Although it is possible to look at winter as a time when gardening is less exciting, there are still lots of crops that can be grown. Overwintering is possible with some of the onion family, salad crops, herbs and microgreens. Having some plants that need attention and nurturing them through winter can provide purpose and reason to still spend some time in the garden over the colder months.
Salad crops can be grown across the winter and although many will need some cover, a few can also grow outside in sheltered positions. Winter purslane, sorrel and mustard cress can be sown in late September and early October to provide harvests between 12 and 16 weeks later.
Other salads such as radish leaf and rocket will produce in similar timescales with protection. Larger salad such as winter lettuce and winter spinach can also be sown under protection through to the middle of October for a very early crop in February.
Some onions can also be planted as sets at this time of year. Sets are available in nurseries and garden centres and can be found alongside garlic sets also suitable for planting in October. Planting at this time of year will produce a slightly earlier but more importantly a bigger yield around June and July the following year.
A great way of keeping homegrown on the menu is to grow herbs and microgreens indoors across the winter. Lots of varieties will do well in the right place and you can experiment across the winter to find the best spot and the varieties that work best for you.
Having a glass house or polytunnel makes overwintering crops easiest, providing lots of room in warmer temperatures (both air and soil temperature) to grow a host of different crops. However, there are also some simple ways of creating warmer environments without too much expense.
Low growing polytunnels can be found online and in garden centres. They are usually around 60-80cm high, 1m wide and come in different lengths from 4m-10m and are much cheaper than full sized tunnels and glasshouses. You can buy them for around £20.
Another alternative is putting large plastic bottles over salad crops or individual lettuce. 1.5ltr bottles and above will provide some shelter and maintain warmth. The larger the bottle the more you can grow underneath, so larger 3ltr bottles that mineral water comes in work great, or even the large bottles that get used in water dispensers if you can source them.
Herbs and microgreens grown indoors are generally straight forward and produce good results. Soft herbs such as basil, parsley, chives and chervil should grow well near a window that gets good light. Grown in margarine sized containers they can be harvested young within 4-6 weeks.
Microgreens are also good to experiment with. These can be 'cut and come again' salad leaves or any type of brassica-like broccoli or cabbage. They will germinate and can be harvested when they have their first set of true leaves 2-4 weeks after sowing. Have a go at successional sowing to provide a supply throughout the winter months.
Grow lights (lights designed to produce the right spectrum to support photosynthesis) are becoming cheaper and may be worth exploring. You can buy sophisticated systems although these are still quite expensive.