Spring may be long over – but there is still sow much to do
Sowing in the autumn months will ensure you harvest vegetables all year round. There's no need to limit yourself to an early cycle when there are plenty of winter greens to plant, writes Michael Kelly
We're guilty as GIYers of compartmentalising the year into three neat phases of 'Sow, Grow, Harvest' – this is hardly surprising really when you consider that that is generally speaking how the growing year progresses. We do a big tranche of sowing in the spring months, grow the plants in the summer months and harvest in the autumn.
But one of the great lessons I've learned in my short 'apprenticeship' as a GIYer is that the sowing season doesn't stop at the end of spring. In fact, if you want a consistent supply of vegetables you need to be sowing right through the year.
Some crops, such as spuds, parsnips, tomatoes, squashes, peppers, aubergines and the like, are sown once a year, and that's it. With other vegetables you might be sowing perhaps twice or three times a year (eg carrots, which you might sow once early in the year for an early crop, followed by a 'main crop' sowing in late May). But other vegetables should be 'succession sown', that is sown repeatedly throughout the year. Generally speaking these are vegetables that grow pretty quickly – so in this category you have lettuce and other salad leaves, kohlrabi, annual spinach and so on.
Crucially, if you want a decent supply of food from your garden over the winter, and particularly in the difficult 'gap' months of March, April and May, then this is a crucially important time of the year to be sowing seeds. Sowing seeds in August? You betcha.
The last two months have been all about harvesting and lately I've been getting this feeling that the GIY year was about to start it's inexorable decline towards autumn and winter (what can I say, I'm clearly a 'glass-half-empty' kinda guy!).
But before we start feeling all autumnal, we have a reprieve and we're back to the wonderful world of potting compost, seed trays, germination and the like. If, for whatever reason, you didn't get a chance to sow much this year, than here's your chance for redemption!
When it comes to August sowing, I am thinking about three main categories of vegetables. First of all we have the winter "salad" greens to supply us with green leaves right through the winter. In this category you can include winter lettuce, lambs lettuce, claytonia, rocket, French sorrel, chard, endive, parsley, coriander and spinach. Very importantly it also includes the wonderful oriental greens with strangely exotic names like mizuna, mibuna, mustard greens and reds, bok choi, tat soi and pak choi.
If you plan carefully and put some work in to it now, you should be able to provide fresh, tasty salads for you and your family right through the winter months. It's important to get these sown now while there's still some growth left in the year – get them established now and they should be big enough to allow for the fact that they will grow relatively little between November and March. But that's okay – by March you should have the first 'new season' leaves starting to come through from very early sowings (probably over a heat source) in January.
The second category to consider sowing at this time of the year is quick-growing vegetables that will, if sown now, churn out a crop before winter. If we're lucky there could be three decent months of weather left in August, September and October. Though the growth rates slow dramatically after August, there should be enough time to get a crop of delicious end of season vegetables from your vegetable patch.
In this category you can include peas, Florence fennel, Chinese cabbage, dwarf French beans, radish, turnips, baby carrots, baby beetroot and "quick-heading" calabrese. Try and source quick maturing or late season varieties of these and sow them now.
The final category is vegetables that you get in the ground now to provide a crop next spring like spring cabbage, kale and salad onions. I am not a huge fan of cabbage generally speaking (and it is very much prone to attack from all manner of pests), but spring cabbage is a wonderful thing to be harvesting after the dreary winter months.
Also in this category, I will be sowing garlic and broad beans later in the winter – probably around November. These crops remain dormant in the winter soil (and garlic actually appreciates that cold soil and air).
Finally, though it's too late now to sow purple sprouting broccoli and Brussels sprouts from seed, if you can source a couple of plants you could chance planting two or three plants of each in your veggie patch. Look forward to a bonanza of food from them in the winter and early spring.
* Michael Kelly is author of 'Trading Paces' and 'Tales from the Home Farm', and founder of GIY.