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Last updated on January 21st, 2020
In the winter, most people assume that nothing is growing, plants are dormant, and the hard work that goes into cultivating vegetables is over. But that is not the case. In fact, you can grow plenty of great vegetables in winter, extending the growing season and having crops ready to harvest before the rest of your neighbours brings forth their spring plantings.
Some people are incredibly organized and plant things at the end of summer, ready to be harvested in winter, like winter cabbage or brussels sprouts which are perfect for Christmas dinner after they had some frost on them. But if it slipped your mind to plan that far in advance, rest assured you can still find vegetables to plant in winter especially if you have a greenhouse or you can make use of smaller fleece tunnels or miniature polytunnels to give them a little extra protection.
Best vegetables to plant in winter outside
Most winter vegetables can contend with the winter weather of the UK, and if there is a particularly frosty forecast, you can just cover with some horticultural fleece on top for protection. The plants we recommend trying below can be sown directly outside too.
Onions Sets and Shallots – plant in autumn and harvest in spring
Onions are one of the easiest things to grow during the winter because they virtually look after themselves. They do have a long growing season though and if you plant them in winter but ideally in autumn you won’t be able to pick them until next summer, so make sure you put them in the ground someplace you won’t need for springtime planting. Shallots are equally easy with a distinct flavour.
Spring Onions – sow in autumn and pick in early spring
Don’t let the name fool you, spring onions can be added to a delightful winter salad. These grow much faster than regular onions and if you plant them in Autumn they are ready to be plucked and consumed at the very beginning of Spring so can be one of the first crops in spring.
Garlic – plant in autumn to harvest in summer
Garlic is just as easy as onion sets and is planted in the same way. It also has a long growing season so you won’t be able to harvest until the following summer but it will be well worth it to make delicious meals with freshly grown garlic. These too are best planted in autumn and are usually readily available in most garden centres and usually sold as winter garlic along with winter onion sets.
Asparagus is famous for having to wait two years before you can start to harvest the spears but there well worth the wait. If you have the space for a small bed of asparagus then try planting one of the autumn planting varieties such as Pacific purple.
Broad Beans – plant in autumn for early spring crop
Beans such as broad beans can be sown directly into the ground and harvested in the springtime a whole month earlier than broad beans you would overwise plant early spring. Ideally, these are planted in autumn too to ensure an earlier crop.
Peas – Plant in autumn for early spring crop
If you want an early-round of peas at the beginning of Spring, long before anyone else, you can sow peas directly into the ground in Autumn and get a head start, harvesting at least one month before other growers have even thought about harvesting peas. Hardy varieties include Kelvedon Wonder which is a popular choice for overwintering.
Perpetual Spinach – cut and come again
Perpetual spinach gets its name from the fact that you can cut leaves off to consume and while you are munching away on your tasty spinach, the plant will keep producing more leaves. This is something you want to produce at the very beginning of autumn if you can and then you can eat the leaves throughout the winter, regularly harvesting leaves while the plant regenerates itself well into the following summer. This is one of those crops you can actually eat throughout winter and not need to wait until spring like that of onions, garlic and peas
Best vegetables to Plant in a greenhouse
If you have space you can always grow vegetables overwinter inside a greenhouse. This is most beneficial for those crops that need a little extra protection against cold winter weather. For this, winter salads, especially mix that allow you, like the spinach, to cut leaves on an as-needed basis and watch as they regenerate, are the best. You can actually keep them in your greenhouse and harvest them throughout the winter, taking things like mustard, lettuce or Lamb’s lettuce to add to your winter salads.
You can get fast-maturing varieties of carrots like Adelaide carrots and sow them as early as November in your greenhouse and then enjoy a crop of carrots at the beginning of Spring.
Potential problems to watch out for
As with anything you grow throughout the year you should be cognizant of potential problems.
- Certainly, crops might bolt prematurely if they experience stress.
- If you are growing oriental salad leaves, keep your eyes peeled for flea beetles.
- You might want to add netting over your winter vegetables if you are sowing them directly into the ground outside as these are often attacked by pigeons along with coastal areas in particular.
- Slugs & snails are of course a major problem for leafy crops but can be thwarted by simply removing them, placing eggshells around the perimeter of your outdoor crops, or setting up beer traps.
- If you are growing root vegetables be careful of splitting if your weather brings forth heavy rains followed by drought.
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