Plan Ahead For Your Winter Vegetable Garden

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Brassicas ready to plant out

If you're reading this on a hot summer's day then the idea of casting your mind forward to winter may seem at best odd. But it's the wise kitchen gardener who makes plans now for the vegetables that will stock the larder when the cold comes home to roost.

Many of our favourite winter staples can still be sown in midsummer to ensure a steady supply of leafy greens, roots and flavoursome shoots. Depending on your climate, others will need to be at the seedling stage by this time of year if they are to put on enough growth to push through to winter. Ready-to-go young plants are widely available for planting out if you've missed the boat for hardy staples such as Brussels sprouts, leeks and sprouting broccoli.

Roots for Winter Harvesting

Maincrop carrots and beetroot are ideal for starting off in summer to provide a winter cache of welcome roots. In milder regions these roots can be left in the ground during the cooler months to dig up as required.

Gardeners growing in areas prone to penetrating frosts will need to lift up all of their roots by mid-autumn, taking care not to spear roots with the prongs of the fork and storing only those free of blemishes. Trim the foliage before storing to within 1-2cm (under an inch) of the root, brush off excess soil then lay the roots down so they aren't touching in boxes of sand. Carrots and beetroot will keep this way until early spring.

Growing carrots for a winter harvest

Carrots: Sow seeds 1cm (0.5in) deep into finely raked soil, leaving 15-23cm (6-9in) between rows. Thin the seedlings to at least 5cm-10cm (2-4in) apart for decent-sized roots.

For winter storing it's hard to beat the long-term favourite 'Autumn King', which is exceptionally hardy and boasts a rich flesh colour. This variety is so hardy you may get away with leaving it in the ground all winter. A cover of straw will prevent the ground from freezing solid and should allow you to unearth the roots as they're needed. That said, a ready-to-hand store of lifted carrots is more likely to be used when the weather's freezing and the last thing you want to do is venture outside!


Beetroot: Set the seeds out in rows that are 20-30cm (8-12in) apart, allowing for a final spacing of 10cm (3in) between plants. Keep rows free of weeds to allow the roots to swell properly. I find that the popular variety 'Boltardy' is still the best – it has a lovely sweet flesh, is hardy and very resistant to bolting. For a quick crop of baby roots sow the seeds much closer together and lift while they are still young.

Growing kale as a winter crop

Hardy Kale

Sowing kale in summer will ensure legions of luscious leaves throughout winter. I'm a big fan of kale thanks to its unfussy character and its ability to shrug off the worst attentions of pests such as cabbage whitefly and caterpillars. Any mild spell during the winter will see kale plants grow on just that little bit more to provide a quiet succession of harvests throughout the cooler months.

Curly leaved varieties such as 'Dwarf Green Curled' are worth a sow, but for luxurious leaves I'd plump for 'Cavolo Nero' or 'Black Tuscan' (this is in fact the same variety sold under different names). It produces strap-like leaves of dark, Savoy cabbage-like quality that's a real treat. Shred the leaves, lightly steam them then dish up with a generous dob of butter and a grind of the peppermill – the gardener's elixir!

Vegetables to Plant Out in Summer

By midsummer in cooler regions, the boat will have been missed for sowing most other brassicas. If you've already grown your own young plants ready for transplanting or planting out, then good on you! If you haven't, just look out for one of the many winter collections of brassicas sold in garden centres, nurseries or online.

Broccoli and sprouts: Brussels sprouts and sprouting broccoli for harvesting from late winter should be planted out to leave 60cm (24in) between plants. Get these into the ground as soon as possible so they have plenty of time to grow on into sturdy plants. Consider covering the plants with mesh or netting to prevent cabbage white butterflies laying their eggs on the leaves and decimating your chances of a successful crop.

Planting leeks to harvest during the winter

Leeks: This is a staple winter crop and one I'd personally hate to be without. Its long, smooth shanks add a richness to the winter diet, whether served as a base ingredient to a stew or in its own right as the star of a meal (a leek-dominated quiche is delicious).

