Autumn crops to start now
Sow leafy greens in September to enjoy three seasons of harvest
Early September offers one last sowing hurrah. The ground is (usually) warm and damp, and emerging seedlings romp away at an astonishing rate. Compare this to the end of the month when both temperatures and daylight hours have started to tumble and you’ll understand why getting seed in early is crucial. September sowings are all leafy plants, with potential harvests as diverse as salad rocket, Oriental greens and coriander ready to bring welcome greenery to the table this autumn. To stretch plants through winter and on into next spring you’ll need to add protection, using cloches and fleece, once temperatures start to fall. Those who are fortunate enough to have a greenhouse or polytunnel will have plenty of winter greens at their fingertips. Think of these September sowings as having three seasons: swift pickings this autumn, a few sparse leaves over the darkest and coldest months, and a rush of welcome early harvests come springtime, effectively removing that awkward hungry gap before next year’s sowings start to earn their keep.
If you’re without a greenhouse don’t despair, but do make sure you look for hardier plants and make use of cloches to stretch the season further. Where you live, your garden’s exposure and the sort of winter you experience will all have a big influence on how well plants cope. Clear away any debris left from previous crops and spread some compost over the area before you begin sowing. If earlier crops haven’t been harvested yet, sow in modules to create sturdy seedlings ready to plant out in a few weeks’ time. This has the happy result of ensuring plants are big enough to cope with some slug and snail damage when they do go out. After all, your plants won’t be the only ones enjoying the mild, damp September conditions!
What to grow?
Start with the most robust and trustworthy of September-sown crops. Rocket, spinach, land cress and mizuna are among the most reliable and will all bring quick leaves this autumn. Add to this the succulent, slowergrowing lamb’s lettuce (also called corn salad) and a winter lettuce such as ‘Grenoble Red’ or ‘Winter Marvel’. Now’s also the time to sow spring cabbages (spring greens) for their fresh leafy heads next year. Fresh herbs are incredibly valuable over winter so dedicate a few lines to coriander, chervil and parsley too. Finally, if you’re growing in a more sheltered site, or have a good number of cloches, then embellish the planting with summer radish, endives, leaf mustards, komatsuna, spring onions, kale (for baby leaves) and Swiss chard.