Don't let your vegetable plot stand empty and neglected over winter. There are plenty of winter vegetables to grow throughout the coldest months.
Winter vegetable growing allows you to extend the season and many vegetables that can be grown in winter will produce earlier crops than spring plantings.
If you were really organised in late spring/ early summer then you will have already grown some winter vegetable plants such as Winter Cabbage, Kale and Brussels Sprouts. These will be well under way by autumn and you will already have started planting your winter vegetables outdoors.
But don't worry if it slipped your mind - there are lots of tasty vegetables to grow in winter that can be still sown this autumn.
Most winter vegetable plants are fully hardy and will cope well with cold winter weather, but if hard frosts threaten then you can always throw some fleece across them to provide some extra protection.
Most can be planted or sown directly outdoors to ensure that your winter vegetable garden is fully stocked.
Autumn planting onion sets are easy to grow and will virtually look after themselves over winter. Onions have a long growing season and won't be ready for harvesting until next summer, so you will need to plan carefully as they will still be in the ground when you start planting other crops in spring. Onion 'First Early' is a popular and reliable variety or for a brightly coloured red onion try Onion 'Electric'. In recent years Shallots have become more popular with the trendy gardener. Autumn planting 'Echalote Grise' is a particularly choice variety for its intense and concentrated flavour.
Growing garlic couldn't be easier and there are lots of varieties to choose from for autumn planting. Like onions, they have a long growing season and won't be ready to harvest until next summer, but it is well worth the wait! 'Wight Cristo' is well suited to most culinary dishes, but if you enjoy the fuller flavour of baked garlic, then try the attractive variety 'Chesnok Red' for its delicious creamy texture. For true garlic fans (and customers with vampire problems) T&M offers a full collection that will provide you with bumper crops of garlic.
Winter hardy varieties of Spring onion make a tasty accompaniment to winter salads. They are a fairly quick growing crop and early autumn sowings should be ready to harvest by early spring. Spring Onion 'White Lisbon' is a popular and reliable winter hardy variety.
Perpetual spinach makes an excellent 'cut and come again' crop that will produce huge yields of tasty leaves. Early autumn sowings will keep you supplied with tender young leaves throughout winter and with regular harvesting it will continue to crop well into summer! Be sure to remove the flowers to prevent it running to seed.
Autumn sown broad beans can be harvested in spring up to a month earlier than spring sown plants. Broad Bean 'Aquadulce Claudia' is one of the best for autumn sowings, being particularly quick to establish. Once the plants are well grown you can even use the plant tips - they are delicious wilted with a little butter.
Enjoy an early crop of peas next spring. Autumn sowings of rounded varieties such as Pea 'Kelvedon Wonder' and Pea 'Meteor' are particularly hardy and will give you a head start next season. You will be the envy of the allotment when you start harvesting peas 3 or 4 weeks earlier than other growers!
If you have plenty of space then why not plant a permanent asparagus bed this autumn. Choose an autumn planting variety such as Asparagus 'Mondeo' or the colourful variety 'Pacific Purple'. Although asparagus beds take several years to establish, each asparagus crown can produce up to 25 spears per year and will continue cropping for 25 years. You will need to be patient with this crop as it will be 2 years before you can harvest them properly - but the promise of tender, home grown asparagus spears is well worth the wait.
Growing winter vegetables outdoors will make good use of your plot, but there are some crops that will need a little protection from the cold. These vegetables to grow over winter can be sown into cells and transplanted later into the soil borders of an unheated greenhouse, or grown under polytunnels, cloches and cold frames.
Salads are not just for summer! Sow tasty 'cut and come again' mixes such as 'The Good Life Mix' under cover for harvesting throughout the winter months. Plant rows of Lambs Lettuce, Land Cress and Mustard alongside to add a spicy, peppery flavour to your winter salads. For tasty, crisp heads of Lettuce you can also try Lettuce 'Winter Gem'.
For an exceptionally early crop of carrots in spring try growing Adelaide. This fast-maturing variety can be sown as early as November in the greenhouse and as late as July outdoors.
This dual purpose oriental vegetable can be harvested young throughout the winter as individual salad leaves, or let the heads mature and add the succulent stems to stir fries. Pak Choi is quick to mature and packed full of healthy vitamins A and C as well as Calcium, Iron and Folic Acid. Although it is often grown as a summer crop, Pak Choi can still be sown in late summer for transplanting under cover in autumn.