Allotment: Growing through winter

This year for the first time I’m attempting to grow throughout winter.

I’ll be honest, this is also the first year I’ve felt conned by Christmas. That’s not to say I’m not going to enjoy the festive season (wreath-making is a very big deal in my house) but, religious reasons aside, I feel it’s there to brighten the winter months.

Because all I want to do is be outside. And when I start to lose feeling in my toes, I decide that winter is just not as good as spring or summer. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You just can’t grow the same amount of things, or can you?

That’s what I’ve set out on a mission to discover.

It was a late decision. I suddenly realised in mid-October that if I was going to experiment with growing throughout the coldest season, I really needed to get my (ice) skates on. So I bought lots of plug plants that were reduced, because seemingly everyone else was much more organised than me. And then one bright but crisp-weathered Sunday, I set about planting a quite frankly ridiculous number of plug plants. With a little bit of help from ‘him outdoors’ (my new name for Tom).

When you get a little bit carried away…

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As part of the experiment I planted broccoli, red Russian kale and green curly kale (you can never have too much kale), and cabbages (spring green and winter green) at the allotment to overwinter. In too went the garlic and onions. I’ve never grown garlic before so I’m trying a variety called Marco. Last year we grew shallots which worked well, so I thought I’d try some onions, and into the ground went a red electric variety.

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The cabbages are protected under cloches and I find myself sending daily prayers to the slug gods, asking them to please just leave them alone. I have some other cabbages (savoy and red) which are looking quite handsome (albeit a bit nibbled) under protection from earlier in the year, so I’m crossing my fingers for these gentle brassica souls. They look quite promising at the moment…

The kale haven’t grown much but they’re still hanging on in there. As I write this I’m faintly aware it’s freezing outside with the first signs of snow, so the weekend could tell a different story! But we still have lots of kale growing under protection, so I’m more than happy for the smaller plants to take their time and see what happens. I’m not hopeful for the broccoli right now, but one thing I’ve learnt when gardening is mother nature always likes to surprise you.

The winter salad experiment is going much better however. I decided to set up lots of tubs in the greenhouse. I treated myself to a nice wicker box in the sale, but I’m mainly upcycling wine boxes and using old pots. Note to self, gardening with chickens can sometimes be a challenge…

Debs kept wanting to eat all new shoots. Classic Debs.

I was skeptical, but six weeks on they are growing and I can start using them for salads soon. Huzzah!

I’ll list them in order of current success:

Mustard: After six weeks, the mustard has decided it is most happy and has really kicked on. Definitely recommend this for some spicy leaves on those cold winter evenings.

Corn salad: This has quite a delicate flavour, but is largely regarded by many as a ‘staple’ winter salad ingredient. I have to say, I’m impressed. On the left is from a month ago, compared to what each plant looks like now. I salute you corn salad.

Lettuce: I have a few different types of lettuce. The most successful by far is one called ‘Winter Density’, pictured below, and another type called ‘Diana’ (this name makes me feel more reluctant to eat her) which is also doing well. I did have some¬†‘Four Seasons’. This was doing well, until I didn’t realise I’d moved it within chicken reach, and Ginger managed to eat it. Thanks Ginger. Anyway, four seasons aside, I’ll cross my fingers for their continued growth.

Spinach: perpetual. I think I might need to move this to get a bit more light. It’s definitely growing but it doesn’t seem as happy as some of the other crops – pictured right.¬† It’s doing OK though, so hopefully in a few weeks there will be enough in our salad to at least invite Popeye’s distant cousin to dinner.

Chard: I recently said to him outdoors that chard might be my top crop for 2017. Not that anyone’s asked me to vote! But it’s still just stunning at the allotment, so I’ve put chard in a big pot to harvest little leaves. It’s a bit slow, but I have absolute faith in this top crop!

Chinese leaf: Tatsoi. Doing OK but I think a sneaky slug may have found its way in, so this is currently lower down my success list. You can’t really blame the tatsoi for this though.

Land cress: This tastes nice, but looks a bit sad currently. Again, it might need swapping around in the greenhouse to get some more light, but it hasn’t grown as much as some of the others.

Top crop 2017. Excuse my goofy face!

So what have I learnt? If you stick on a warm jumper, you can garden through anything. I think my allotment crops would have benefited from going in the ground a few weeks earlier, but I’m really pleased by the progress the salads have made in the last five weeks. I’ll write further updates, to help plan for next year – when I’m going to be much more organised and grow them from seed. Lettuce pray this happens. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

Let me know how your winter growing is going! Rach x

2 Comments

  1. Excellent. Have big plans for autumn/winter 2018. Have onions and garlic on the go now but lots of follow on crops next time. Lots of
    oriental leaves, kale, squashes, loads. Looking forward to it!

    Like

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