Winter is humming
Make the most of your plot by squaring up to the cold and, come the new year, you will be digging in to the best, freshest healthiest food
Keep calm and carry on cropping, even though it’s nippy out there. Yes, the cold is creeping in and the trees are almost bare, but that’s no excuse to let your garden go dormant.
Winter vegetable crops are a fantastic way to breathe life into your outdoor spaces. Plus, they ensure a fresh supply of veg during cold season. So wrap up and grow your own.
Crops will thrive in rich soil when there is plenty of organic matter mixed in, so begin by removing any nutrient leaching weeds.
Use a fork to turn the soil over – it will improve structure through aeration, and reduce compaction.
If you are not planting immediately, you can cover with tarp or bin liners to help the soil remain warm for receiving seeds later.
This will also prevent weeds germinating in your chosen spot.
To create a crumbly layer of top soil where delicate young roots can grow, rake the earth into a nice tilth.
Soil preparation is key for a healthy harvest and you can really work up a sweat. To reduce injury, it is best to warm up first so your muscles are not cold when you get going. You can also use long-handled tools to ease the strain and promote better posture when propagating.
My winter winner of top of the crops has got to be the ever-hardy garlic. And now’s the time to plant them.
Allium ampeloprasum “Elephant” garlic is often sold as garlic but is actually closer related to leeks.
The incredibly rich flavour makes it a mouthwatering ingredient to cook with and it’s simple to grow yourself.
To plant, place individual cloves at least 2.5cm below the surface with space to give the bulbs room to swell.
Provide your garlic with full sun – as much as there is, anyway – well-drained soil and a netted defence from birds, and you will have delicious bulbs ready to crop in early summer.
“Germidour” is a late-maturing variety producing purple skinned cloves. Or for a well-rounded taste, try the hardneck ‘Lautrec Wight’. These will produce a flower stem that can be used in salads and stir fries.
Douse crushed cloves in olive oil and smother on to crusty bread to toast your own garlic bread. This indulgent treat will also boost your immune system – garlic has antibacterial, antiviral and antioxidant properties.
Another wonderful overwintering crop is onion. Again, it is just the right time to get it in the ground.
Varieties such as “Setton” produce excellent yields of dark-skinned bulbs that store well.
Alternatively, shallots such as “Pikant” boast smaller bulbs with reddish skins and have good bolting
Winner of top of the crops right now is ever-hardy garlic
resistance. They’re grown from baby onions called sets – start planting by removing the loose skin at the top so the hungry birds can’t grab them.
A sheltered spot in well-drained soil is best as damp soil can cause rot. Plant each set 3cm deep with a good layer of mulch on top. Tasty onions should be ready to crop in late spring.
Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin C, K and A – vital for bone health. This clever crop, which has varieties such as “Palco” or the winterhardy “Atlanta”, will give optimal growth as the chill sets in.
Good air circulation will stop mildew and a fleece covering will provide protection after October.
If the soil dries out, spinach will go to seed too quickly and turn bitter, so be generous when watering. With adequate protection from slugs and snails, you will have tasty leaves in about six weeks.
Now is also the perfect time to be planting container-grown fruit shrubs and trees in your garden.
That way, they will be able to mature over winter and provide a healthy crop when summer arrives.
Opt for early cropping varieties of raspberries such as “Glen Moy”, which bears heavy crops of medium-to-large berries with a lovely flavour.
Other fruit bushes to plant now include my favourites, red currents and gooseberries, which will display a succulent spring harvest.
To plant fruit trees, begin by thoroughly soaking the root ball so it is well-hydrated before planting out. Next, use a spade to dig a hole that is about three times as wide as the tree’s root system.
Loosening the roots will encourage them to grow further, rather than circling around the base.
Finally, water thoroughly and, for best results, apply mulch on top to keep soil moist and roots protected.
If your tree is top heavy or planted in a windy spot, use a short stake leaning into the prevailing breeze at a 45 degree angle.
Winter cropping is a rewarding past time, providing you with a workout and an abundance of nutrient-rich yield to devour.
Another fantastic reason to crop till you pop this winter, is that your veggies will be fresher than those bought from the supermarkets.
As shop-bought produce is not usually seasonal, it can be stored for months at a time, reducing its nutritional value.
By comparison, once homegrown crops are ripe, they can be on your dinner plate within minutes.
It is worth noting that, generally, if you leave your produce on the plant until it is ripe, it will have more nutrients than if it’s picked early and allowed to ripen off the vine.
That is why it is always best to harvest at the last possible moment if you are growing at home.
So there you have it. Plant now and have buckets of delicious fruit and veg to enjoy in the new year.
CHOP CHOP Get garlic in the ground
ACE OF SPADES Stay active all season