Plan ahead for winter by growing a range of robust crops so that even when the weather is bleak, there’s something tasty to harvest or bring out of storage.
Most vegetable gardens can accommodate winter crops. Some vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, take up a lot of space for a long time but are still well-worth the investment. Choose an open site with free-draining soil, cultivated thoroughly prior to sowing or planting and enriched with organic material.
Where ground is in short supply, containers will support a few plants. If a greenhouse or polytunnel is available, it can be used to over-winter some crops and start others off early. However, heating greenhouses for year round harvests is rarely efficient.
When to sow vegetables for winter harvests
Spring and summer
Sow hardy winter vegetables such as sprouting broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, winter cabbage and leeks in late spring or early summer as they take several months to reach maturity. They stand well through frosty weather and can be harvested throughout the winter months.
Sow leafy crops such as chard, chicory, landcress and parsley in early summer for autumn harvests that can last into winter if they are provided with some fleece or cloche protection.
Late summer and autumn
Sow corn salad, land cress and oriental salad leaves such as komatsuna, mibuna, mizuna, mustard and rocket. These will provide cut-and-come-again leaves through the autumn, and winter if covered with a cloche, coldframe or fleece.
Potatoes can be planted in mid- to late summer for winter harvests.
How to grow vegetables for winter harvests
It takes a little planning to have enough vegetables for winter;
- Sow brassicas and leeks into a seedbed outside or into seed trays, cell trays or pots indoors
- Sow parsnips direct into the ground and be aware they may take several weeks to germinate
- Harden off seedlings raised in the greenhouse thoroughly before planting them outside
- Transplant seedlings to their final positions when they have formed small, sturdy plants with two or four pairs of true leaves (in the case of leeks, when they are pencil thick)
- Sow salad plants direct into the ground in summer in shallow drills that have been watered prior to sowing
- In summer, use space wisely by sowing or transplanting seedlings into ground vacated by early crops, such as broad beans or early potatoes
- Keep plants well-watered
- Hoe between rows regularly to keep them free of weeds
- Cover salads and leafy plants with cloches for protection before the frosts
As with any vegetable growing, there are a number of things that can go wrong;
- Some leafy crops are prone to bolting if they experience stress
- Cabbages will need protection from caterpillars
- Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbages are prone to club root
- Flea beetles are a common problem on oriental salad leaves
- Winter vegetables are often attacked by pigeons and will need the protection of netting from autumn onwards
- Slugs and snails are a major pest of seedlings and leafy crops
- Poor quality Brussels sprouts can be due to a range of cultivation problems
- Root vegetables are prone to splitting when heavy rains follow drought
- Cabbage whitefly can infest all brassicas, but may be tolerated or treated with a range of sprays