The myriad benefits of growing your own are widely known and have been much talked of in recent years, and here at The Garden Barn we’ve seen a rise in the number of customers asking us to design, install and manage kitchen gardens or potagers, or to rejuvenate and care for existing fruit and vegetable producing beds. But, increasingly, whereas in years gone by, kitchen gardens were perhaps seen as offering an additional boon to regular supermarket haul in summer, produce from the garden has become much more than a supper talking point.
It is now quite the norm for home-grown fruit, herbs and vegetables to be seen as requisite, valuable and highly-desirable elements of everyday eating. What garden owners dream of is, essentially, a walk-in living larder which is infallibly replenished with the freshest seasonal victuals. Well, we rather like that idea too, and though autumn and winter are rather leaner times of year for providing fruit and vegetables for the table, there certainly are a few brave, hardy plants that we’re planting now which can offer up their delectable goodness throughout the coming months, or be ready for picking in the otherwise skimpy weeks of early spring. Here’s just a few of the team’s favourites (along with a sprinkling of growing tips from kitchen garden king – Simon):
If you put on a turn of pace now, then it’s not too late to get some radishes going for a late-autumn/early-winter crop. They’ll do well in the leftover grow-bags or containers that have been harvested of their summer crop of tomatoes or sown directly whilst there is still some warmth around. Grown in a glasshouse or under cover of glass, you may get one last harvest of radishes if you sow now.
Winter radishes (often oriental varieties otherwise known as Mooli or Daikon) are larger and take longer to reach maturity than summer varieties, but by sowing now, should give you a crop up until the ground freezes, given they take around 8-10 weeks to mature. The heirloom variety ‘White Icicle’ can mature in as little as 30 days under cover of glass.
Sow varieties like ‘White Icicle’ and ‘Black Spanish Round’ about 2cms apart in rows 12-15cms apart and keep sowing at intervals until around the end of November for a steady supply and they’ll happily over-winter in the ground.
Unlike the rosy-pink summer varieties we love so much in salads, autumn varieties can also be used in soups, stews and winter broths… and they are utterly delicious.
Onions & Shallots:
Can be planted from September right into November, so long as winter’s icy bite isn’t beginning to nip at our noses, although the winter season is mostly milder these days. Plant outdoors in the vegetable bed or better yet, under glass where possible. Make shallow drills, roughly 2.5cms deep and 8cms apart (the bigger, the space between, the bigger your onions will be!) and be sure to plant with tips upwards. Firm the earth gently around each set, leaving the tips just visible.
Planted now, they’ll be ready to lend their distinctive aromatic flavour to dishes in early June, much earlier than when spring sown.
Choose to plant only nice firm, rounded little sets, discarding any thin, weedy or soft sets in the compost bin.
It’s worth considering planting some sets in module trays in an unheated glasshouse as well, as a wet winter could cause many to rot. Over-wintering in a cold, but rain-sheltered spot (i.e. under glass) will prevent them sitting in water, whilst allowing the vernalisation process (a period of cold) to kick start them into action. They can then be transferred to beds in March. Giving them a good feed will help produce more generously sized, healthy bulbs, but don’t use pure manure. It’s too rich!
As with onions, garlic can be planted in autumn until winter’s fingers begin to close their grip. Outdoors, seek a vegetable bed with free-draining soil, which basks in sunshine throughout the day, but to avoid the risk of rotting in the rainy season (and to make the most of the autumn sun) start them off in an unheated greenhouse. The team will transfer greenhouse-grown garlic plants to vegetable beds in March.
Where we are planting out directly in kitchen garden beds, we’ll routinely cover with cloches when particularly torrential weather threatens, remembering to remove cloches once the rain has passed by.
Break up bulbs into individual cloves and plant each clove at a depth of twice it’s own height, 8-10cms apart .
Like onions, garlic is slow to reach its fullness, so it won’t be ready until next summer. You’ll know it’s time to pull up when the leaves have turned yellow.
Perfect for planting now until the end of October outdoors, pretty much anywhere in sun or partial shade. Perpetual spinach will be happy in most soils, but it will really enjoy a rich earth. Dig in lovely rich compost and add a dash of organic fertiliser, then sow seeds about 2.5cms deep and approx. 30cms apart.
