With Autumn firmly here and winter on the way, many gardeners choose to put their gloves away and store their tools until warmer weather prevails. Another growing season has come to an end. For others though, the unmistakable winter weather marks the start of a new opportunity, growing winter vegetables.
If you’re like us you want to get the most from your garden all year round. To do this requires a good knowledge of vegetables that you can plant in winter. In this post, we’ve written a guide to planting in winter and growing winter vegetables. We have also shared our top 10 winter vegetables that are suitable for growing in the winter months.
Garden Equipment For Growing Winter Vegetables
Before we get into which vegetables are best suited to winter growing it’s worth thinking about what garden equipment you have, and what you might need. Because of the cost weather plants and vegetables requires a lot more protection so planning ahead is critical to success.
One of the most common pieces of garden equipment that gardeners use when planting in winter are cold frames. These simple little contraptions sit low to the ground and house your more delicate winter vegetables. Cold frames protect from the cold and adverse weather like heavy rain and frost. The transparent lid lets in plenty of sunlight and prevents heat from escaping.
Garden fleece is a cost-effective plant frost protection measure that you can use in the winter. The garden fleece that we sell at WM James is light enough to be laid over plants and does not cause damage. The fine mesh lets more than enough air, moisture and sunlight in while protecting against frost.
The final piece of equipment you may wish to consider is a fleece tunnel or polytunnel. Tunnels like these add much needed sheltered protection to your crops and are a great solution if you have the space. However, tunnels are usually not enough on their own and you will need to add extra insulation to protect against deep frost penetration.
When To Plant Winter Vegetables
Growing winter vegetables starts in mid-summer to early autumn. This is the best time to plant winter crops although you should always check your seed packets for optimum planting times.
The reason we plant some vegetables so early is because it takes a few months for them to reach maturity. Once they have, they are much more likely to thrive in winter when the conditions are more difficult and growth is slower.
Particular plants like cress and oriental salad leaves will give you plenty to harvest in the autumn. Covering them with a cloche, a cold frame or fleece will ensure they continue to provide fresh leaves to harvest during the winter.
Growing Vegetables For a Winter Harvest
Planning is key if you want a successful winter vegetable harvest. We like to make notes to remind ourselves about the key jobs that need to be done and when. Here are our recommendations:
- Prepare in summer - Ideally you will have planted early summer crops like broad beans and early potatoes. You can use the space left once these have been harvested to plant seedlings and get them settled in before winter.
- Any seedlings that have been grown in a greenhouse need to be thoroughly hardened off before being planted outside.
- Before the frosts arrive, ensure that you have enough fleece or cloche to cover your leafy plants and salads. We recommend buying these early, around September time to be safe.
- Keep on top of weeds by doing daily checks for new sprouts. Hoeing between rows can help to prevent weeds from coming through.
- Don’t rely on the rain to water your plants! It sounds like an obvious one but ensuring that you are regularly watering your plants is essential.
- Don’t transport your seedlings too early - wait until they have developed into sturdy little plants with two of four pairs of true leaves.
Top 10 Vegetables To Grow In Winter
- Kale - Kale is a hardy vegetable that is very well suited to being grown in winter. We advise to start them off in seed trays before moving outside. Sow them at the end of Juen and plant out around 3 weeks alter. Some top varieties are ‘Winterbor’ and ‘Red Russian.’
- Garlic - We always recommend garlic because it’s so easy to grow. All you need to do really is pop it in the ground and wait. Try to avoid planting in areas that get heavily saturated. If you have raised beds garlic is a good vegetable to plant here.
- Leeks - Leeks are very easy to come by and aren’t that expensive to buy from nurseries. They do very well in mild winter conditions. If we’re having a particularly cold one, cover them with some fleece until normal temperatures resume.
- Onions - Depending on the type of onion, you may sow them in early autumn or in January and February. Onions planted in autumn will give you an earlier harvest of course. Like garlic, avoid planting in waters prone to waterlogging.
- Radish - Plant radishes in late July or early August and get ready to harvest between 8-10 weeks later. Smaller varieties will be ready in as little as 4 weeks from sowing. Because they grow so quickly and easily it makes them the perfect winter vegetable.
- Lettuce - Choose your variety carefully as some are best suited to warmer summer months. Hardy choices include ‘Winter Density’ and Winter Marvel’. Smaller varieties can also perform particularly well in a well-insulated polytunnel.
- Carrots - Carrots are a firm winter vegetable favourite. The beautiful orange colours adds some much-needed colour and warmth to cold winter months. Sow carrots in mid-summer and provide some kind of cover when the colder weather comes in, usually November time.
- Spinach - The optimum time for spinach to grow is in the cooler autumn months. Having said that, you will still get a good harvest well into winter too. If they’re going in open beds and not a polytunnel, save some garden fleece to cover them with.
- Potatoes - Potatoes are a late winter vegetable bets planted in February although some varieties will grow through winter with adequate frost protection. Potato barrels are a great option for greenhouses if you decide they need a slightly warmer environment.
- Peas - Peas are a staple winter vegetable that is best planted in November and February. We advise keeping an eye on birds that want to steal your new pea shoots. The best way to protect them is to buy a fruit cage.
Choosing the right equipment and doing your preparation work will ensure you have an abundance of vegetables to harvest in the winter months. Most winter vegetables are best started in seed trays before being moved outside. You should also think about how you might cover them with a tunnel or fleece. Good luck!