For those crops you already have in the ground, such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, parsnip, broad beans, bok choy, lettuce and leeks, keep the soil moist and add more compost around the base of the plants. This helps keep the soil warmer and protects the roots. It also gives the plants more of a boost leading into the coldest months. In the summer, it is about keeping the soil cooler and in the winter, it is about keeping it warmer. Plus the worms love all the organic matter, too.
What to plant now
This spunky-looking red lettuce look-a-like has quite a bitter taste. However, the unique thing about it is that when it’s cooked, sautéed and gently grilled the flavour becomes remarkably sweet. Favoured by foodies due to its bright colour and flavours, it comes into its own in winter, with the leaves intensifying in colour over the colder months. Keep an eye out for slugs and snails as they enjoy the soft, fresh leaves. Seedlings are in the shops – you will probably find punnets in amongst the lettuce seedlings. Space them 20-30cm apart in the garden, but in pots (in which they thrive, too), you can cram a few more in if room is tight.
This super-large leafy green, with its plump plum-red foliage, just thrives in compost-rich soils all over the country. With a peppery taste, and dinner-plate-sized leaves, it looks as good as it tastes. This is an easy crop to grow from seed and, as a microgreen, it’s tasty and colourful, too. Seed germinates in just over a week and once the plants are up and going the crop is ready to harvest within four to six weeks. New batches can be sown each month to keep a continuous supply of leafy goodness. Whilst red mustard will grow in pots and tubs, it can quickly dominate other seedlings so it’s a good one for the garden patch as it takes up plenty of room over winter, and looks a picture. Seedlings are widely available. If the plant looks like it is heading to seed and flower, just nip the centres out, it will force more side growth.
I have no idea where the connection to ‘corn’ comes from within the name of this sweet salad green. It’s a wonderful neat and tidy vegetable to plant over the cooler months. It forms domes of leaves, not a lot bigger than a pasta bowl. The leaves can be picked one at a time, and used either on their own as a green dressed with olive oil and seasoning, or it can be blended into mixed tossed salads.
This is a great crop for patio tubs and planters, especially window boxes, as it is shallow rooted and it will happily nestle into smaller areas. It does require regular moisture, so don’t forget to give it a drink. And what’s probably best about it is that it will grow in part shade!
Salad lovers everywhere, you can say goodbye to those hideous salad bags in the supermarket. Never again do you have to endure the sometimes slimy, rancid, dull-looking leaves. Mesclun is a name given to a seed blend of small leafy greens, grown specifically for harvesting when the leaves are small. Blends vary from plain mesclun to culinary mixes such as Mediterranean, Asian, and Italian through to red and green colour blends. Most blends have rocket, different types of lettuce, mibuna and the super-speedy mizuna species. Try to sow a new batch each month to ensure a fresh and constant supply. There is no reason you cannot grow them at work, too; scatter a few seeds in a pot and find a sunny spot and you are in business. Maybe you would make it a workplace challenge – see who can grow the best salads?
Can you ever have too much parsley? I don’t think so. This must-have in the herb garden is being used far more as a vegetable and salad ingredient rather than just a bit of greenery or decoration on the side of a plate. Being packed with nutrients and vitamins, just adds to its appeal. Parsley is hardy. Both types – curly and the large, flat-leafed varieties – can be planted out now. Choose plants as opposed to seed at the moment as the seed will take a while to germinate, and plant plenty, there is no reason to run out of this pungent staple over winter. It thrives in patio situations, but avoid planting it in tiny old terracotta pots, as it prefers and deserves a larger home – kitchen bucket size is ideal for a couple of plants.
Consider blending curly parsley in with your winter hanging baskets, maybe with something like violas, which have edible flowers, too. Remember parsley lives for a couple of seasons, so once it starts running to seed you need to plant some more.
Quite possibly one of the most underrated vegetables in the home garden, silver beet is a ripper to get underway now, leading into the winter. Not only can it be used in numerous ways in the kitchen from soups, to stir-fries to salads/ slaws or sautéed simply on its own, it also looks a picture throughout winter with its shiny darkglossy green leaves of the green varieties or the brightly-coloured tones of the red, yellow and orange rainbow types. The flavour doesn’t vary a lot between the colours, although the yellow stems do seem to be a smidge sweeter than the white stems. It’s a no-fuss crop, it thrives both in the garden and in large patio tubs or barrels. The more you put into the soil prior to planting in terms of manure or compost, the quicker you will get results. Flag sowing seed now, it’s a bit slow this time of year, so look for big healthy seedlings and plant a few punnets. Nestle them into the garden borders to add some more colour and texture.
Winter edible flowers
Just because it’s cooling down outside doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the beauty, flavour and texture of edible flowers over the colder months. The ‘go-to’ crops best this time of year are calendula and violas, which come in a range of colours and are in the shops now. Rather than fiddling round with seeds (which you could do as both will germinate now), buy some big seedlings as they will look great straight away and add some welcome colour. Calendula need a little more room, so allow 20-30cm between plants. Violas, however, are more compact and can be planted quite close together. These two both absolutely thrive when the soils cool down a smidge. The shorter day length triggers flower development and both are hardy to even the coldest of climates. Plant them in pots and tubs, baskets and window boxes, and be generous, as once you start picking your edible flowers you will want to keep doing so.
Garlic & Shallots
With the shortest day looming next month, many probably are not thinking about planting garlic just yet. However, in preparation for that, make sure you save some space for it in your garden plots. This month, I am blending in well-rotted chicken manure and bulb food into my soil, getting it ready for when the cloves are planted out in June. If you haven’t already, set aside your biggest and fattest cloves of your home-grown garlic to use as seed stock for planting. I know it is never as easy to peel the smaller cloves to use in the kitchen, but the fattest ones make the best plants and give a better harvest. If you don’t have any spare garlic, take a visit to your local farmers’ market and buy some organic garlic bulbs or plaits, and use these as your seed stock. Cloves of garlic will be in the shops next month, but a little work now will save you some time and definitely money.