As the year comes to a close and the seasons move towards winter you would be forgiven for thinking there isn’t much you can do in the garden, especially an edible one! However, there are a few things we can grow over the winter season, and there are even some you can grow without a poly tunnel.
Cold weather has even been known to improve the flavour of winter salads and veg. Frost however is the worst enemy to most plants and growers alike. So when it sets in, it is likely you will need some protection from the frost.
This is what we will cover in this article, some vegetables that are winter hardy and techniques that can be used to grow them.
Autumn to Winter vegetables & greens at a glance
One benefit to growing winter edible plants in the later months of the year is that they don’t bolt. This is due to the reduced amount of sunlight in the autumn and winter months giving the plant time to develop.
Cold weather sweetens many of these winter vegetables and it could be said that they do better in the cooler winter conditions.
Your first step to growing in winter is selecting the correct plants. Here’s a list of winter edibles at a glance –
Greens you can grow in autumn and winter
- Swiss Chard
Root vegetables you can grow in autumn and winter
For a more detailed rundown on these great tasting winter edibles, keep reading. We’ll also cover how to protect your winter bounty from the cold and damaging frosts!
Choose fast growing plants
In the months leading up to the first frosts you can grow a fair selection of edibles in your plot. As time is of the essence you are best growing things that are quick to mature. Some great autumn and winter edible plants are:
Winter greens that you can grow
1- Growing Lettuce in the autumn & winter
Lettuce is a great source of vitamins and minerals, it’s also easy to grow and versatile. Surprisingly, lettuce grows happily during the cooler months of the year. The slower growth leads to great tasting leaves too! Lettuce is a great source of minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium.
Lettuce can tolerate cold weather and even the seedlings can take very light frosts, however it is not hardy enough to sustain long periods of cold weather and should be covered in a greenhouse or polytunnel for the very cold winters.
Can lettuce survive frost?
Growing Mustard in the autumn & winter
As mustard is a cool season crop it fairs well in the colder months. Mustard can be planted 4-6 weeks before the first frosts. Planting them in succession will ensure a steady supply of mustard leaves through most of the year
Can mustard survive frost?
Mustard is a hardy plant that can tolerate light frosts, however it will not tolerate hard frosts. In temperate zones Mustard can be grown most of the year round. During sustained periods of frost mustard needs to be covered to survive.
3- Growing Kale in the autumn & winter
Kale is the ideal winter edible for your winter foodscaping projects. It will thrive in mild winters, but unlike many plants it will also do well in colder more sustained winter weather. The cold is even known to make the kale leaves taste sweeter!
Can Kale survive frost?
Yes, Kale can survive a frost! This hardy green will not only survive a frost, it can improve its flavour. Kale is the perfect staple winter vegetable for your edible garden. Although it is tough, for sustained frosts, kale should be moved into, or grown under cover.
4- Growing Rocket in the autumn & winter
Rocket is one of my favourite salads, it tastes great and is easy to grow. It can also be grown pretty much all year round too. For winter crops, sow in succession in August & September, in warmer years you might get away with October too.
Can rocket salad survive frost?
Rocket does well in the cooler months, but without protection it will suffer after a sustained frost. It’s best to grow in a greenhouse, on a windowsill or under a cloche (garden fleece).
5- Growing Radish in the autumn & winter
If you like your radish then you’re in luck, radishes can be grown all year round and do well in winter conditions. They are in fact one of THE most cold resistant plants out there and are resistant to frost.
Can radish survive frost?
Yes radish can survive a frost! Even if the leaves are damaged, it will regrow from the root. However, like any vegetable radish should be harvested before the ground freezes over.
6- Growing Spinach in the autumn & winter
Spinach is a great winter edible and grows especially well in warm winters. Like most plants its growth rate will fall during the longer months but spinach will survive. If you have access to a greenhouse spinach can be grown all of the year round.
Can Spinach survive frost?
Yes, spinach can survive frosts, it’s one of nature’s survivors when it comes to cold temperatures. For optimal results though, spinach benefits from cover through sustained cold weather
Autumn to Winter Root vegetables
Salads are not the only edible plant you can grow in your winter foodscaped garden! There are several root vegetables that are frost resistant and can be grown through the winter months.
Growing Carrots in autumn and winter
Carrots are another cold hardy vegetable that can be grown throughout the autumn and winter months. Not only can they take the chill, the slower growth and lower temperatures make for even sweeter tasting carrots!
Can carrots survive a frost?
Yes carrots can survive a light frost, they will not survive the ground freezing over though so get them up before this happens!
How to grow carrots in Winter
Carrots are best grown in pots or tubs during the cooler months. This allows you to bring them in during heavy frosts. Carrots will survive a light frost, however it is best to get them dug up before the freezes over.
Growing Turnips in autumn and winter
Turnips are great in stews, casseroles, boiled up and mashed with carrots. They are a well known autumn/winter staple in Britain. Naturally the reason for this is because they are a cold hardy root vegetable that can be grown during the colder months.
Can turnips survive frost?
Yes, being a vegetable Turnips can survive a ground frost, the leaves may take a beating, but as long as the ground doesn’t freeze over, your turnip will be fine.
Growing Beetroot in autumn and winter
Beetroot is one of the tastiest and healthiest of the root vegetables. It’s dark red colour and flavour are one of a kind. Beetroot is used to top off a local favourite around where I live called ‘Scouse’. This is a stew believed to be Scandinavian in its origin.
Can Beetroot survive a frost?
Yes, as with most autumn and winter vegetables, they can take a night or two of a ground frost. The only thing to watch out for is for the temperatures to freeze over the ground. This will damage the root which will in turn kill or render it non edible, but a light frost is no problem.
Growing Potatoes in autumn and winter
The humble potato is a tremendous plant that has saved many people from starvation over the years. This is in part due to how hardy it is, and includes its ability to survive and grow in cooler environments.
By growing potatoes and other root vegetables in containers, pots or bags you can overcome the issue of frost. On cooler nights, move your potatoes into a protected area or cover them with a poly tunnel. This will help keep the frost from damaging the leaves.
It’s important to note that you do not want to move plants into areas where the temperature is unnaturally warm (Like your living room). Your only aim is to keep the frost off, a porch or shed are good places to keep them for a night.
Can potatoes survive a frost?
Yes, potatoes can survive a light frost, however they will die back in the darker and cooler months. Until then potatoes can tolerate temporary light frosts, there are a few things you can do to help them though.
How to protect potatoes in cold weather
- Plant your potatoes in mounded rows, this helps warm the soil faster
- Spread a light mulch at the base of the plants, use something like straw or leaves
- Cover your plants in either a polytunnel or fabric to trap in heat at night
Growing Parsnips in autumn and winter
Parsnips are great winter hardy vegetables that do very well in cooler climates. They are in fact a cool climate crop that does better in a cold climate. With this in mind they still need some attention during the frosty months.
Can parsnips survive a frost?
Yes, parsnips can survive a frost. It is actually recommended to leave harvest until after the first frost to help sweeten the crop. As a root vegetable, parsnips can handle a light frost with no problem. It is advised to get them out of the ground before the round freezes as this will affect taste.
Growing Swede in autumn and winter
Do I need a poly tunnel to grow winter vegetables?
No, you do not need a polytunnel, BUT they are very beneficial for keeping your crops a little bit warmer for a little while longer. This can obviously help push a bumper crop or keep your winter greens from dying off during harsher autumn or winter conditions.
If you do not have a greenhouse a polytunnel is a great way to help gain a few extra weeks out of the growing season.
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