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The essential Winter vegetable garden

Disheartening as it can be to see the turning of the seasons and the tomato plants on the compost heap, your growing year doesn't have to be over when September ends. With some adjustments to your growing style, some savvy seed buying and a little out of the box thinking, you can bridge the gap all the way through Christmas and into Spring.

Winter gardens can be beautiful and productive, so once you have cleared your summer crops and raked down your soil, remember to give your whole plot a good mulch. Use your own garden compost, a peat free mix from your garden centre or well rotted manure to ensure you are returning nutrients to the soil.

The Winter garden will also require a little extra equipment but don't be concerned, a few cloches and some horticultural fleece will be enough to push crops through tough frosts and even snowfall. If you have a cold frame or mini greenhouse then even better but these aren't essential to achieve some garden produce even in the deepest Winters.

Hardy Winter Salads

We don't need to stop eating salads in the winter and we certainly don't need to stop growing them. The most delicious and exotic leaves, radishes and salad onions can be grown all year round. Try planting Rocket 'Astra' in September and October for a quick crop of spicy winter leaves. This Rocket can be ready to harvest just 21 days after sowing and needs protecting from frosts with cloches or fleece for a continuous harvest.

If Butterhead lettuces are more to your taste then 'Arctic King' is a great choice, with exceptional cold tolerance, it will benefit from the protection of a layer of fleece during the colder months. Sow in September and October for crispy heads from February onwards.

Salad onions are also an option for your Winter vegetable plot, so sow some winter hardy 'Performer' onions. Sown in September they will quickly establish and can be cut in situ as chive style greens and pulled up in April for the use as a full onion. Remember to fleece when the frosts are threatening.

Another great crop for the colder months are radishes; high in Vitamin C they are great immune boosts for the season of sniffles and a delight to throw on winter salads. 'Black Spanish Round', a black skinned variety, it is pure white inside and when sown in July to September, will crop from October through to January. If it's really chilly, the tops of the radishes can be protected with a layer of straw.


Harvesting your own carrots is always a joy and a surprise. You never really know what they are going to look like, sometimes they are beautifully straight and bright, and sometimes they can be gnarled and discoloured but they are always delicious. The smell alone of fresh carrots is intense and wonderful, and you can see how those pesky carrot fly are so drawn to them and find them irresistible.

Its also surprising to know that carrots are cold tolerant and hardy down to -9c if you get your varieties right. 'Eskimo' is a hybrid variety which boasts the best cold tolerance of all, good down to -10c and resistant to splitting it can be harvested in late autumn and even over wintered in free draining soils for a super early harvest in the New Year. Another carrot to get in to the ground in July or August for late winter harvesting is 'Adelaide'. Late sowings will mature around March and should be your earliest crop, carrying you though the hungry gap in to late Spring and early Summer. A real winter winner is 'Parmex', as these small sized carrots are quick to mature, cold hardy and tasty. 'Parmex' can be sown in containers or in cold frames throughout autumn until the end of October and through successional sowing will provide you with a steady crop of crunchy little carrots all Winter.

Winter Greens

Edible and ornamental, Winter greens look gorgeous planted all over the garden. A big red cabbage glistening with frost or Kale leaves dripping with rain is a comforting and seasonal sight so perhaps fill the gaps in your borders with some of these beauties for a true cottage garden feel. Although red cabbage should have been planted in June or July, there are great, quick and hardy greens that will look lovely and fill your plates through winter.

Pak Choi is becoming a more common sight in the British vegetable garden and it is surprisingly hardy, despite its thin and delicate leaves. An essential part of any Asian inspired cooking, it only takes 8 weeks from sowing to harvesting. Planted in September and protected from the end of October with cloches or horticultural fleece, you can pick from November through to January. In fact, because Pak Choi is so susceptible to bolting in dry and hot conditions, it prefers to be cooler and wetter which makes it ideal for autumn sowing.

Kale is the leaf of the moment for its health benefits and from a gardeners perspective it is useful and fun to grow as it is super easy and looks stylish in the garden and even in container displays with seasonal flowers.

Kale is a tough customer when it comes to winter weather, facing the harshest conditions will little damage. If you see some lower leaves growing and rotting then just remove them to raise the height of the kale stem and you can protect and harvest your Kale all the way from September to May. The best varieties for almost year round cropping are 'Black Magic', an Italian style Cavolo Nero and 'Winterbor', both are simple, hardy, delicious and beautiful.

Perpetual spinach is an incredible crop and a must in all vegetable gardens all year round. This is not a true Spinach but shares many characteristics and is used in the kitchen in just the same way. The difference between Perpetual spinach and all other spinaches is that it doesn't bolt and it is fiercely hardy. An established stock of Perpetual spinach will keep you in greens all year round if you harvest with care, and guard against the lower leaves rotting in wet soil. A cabbage collar or a layer of straw can often solve this problem and keep your plant healthy for years.

For more vegetable garden ideas and tips, check out the rest of this blog.

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