Do you want ideas for second crops to extend your vegetable growing season beyond summer? Or perhaps you want to know what vegetables to plant this autumn and overwinter for the spring?
We’ve sourced some of the best independent content from the internet to help you sow your own brassica and leafy green seeds. These experienced garden bloggers share expert advice on growing broccoli, kale, chicory, kalettes and more. But if you’ve missed the boat for seeds, brassica plug plants are a great option too. Here’s everything you need to know to successfully grow wonderful winter veg.
GrowVeg – Autumn Vegetables
Writing for the GrowVeg blog, Barbara Pleasant explains that replacing your finished summer veg with a second autumn crop requires a little planning. “Autumn gardening,” she warns, “does not mean waiting until the weather feels like autumn to plant, but rather timing things so that vegetables grown from seeds sown in July and August mature in autumn.”
When it comes to planting out autumn crops, Barbara gives priority to slow-growing cabbage family crops like broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, and even swede,” which she starts from seed indoors. “These little babies get transplanted very young, so they can get growing right away, and I use mulches and row covers to protect them from the usual stresses of late summer – baking sun and ravenous bugs.”
Charles Dowding – Chicory
Chicory is a really worthwhile second crop, says Charles Dowding in his excellent video about growing chicory hearts. The perfect succession crop to follow pea shoots or onions, Charles sows his chicory seeds from the summer solstice in June until mid-July.
Once his greenhouse-raised plugs are planted out, the dense and bittersweet hearts, also known as radicchios, are ready to harvest from September to November. The trick, he says, is knowing how and when to harvest them. When the leaves start to ‘fold in’ and a gentle squeeze reveals a firm centre, it’s time to twist them out.
Grow with Hema – Perpetual Spinach
When Hema’s peas and broad beans are finished for the summer, she quickly replaces them with perpetual spinach. Also known as spinach beet, these easy to grow seeds provide a quick and nutritious crop throughout the winter months.
According to Hema, “raised beds…and planters…are ideal to grow spinach beet in winter. I’ve found that you don’t need any additional cover, even in the snow.” Visit Grow with Hema for more top tips on growing spinach in winter as well as her delicious spinach falafel recipe.
Learn How To Garden – Perpetual Spinach
If you want to know how to plant perpetual spinach, refer to Mark’s short and easy to follow video over at Learn How To Garden. Available to harvest for about 10 months of the year, Mark says this is a great autumn/winter crop and it doesn’t doesn’t bolt as easily as regular spinach.
There are two ways to grow it, he explains. You can carefully plant your perpetual spinach 30cm apart, or you can broadcast the seeds to create a cut-and-come-again crop, thinning out as you go. For simple, clear and down-to-earth advice, Learn How to Garden is an excellent resource for beginners.
Life on Pig Row – Winter Cabbage
“Winter cabbage is very welcome at Christmas,” say Andrew and Carol from Life on Pig Row. Although they sow their own seeds, Andrew also orders cabbage plug plants as a backup. “Better to have too many cabbages than none at all,” is his theory!
In his excellent how to plant winter cabbage article, he describes how he adds blood, fish and bone to the bed and waters in with a comfrey feed. At the end of August the cabbages are planted 30cm apart in staggered rows and protected with a net until they’re fully grown and ready to harvest in late November and December.
A Thorny Pot – Swiss chard
For an excellent video guide on how to grow swiss chard, visit fast-growing YouTube channel, A Thorny Pot. One of Peter’s favourite things to grow for autumn colour, he says swiss chard is a hardy and delicious crop that isn’t as bitter as some of the other leafy greens.
He starts off his ‘Bright Lights’ seeds in cell trays, watering the soil until it’s thoroughly saturated to make sure they germinate. Seedlings appear about 3 weeks later, and in 6 weeks you can plant them out into their final positions in containers, window boxes or the ground. Simple!
The English Garden – Winter Brassicas
Seeds for winter brassicas are usually sown in the spring, ready to plant out as soon as other crops are completed and space becomes free. But, says Clare Foggett at The English Garden, “if you missed the boat…don’t panic. Many vegetable plug plant suppliers sell brassica plants at the perfect stage for planting out now.”
Leafy brassicas like kale, cauliflower, cabbages and Brussels sprouts are hungry plants, says Clare, so raking some high nitrogen fertiliser into the soil will give them a boost. Her winter brassicas article also explains that they like firm soil: “Loose soil can make the plants rock, which can stop cabbages forming a heart and cause sprouts to ‘blow’ rather than forming tight little buttons.”
Allotment & Gardens – Broccoli (Calabrese)
Not sure about the difference between broccoli and calabrese? Over at Allotment & Gardens, John Harrison explains that “that broccoli is an overwintered crop, while calabrese produces its crop the same year it’s sown, before winter starts.”
