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How to grow vegetables – Winter gardening

With the onset of autumn gales, colder weather and shorter days, it can be tempting to just let the garden ‘overwinter’ until the spring. Once you’ve done your autumn tidy up, surely it’s then all about staying in the warm and going through seed catalogues, picking out next year’s crops, right?

Well actually, there’s still plenty you can be doing to make the most of your winter vegetable plot.

By utilising your space effectively and planning your yearly growing cycle, you can produce seasonal crops right through the winter and into early spring.

For areas that are sheltered from the worst of the winter frosts, the variety of winter/spring crops that can be grown is surprisingly wide. But for gardens in ‘frost hollows’ or that are exposed to the worst of the winter weather, there are other crops that you can choose that will be hardy enough to withstand all but the lowest of temperatures.

Outdoor crops

If you’ve done your preparation properly, your vegetable beds should need relatively little tidying up before planting the first of your winter outdoor crops. If you’re working on heavy clay soil, ensure that you’ve dug down at least six inches and introduced some organic matter such as well-rotted manure into the soil to make sure that there are plenty of nutrients to nourish the young seedlings. This will also help to keep the soil well drained and prevent it becoming waterlogged. Once your beds are prepared, you can sow hardy crops such as broad beans, Brussel sprouts, winter cabbages and purple sprouting broccoli.

Learning how to grow vegetables is a continuous process, and as you become more confident in your skills you will discover exactly what you can do with the plot that you have.

If you’re just starting out, make sure that you know your soil pH, that your beds are free of weeds and grass and that your soil texture is crumbly.

Once you have made sure that the blank canvas is prepared, growing any kind of vegetable should be relatively easy with a little planning and forethought.

Cloches and Polytunnels

One of the easiest ways to grow winter vegetables is to use cloches and polytunnels to protect them from the worst of the weather.

If you’re only just starting to learn to grow vegetables and don’t want to spend too much money on equipment, an effective and cheap alternative to cold frames and cloches is to cut clear, two litre drinks bottles in half and use them as individual cloches for delicate seedlings.

This is also a very ‘environmentally friendly’ way of using up unwanted bottles, as the ‘mini-cloches’ can be reused all year round.

Most root crops such as carrots, turnips, beets, parsnips and leeks can be sown for winter cropping, and are reasonably hardy even through quite sharp frosts.  By protecting them with polytunnels or cloches, you can leave the crops in the ground and harvest them as and when needed. This will also help if you are limited on storage space for crops, and for some types of vegetables will also actually improve the flavour.

Ensure that you nip out the central stems of the plants to stop any vertical growth and encourage the plant into putting more effort into producing larger tubers.

Learning how to grow vegetables is fun all year round, and if you plan your garden carefully you can ensure fresh vegetables with minimum ‘food miles’ and maximum freshness, even in the darkest days of winter.


   


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