This week the focus of our attention is in planning for spring and winter harvests in the vegetable garden.
Hopefully your vegetable garden is like mines and bursting at the seams with tasty summer produce, this is coming as a result of your planting and planning much earlier in the season and as such we have to be planning ahead now for spring and winter in the vegetable garden.
By horticulturalist Gareth Austin
Whilst crops such as salads, spinach and peas are in full flow just now we can be sowing a wide range of crops for harvest much later in the season. By sowing I mean you can sow direct into the soil, or in many cases you can sow into small tray for planting as and when gaps appear, so think about sowing some in trays 2 weeks before you harvest, thus you’ll have ready to go plants…really maximising the short growing season here! Here’s a few of my favourites to be sowing now:
Beetroot, alongside Turnips are for me the highlight of the vegetable garden. I thought Beetroot only came in Red but had my eyes opened as a result of working with some amazing chefs, and now I grow a wide range of colours, which as a family we eat pickled, roasted, raw, mashed, and crisps….almost every way possible! I sow a small amount every 3 weeks, this way I get a nice steady amount of baby beetroot to harvest. This can be continued right upto end of August.
Quick cropping salads can still be sown ‘little and often’, this ensures a steady supply of fresh leaves. Starting in September I then move onto sowing lambs Lettuce, sown in September this will then be ready from February onwards in a cool polytunnel or glasshouse.
Again, like beetroot we consume these in many forms and also I sow these little and often, especially the Purple Top and Snowball varieties. A wee sowing of only a dozen or so every few weeks ensures a nice steady harvest of baby veg. Again this can be continued right up to end of August.
These respond well to be sowing late summer, where the soil is warm and the light levels are lower. If sown now these will be ready to eat in around 8 weeks or so. The red Pak Choi looks especially pretty in the garden.
Many gardeners new to the grow your own scene are surprised that there is so much you can be sowing and planting now, and indeed how much can be grown through the winter for seasonal cropping. A good vegetable garden is neither completely full or empty as there should always be some sowing and some harvesting going on.
Sown now you can get a late Autumn harvest from this delightful vegetable. At home we eat it roasted and I’ve even pickled it. Its not terribly widely known or grown, but it’s really tasty.
A joy for the Christmas table. After first harvests of your new potatoes in the garden, select a few from these to use as seed. Plant these straight away into some prepared soil in the polytunnel, or into big planter bags (using a mix of compost and soil), adding some fertiliser to both. The reason we need to keep them inside is that these will still be growing outside when the frost comes, and if the frost hits the foliage then they will be killed off. So as the nights get cooler, fleece these over, and then come Christmas week dig them up and you’ll have nice potatoes for the table!
Select a variety such as ‘Nantes’ or ‘Chantaney’ and sow these lightly into the soil after your early potatoes crop has been harvested. These will germinate quickly and will be suitable for lifting this autumn and through the winter months.
Sown now, these will develop into nice ‘baby leeks’ for harvesting during the winter months from the garden.
Quick and easy to grow, a small sowing of Radish on a fortnightly basis will yield a tasty wee treat on a regular basis. You can continue this sowing till end September in a polytunnel.
The super food of the moment. I’ve grown this for years, largely due to me being a lazy gardener (Kale doesn’t require as fertile a soil as normal cabbage) and kale isn’t as prone to rootfly and the likes. Kale sown now will be suitable for picking through the winter as winter greens. These will require some sort of pigeon protection if you’re under a flight path somewhere, so fine anti-bird netting or fleece is ideal. I’ve planted some and nurtured them through the winter, only to lose the crop over one night to a group of hungry Pigeons!
For me a waste of time to grow at home. I think it gives too little a harvest for the space it occupies in the garden, but maybe you have a far bigger garden than me. If so then a variety such as ‘All the Year Round’ can be sown now for Winter harvests. Late season Cauliflower is always ‘whiter’ than summer harvests due to the lower light levels.
These will need to be sown by the end of August to ensure a crop for Spring harvests. These like the cauliflowers and Kale will need netted against pigeon devastation.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Sown now this tasty crop will be ready from February onwards.
A quick and easy way to add a sparkle to your soil between harvesting and replanting is by sowing a green manure crop, a sowing of a fast maturing crop such as Mustard is a great way of adding some valuable organic matter to the soil and for adding a shot of fertility. Also think upon Green Manures as great weed control – as if they’re growing there then weeds can’t! So rather than leaving soil bare for a month, sow a green manure and make this ‘gap’ work for you! Otherwise work in a handful of chicken pellets to the m2 between every planting.
Thanks to everyone who made contact about last week’s feature on Slugs and Snails! it proved to be really popular…you guys just hate slugs!!! However I’m reminded of a BBC radio 4 experiment during the ‘So you want to be a Scientist’ programmes. This involved encouraging kids to gather up snails from their garden, marking them with nail varnish and then swapping them with their neighbours…most would then find their marked snails back in their gardens the following day…thus proving that snails have homing instincts, so the ‘through them over the fence’ approach to snail control doesn’t work. You should try this with the kids during the school holidays….and see how many times you can get the same snail to come ‘home’.
Next week….With the Donegal Garden Trail in full flow we look at the joys of visiting gardens in the summer.
Gareth Austin is resident Horticulturist with BBC Radio Foyle, a member of the Chartered Institute of Horticulturists and lectures in Horticulture with National Learning Network. For more see GarethAustin.com or join Gareth on Twitter @GardenerGareth.