Once summer crops are harvested, the vacant soil they leave is a great opportunity to start planting winter vegetables. For instance, some of the hardier salad crops such as winter lettuce and radishes can be sown until the end of September in the open garden.
If you have a sheltered place, sowing of these two crops can continue longer - until the end of October. But for winter gardens it's important to choose cold-resistant types of lettuce such as 'Winter Density' or 'Coastal Star.' Hardier radishes include the heirloom 'Black Spanish round' or 'Celesta.'
Spinach seed can be sown until mid-October and so can mustard seed. The cold-resistant heirloom mustard 'Giant Red' can be very rewarding as a winter food crop.
Unfortunately, with all these thin, leafy winter crops, slugs are a huge hazard.
Mulching a winter garden against cold is helpful for nutrition and cold protection, but double jeopardy for slugs which hide under the mulch between attacks and lay eggs ready to hatch and give you extra grief in spring.
When temperatures dip, it helps to have some row covers handy. Agricultural fleece only raises the temperature a degree or two but it's often enough to tip the balance in favour of survival.
It's always useful to remember that nothing grows fast in winter's cold temperatures. This means that cut-and-come again salad greens are gone once they're cut. Replacement leaves are unlikely to appear. That's why it's important to plant enough in the first place.
A leafy crop that's slug and cold resistant is corn salad which can be sown up to about mid-September. It's a tasty, dwarf plant with a dense cluster of deep green glossy leaves.
Some winter crops need quick action at this time. Carrot seed and pea seed should be planted up to about mid-August. Good places to plant fall peas might include the old garlic, shallot or onion bed.
My father always planted a late crop of peas which he called his 'silly crop' because sometimes it failed due to weather. But when rain and temperatures co-operated, he was able to gather lots of peas. Choosing to plant snap peas for a late crop and then eating or freezing the pods rather than waiting for green shelling peas would guarantee you an earlier harvest in a good year.
People who like kale, broccoli and other cabbages but didn't plant seed earlier, still have time to get some transplants at garden centres. Ideally, cabbages and kale plants should be in the ground by mid-August.
I've been told that flowering cabbage and kale can be cut for eating after decorating winter containers or garden beds - though it's also reputed to be quite strong-tasting.
It's often recommended that broad beans should be sown in mid-November for over-wintering, resulting in a very early crop in spring. I suspect this tactic works better for coastal gardeners and people who have sandy, well-drained soil.
There's a lot to be said for growing the leafy type of winter vegetables in containers, especially if they are large containers and can be placed near the east, south or west wall of a house. Slug control is much easier in containers and the extra warmth of a house wall is also beneficial.
Anne Marrison is happy to answer garden questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
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