Set ready-to-plant young leeks into holes made with a dibber so that the roots are at least 7cm (3in) deep. This will encourage a longer, white stem. Space plants 15cm (6in) apart. Cover the roots back over with loose soil then water in carefully, filling to the top of the hole. If you have plenty to choose from, only use the very biggest leeks to ensure good growth before winter. The hardiest leeks like 'Apollo' can sit in the ground right up until late spring, providing a go-to vegetable at the leanest time of the year. Harvest the largest leeks first to allow the remainder to grow on.

If the summers are very hot in your area you'll need to wait a little longer to sow, but now is a great time to start thinking about what you want to grow for harvesting in autumn and winter. Our Garden Planner can advise you on when to sow or plant out in your location, so start planning now to get some real winter performers in the ground! Add to this the plethora of winter salads that can be sown towards the end of summer and into autumn, and there's no excuse for the cupboard to run bare once the growing season's over.

We'd love to hear your plans for winter crops, so leave a comment and let us know what you plan to grow this year.

By Benedict Vanheems.

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Show Comments


"Yesterday I ordered Organic Touchstone Gold Beet Organic Olympic Red Kale Organic Palla Rossa Radicchio Organic Giant Winter Spinach Organic Joan Rutabaga Organic Snowball Y Cauliflower Organic Korridor F1 Hybrid Kohlrabi Then I plan to plant more mixed greens and I did just plant some carrots topped with a screen to shelter it from the direct sun. Also plan on radish, chard, turnips, daikon. Thanks for the article because you made me check and I don`t have any leek seeds. "
Rita on Friday 4 July 2014
"Hi Rita. Really pleased the article was of help. Good luck with all of your winter veg!"
Ben Vanheems on Friday 4 July 2014
"I've read that putting cardboard toilet roll tubes around the stems of leeks once they have filled their holes helps keep a nice white stem - but will the cardboard not rot and cause problems for the leeks?"
Andi Fowler on Friday 11 July 2014
"Hi Andi. I know a lot of people use foam collars for this purpose, which are then loosely tied into position using string. I wouldn't imagine cardboard tubes would cause rotting as they would dry out between rain showers, just like the soil. I haven't tried this so, but it does sound like a good idea."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 11 July 2014
"that food looks nice :) "
lisa on Friday 29 May 2015
"Last year I planted petit posy and regular brussel sprouts but neither was successful as the posy's were smothered in greenfly and the brussels all opened like mini cabbages. I live in North Cornwall and grow everything in raised beds filled with compost as I live in China clay country. I am reluctant to bother again this year unless you can offer some sage advice."
Lesley Collins on Friday 8 July 2016
"Hi Lesley. Brussels sprouts 'blow' - i.e. open up, when the soil isn't very firm. The ground needs to be quite compact. I've no idea why - but that's the secret anyhow! Make sure plants are properly firmed in at planting time and maybe support any tall stems to stop them flailing about in the wind - which I imagine you get plenty of in North Cornwall! Regarding the greenfly. There's not much you can do other than cover crops (before infestation) with fleece. Encourage beneficial insects like ladybirds into the garden too. Take a look at this guide to pests for more tips on controlling aphids and other pests: "
Ben Vanheems on Friday 8 July 2016
"Since I live in inland San Diego, where it doesn't cool down until October, I actually allow my garden to go fallow for our hot months. My Poblano and bell peppers will grow in their corner until frost in December. I will plant a variety of carrots, beets, kale, broccoli, then later potatoes and peas. Near my door I will grow leaf lettuce in pots. Sometimes I plant as early as Mid-October, but often late November. "
Linda West on Monday 1 August 2016
"In the event that your experience for eating beets is from a can around Thanksgiving time, you are extremely passing up a major opportunity. There is a wide assortment of incredible tasting beets to look over, for example, Golden Detroit to the Ruby ruler and this does exclude the beet greens which are likewise eatable."
Ella on Monday 16 April 2018
"Very true Ella - there are lots of incredibly delicious varieties of beets to explore!"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 16 April 2018

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