Vegetable plot planning and plantingPosted on: 20 October 2011 by Maxine Farmer
Maxine Farmer prepares her vegetable plot and throws winter produce to boot.
Now that those glimpses of an Indian summer have well and truly faded, this is traditionally the time of year when gardeners start to wind down their plots for the winter and put aside all things horticultural, at least until after Christmas. But now is an excellent time to start planning next year’s garden and in particular, the vegetable plot. You can even plant a few edibles to eat over the winter season.
Is it worth the effort? Well, for me, there is nothing quite like the little boost of seeing something that I’ve nurtured still going strong during those gloomy, cold short days. Better still that I can eat it. Okay, so realistically I’m still largely dependent on my local greengrocer for my vitamin C, and true, a lovely big allotment would be preferable. But even if you only have room for a couple of tubs on a balcony, then you can still have the satisfaction of eating home-grown salad greens over the winter.
But first, there are also crops that you can plant now ready to start eating next spring. Some forward-planning will pay future dividends. Take for example broad beans, which have become hugely popular in recent years and deservedly so, because they are a filling and highly nutritious vegetable. If you plant them in the autumn, they have a great head start on next season.
As the soil is now getting a bit chilly, I’d advocate starting them off as soon as possible – ideally no later than early November – in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame (don’t be tempted to give them any extra heat, otherwise the transfer to the outside will be a potentially fatal shock). Or, if your soil isn’t too claggy or soggy, you could let the seeds take their chances in the outside soil, but definitely cover them with a proper agricultural fleece (just about every garden centre now sells it and if you put it away each spring, it can be re-used year after year).
I’ve yet to try it myself, but I’m assured that peas can be given a similar treatment to broad beans as winter crops and can reward the gardener with some sweet young crops in the spring. As they are a favourite of the local mice population, I will definitely be making sure that mine are well covered. Also consider investing in some onion and shallot sets, which are already coming into the garden centres. Plant soon for a nice early 2012 crop. Three trusty varieties to try: Meteor (pea); Electric (red onion); Shakespeare (white onion); and Eschalote (shallot).
An increasingly fashionable vegetable is asparagus and although it requires some patience (don’t expect to be eating it for a couple of seasons) it doesn’t require rocket science to grow. While spring is the time typically associated with planting, autumn is a good time to get them settled in ahead of next year’s growing season. You will need to pick the right variety though, such as Pacific 2000. But get your skates on, because many growers will be about to close their order books, if they haven’t already done so. Thomson & Morgan are making deliveries of autumn-planting asparagus crowns up until mid November. Follow the supplier’s instructions to the letter and make sure you give the asparagus a well-prepared weed-free home.
Christmas is traditionally the time to plant garlic and it is certainly one of the easiest edible plants to grow. It does like a nice light soil and not being buried too deeply (no more than the depth of the bulb and a little bit to cover it works well for me). I’ve started growing it in pots, because it is easier to keep close to the kitchen. For a truly mouth-watering selection of varieties, check out http://thegarlicfarm.co.uk.
Edibles over winter
But as I said earlier, you can be planting shorter-term crops for eating over winter. These call largely into the category of winter salads. If you need any further persuasion, think of the cost – not to mention the air-miles – associated with those plastic bags of salad in the supermarkets. How much better to be eating your own sources of green nutrients, grown just a few feet from your kitchen.
Winter salad greens must not be allowed to get too waterlogged or chilled, so cover with a layer of fleece and make sure that the pots have good drainage. Let’s start with corn salad, also known as lambs lettuce, which I try to grow most months of the year, as it is expensive to buy in the shops, yet is very easy to grow and a tasty addition to any meal. The seeds are readily available from most online seed suppliers and many garden centres.
If you sow lamb’s lettuce in the next few weeks, you can be eating it during the early months of next year. Perpetual spinach can take the same treatment and makes a great ‘come and cut again’ crop most of the year round. If you are feeling more adventurous, track down some seeds for land cress, winter purslane and texsel greens, which are all relatively easy to grow.
There are even some ‘standard’ lettuce varieties that can be grown over winter. I recommend trying Winter Gem – a tough version of the popular Little Gem – which according to Suttons website, can be grown as late as January.
There is another option. Retire the vegetable patch for the winter, or even create a new one and make sure that it is on pole position for next season by planting it up with green manure. These are non-edible crops that are grown purely for the nutrients they can put back into the soil. Come spring, they can be dug in, ensuring a fertile home for the new season’s crops. Varieties to try include forage rye (also known as Hungarian Grazing Rye) and Field Beans. Both are good for breaking up heavy soils. Buy seeds from GreenManure.com.
But back to food you can put on the table in the coming months. Munching on my home-grown salad is as rewarding as seeing the first spikes of green crocus push through the earth after New Year. Lettuce with your Christmas turkey, anyone?
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