Vegetables to grow in winter: a how-to guide

Janet Renouf-Miller explains how you can create a harvest of fresh, nutritious winter food throughout the cold months

tatsoi,-cress-and-chick-weed-for-winter.jpgWith the help of a bit of cover, and carefully selected varieties of seeds, it is possible to grow vegetables and herbs all year round in the United Kingdom, and presumably therefore in other temperate countries that have frosty winters.

In my corner of Scotland, away from the sea and up in the hills, there is only one month of the year that can be guaranteed to be frost free and that is July. Most years we cannot grow courgettes or runner beans outside without cover. In our case, experimenting has paid off and we often have more produce in winter than in summer. Last year by the end of winter we were fed up with salad!

Why grow vegetables in winter?

There are a number of advantages to growing vegetables in winter:

  • Mature overwintered veg keeps growing until December under cover, stands for the winter then comes away fast in February. They can be picked for much of the winter. There might be lean pickings in January but there is usually something – perhaps a bit of kale, land cress, claytonia, lamb's lettuce, herbs and carrots.
  • Later autumn sowings will overwinter as seedlings that get going quickly again in February and are ready long before spring sowings. This eliminates the 'hungry gap' – that period of time when seeds have been sown in spring but little is ready to eat.
  • Vitamins and minerals are harder to obtain in winter, especially vitamin C. Having something fresh from the garden can make a big difference.
  • Fresh organic produce is more expensive in winter. Therefore winter veg saves you more money than summer veg. Rocket, radishes, salad leaves, parsley and mint are all expen-sive in winter yet easy to grow at home.
  • The ground is as well growing something as sitting there empty.
Protecting plants from frost

Any protection that you can give plants over the winter will help them, although there are a number of things you can grow with no protection at all. A greenhouse or polytunnel gives the best protection and plenty of indoor space. We cover some of the plants with polypropylene floating mulch inside the tunnel or greenhouse for extra insulation.

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