Autumn sowings in the kitchen garden
Take a walk and enjoy the autumn foliage colours. You may think it's time to give up on your vegetable garden now that autumn is upon us, but you'd be wrong.
There are quite a few crops that can be sown in October while the soil temperatures remain reasonably warm and conditions dry. I'm not saying that autumn sowings are for everyone.
As a part time gardener you may well be looking forward to a rest from your horticultural chores and you probably deserve it. But if like me you have a guilt complex about bare unproductive soil in the veg garden there is plenty you can do to alleviate this.
Garlic is a perfect crop to plant now, it is actually the best time. I had great success last year and still have stored garlic bulbs available from that crop. Plant cloves 50mm deep into prepared light soil pointed tip up. Then just wait, it really is the easiest crop you'll ever grow. Harvest next June. Solent White is a recommended variety but various types are available in your garden centres now and all will be successful.
Onion sets are also a good overwinter crop along with other Alliums like shallots and spring onions. Plant as you would in spring keeping and eye out for birds pulling up sets of shallots and onions. 'Electric' is a popular winter red onion and 'Shakespeare' a white. 'Jermor' is a good shallot and 'White Lisbon winter hardy' a spring onion. Again your local garden centre may well have equally good alternatives on offer.
Broad beans and peas can also be sown now. Cover with horticultural fleece to improve and speed up your germination time or start off in a cold greenhouse in modules. Horticultural fleece is a light weight gossamer type material that allows light and water through but keeps a few degrees of cold out and a few degrees of heat in. It is widely and cheaply available in garden centres.
'Aquadulce Claudia' is the best for autumn broad bean sowing and 'Meteor' a good pea variety. If sowing directly into the soil sow slightly heavier than with spring sowings to allow for less successful germination. Bean and pea tops can be used as a vegetable in there own right when picked over winter for use in salads, stir fries or lightly steamed.
Lettuce is also a welcome addition to your kitchen during the dark winter months. Varieties include 'Winter Gem', ' Winter Destiny' and Lambs lettuce. These again can be started in modules but I would sow outside under fleece and continue to grow under fleece the entire winter.
Asparagus is available for planting now although as you maybe aware it is a long term crop and you won't be harvesting for two growing seasons as it has to form well established crowns before cutting.
Spinach varieties 'Space' and the beet spinach ' Perpetual Spinach' sown now will provide a boast to your winter and early spring meals. Pick leaves as young as possible as winter can make them tough. Swiss chard can be sown but really needs to be covered and is probably best sown a little earlier in September.
If this winter gardening is all too much for you you can consider sowing a green manure. This will give you the satisfaction of feeling you are doing something beneficial in your kitchen garden without actually doing anything. A green manure is a crop sown then dug in a living plant to improve your soil fertility. Sow 'Grazing Rye' now over your entire veg area and let it establish over winter. In spring cut off any height growth, leave for a couple of days and dig soil over as usual. This is a method that protects your soil structure from winter rains and locks up nutrients stopping them leaching from your soil.