Winter edible growing for beginners
With winter approaching you may think you need to shut the doors on ‘grow your own’ until the start of spring, but it’s time to take another look at your Greenhouse to see what edibles you might be able to grow and harvest in winter. Our friends at Hartley Botanic have given us some tips so check out below to see what you can grow that will crop over winter if you start now.
Focus on ‘hardy’ crops
Possibly one of the most confusing things for beginners is understanding about hardy plants. When it comes to winter in the UK, anything you want to keep growing really needs to be fully hardy- and that means it can withstand temperatures down to about -15C, i.e. very cold.
If you are sowing any seeds from late autumn to late winter, they must be hardy to grow on. And even if you germinate seeds in a heated propagator, if they’re not fully hardy, they just won’t survive the cold. So that does reduce what you can grow, even in a Greenhouse. If you can keep the Greenhouse frost-free, then you can nurture a range of produce from potatoes and onions to salads and herbs.
A Greenhouse will create a protected climate and enhance the growing conditions so that plants can keep growing slowly through the winter. Put simply; a Greenhouse will extend the growing season at both ends and let you grow a bit more for a bit longer in between.
An easy way to start
The vegetables that you can grow in winter are controlled by the lower light levels, shorter daylight hours and colder temperatures, but there are some easy things to start now and ways to get ahead and cheat a bit.
Look out for winter cropping vegetable plants from mail order companies. They have done the hard work for you in a timely manner. In other words, they have sown and grown the seeds and plants and can supply cold hardy vegetable plants to your door ready to plant.
It’s a good way to get started and ensure you have a few plants growing in your Greenhouse. Choose hardy vegetables and salads and if in doubt, ask for advice.
Easiest winter edibles to grow for beginners
PEAS – don’t expect to crop pods of peas over winter, that’s not going to happen, but you can sow and grow peas in November and pick pea shoots and pea leaves. They taste like peas! You can plant out strong pea seedlings in spring for an earlier crop of pea pods. Sow them in short lengths of gutter or shallow seed trays.
BROAD BEANS – Many gardeners sow broad beans in autumn for an earlier crop of beans next season, but others grow them for their edible shoots and leaves. A seed tray of broad beans can generate a reasonable amount of leaves and shoots for stir-fries, salads and more.
SPINACH – Choose the perpetual spinach or Swiss chard varieties, which are cold hardy and will provide a crop of tasty fresh leaves for your winter menus.
You can get them started in the Greenhouse, but always better to sow late summer and then harvest the leaves as they grow over the winter.
GARLIC – Garlic cloves can be planted out in the Greenhouse in pots in November. Garlic is fully hardy and in milder spells will root and put on some growth. Look out for winter planting varieties available to plant in November and December. Don’t expect to be able to eat the actual planting cloves or to be able to harvest any crop apart from occasional leaves and shoots for flavouring. But if you can get your hands on some bulbils of Babington Leeks and plant them into pots of compost in late autumn, you can harvest the resulting mild garlicky shoots as soon as they form.
MUSTARD AND MIZUNA – Both mustard and mizuna can be sown and grown over winter. Seeds do need a little warmth to germinate, but a few sunny days or a heated propagator can get them started. Be watchful for grey mould, which can flatten and kill young seedlings quickly and spreads fast. Mustards can be particularly useful for adding punchy flavour with just a few torn leaves.
“LAMBS LETTUCE” OR CORN SALAD – There’s a very underrated leafy salad crop that is winter hardy. Corn salad or it’s sometimes called “Lambs Lettuce”, is very easy to grow from seed and makes a rich green rosette of leaves that can be picked for winter salads.
Sow it in trays, troughs or as a ‘ground cover’ around overwintering kales. It’s fast to germinate and will quickly provide a steady supply of winter salad leaves. It’s a mild flavour and great for garnishes. If you let it flower and set seed, you’ll have plants forever more.
WINTER LETTUCE – There are other winter hardy forms of salad lettuce that you can sow and grow in a Glasshouse over winter. For winter lettuce varieties consider things like ‘Winter Gem’ or look out for special winter mixes. Sow again under glass in February to get an early crop started for spring and summer.
Winter herbs are in a class of their own and can be grown and harvested all through the winter. Rosemary, sage, thyme and maybe some marjoram are good plants to start with, but you can add salad burnet and winter savoury to the collection too. Herbaceous herbs that die back for winter can be cajoled into growth by potting them up in a quality compost and bringing them into a Greenhouse. Herbs like mint, lovage, chives and fennel can be persuaded to produce a few tasty leaves and stems to transform your winter menus.
Hartley Botanic have a wide range of handmade Glasshouses and Greenhouses and have built on trust for over 80 years. For more information on their range please visit: www.hartley-botanic.co.uk