The temperature may have dropped, and the ground may be a little harder, but there’s still plenty you can do in the vegetable garden this winter to make sure you have plenty of fresh produce in the coming months.
Perfect peas and beans
An autumn sowing of peas will mean you can begin harvesting earlier at the start of spring. A versatile over-wintering variety is ‘Douce Provence’, which produces sweet and succulent peas. This type only grows to about 75cm and therefore needs little support.
Don’t leave the pea shoots behind when you harvest the peas as the shoots also have a delicious sweet taste and can be used to garnish salads, starters and meat dishes.
For early broad beans, try sowing ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ as it’s a variety that’s easy to grow and quick to establish. Seeds sown in November will germinate within two to four weeks and overwinter before growing again as soon as the climate is right.
Black fly is particularly partial to broad beans and a tip to keep these aphids at bay is to make a spray from garlic. Finely chop or mince a whole garlic and let it sit in a pint of boiling water overnight. Then sieve and dilute the mixture and pour it into a spray bottle and use it to target black fly.
Get growing garlic
Certain plants thrive after a good frost and garlic is one of them. For the best results, plant in late autumn or early winter and you may see green shoots before Christmas.
However, don’t be tempted to plant cloves bought from a supermarket as they may not be suitable for the climate or soil. Instead, choose a variety such as ‘Solent Wight’ that has been bred for the UK and does well in our colder conditions.
To plant, break the bulb and sow individual cloves about 15cm deep in rows 30cm apart. Birds, especially pigeons, may be tempted by the cloves, so you may need to cover with netting.
Simple spring spinach
Perpetual spinach is simple to grow and will keep producing tasty leaves for months on end. An autumn sowing will give you tender young leaves during the winter – the trick is to keep harvesting, and it will continue to crop into the summer. Also, remove flowers to prevent your spinach from running to seed.
Spinach is packed full of vitamins and minerals and can be added directly to chillies or curries. To enjoy on its own, heat some coconut oil in a pan, add crushed garlic and spinach leaves and cook for just a minute or two until the leaves have wilted and then serve.
Another plant that likes the cold is rhubarb. It can tolerate temperatures as low as -28C and needs cold to generate spring growth.
Plant rhubarb crowns or budded pieces in autumn or winter when the ground is warm and moist, but not frozen or waterlogged. Plant so that the top of the crown sits just 3cm below soil level.
Choose a permanent area of the garden for your rhubarb patch as rhubarb doesn’t like being moved and allow space between plants as they can grow quite large. Then you can just leave your rhubarb to get on with it, and it will keep coming back year after year.
Prepare your empty beds
Now is also the time to prepare empty beds for planting in spring. By digging over your vegetable beds and sprinkling them with manure, you can leave the frost and worms to break down the soil for you.
Another tip is to dig a trench for beans and fill it with compost and cover with soil. This will give you an ideal environment when it comes to planting in spring.
Don't forget to check out our 'Grow Your Own: Month By Month Guide' for a handy summary of all of the delightful fruits and veggies that your British garden can produce. You can also get yourself prepared with our 'Grow Your Own This Spring' article.