On a sunny autumn day, I suspect very few of us are thinking of winter, let alone planning our menu this far ahead. However, a little work now will open up our meal options and provide us with yummy salad greens throughout the colder months.
While the weather outside is more likely to get us reaching for the chocolate, there will also be healthy choices available.
Polytunnels are frequently used by commercial growers to lengthen growing opportunities and can be made quite cheaply for our own kitchen gardens or allotments.
We can grow crops throughout the winter where we can give them protection from the wet and cold. Under plastic tunnels, in cold frames, unheated greenhouses or even our bedroom windowsills. Some crops can be grown in the smallest of places. Think back to the cress that you may have grown in eggshells as a child.
Finding space on any of my windowsills will be a problem. I might be able to squeeze something in here after the garlic's finished drying.
Look for plants that like cooler weather and will tolerate low temperatures. At this time of year, growth is regulated by light levels and will be relatively slow after the initial burst powered by energy stored in the seed.
Seed leaf salad mixes of red, cos, Batavia and oak leaf lettuce varieties can be grown for their tasty young leaves and as come again crops. Also, look out for cultivars such as Winter Gem and Winter Density.
Peas can be grown on a windowsill for their fresh young shoots. However, if you want to overwinter them for next years crop, they will need to be kept in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame.
Herbs grown in pots can be moved indoors so we can pick them fresh for longer. Chervil, coriander and dill can be sown now and be ready for harvesting in Nov.
Depending on how much space you have, sow a tray or two of salad every week. Seeds should germinate and be ready to pick in a couple of weeks. After you've taken a couple of harvests from each tray, get rid of the plants (add them to the compost heap) and replace with another sowing. You can sow throughout the winter.
- Use a good quality compost and sow as per the seed packet's instructions.
- Keep watering to a minimum. High humidity is more likely to cause fungal infections which will 'damp off' (kill) young seedlings. In winter, plants do not take up or use as much water, and damp conditions can also encourage slugs and snails.
- Air flow around plants is vital to help move moisture away, so if growing on windowsills, leave windows open a fraction for ventilation. The doors to greenhouses, polytunnels and cold frames should also all be left slightly ajar.
When frosts are predicted, horticultural fleece can be easily laid over plants in unheated greenhouse and polytunnels to provide additional protection. Photo by Kitchen Garden Plant Centre @eatyourgardens
- Check weather forecasts and use additional frost protection in prolonged periods of cold. Remember to remove it during the day time to allow airflow and reduce the possibility of mildew.
- Keep glass clean to improve light levels as much as possible.
- Discard any plant that shows signs of disease straight away.
Possible Pest and Diseases
Growing under glass can improve our crop production, but it doesn't come without risks. Look out for these particular problems.
Having committed to try and get my little one to eat more greenery, I'll be starting our winter sowing next week. We'll be using his bedroom windowsill, but I'm hoping to sow some peas and carrots in the greenhouse.
That's if I'm allowed any space after my beloved's Aeoniums are moved back in.
My greenhouse has been severely neglected over the last few months. It will get a complete clean through before we start filling it for winter.