One of the big questions I get asked frequently is, “How do you grow plants for homegrown harvests all year round?” Well.. With a bit of planning it can be very simple to achieve, for even the smallest garden!
But if you’re new to growing this year, like we all once were, then you may have just come to the realisation that your peak months for harvests – usually May to September in the UK, are over. But don’t be blue, I’m here to help you make the most out of your vegetable plot!
Succession sowing is something that is really tricky to manouvre. You might think that sowing a whole bed of lettuce at once might be the right thing to do, but from someone who has definitely been there, when you have to get through 5 heads a week and then the plants all start to bolt at the same time you may want to have a rethink!
The way that I try to plan things is generally that I’ll sow seeds at the same time, but I’ll leave some in modules for a few weeks longer than others, restricting root growth so that they crop later.
There are some crops which we automatically think of as ‘Christmas veg’ like Brussels Sprouts or Parsnips (and where would we be without the cabbage in bubble and squeak?). And with these it is incredibly important to think ahead!
My first sowing of both brussels sprouts and parsnips I started way back in February. Realistically they have been quite the investment for such a slow return, but there are plenty of ways to maximise the space – for example growing onion sets in between your rows of Sprouts. The onions will be ready to harvest late summer, but they won’t be too shaded out until then.
So which vegetables will be hardy enough to survive winter? Here’s my list of go-to crops to take me through:
- Leeks (harvest Oct-Apr)
- Cabbages (different varieties can be harvested year round, check out my favourites, Greyhound, Red drumhead and January King)
- Brussels Sprouts (harvest Nov-Feb)
- Parsnips (harvest Sep-Dec)
- Carrots (different varieties can be harvested year round, Final sowings should be made in July or August to ensure a steady supply for Winter, chantenay carrots will mature faster)
- Pak choi (harvest April – November)
- Lettuce (some winter varieties some as winter gem, mizuna and lambs lettuce can be picked well into the new year)
- Garlic and onions (harvests mid summer but sets can be planted out in early Autumn)
- Potatoes (Second crop varieties can be planted late summer for harvests up until Christmas)
- Chard (harvest Jul-Feb)
- Broad Beans (harvest from late spring when sown in autumn)
- Swede (Harvest October-December)
But you may well be wondering… What can you sow in October?
You haven’t quite missed the boat but it’s getting closer to crunch time! What you want to achieve before the cold and frosts set in, is for your plants to have developed a strong root system. I will always say that you need to learn our specific microclimate, so if you have a very sheltered location, maybe you should give it a go past ‘recommended dates’ on the seeds packets.
Last year I started some carrots in September, and kept them in the cold frame. While they didn’t produce a sizeable harvest until April it was definitely worth a go to find out more about my particular site.
If you’re dying to grow something I’d recommend some windowsill growing. You can try basil – one of the easiest herbs to grow and universally loved, mushroom kits from caley brothers or marvellous mushrooms, or perhaps give microgreens a go for a tiny fresh harvest.
Outside you could sow some winter lettuce, (under cover would be best) or plant out blueberry bushes and rhubarb crowns before the heavy frosts start. For anything else I would highly recommend checking out your local or online nurseries (Dobies, Delfland organic, rocket gardens) to try and find some last minute deals on plugs plants.
I’d love to hear about any experiments you’re trying over winter! Let me know in the comments below.