Calabrese roots don’t like to be disturbed too much, so John recommends sowing seeds in pots under glass in early spring, and planting out at least 45cm apart in July. You’ll get your crop from late August through until October. Along with some excellent growing advice, he suggests Belstar F1 for excellent flavour: “it remains in good condition for a long time, producing plenty of side shoots once the centre head is cut. This tasty variety can be planted in succession giving a harvest from late summer to autumn.”
A Thorny Pot – Turnips
Turnips are nutritious, easy to grow from seed and can be directly sown where you want them to grow. Over at A Thorny Pot, Peter starts his off in seed trays, so he can transplant them into empty spaces in the garden when they become available.
This step-by-step video guide to sowing turnip ‘Snowball’ seeds is filled with top tips. Peter’s method is to plant his turnips out very close together, meaning they take up very little space in the vegetable plot and don’t all reach maturity at the same time. The first turnip is ready to harvest after just 11 weeks, leaving room for the other turnips to continue to grow. Then, over a series of weeks, Peter simply picks the largest turnip, one at a time whenever he feels like a warm bowl of homemade soup!
Steve’s Seaside Kitchen Garden & Allotment – Interplanting Brassicas
Not a huge fan of sowing seeds, Steve admits that what he loves most is to plant and to harvest. For a great video on interplanting brassicas, visit Steve’s Seaside Kitchen Garden & Allotment. In one area of his allotment, he interplants onions and parsnips, which cleverly share the same space until the onions are harvested, leaving room for the parsnips to mature to full size.
In another part of the allotment, Steve shows how he uses a long handled bulb planter to plant his kalettes and leeks. Both winter crops that can be left undisturbed, he initially covers them with a butterfly net to protect them from wind until they get established. If you’re looking for more advice on growing kalettes, check out this chapter in Steve’s free ebook.
Huw Richards – Kale
Brassicas are a great way to ensure a supply of fresh healthy vegetables through the hungry gap, says Huw Richards, but check the neighbours aren’t watching before you put on your dancing shoes to firm them down!
Firmly stamping your kale seedlings into the bed will anchor them down into the soil and allow them to grow good and tall. And, says Huw in his video on how to grow kale, don’t worry if it wilts a little after you’ve planted it out. It will spring back with a week or so of good watering.
Grow Like Grandad – Brussels Sprouts
Over at Grow Like Grandad, Matt Peskett doesn’t think Christmas would be quite right without a few sprouts on his plate! And when it comes to growing them, Matt’s article considers all the theories relating to pruning and topping your Brussels Sprouts before offering his own approach: “once a sprout plant has around 10 rows of sprouts growing on its stem I will remove yellow leaves AND one extra row of leaves above that per week…”
He cuts off the very top of each plant when it reaches 3 feet high. According to Matt, this “forces all the energy to go into the existing sprout growth…they are more likely to grow quickly and to an even size, rather than maturing quickly at the bottom of the stem and more slowly at the top.”
The Sunday Gardener – Winter Lettuce
“Lettuce is hardier than it appears, and late sown summer lettuce will survive cold and light frosts without protection, which means it will crop throughout autumn,” explains Carol Jackson over at The Sunday Gardener. ‘Winter lettuces’, on the other hand, are hardy varieties that have been specially bred to grow in low light through the coldest months of the year.
Carol’s excellent article on how to grow winter lettuce advises you to plant them “in a sheltered sunny area with good drainage, so the plants aren’t waterlogged.” The best time? “Winter lettuce can be sown from August to November, in shallow rows, and it’s good so sow/or plant out fortnightly for a continuous crop,” she says.
Real Men Sow – Winter allotment
If you have an allotment or large vegetable patch, don’t let the ground sit dormant over the winter months. Pete at Real Men Sow says, “I was recently converted to overwintering after realising it’s such a good use of otherwise empty space.
Onions, garlic, and broad beans are three vegetables that overwinter well and can be put in the ground as late as November.” And, says Pete, “by the time you need the space back in spring, the overwintered veg will be finished and ready to pull up.” Read his article, 6 Ways To Make the Most of Your Allotment During Winter, for more helpful tips.
Ann Marie Hendry at Grow Veg – Spring cabbage
Spring cabbage is another excellent choice for an overwintering crop. Writing for the Grow Veg blog, Ann Marie Hendry dispels the common misconception that they’re sown in spring: “Actually, they’re one of the slowest maturing types of cabbage, being sown in late summer for a harvest next year… providing an early crop of tender greens when not much else is available in the vegetable garden.”
One of the easiest, low-maintenance and cold-tolerant crops, Ann Marie direct sows spring cabbages in mid-August, and a week or so later, starts “a second sowing in a module tray in the greenhouse as insurance against the birds, voles and slugs that might feast on the emerging seedlings outdoors.”
We hope we’ve given you plenty of food for thought and you’ve enjoyed our selection of brassica content from the internet. Share your winter veg stories and images and let us know how you get on. You can get in touch via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, or tag us at #YourTMGarden. Head to our brassica hub page to find out more about growing your own nutritious cruciferous vegetables.