Ready for harvesting at around 6 weeks from sowing, this is a fantastic ‘cut-and-come-again’ plant, which you’ll be able to enjoy this chard (for that’s what it actually is) all through winter by taking off the outer leaves of each plant regularly. This brilliant addition to the autumn/winter outdoor pantry can keep your vitamin levels topped up right into next summer, so long as you don’t allow it to flower.
Make several sowings a few weeks apart to extend the supply throughout the colder months of the year.
If sowing these surprisingly tenacious delights directly outdoors then sow sooner rather than later, but sown In the greenhouse in seed trays or outdoors under cloches, you may be able to get them going right up to the end of November. Prepare the soil by digging in some well-rotted compost and sow in shallow drills in a sunny, sheltered spot.
If a particularly cold spell is expected then protect with cloches overnight, remembering to uncover them during the day. If sowing in the greenhouse, simply prepare trays or pots with compost and sow thinly, then water and keep warm.
To keep the salad days going throughout the winter, sow a shallow drill every few weeks.
Thin out plants as they begin to crowd each other out and plant out young plants when big enough to handle.
Firm-headed varieties are generally left to attain their full size, however ‘cut-and-come-again’ varieties will produce more leaves if you regularly take a few, once plants have reached at least 6-7cms.
If you’re quick enough, try getting some Pak Choi planted. It’s hardier than many other leafy crops, though it will need protection from the worst of the cold. Young leaves can be harvested for salads throughout winter, as cut-and-come-again plants, whilst leaving some to mature will give the fresh, delicate, juicy leaves that are a must in warming stir fries. Other oriental greens to try include Mizuna and Pe Tsai Chinese Cabbage.
We’ll be adding broad beans to gardens, outdoors in a sheltered locations which receive full sun, throughout October and hopefully, November.
Adding plentiful amounts of rich manure will reap it rewards, but if you have heavy or poorly draining soil, then it would be worth starting them off in pots to prevent the dreaded rot! Sow around 25cms apart from each other in all directions in staggered rows and at a depth of 4-5cms, and if planting in late-autumn, we’d advise using cloches to warm the soil up a little in advance of planting.
They should germinate within 2-3 weeks, but won’t be producing bean tips ready for harvesting until late spring/early summer.
Once pods lengthen to at least 7.5cms, they’re ready to be plucked, which in autumn sown crops can be up to one month earlier than spring sown plants. That can be a delicious and welcome booty to bag, when you’re stuck between the slim pickings of winter and the bountiful rewards of summer!
Aquadulce varieties are widely recommended for autumn sowings due to their good cold tolerance, especially noted are favourites like aquadulce claudia, though we’d still recommend protecting young plants from very cold snaps using fleece or cloches.
Bare-Root Fruit Trees & Bushes:
Where the ground is neither too wet nor frozen, bare-root fruit trees and bushes can be planted from November through to February.
Location is all-important. In general, most fruiting trees and bushes will want a sunny or partially sunny location, which isn’t buffeted by winds and gales. Be mindful of planting too close to other plants, as fruit trees will soak up water and nutrients like a sponge and may end up depriving neighbouring plants.
Dig a hole at least 3 times the size of the rootball, then dig in a good 5-10cms of compost, making sure to blend it well with the general soil. Sprinkle some rootgrow (a mycorrhizal fungi which aids newly planted bare-root trees & shrubs to establish faster and grow healthier) on the rootball (you can also use bonemeal).
Next, look towards the bottom of the trunk and you should see a line where the trunk turns darker, like a watermark. This is the level where the tree has been previously been planted and it should planted in line with this in its permanent home. Stake carefully for the first year and keep well-watered.
Prevent fruit trees from fruiting in the first year by removing all the blossoms and you’ll be rewarded the following summer/autumn with much healthier harvests!
We know that many people would love the time to devote to creating and developing a vegetable plot or kitchen garden to keep their friends and family supplied with fresh, nutritious and delicious provisions, only to find their energies diverted elsewhere. We can help with that.