much to harvest and preserve: ripening fruit, squashes, courgettes are still cropping even though looking past their best. My polytunnel is still full of tomatoes, aubergines, herbs, some melons and a few cucumbers, but things are certainly slowing down. The hedgerows are dripping with ripe berries!

Polytunnel September 11th 2019

Inside the polytunnel, leaves are starting to shrivel or spotted with brown. This is completely normal, a natural process and nothing to worry about – you can still compost them. The sweet potatoes are growing luxuriously, it will be some time yet before I harvest those, and I am snacking on ripe, juicy grapes whenever I’m in there from my three grape vines. My tomatoes are feeling defiant about the autumn, sending out side shoots as soon as my back is turned!

Over the next week I’ll be sowing everything for my polytunnel and other winter spaces. Many of these seeds can also be grown outside with protection, such as a homemade cloche covered with polythene, enviromesh or fleece (25 -30 gsm)

Charles with salads over wintered under an enviromesh cloche, February 13 2019

In this recent post, I explained what I was sowing for mostly outdoor planting. The seeds have all become lovely transplants now – many are already in the ground, others are going out tomorrow. They were supposed to be planted this afternoon but I hung my washing out at lunchtime which seemed to change the weather and it has been raining steadily since then. Outside my window towels are dripping on the line, becoming increasingly wetter as the rain continues. I’m hoping tomorrow will be dry and breezy as wrestling heavy, soggy towels off the line is not much fun!

I have my selection of seeds ready to take to the greenhouse tomorrow for sowing, including some home saved Grenoble Red seed and a packet of seed saved by Matthew Croft: his own home saved Bronze Arrow Lettuce. I am looking forward to trying this lettuce out over the winter.

Matthew is a member of our no dig Facebook group. I set this up a few years ago, expecting to have around 100 members sharing photos and ideas. We now have over 17,000 members! It’s run by me and a small team of admin (there are five of us). I don’t think any of us can quite believe how busy it is. 

As for August, some of the seeds are sown into seed trays and then pricked out: others are sown into modules either singly or multi sown. I explain how in this blog.  And this one. I did a series explaining what to sow to ensure no hungry gap – use that tag “no hungry gap” on this blog to find all of the posts in that series explaining how to crop year round.

I am in Somerset. Days are getting shorter and temperatures lower. People living further north really could do with having everything sown by the end of the weekend. Here in Somerset and further south, you should be ok for another week or so. If you can’t then still give it a go, if you have the space free.

Look at your weather forecast too. If you’re away at the weekend for example, there’s no one to water and it looks sunny, consider leaving sowings for your return so that they don’t germinate and then frazzle – it can become surprisingly hot even in September in greenhouses.

I’ve got some home saved garlic ready and have placed orders for some others – awaiting the delivery! Some goes in the polytunnel, most in the garden. That’s planted in October. Broad beans will go in during late October/November with some popped into the polytunnel for a few early beans.

My polytunnel is 12 x 40 ft – that’s why I grow so much! Choose what you fancy from this list. I hope I have explained what can also fare well outside but if I’ve missed something out do comment and I’ll explain.

Here are some polytunnel photos with dates to give an idea of what one can produce at different times during the winter.

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I’ve been growing undercover in my polytunnel for 8 or 9 years, and in market gardens for 11 or so, and outside for around 30 years, So I’ve got a lot of experience of growing year round in all kinds of winters.

 

Seeds for sowing over the next week or so.

 

Directly into the soil

Carrots – mostly Nantes, Manchester Table Carrot and Autumn King.

I’m trying other different varieties this year too, will let you know how it goes. All of mine are for the polytunnel except for an experiment under fleece, it’s a bit late now for outside carrots but as the seeds don’t keep well, if you have some spare seed and space, give it a try! We can compare notes next April.

Green manures – field beans, agricultural mustard Sinapsis Alba, Caliente mustard and crimson clover.

I use these because none need to be dug in. The mustards and clover will die off in the frosts and the field beans are cut at ground level before harvesting, useful composting materials. There isn’t much space for green manures as the beds are mainly full, however I use them underneath fruit bushes and places like that, as well as any odd spaces. Charles uses Sinapsis Alba in some of his experimental beds.

