Crops to plant now
1. Cavolo nero (also known as Tuscan kale and pineapple cabbage)
This is my go-to crop for all seasons. Little can beat it for flavour, versatility and good looks, and my garden is never without it. Seed can be sown now. I find one punnet of seedlings is more than enough and plant one container every two months. As the temperatures drop, the leaves of cavolo nero change to a wonderful bluish-green and when the frost covers them, the crinkles in the foliage twinkle. A brilliant container plant, cavolo nero can be positioned on the patio. Teamed up with parsley or violas, it makes a multipurpose focal point. Harvest it leaf by leaf, leaving the parent stem behind to rejuvenate a fresh set of leaves.
Another attractive member of the cabbage family, kohlrabi is a multipurpose crop in that both the stems and leaves can be used. The fat, swollen stem bulks up like a turnip and sits above the soil, mesmerising kids with its spaceship appearance. Kohlrabi is a fast-growing crop and although seedlings can be purchased, sowing a few seeds once a month may be the easiest way to go. This vegetable is a good option for pots, too.
3. Rocket (Eruca sativa or arugula)
Look for either the sweet rocket annual or the Italian perennial wild rocket known as arugula. Both have a spicy, tangy flavour and are as hardy as old boots. Rocket is a must-have for the autumn and winter harvest. It is a multi-purpose crop that can be used fresh in salads, torn into scrambled eggs or mashed into yummy pesto. It thrives in containers and looks the part in window boxes and herb planters. The trick to keeping rocket going is regular harvesting. If it starts to get leggy, cut it hard back and, in a few weeks, a new flush of growth will appear.
4. Red sorrel
This pretty little perennial is also hardy and, with a bitter-sweet flavour, is often cooked in the same way as French sorrel: gently sautéed in butter, wine or garlic. It is also tasty when eaten fresh. Red sorrel makes a gorgeous garnish and a colourful addition to fresh salad bowls. Sowing seeds is the best way to go as although it’s a no-fuss plant, seedlings are rarely available in the shops.
5. Bok choy
You will struggle to find a faster, more flavoursome, easier-to-grow vegetable with seeds germinating within 10 days and seedlings maturing in 4-6 weeks from planting. It is a perfect tub plant as long as you are diligent with watering. Let it dry out and not only will the sweetness disappear, but the foliage may wither and wilt. Bok choy often features in Asian green seedling packs. These are brilliant value purchases and ideal for the time-poor gardener with little space.
Packing a punch (as Popeye would attest to) spinach thrives in the cooler months of the year. In extremely hot periods it often bolts and runs to seed. It has a very shallow root system and therefore can do little to seek out nutrients and moisture if they are not readily available. It pays, therefore, to replenish your soil with sheep pellets, compost or vegetable fertiliser. Spinach seeds are large and easy to handle, and germinate within a couple of weeks of sowing. Seedlings are usually available so you can be assured of not having to seek out its slimy alternative in the salad bag aisle of the supermarket.
7. Turnips and swedes
If you fancy eating these hearty root crops, sow seed now as and winter. If you are in the winterless north, it is unlikely these vegetables will thrive or sweeten up as they require winter chilling to trigger growth and raise sugar levels. Seed is widely available and should be sown in situ and thinned to 10-15cm spacing (turnips) or 25-30cm (swedes) as soon as two sets of leaves appear. And if you have any extras, send them to me!
8. Hardy herbs: rosemary, thyme and sage
Can you have too much flavour in your food? I don’t think so. Herbs are so underutilised and deserve more kudos. Now is the perfect time to plant hardy stalwarts such as rosemary, thyme and sage to ensure your taste buds are not left lacking over the coldest months. All of these herbs need full sun and a free-draining soil so if you patch gets boggy or waterlogged over winter, either improve the drainage or plant them in pots. When growing herbs in pots, plant in container mix or a good vegetable mix and place in a handy harvesting spot.
Please be aware range will vary by Mitre 10 store.