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Winter vegetables hero
Whilst January and February can be quiet months in the gardening calendar, our winter gardens need not be devoid of life and can be home instead to an array of winter crops that will provide us with fresh nutritious ingredients later in the year. This article looks at some vegetables we can sow in the winter months.
  • Growing and nurturing plants will provide a mood boost and support self-esteem
  • Sowing winter crops provides motivation to get outside during the cold winter months
  • Using vegetables we have grown over winter makes our gardening more purposeful
  • Sowing seeds and harvesting are particularly good for children, providing excitement and anticipation
  • We can use these activities to help children develop an understanding of resilience and how good environments allow life to flourish
  • Connecting children to growing vegetables will increase the chances of them enjoying a variety of vegetables in their diet

Broad beans are one of the earliest crops you can sow in the garden and are straightforward to grow from seed. They can be sown in late winter (either indoors or outdoors with protection). Sowing outside in February is possible in milder parts of the UK or very sheltered sites where the soil is well-drained. Do remember to protect the young plants with cloches* during any cold spells.

Alternatively, broad beans can be sown in pots under cover, in an unheated greenhouse for example, from February onwards for planting out in spring.

* Cloches are low portable protective structures made of glass or rigid transparent plastic.

Carrots are a traditional, grow-your-own favourite and early varieties such as Amsterdam Forcing can be sown in February under cloches or covered with fleece.

Packed with vitamins, carrots are straightforward to grow from seed, taking up little space and can also be grown in containers.

They grow best in light, fertile, well-drained soil. So before sowing, dig over the area to a spade’s depth, removing weeds and as many stones as possible. Use plenty of well-rotted manure or compost too.

Carrots late crops

Another vegetable garden favourite is the cabbage. Nutritious and easy to grow, there are many types and varieties of cabbage that mature at different times of the year. They can be tight headed or loose, green-leafed or red. Cabbages are defined by when they are ready for harvest and that’s why we have spring, summer and winter cabbages (although summer cabbages will stretch on into the autumn).

Summer cabbages typically have leaves which are tightly compressed into a ball and are known as ball-headed or drumhead cabbages. Summer cabbages can be sown from mid-February under glass or cloches and can then be planted out in May and June to provide a harvest from July to November (the prime harvesting months tend to be August and September). ‘Hipsi F1 AGM’ is a popular versatile summer cabbage to sow as it can be grown in small spaces and has good bolting resistance.

Winter vegetables cabbage

There are many different types of cauliflowers ranging from those that mature in early summer right through to winter maturing ones. Early summer varieties can be sown under glass or under cover in January and February and then transplanted outside in mid-spring. Normally this type of cauliflower takes about five months from sowing to the harvest stage – so it will mature in early summer.

Cauliflowers require much effort and attention to grow successfully but can be a very satisfactory achievement once mastered. Early summer cauliflowers have a short growing period and require a nutrient rich soil. So before planting, dig in a bucketful of well-rotted manure or organic matter. Raking in a high potassium general fertiliser will also help growth and firm the soil by treading before planting.

Whilst cauliflowers don't appreciate the full sun in mid-summer, early summer cauliflowers will be harvested before the height of summer. So plant them in a full sun position to help them complete their full growth cycle as quickly as possible.

Winter vegetables cauliflower

Leeks are versatile hardy vegetables which are easy to grow and suffer from few diseases but do require some time and attention. They are usually sown in pots or trays of compost and are then transplanted into their final position when they’re big enough.

The harvest period for leeks can be extended by selecting a mix of varieties. Early season leeks are less hardy but will be ready for late summer/autumn, while mid and late season leeks will give you smooth stems for winter and spring.

The earliest varieties can be sown under cover from February onwards. Early sowings should be placed on a sunny indoor window sill or in a greenhouse where the warmth will encourage faster growth. Leek seeds can be sown in individual pots or in seed trays, depending on the space you have available to grow them and how many you want to grow. As the seedlings grow, you can separate them out and pot them on into individual pots if you wish.

When you transplant them outdoors, place them in a sunny, open position in well-dug soil that has had plenty of organic matter added to it. Leek rust is a fungal disease causing bright yellow spots on the leaves and is often worse in long wet spells – so look out for varieties described as ‘rust resistant’.

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Chris M and Rebecca H pulling trolley