 

land cress, claytonia and purslane

Radish – mostly winter varieties but experimenting with some others.

For growing undercover – these are almost all for my polytunnel and greenhouse. If you don’t have these, make cloches from hoops and polythene. They all appreciate some protection.

I grow lettuces, onions, rocket, mustards, oriental greens and brassicas outside over winter in the beds at Hauser and Wirth with no protection and although frost and snow knocks them back, they still produce a worthwhile crop in the spring. Worth considering if you live in the milder areas of the UK. Doubt it would work in Yorkshire (where I am from).

Lettuces – mostly Grenoble Red (home saved seed) plus Bronze Arrow, Winter Marvel, Jack ice, Red Iceberg and some of Charles’ home saved seed that I am picking up tomorrow (I forget the name!)

Onions – white lisbon, read beard, bunching onion “Kyoto market”, feast.

White Lisbon is especially good value as it produces slender onions ideal for stir fries and salads and then, in later spring, small round onions for cooking. I have found here in Somerset that all the spring onions over winter outside well too. Make them cosy with some fleece or polythene when the winter starts to become harsh.

Herbs – dill, coriander, chervil, parsley (curly and flat leaf), rocket, wild rocket, wasabi rocket

Dill can get knocked out by really bad weather even under cover, the rest are more resistant.

Mustards and oriental greens – red mustard, red frills, Osaka purple mustard greens, Nine headed bird mustard, Golden Frills, Red Frills, Dragon’s Tongue, pak choi, and many others

Wonderful for salads (pick leaves small) and stir fries. In the spring, leave some to flower to bring in the beneficial predators.

Spinach – viroflex giant spinach, medania, Amazon F1 (a trial, free seeds from Kitchen Garden Mag, from Kings)

Chard – any swiss chard will be fab

Beetroot for leaves – any, they are unlikely to produce roots before bolting, but will make delicious leaves

Endives – these seed packets are in the greenhouse and it is pouring down (!) but I grow various endives over winter

Funky brassicas and greens – spigariello, Huazontle, Rapa Senza Testa, San Marzano, Green Days Eighty, Wa Wa Cai Choi, Hon Tsai Tai, Broccoli Raab, all kinds of kale: Cavolo Nero, Red Russian, Dazzling Blue, Red Ruffled, True Siberian, Red Ruble

Most of the strange sounding ones are from Real Seeds. I grow 2-3 of each variety and oh the joy of the leaves and shoots during the winter months. They are sweeter and more tender in the polytunnel/greenhouse but will grow outside too.

Spring Cabbage – Durham Early, Greyhound, Piacenza, Wheelers Imperial, April

All of these can go outside too but will be later than August sown spring cabbage and may bolt before hearting – not a great worry as they make fabulous spring greens. Under cover, they usually heart unless we have bonkers warm weather in February again!

Peas – Havel, Douce Provence, Oskar

Short growing over winter peas are ideal for earlier pickings. These will also grow outside. I prefer peas that don’t need sticks because the polytunnel is also used as a place to dry my washing in the winter (!) but I will try a few taller varieties too.

Plus left over peas – any variety – for pea shoots. I mix up odds and ends of seed packets and sow 3 into a module, or broadcast over a large pot or tray, for picking as salad pea shoots, which are also tasty in stir fries. Fine on window sills and green house shelves, too – a very versatile crop.

You can grow these cheaply from marrow fat peas from supermarkets, but they are sweeter and more vigorous from sugar and regular peas.

Florence fennel – Solaris and Finale are very reliable over winter. I also grow Mantovano and Colossale.

21 comments

    1. Oh that sounds lovely! Glad you enjoyed the blog.

      I’m just finishing some desk work and then off into the polytunnel to harvest!

  1. Wow! Great post Steph….brilliant info; very inspiring. I have a very tiny greenhouse and garden, and low budget, but I’m already thinking how to construct a willow/hazel framed polytunnel over my raised beds, as love the idea of winter harvests. Thank you x

    1. Thank you Melanie! That could well work – I’d use hazel rather than willow though as willow is rather enthusiastic about regrowing. Look forward to hearing how it goes.

