I am not a great winter vegetable gardener – the idea of being self sufficient is fine in the summer months but the grim reality of harvesting sprouts on a cold morning or digging parsnips from sodden soil means that I have the greatest respect for growers who put food on our tables through the worst of the weather. Yes, I will go and dig up a few parsnips and leeks or cut some winter cabbage but any other operations can wait until warmer weather.
The excuse that I use for my lack of activity is that the soil is too wet and I will do more harm than good. When we lived in Surrey and gardened on Bagshot sand, we could dig the soil come what may – even after a deluge it had drained enough within half an hour for digging to commence. The problem with our allotment there was keeping enough organic matter in the soil to bulk it up and hold moisture – sandy soils are incredibly hungry for the reverse reasons that clay is. Ironically both need copious amounts of compost or manure dug into them – sand to hold the soil together and give it substance and clay to break down the sticky clods!
What I do like to do through the winter is plan the following year’s production and browse seeds that are available to try something new. Although I have given up my allotment through lack of time, the raised bed that my husband built me in our back garden has been a great success for its first year. We have had plenty of salad crops so that there were leaves and soft herbs available right through the summer and well into the autumn with a late sowing of Rocket which loved the cooler weather and didn’t run up to seed as quickly as it can do through the summer – it’s not called Rocket for nothing! For now there are beetroot, parsnips and leeks to enjoy and a couple of sprouting broccoli plants which went in very late but will hopefully make something for next spring; the mild weather of late means that they are still growing well.
Onions grow really well in my part of the world and I am still using this year’s crop from store. They were grown in the raised bed leant to me by a friend and I will definitely put them in there again. Shallots are so useful in cooking and take up less room than onions as well as maturing earlier in the season so I will plant a row of these as soon as the soil is ready – they can go in from the end of February onwards and will mature in June.
We both love Broad beans and last year I grew a row of ‘Bunyard’s Exhibition’ which cropped for weeks. Until then, I had always grown ‘The Sutton’ – a dwarf variety that never needs staking but has much smaller pods. Because space is at a premium I will go for a taller variety again and start them off in individual pots before planting them out in March if the weather is kind.
Carrots were another success and I always grow ‘Amsterdam Forcing’ for early roots with a sweet flavour. Now there are carrots in a range of colours and the Notcutts website has seed for the varieties ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Rainbow which would be great fun to try.
Other varieties of seeds have caught my eye including ‘Romanesco’ broccoli which is so expensive in the supermarkets and has the sweetest of flavours as well as looking great on a plate with its zingy lime green curds. This is a great brassica for small spaces taking up far less room than the traditional cauliflowers which are essentially a field crop unless you have a large garden.
And that is the main challenge in my little patch – what to grow and what to leave out. With the tempting range of seeds on the Notcutt’s website I have several more hours of pondering ahead before my final selections are made! www.notcutts.co.uk