With the long warm days of summer now gone and the first signs of autumn starting to show, you might think the time of sowing vegetables is long past. The good news is there are a number of vegetables, that if you get in the ground now, will give you crops right through winter and into early spring and summer.
During September your garden centre is likely to have a good selection of vegetables seeds and sets to choose from, but here are five of our favourites to help get you started.
Sow in Autumn to enjoy over Winter
1. Perpetual Spinach
Perpetual spinach is a fantastic ‘cut and come again’ crop that will keep you in a good supply of spinach right throughout winter and even into summer. To keep it cropping and in good health, you simply need to regularly pick and eat the tender young leaves, which will prevent the plant from running to seed too early.
This crop is also ideal if you’re short of space in the border as it grows just as happily in pots and containers. Simply sow seeds in early autumn very thinly in drills 1 inch deep, in rows 12 inches apart. As the seedlings grow, gradually thin out to 9 inches apart. This will give you bigger, healthier plants.
2. Winter Salads
If you’re lucky enough to own or have access to a greenhouse, polytunnel, cloches or a cold frame, winter salads are a great way of enjoying tasty leaves right through the colder months. Whilst some varieties will benefit from a little shelter, other hardy varieties will tough it out in the garden border or suitable container.
Choose ‘cut and come again’ mixes of salad leaves, or salad staples such as lambs lettuce, land cress and mustard, or Lettuce ‘Winter Gem’. Chervil, chicory and Oriental leaves are also a good choice to add colour and flavour that will liven up any salad.
You can either buy your salad in plugs from the garden centre (where the seeds have already been sown and germinated), or as seeds to germinate yourself.
Choose a sheltered, sunny spot to offer protection against cold winter winds. Make sure the soil has been dug and weeded (if sowing directly into the ground) and is free-draining (containers will need drainage holes and crocks at the bottom). Scatter your seeds thinly over the surface and then cover with a thin layer of compost or soil and water with a fine spray.
If you’re planting directly outside it’s a good idea to cover your seeds with a cloche to keep the soil warm and encourage strong plant growth. Once the plants start growing, you may wish to thin them out to allow their neighbours to grow into larger plants. Once your plants have reached a good size (this may be as early as 6 to 8 weeks from sowing) harvest young tender leaves regularly.
Sow in Autumn to enjoy in Spring and Summer
3. Onions and Shallots
The staple of many dishes, onions and shallots are one of the easiest crops to sow and grow, as they practically look after themselves. All you need to do is to get them in the ground in good time for them to grow into tasty crops ready for harvesting next summer.
It’s easier to grow onion sets (baby onions) than it is to get results from onion seeds, so we recommend that if you’re new to growing vegetables you go for this option. Your local garden centre will have a number of autumn sowing varieties for you to choose from, but a few popular choices for reliability and flavour are Onion ‘First Early’, Onion ‘Electric’ and Shallot ‘Echalote Grise’.
To sow onions choose a sunny, sheltered site with fertile, well-drained soil (if your soil is acidic you may need to choose another crop as onions prefer neutral or alkaline soil). Improve the ground before planting with garden compost or well-rotted manure, dig well in and remove any weeds.
Then plant your onion sets 2 to 4 inches apart in rows 10 to 12 inches apart. You plant onions by gently pushing them into the soil so that just the tip is showing, before firming the soil around them and giving them a good water.
Birds have a liking for lifting newly planted sets, but you can easily protect your crops with a horticultural fleece covering until the roots are better established.
Like onions, garlic is another easy crop to grow and there are plenty of varieties to choose from to give you something a bit different to what you find in the supermarkets. In order to grow, they actually need a chilling period so they’re very suited to being planted in late autumn or early winter just before we start to see the first frosts.
Planting now there’ll be a bit of a wait until it’s ready to harvest in the summer, but you’ll be rewarded for your patience with a bumper crop of garlic ready for roasting or adding to your favourite dish. A few good ones to try are ‘Wight Cristo’, ‘Chesnok Red’, ‘Bohemian Rose’ and the mammoth ‘Elephant Garlic’.
Firstly, make sure you buy your garlic bulbs from a garden centre or mail order supplier. Anything you buy from the supermarket isn’t suitable for planting as it may be diseased or not suited to the British climate.
Choose a sunny, well-drained site and prepare your soil as you would for onions. Then plant the individual cloves (not the whole bulb) so that the tips are 1 inch below the surface, each clove is 6 inches apart and the rows are 12 inches apart.
You may also want to fleece this crop to prevent birds pulling up newly planted cloves.
5. Broad Beans
The sheltered gardens of the Thames Valley are perfect for sowing broad beans in early November, which will give you a crop up to a month earlier than seeds sown in spring. One of the best ones for autumn sowings is Broad Bean ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ as it establishes quickly once planted.
Once sown in November, the seeds will germinate within two to four weeks, before overwintering during the colder months, and starting to grow again once the weather starts to warm up again in spring. If we have a particularly cold winter, it’s a good idea to fleece or cloche young plants to offer extra protection.
To plant broad beans choose a well-drained site that has been dug over, weeded and improved with garden compost or well-rotted manure. Then sow seeds 2 to 3 inches deep and 6 to 9 inches apart. How far you space the rows will depend on the cultivar of bean you choose, so always check the sowing instructions on the packet to make sure you give them the best start.
Once the beans start to really get going in spring, make sure that you give them a helping hand by removing weeds between rows and tying them to sturdy stakes for extra support.
Whether it’s flowers or vegetables you love, Thames Valley Landscapes are experts at designing planting schemes to suit every garden scheme and level of expertise. Please feel free to call us on 01628 629720 to find out how we can help you bring your garden to life.