Winter Gardening

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It might not be obvious, but in England, you can grow food all year round as the ground rarely freezes over completely. And in London, we also get the heat island effect, which means a few extra degrees of warmth and that's a big help for growing vegetables! So, what can you grow right now?

The not so good news, is that you would ideally plan for your winter garden in August; gardeners are like fashion designers - we work a season in advance. In August you would plant all of your overwintering leeks, winter cabbages and kale, so that by the first frost they will be big enough to withstand the elements. We are a bit late for that now, but you'll know for next year. The better news is that there are still things that you can grow - you might have to protect and cover young plants, but our polytunnel at the Skip Garden is brimming with life, so it is possible!

There are a lot of winter hardy leaves that can be grown over the colder months. They will do better under cover (a polytunnel, cloches and horticultural fleeces can help), but they should be able to survive the British winter ahead. Sow them in a warmer area (15 degrees C or so), and transplant the seedlings outside when they have 4 true leaves. My go to winter leaves are chard ('Rhubarb' and 'Rainbow' varieties are lovely to look at and eat), 'winter density', 'All year round' and 'Marvel of four season' lettuces are all good in the cold, so give them a try now. All of the asian greens will do well too. - I particularly like pak choi and mustard greens.

It's also a good time for Garlic: traditionally, garlic cloves are planted on the shortest day of the year (21st December), and harvested on the longest (21 June). I like softneck garlic as they store better, and their milder flavours work with most dishes and cuisine, this includes all of the 'Wight’ types ( Early Purple Wight, Provence Wight, Iberian Wight, Tuscany Wight & Solent Wight ). You can also plant bulbs from an organic garlic head, and see what happens! Plant each clove in moist soil, 3cm deep and 15cm apart from each other. If you want to speed the process up, put your head of garlic on a plate with a little bit of water, and transplant each bulb once roots have started to grow.

Finally, you might still get away with overwintering peas and broad beans. Again, sow them in a protected environment, around 10-15 degrees, and only transplant them when they have 4 true leaves. A great overwintering Broad bean is 'Aquadulce' and 'Aquadulce Claudia'. Ours got snowed on twice last year and still did great! Peas are a bit more tender and you might need to protect them like you would salad. I like 'Sharpe's meteor' and 'Douce Provence' cultivars. Another option is to germinate organic dried peas indoors and use the pea shoots in your salads.

Alternatively, if you'd like break from your garden in the colder months, just sow some green manure to avoid a bare soil, and you'll be able to dig it all back in the soil in the spring which will then add organic matter back to the soil. I particularly like phacelia and wizard field beans, as they are also pretty hardy.

And now, get a hot drink, snuggle under a blanket with a seed catalogue, and start planning your dream garden for next year!