Extending the growing season is surprisingly easy, whatever the weather, explains Kim Stoddart
With Charles Dowding
Although early in the year is traditionally the best time to set up a polytunnel or greenhouse, if you are considering getting one I would recommend starting to think about it now. In 2018 we had snow on and off throughout February, March and, in some areas, into April. I also know many people who have had to wait weeks to get their tunnels set up in spring because it is the most popular time of the year and installers are incredibly busy, often with long waiting lists in place.
Yet if you get in there at the end of the year, when the weather is still relatively clement (and therefore suitable for polytunnel installation), you can miss the rush and have time to plan and potter in your fantastic new space before getting growing with gusto come the New Year. This applies whether you are having a stab at home installation or getting someone in to help. Whether you are planning on an entirely new tunnel, or recovering an existing one, it is also worth thinking about doing so now because there are still some crops that can be successfully sown or planted in late October/early November under cover and overwintered for a useful head start on produce come 2019.
Here are some of the best veg to plant soon: Broad beans and peas
Both of these will stand firm over winter as small seedlings when seed is sown now, giving you early harvests of delicious pea pods and beans next spring.
Picking baby carrots in the dead of winter is a real treat that is perfectly feasible if you get planting seed this month. The resulting baby plants can also be left in the ground to fill and grow early in 2019, but I personally think that they are better enjoyed cooked whole when they are small, maybe sautéed in a little butter and thyme for a wholesome grow-your-own reward.
Winter lettuce and greens
It may seem too late, but if the weather is mild then do get sowing. Winter lettuce and greens can always be protected with a covering of fleece if needed. The pick and come again varieties, such as mizuna and mibuna, claytonia and winter cress, are hardy, while oriental brassicas are also nice to grow during the darker months of the year. You can always use a propagator to get them started before planting seedlings out in late October/early November.
Onions and garlic
Although you might think that these would be better off sown outside, I would recommend planting garlic cloves and onion sets in your tunnel as well, as they are good for cleansing the ground and, in the case of garlic, helping to deter mice from taking up winter residence. As I use a mixed planting system, these are placed in and around my other overwintered produce.
Kim Stoddart teaches a range of resilient grow-your-own courses from her smallholding in beautiful Ceredigion focused around polytunnel growing and climate change gardening. Visit: www. greenrocketcourses.com; tel: 07796 677178.
Plant garlic cloves and onion sets in your tunnel. They are good for cleansing the ground