Late summer is like a second spring. Sow now to grow your own delicious vegetables, herbs and salads, for harvesting during the winter and next spring. I’ll explain how.
Your homegrown larder
This second spring gives us a great opportunity to add to our homegrown winter stores. It’s been a difficult summer for many gardeners, unusually hot and dry weather causing loss of crops to home gardeners and farmers alike, through drying out, bolting (going to seed early) or being eaten by pests. Although seeds sown now won’t replace these anticipated autumn harvests – if your Brussel sprouts have died then sadly it really is too late to resow those – they do give a sense of hope, optimism and anticipation of deliciousness to come.
Remove anything that is beyond hope, eating what you can and composting the rest, weed if necessary and resow to fill those spaces.
Sowing now also means that there’ll be no “hungry gap” in your garden next spring!
Help your budget
Food and other prices are increasing at an alarming rate. I had a look at our projected electricity bill for the next year which is positively dystopian, and we’re getting less for our money every week in the shops. Of course I am not claiming for a moment that growing some extra veggies will magically make the cost of living crisis disappear, but whatever can be grown reduces the food bill a bit.
When my children were younger we were really skint. I mostly raised them as a single mum and everything I could grow made a difference to our budget. That’s how I got into trying to grow as much as possible. I’ve been growing year round for many years, both at home (back garden and allotment) and professionally in kitchen gardens that I have run on private estates and for restaurants, and in market gardens. This has given me the opportunity to experiment and learn which veg works well. I am still learning, there’s so much to discover!
Many garden centres, high street retail shops and supermarkets are selling off seeds and other gardening supplies cheaply. I’ve seen them for 20p a packet in Wilcos. Online seed suppliers are doing likewise (funnily enough as I typed that I received an email notification from Mr Fothergills about their special deals!) So if you don’t have enough seeds in your stash for sowing, now is a good time to get some bargains. (They’ll otherwise end up in landfill.)
Timing is important
A key difference between now and springtime is that every day is a little shorter. There is gradually less daylight and temperatures will soon be getting cooler, especially at night. In springtime there’s always the assurance that things will catch up, and most things will then. But for late summer and autumn sowings, timing really is important. This is so that the plants can be well established before winter, when growth slows right down.
Where you live makes a difference. People in the warmer south have a bit longer to get everything growing than those in the colder north. So if you’re in a cooler place then try to get everything sown by the end of August, whereas those with a longer growing season need to get sowings completed by the middle of September. These are the sowing times – if you’re sowing in the greenhouse and planting out as transplants, then they will be going into the ground as they are ready over the following weeks.
Why sow in modules first?
Although everything in the list below could be sown directly into the soil, starting them off in seed trays and modules, and then planting out as transplants means they are less likely to be eaten by slugs, and it’s easier to pop them in around established summer plants – such as between tomatoes in the polytunnel.
Do you need a polytunnel?
I grow most of these in a polytunnel and greenhouse, but almost all of the plants in this list will be fine grown outside with some protection – depending of course where you live. There will always be exceptions: hard frost pockets, severe winter weather, etc.
It’s easy to make your own mini polytunnel cloches using clear polythene (such as the plastic that covers mattresses, or a shower curtain) over hoops made from wire or bent twigs. Weigh it down well so that it doesn’t fly away in the first gale!
Before I had a polytunnel I grew salads and Asian greens outside under horticultural fleece. Here I am picking salad when there is still snow on the ground.
I’m hoping that someone manufactures a natural fibre fleece for plants which does’t block too much light. Glass cloches and polytunnel-sized greenhouses are lovely but stunningly expensive and way beyond my budget. Handy DIYers can make them from old windows.
Look at winter veg in a different way
Fresh crops in the wintertime are precious, and I try to make the most of every leaf. Much of the veg in this list can be used in multiple ways.
For example, during the summer I grow kale to use in cooking as big leaves and bits that I don’t use such as the stalks mostly end up in the compost heap because there is so much to eat in the garden. But in the wintertime and early spring, I pick some small for salads (oh my the flavour and crunch in a winter salad!) and some large for cooking (soups, stews, side veg, curries, etc). The thick stalks go into stocks not the compost. Later in the spring the kale will start to bolt, providing delicious shoots which are eaten just like sprouting broccoli, and the flowers too are edible.
Too late for some veg
Many plants that we associate with winter such as Brussel sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli, winter cabbage and leeks should have been sown months ago. Happily there is always next year.
I have tried sowing leeks now. They grew into baby leeks by the spring, before bolting in April which is their natural flowering time. So if you have the space and want some spring onion sized leeks, give it a go. They won’t grow big and fat though.
Sprouts and PSB sown now as experiments didn’t come to much before their spring flowering time. For the space, I think kale is a much more worthwhile crop to sow now.
What to sow
I have included some suggestions for varieties. Or experiment and use what you already have.
ASAP – potatoes for winter cropping.
Usually known as “Christmas potatoes”, these are sown in August or early September at the latest, to allow time to grow before winter frosts which even in a polytunnel will kill off the leaves. These are best planted in containers or the ground under cover, to protect against blight and the worst of winter weather.
Find seed potatoes online or in shops – they have been kept in cold storage so unlike summer harvested potatoes, they think it is spring and will start to sprout.
Sown directly into the soil
Carrots – mostly Nantes, Manchester Table Carrot and Autumn King – all undercover (polytunnel, greenhouse, cloche) or outside with some extra protection. As carrot seed doesn’t last well, I usually use whatever I have left.
Green manures – outside – field beans, agricultural mustards, 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.
land cress, claytonia and purslane – undercover and outside
Radish – undercover and outside – winter hardly varieties: French breakfast, Green Luobo, Black Spanish Round
Broad beans and over wintering peas – if you have a lot of rodents such as mice or voles who love to eat the seeds – I’ve had a whole row of peas munched by voles in a night! – then it is often best to sow these in modules first and plant out as transplants.
Sown in seed trays/modules and planted out as transplants.
Lettuces – mostly Grenoble Red (home saved seed) plus Bronze Arrow, Winter Marvel, Jack ice, Red Iceberg, Winter Marvel
Other salads – corn salad, land cress, salad rocket, komatsuma, winter purslane
Onions – white lisbon, red beard, bunching onion “Kyoto market”, feast, Augusta
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 resilient.
Mustards and Asian 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
Pak Choi: Vibrant Joy and Tuushou F1, Green Boy, Santoh Round Leaf Yellow, Tai Sai White Stem
Spinach – viroflex giant spinach, Medania
Chard – any swiss chard will be fab
Beetroot for leaves – any, they are unlikely to produce roots before bolting, although sometimes you will get baby beets, but will make delicious leaves for salads and cooking.
Endives – En Cornet de Bordeaux, Fine Maraichere, Bianca Riccia da Taglio
Mizuna – Red and pink stem
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 unusual 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.
Spring Cabbage – Durham Early, Greyhound, Piacenza, Wheelers Imperial, April
Peas – Havel, Douce Provence, Oskar
Peas for pea shoots – whatever you have, or use cheap marrowfat peas from the shop
Florence fennel – Solaris and Finale are F1 varieties which are very reliable over winter. I also grow Mantovano and Colossale open pollinated Florence fennel.
Turnip – Purple top milan, white turnips.
Celery – any, I find red celery is especially winter hardy. Produces plenty of slender stalks and leaves for cooking
Kohl Rabi – any
Cauliflower – choose varieties for harvesting in spring and summer
October and November – garlic and broad beans
There are lots of flowers that can be sown now – there’s a good list here at Higgledy Garden.