Category Archives: Overwinter crops

Over wintering veg

This year we tried overwintering oriental veg. The garden is in a cold spot, in a valley around 270M ASL open to the East. It has been cold with some sharp frosts in November. I am always doubtful about leaving any crops in the ground without protection but the oriental veg has survived.

Tonight, we used some Pak Choy leaves in a stir fry. We also tried some Wong Bok raw; the thick stems were delicious with the flavour changing as it was eaten. There are plenty more to harvest so they should last into March.

Wong Bok

Pak Choi

There will definitely be more next year with maybe some protected cropping from cloches  to give us all year round greens.

It’s time to think about winter

It’s almost mid-summer so time to think about winter planting. There are two ways to ensure you have fresh veg over winter: choose crops that grow in the summer and stay in the ground over winter or sow seeds in late summer of plants that can be harvested through the winter. Most veg growers do both.

The main thing about deciding how to get a year-round harvest is where you live. In the south and south west the winters are generally milder than in the north. That is not always the case and with the changes to the climate over the last 30 years it is hard to predict how the winter will be. Choose the varieties that suit your location. Ask other local gardeners what they do.

The other thing you can do is protect your crops, that means covering them. Don’t be fooled by the idea that you can use a cheap fleece ‘blanket’, and everything will be fine. Fleece might stop ice crystals forming on the foliage which could help them to survive, but it will not insulate the crop from the cold.

The 3 solar pods made last year. The beds are 2m x 1m with a centre divider. The pods are 1m square so can be used on any bed. The long bed on the right has been divided into 4, 1msquare beds.

To keep out the cold you need something substantial like, a  poly tunnel, a cold frame or a DIY solar pod. It is possible to be harvesting lettuce from January – March if you protect the crop and get the right seeds. One year we had lettuce in a polytunnel  that were completely covered in ice. It thawed and we ate them! Or if you are really dedicated you can make hot beds which uses the heat from manure buried under the soil to keep things warm. It does work but is a lot of work. See how to make hotbeds here.

Hot bed with insulated walls.

The practical approach is to choose plant varieties that will thrive through winter and use some physical protection if you can.

Things we don’t sow try to over winter: garlic, we use a short dormancy variety with cloves planted in January when the weather is suitable. Neither do we sow broad beans in the autumn. Our garden is 300m ASL so winter can be long cold and very wet! If you live further south it is always worth trying to over winter as many crops as you can.

Another option is to move the plants out of the garden. A greenhouse is fine if you have one but a good supply of salad leaves can be grown on a sunny windowsill. Our salad crops are grown in trays on the lettuce table which can be moved into the greenhouse. Watercress will be in a smaller tray and again will over winter in the greenhouse. You can also grow in containers that can be moved inside when it gets colder.


Red lettuce in a bucket.

Don’t forget to make holes in the bottom. Fill with bagged compost – not garden soil as it is too dense for small containers. You can grow a lot of food in containers, see this site.

These are some varieties we have like.
Lettuce: Winter Density and Winter Gem.
Spinach: Perpetual  also known as Spinach Beet.
Carrot: Bolero, Eskimo F1, a new variety we are trying this year.
Kale: Cavolo Nero because the curly green variety is everywhere now.
Parsnip: most varieties will sit in the ground for months, we like Tender & True.
Leeks: Musselburgh, they can stay in the ground to February/March.

Potatoes are lifted and stored in hessian sacks and can last into March.
Onions are harvested, dried and stored in net sacks.

Email us if you need help
Please note: we do not store emails, pass on details to anybody else or send messages after we have a responded to your question.

Strawberries

It is strawberry time!  The quintessential British (and Japanese) fruit –  red, ripe, sweet and juicy fresh strawberries. That rules out the tasteless varieties sold in supermarkets, so it means having a strawberry patch in the garden! If you want to taste real strawberries then grow your own, pick them and eat them straight away.

You need to find a variety that works for you. That is more difficult in the Derbyshire hills. Strawberries like sunshine and warmth, we tend to get that in small doses and can easily have frosts in May and September which makes the season short. But, it is possible to grow these delicious fruits.

Commercial growers use polytunnels or hoop houses as they are called in the US. Unfortunately the Peak Park District National Park have a total ban on them because they don’t look very nice. Shame. One alternative is to grow in containers which is exactly what we are doing this year.

Using containers makes it easy to move the plants into the greenhouse over winter which might just extend the season. These are two old containers made several years ago. There is about 4-5cms of gravel in the bottom and a row of holes is drilled round the sides just above the top of the gravel to prevent flooding and water logging. The troughs were then filled with peat free compost.

This year we managed to get a selection pack of six plants of five different varieties. They were just about acceptable and looked if they had been kept in small pots for too long due the closure of garden centres. They have all taken well and are producing fruits. There are two Elsanta and one each of Vibrant, Flamenco, Honeyoe and Symphony. It will be interesting to see how they do.

Looking at the area in front of the greenhouse has sparked an idea – a new strawberry bed 3m x 0.75m! The best time to plant bare rooted plants is around October/November. In the previous garden we had two large beds and one was planted with Vibrant. It seemed to do OK on an equally cold and windswept site. Just an idea!

And now just to get the gastric juices going here is a film about strawberry mania in Japan –  click on the image below. It shows that they take strawberries very seriously with each variety grown to give a different experience.

Click to watch the video

And then there is Japanese “strawberry short cake” near the end of the film. You can find a recipe here. Can’t wait to try it!

Click for recipe

Germination and planning for winter!

Seeds sown direct in beds on 10 April have started to germinate – carrots, parsnips, broad beans and peas in modules. Still no sign of the leeks sown in modules but there is time enough to resow if needed.

I must admit to having never lost the fascination of seeing seeds germinate.

Now is the time to plan follow on crops for winter. Just found this book which we got several years back. This year we want to get it right so that there is food right through until next spring.

Eliot Coleman explains the four season harvest

Winter lettuce

Over the years I have tried many ways of keeping veg going in the winter. It was hard at the old site as it was in a frost pocket. Between 2003 and 2013 the temperature dropped to at least -10C every year with one year it was -17C.

Looking though photographs I found some images of winter lettuce from 2010. I trialled three different varieties, Ayr, Valdor and Winter Density, all sown on 23 September, so I am thinking it is not too late to try some in the new garden, maybe with fewer weeds this time!

They will need protection,  last time I made some ‘solar pods’ as described in the book “Solar Gardening: Growing Vegetables Year-round the American Intensive Way” (1994.)
It is available here at Google Books.

The ‘pods’ are for raised beds with the ends made of marine plywood and covered in twin wall polycarbonate sheet. I will make smaller versions this time, enough to cover half a bed, one metre square.

Full size solar pods in snow.