The Winter vegetable garden is often thought of as a bleak and unproductive place to be but this simply isn't true. Although in cool areas, the weather can pose a few different challenges, there are plenty of crops that can still be grown, and plenty of jobs to do.
The Root Crop Beds
The root crops in our vegetable garden were planned in mid to late summer to be still providing a harvest througout winter. As the last of the heirloom purple skinned carrots were finishing, we still have a crop of the more common orange variety for harvesting.
Along with the carrots, our eagerly awaited Parsnips have been progressively unearthed. We have been pulling ENORMOUS hollow crown parsnips, that initially I thought were too far gone and would be woody and bland. How wrong I was. Despite their size, when peeled, cut down and roasted, they have been succulent and amazingly sweet.
We have also treated the last of our beetroot crop as a winter vegetable and have also been using these as winter roasting vegetable. Scrub them well, "screw" off their leaves, trim off the tap root and pop them straight in the roasting pan. The outer skin just slips right off once cooked.
The Leaf Crops Bed
The leaf crops provide the mainstay of the winter vegetable garden. There's quite an assortment of crops that will grow quite successfully throughout the colder months, although they are slower to do so. Our main selection includes many of the brassicas, this year we have switched to a high quality range of Italian seed varieties and are growing Verona Precoce Cauliflower, Calabrese Broccoli, Mezzo Nano Brussell prouts, Mantonvano Cabbage (a savoy type), Cuor di bue Grosso which is a conical head cabbage and a lovely red cabbage as well. We also have Spinach, two varieties of rocket, a beautiful mixed lettuce range (misticanza) and two varieties of Kale. So there is no reason for the vegetable garden beds to be empty through the cooler months. As these plants reach maturity, they will particularly benefit from a dressing of fertiliser tea. The fertiliser tea is referred to as a soluble fertiliser and because it's made from natural manures, has no harmful chemicals. Because you are feeding leaf crops, it's important to remember to wash the vegetables when harvested. There are some things in the vegetable garden that you don't want to eat!
Jobs to keep you busy
Ok, so the vegetable garden in Winter may not be the first place you want to be, but there are still a few things that need to be done, then you can head back in front of the fire and settle down to plan the spring planting and seed sowing.
This year we've shared the green manure bed, planting Broad Beans along with our normal green manure crop As they are also nitrogen fixers and were planted early, they have a head start above the green manure sowing and when harvested, the plants will simply be dug back into the soil with the green manure growth to benefit the soil.
As green manure adds not only nutrients back into the soil as well as large volumes of organic matter, a favorite of the cucurbits such as cucumbers, pumpkins and melons I always sow the green manure crop into the next seasons Cucurbit bed.
Despite particularly persistent rain this year, I manage to find the odd sunny, if not cold, winters day to keep on top of the weeding. This is particularly important around the onion and garlic bed as you must do this by hand and not use any form of tool - they hate being disturbed, so take care.