I know thinking about the long winter months during the summer is the last thing on anyone's minds. But now is the last chance to plant seedlings for a supply of fresh greens for the holiday period.
Home-grown new potatoes are scrummy at any time of the year but are perfect for over the new year.
The best varieties to chose are first and second earlies, as these can be planted now without the need to chit (sprouted in a cool, dry place). Plant the tubers as you would do in spring, but grow them in potato bags or large containers that can be moved to a frost-free location like a greenhouse or shed later on in the year. Water frequently and supply a potash feed to help ensure a good, heavy crop. Once the foliage has died back around October time, the container needs to be kept dry, ready to be tipped out and the harvest collected and enjoyed. Keep an eye on any frost predictions and be prepared to cover with fleece.
Carrots do best if sown before mid-July so look for plugs and plant these as soon as possible. They should be ready to be harvested from September through until October.
If you're lucky enough to have well-draining soil and live in a milder location, it's possible to leave the crop in the ground as late as March. To do this, you will need to cover the ground with a thick (15cm) layer of straw held down with fleece (or netting).
Beetroots are less likely to bolt when grown in colder conditions but, like carrots, need to have been sown by mid-July, so look for plugs. They should be ready to be harvested from September to December. The young leaves from thinned plants are also edible and go well salads.
Wait until early August to sow turnip varieties such as 'Purple Top Milan'. Depending on the weather, they can be ready to harvest as early as October. Like beetroot, the thinned leaves can be steamed or added to salads. And like carrots, they can be kept in the ground with protection until they're needed but are better if used before late winter.
Leeks planted now will continue to grow through any mild spells over winter. Look for 'Musselborough', a proven reliable variety.
Plant leek plugs now, and they can be ready for harvest as early as February and will last through to April.
Lamb's lettuce is very tolerant of the cold and can be sown up until September. But it can be harvested all year round. The variety 'Trophy' is ideal for growing in small pots and will provide a plentiful amount to add to salads.
Lettuces such as 'Arctic King' or 'Winter Density' can be sown now for harvesting through November up until April. Next month, sow 'Valdor' or Grenoble Red', and in September look to buy and plant seedlings of 'Winter Gem' and 'Navara'.
Winter lettuce plants prefer 20cm of space each and can be grown outdoors with some frost protection
Broccoli should have been sown back in June, but if you can find plug plants, it's not too late to get them in the ground and ready for January. Give each plant between 30 and 45cm of space. This plant is extremely hardy, coping with temperatures as low as -12C. Check the roots throughout winter, firming them back in if there is any sign of the plant loosening. Growing in summer has the advantage of avoiding a few of the more persistent pests. Look for varieties such as "Purple Sprouting Early" for harvesting in autumn and 'Burbank' for harvesting in spring.
Brassicas, such as Brussel sprouts have already been planted, but there are some Chinese varieties which can be planted now. These will appreciate the shade from neighbouring plants and the colder conditions later in Autumn. These iron-rich plants can be harvested throughout the winter but like all leafy veg, will need protection from birds.
Kale - With so many varieties to choose from, you could fill your plot with Kale alone, but generally five or six plants are enough to supply an average family from September through until May. At this time of year, plant plugs and give each plant 45cm of space to grow big. Remove any leaves showing signs of yellowing and only take young, tender leaves to the kitchen. Like broccoli, check to make sure each plant is firmly planted and keep well-watered during the summer.
If you have space and are looking for other plants to grow, then you could try chervil, chicory, coriander, endives, Florence fennel, kohlrabi, radishes, rocket, spinach, Swiss chard and winter onions. You could also ask your allotment neighbours what they're growing for inspiration; their experience could save you time.
The biggest problem will be slugs and snails finding your new emerging leafy greens particularly attractive. Have your torch ready and make regular evening patrols to remove them as soon as possible.
Once you've got your seedlings growing nicely, take the time to prepare your winter protection. Check old cloches are still intact and replace if needed. Unroll any fleece material and shake off any debris from last year. Do you have enough pegs to hold it in place?
I think that's enough thinking about Winter, for now. The summer heat which gets the winter veg off to a flying start is also encouraging the weeds. It might be time to get the hoe out and remove the competition.