"The great thing about growing veg over winter is that you get fewer pests, you have less watering and there is little weed growth, so there is altogether less maintenance," said Gardeners' Question Time regular and edibles expert Pippa Greenwood, who, as part of her Grow Your Own veg plants range, has developed a ready-to-plant, winter-through-spring collection after repeated requests.
"Customers would say, 'What's next?' After growing veg all summer, and seeing — and eating — the results, people get hooked, and don't want to stop. And in the off-season the sense of self-satisfaction is even greater, as you're able to enjoy Oriental leaves at Christmas or crop cabbages as early as February."
© Gap photos/Richard Bloom
Reader offer: Grow your own - winter to spring veg collection: £29, plus freed seed packsThe range of veg you can grow in winter is smaller, but there are lots of tasty edibles to be enjoyed, provided you choose hardy varieties: lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, purple-sprouting broccoli, Tuscan kale, onions, shallots and garlic, as well as Oriental leaves such as pak choi and Japanese mustards such as mizuna. If you're quick off the mark, you can also sow carrots, rocket, land cress, chard and radicchio.
Pippa Greenwood's selection, being sent out next month, comprises five lettuces each of Valdor, Winter Density, Navara, Little Gem; five purple-sprouting broccoli Claret; five cauliflower, five cabbage Frostie, five cabbage Spring Hero, 25 shallot Escalotte Griselle, a bulb of garlic Early Purple Wight and 250g onion sets Radar. The collection includes monthly emails of advice from Greenwood and costs £29 including postage and packing. Homes & Property readers can also have free packs of Nantes carrots, rocket and mixed lettuce seeds by writing H&P in the Provide any Further Details box at pippagreenwood.com. Offer closes August 31.
Greenwood's secret weapon against the worst of winter weather is simply a couple of layers of fleece, either pegged into the ground or in the form of a collapsible cloche that concertinas out to cover your crops. Snails, thankfully, go to bed for winter, but biological control Nemaslug works well for about six weeks, and Greenwood enthuses about sticky-backed copper tape, which wraps easily around raised beds and containers.
© Gap Photos/Jonathan Buckley
There are some lettuces that will withstand prolonged winter cold, but Greenwood's trials on her windy hillside garden in Hampshire found that all-rounder Little Gem does very well, and provides that lovely, buttery taste. "Winter Density forms a good heart, Valdor puts on good growth when conditions are miserable and Navara is a survivor: it's a deep red, oak-leaf lettuce, so adds colour and shape. Keep your lettuces going for longer by taking leaves from the outside of the plant."
Heavy London clay soil suits brassicas — purple-sprouting broccoli, cabbages and cauliflower — as they like to be firm in the ground. "If you have light soil, add some organic matter. Pigeons can be a menace, so use fleece or netting."
Garlic is an increasingly popular, and easy, edible to grow. Elephant garlic sounds promising, but Greenwood isn't sold. "It's a leek with a swollen bottom and wimpy flavour. My choice is UK-bred Early Purple Wight, which has a pretty purple tinge."
Many people make the fundamental mistake of planting the whole garlic bulb, which results in a fountain of greenery, but no bulbs. "You need to split the bulb into cloves, then plant each six to eight inches apart, with their noses just protruding," said Greenwood. "If the soil gets too wet they can suffer, so plant them on a Toblerone-shaped ridge and they're unlikely to suffer waterlogging. Harvest when the foliage starts to yellow. Considering they're Mediterranean, they're very hardy, just like other edible alliums, onions and shallots — I've seen foliage coming up through the snow."