  2. What a fantastically inspiring blog Steph. Thank you. I have always been envious of your posts of early harvests in the spring so I am now off to clear some space in the greenhouse, find some seeds and give this a go. It is too windy up here for a poly tunnel and no space either but assume greenhouse will work as well….? I am not overly hopeful but fingers crossed. Oh and well done on the success of your books too. I am looking forward to the new one!

    1. Thank Sue. I certainly think it is worth giving it a go. I grow in the greenhouse too, but not so much this year as it’s being repaired this winter. Poor greenhouse is very old and gradually falling apart!

  3. Hi Steph! Love your information, that you share. Always look forward to the next one. :} Quick question–what makes a polytunnel, so much better to use in some ways, than a greenhouse? Perhaps, you can expound on that a little for me. I have never, had a tunnel, but it seems, you are able to extend growing seasons, so well, with one. I live in a cold climate, here in Wyoming, USA. zone 3 to 4. Real short growing season, for me. This has been an interesting year for growing, no dig. My first try. Love it! Have to work on building the soil, still. That being said, it has been an odd growing season. Late start, for growing, by at least a month. Its starting to turn cold now, at night. Still short on the rain, also.. Thanks again for all your posts! Will soon be purchasing your latest, cookbook. Can’t wait! :}

    1. Hello Wanda! Thank you 🙂 It sounds challenging there, hope you get some rain soon.

      I think you’d need to have mini tunnels within the polytunnel in your climate – have a look at Elliot Coleman, he does amazing things year round.

      The advantage a polytunnel has over a greenhouse is affordability – there is no way I would afford a 40 ft long greenhouse! Greenhouses are more durable, warmer, easier to ventilate – polytunnels allow much more growing space for the price.

      Best of luck and look forward to hearing how it goes.

  4. Thanks so much Steph! I often wondered about that. Again thanks, especially when you ate so busy! Don’t see how you do it! Just read the new post. What a wonderful trip to Germany and all the family time, you were able to have. The food looks wonderful and delicious! Great photography, also! Since I’m not familiar with the name Elliot Coleman, does he have a website to look at? Have a Autumn!:}

  5. Had to add to my last reply, haha! I found him! Very well known! Lots of info! Thanks so much Steph! And the mini, inside a mini, is not a bad idea! :} Like a double walled tent. I also forgot the word nice, in my last sentence- Have a nice Autumn! That will teach me to wait until I’m awake, to type! Ha !Ha !

    1. Thanks Wanda. Glad you found him. I heard Elliot speak at a conference in oxford in January – amazing man.
      Not no dig but a fantastic farmer!

  6. Hi Steph, you’ve sown lots of things I thought had to wait for spring. I have polytunnel lust! What do you think would be the best size for an allotment, (garden is north facing and tiny) bearing in mind that there is no water on site, little rain (we’ve had none since Charles’ open day), and it’s often in the 30s in Summer. Plot is aligned east-west and has 15 trees along sides, some large. Plot is just over 30’ wide, 70’ long. Don’t want to put it too near southern boundary as neighbour is planting increasing numbers of potentially tall trees. Likewise to the north there are invading roots of ash, sycamore, elder etc. Was going to put it by best gap in trees, but guy to the north has just put a small tunnel there on the boundary and I don’t want mine to overshadow it and cause bad feeling. Would like to grow year round and be as self sufficient in produce as I can. Any help would be gratefully received.
    Thanks.
    Your produce always looks amazing.
    Jan

    1. Hello Jan. I would go for the largest one you can in the space available, taking into account the trees etc that you mention. Best not to have one right next to the trees as you say – overshadowing and reducing moisture, a huge issue on a plot with no water. People on my allotment site have polytunnels alongside each other with no problems, it shouldn’t affect your neighbour.

      If you look on You Tube there are various suggestions for homemade water harvesting from polytunnel methods.

      The location and size of my polytunnel was determined by the space available in my garden (concrete paths, trees etc). For most of us with smaller spaces just getting what will fit in is the best we can do!

      I shall do a rain dance for you. We need some here too.

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