The garden is largely quiet and still during the winter, with the odd evergreen, winter bloom and hardy shrub brightening things up. It could seem that during the colder months, most home-grown crops wouldn’t survive, but there are actually some excellent vegetables that will stand through winter, ready for harvesting. These will add greenery to your garden but also bring the fresh taste of home-grown produce to your table – what a treat! Most of these will need planting out in the summer or autumn, but will be happily harvested through the cold and dark months.
If you’re growing vegetables for the winter, remember to protect them with netting from the autumn onwards. Hungry birds and animals will be on the hunt for an easy meal in the colder months, and your crops could be decimated without protection.
If you do have empty spaces in your vegetable bed, take the opportunity in winter to mulch the soil thoroughly. Benefits of mulching include increasing soil fertility and earthworm activity, increasing water retention in the soil and preventing weeds from growing over the winter, so your soil is in great shape come springtime. Another benefit of mulching is that you don’t need to dig it into the soil, potentially disturbing the plants; the worms will do all of that for you.
Leeks are incredibly hardy winter vegetables and will bring some much-needed colour to your veg patch for as long as you need them to. December is a great time to harvest your leeks, which will by then have their beautiful bluish-green mature foliage. Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to pull the leeks from the ground by their foliage, as this can break the leaves or even snap the stem which would be a disaster!
What to do with leeks? Frankly, what can’t you do with leeks! They’re delicious in soups and stews, added to cauliflower cheese or cooked into a cheesy gratin.
Kale grows really slowly in the autumn and winter, so steady does it with harvesting through the colder months. Snap off the lower leaves as and when you need them. Kale is packed with nutrients including fibre, calcium and iron – so great for beating off those winter bugs!
What to do with kale? Kale is wonderful cooked with butter, or massaged with salt and oil and eaten raw. It’s also quick and easy to then pop the massaged kale on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for crunchy kale crisps.
Carrots fresh from the veg patch are absolutely delicious – packed with flavour and crunch that shop-bought varieties can only dream of! As they haven’t been stored, they won’t need peeling – just a quick wash and they’re ready to eat raw, boiled or steamed. Carrots should be pulled before the end of November.
What to do with carrots? Chop them and use them raw for crudites with houmous or your chosen dip. Glaze them with honey, butter and thyme for a delicious addition to your roast dinner, or cook them into a hearty soup.
This plant is extremely hardy, despite its delicate looks, and will stand well throughout the winter to fill out the veg bed between sprouts and spring cabbages. Just remember to protect your broccoli from marauding pigeons and other birds, who find it delicious too.
What to do with broccoli? Of course, there’s the wonderful broccoli and stilton soup, and the florets are delicious in a stir-fry with soy sauce and sesame oil too. Cook broccoli down with stock, parmesan and chilli to make a delicious, healthy pasta sauce.
These delicious green globes are the source of much controversy on Christmas Day, but for me, no festive meal is complete without Brussels sprouts. They do take up rather a lot of space when growing, but they’re incredibly hardy and packed with goodness and flavour.
What to do with Brussels sprouts? Chop them raw into a dressed winter salad, or toss with honey, pine nuts and balsamic vinegar for roasting.
Further winter reading: