garden cold frame
Angela Slater
Daughter of a farmer and market gardener so have always had a connection with the outdoors, whether it was keeping animals or producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I gained an HND and BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management, as a result I am an ardent environmentalist and have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening. In my time at Hayes I worked for several years in the Outdoor Plant and Houseplant areas

What fresh home-grown vegetables can I have over winter?

Follow our tips to be self sufficient in winter 

Winter usually means we abandon the garden, batten down the hatches and hibernate indoors. It also usually means if you want a good choice of vegetables you have to rely on expensive imports, but this need not be the case. With a bit of forward planning and learning some new recipes you can have delicious food, all from your own garden. Admittedly they are mainly root crops and members of the brassica family but his does not mean that you can’t cook some tasty recipes. Prepare for the worst weather by having horticultural fleece, cloches and small fleece or polytunnels handy. Bell cloches are handy for protecting individual plants; if the plants are small save money and make your own cloche from 2ltr soft drinks bottles, just cut the bottom off and remove the cap to stop the build-up of condensation.

The small tunnels can be used to warm up the soil in early spring to enable you to get a head start on the growing season. They can also keep the soil warm from the autumn and allow you to grow some salad crops outdoors into the autumn. As soon as it snows brush any heavy accumulations off crops and poly tunnels as it will stretch the polythene which then becomes susceptible to wind damage.

cabbages in the vegetable garden

Winter vegetables include turnips, swede, beetroot, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, Hamburg parsley, salsify, scorzonera, kohl rabi, celeriac, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, chard, leeks and onions. If you have a heated greenhouse then you can increase the variety of crops grown but the cost of heating throughout winter can substantially outweigh the cost of buying from the supermarket. Micro greens and salad leaves can easily be grown indoors on a warm sunny south facing windowsill.

If you have a polytunnel insulate it with bubble wrap and then you can grow some fast maturing crops such as: radish, salad greens, bok choi, spinach, chicory, endive and arugula. If you are lucky enough to experience a warm sunny day over winter just open the door to allow any condensation to escape. You can also grow salad crops in a home-made cold frame, quite cheaply constructed from used scaffolding boards and old windows.

Some of these winter crops will need protection from the worst of the weather in the form of horticultural fleece or in the case of the root crops a good thick mulch of straw, at least 10cm (4”) thick, if you have light free draining soil. If you have heavy clay soil which becomes waterlogged in winter then you won’t be able to leave the root crops in the ground but you can store them in a frost free shed or a clamp (a pile covered in straw) or boxes of dry sand. Veg to be stored must have their tops removed, all the soil brushed off and be free of blemishes and patches of rot.

bunches of carrots

Clamps can be constructed outside in a sheltered area, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) recommends a base at least 20cm (8”) thick of light sandy soil or sand covered with a layer of straw. Next make a pyramid about 1m (3’ 3”) high of your roots, with the largest at the bottom. Cover with a 20cm (8”) layer of straw and then a 15cm (6”) layer of soil leaving straw sticking out of the top of the pile from where heat and moisture can escape. Make sure the rain can easily drain off the pile by smoothing the soil surface. Rodents can sometimes be a problem so keep a check and take appropriate action.

Plant summer sown crops which are to be harvested over winter in early autumn when the ground is still warm and before the first frosts, which can be as early as mid-September in some parts of the country. If snow, then frost is forecast leave the snow over root crops as it also acts as insulation. Winter winds can be almost as damaging as frost and snow, shredding members of the brassica family. If you live on a windy site, consider planting a hedge to break the wind and provide a more beneficial micro-climate in your garden. Erecting a solid fence completely blocks the wind and is susceptible to being blown down, whereas a hedge just slows down the wind.

A mixed native hedge not only gives protection but also provides food and shelter for a whole host of wildlife. If you like the look of a crisp Leylandii hedge but have heard all the horror stories bear in mind that they must be maintained regularly. When planting a new Leylandii hedge let it grow to 2.4m (8’) then cut off the top 60cm (2’), thereafter maintain at a constant height of 1.8m (6’). Bamboo can give good protection, just make sure you don’t plant the invasive varieties. Sink slates, at least 45cm (18”) tall, stood on edge, into the soil along both sides of the hedge to keep it contained; they are shallow rooted and won’t extend underneath the slates. Not only is bamboo an effective windbreak but also a source of garden canes.

Below is a list of recommended vegetable varieties suitable for winter harvesting from Thompson & Morgan:

  • Broccoli ‘Red Arrow’  -  purple sprouting
  • Brussels Sprouts  ‘Brodie’
  • Cabbage ‘Gilson’
  • Carrot ‘Sugarsnax54’
  • Celeriac ‘Monarch’
  • Kale ‘Emerald Ice’
  • Mooli Radish ‘Dragon’
  • Parsley ‘Hamburg Arat’  -  eat top as parsley and the root as parsnip
  • Radiccio ‘Rossa de Treviso precoce’  -  Red Chicory
  • Salad Leaves ‘The Good Life Mix’
  • Spinach ‘Perpetual’
  • Turnip ‘Snowball’