I didn’t want to use the W word. I’m not quite ready to start thinking that we’re now heading in that direction again; I don’t feel I’ve had enough of a summer yet to prepare myself for the inevitable shortening of nights and even more miserable weather than we’ve had so far this year.
Much of gardening is about planning and looking forward, and at this time of year that unfortunately means accepting that autumn is just around the corner followed by the not particularly enticing prospect of winter. I had little in the way of winter crops last year on the plot. Some cavolo nero kale, and some leeks that were given to me as small seedlings by a fellow allotmenteer. This lack of winter produce was partly because it was my first year and getting the plot up and running for spring and summer had been enough of a task and partly because I thought I might be a bit of a fair weather gardener and wouldn’t actually venture up to the plot on cold, dark winters days. The reality was somewhat different, possibly because we had such a mild autumn which ran all the way up to Christmas. I found the allotment, even at that time of year, was a useful place to escape to, somewhere to clear my head, get some fresh air and peace and quiet. I actually liked the fact that we had a few, if sparse, crops to still be able to pick. So, this year, the plan is to have a little bit more on the plot through the leaner months. And, if this is the idea, I need to start planning and sowing.
Of course, my planning hasn’t been that great, as I suddenly decided I’d like to give sprouting broccoli a try but had of course missed the sowing date. Fortunately, Delfland Organic Plants came to the rescue. A few clicks on the computer and several days later I had 5 plug plants of white sprouting broccoli and 5 of a purple variety called ‘Claret’. At the same time, I happened to read an article saying that it is actually better to sow your sprouting broccoli seeds a little later, say in July, and plant out your plants in August and have smaller plants that are still as productive. I felt quite pleased that I hadn’t missed the boat.
My leeks are already planted up and celeriac, a crop that loves moisture, has thrived, in this my first attempt at growing and should be ready to harvest from October onwards. I think it’s beginners luck that, for this crop anyway, it has been such a wet year.
So, to the seed sowing. I love spring greens and have just sown a variety called ‘Wintergreen’ which should be ready to pick from February. I’m hoping to be able to keep us supplied into the autumn at least with salads. I won a packet of winter salad leaves from Sarah Raven in a competition through @Malvenmeet and Vegplotting. Thanks Michelle. Hopefully I can keep them out of reach of the slugs!
I’ve discovered 4 packets of mizuna. I’m have no idea why I have so many but I guess I’d better get sowing some of them. There’s also ‘Reine de glace’, an excellent winter hardy variety of a hearting type lettuce, that I haven’t grown before. Now is the time to sow spinach. Notorious for bolting when it gets dry and hot, late summer is the best time to sow. I have a variety called ‘Red Cardinal’ which I’m hoping will add a little bit of colour to salads later in the year. Browsing around Nicky’s Nursery website I came across Italian red veined dandelion. Bitter leaves are, apparently, very good for stimulating the liver and are especially popular on the continent but much underutilised in British cooking. I have become quite partial to some of the forced chicory but without the space to do this myself, I thought I’d just try some bitter leaves instead. I can’t quite believe I’ve actually bought dandelion seeds.
Alongside these seeds, I already have batches of Cima di rapa, an Italian sprouting broccoli. Unfortunately, on close inspection this morning several looked like their stems had rotted. I have a few spare, in the cold frame which seem fine at the moment, so all is not lost. Russian red kale, cavolo nero and endive are all getting to a good size. I just need to clear some ground at the plot, so I can get a new crop of plants on the go.
I’d love to hear about your must-have autumn and winter crops.