Sow seed now to enjoy an early spring harvest! In a new series, our garden editor Cinead McTernan, shares ideas for things to do in your plot.
“This time last year I was busy planning the transformation of our small, urban backyard plot into an edible paradise. Though there was plenty of hard graft to be done outside - we had to take down a dilapidated shed, dig up shrubs from the two narrow borders and lift the lawn - I didn’t want to miss the chance of having veg ready to plant out in early spring and produce early crops. Autumn is a great time to sow some types of vegetables that can cope over the cold, winter months and are ready to put on a growth spurt once the warmer weather arrives in spring.”
“Seed catalogues are the best place to start if you’re looking for inspiration or need a guiding hand about what can be sown and grown in each month. I’m well aware that while lots of friends fold down corners of pages in clothes catalogues, promising themselves they’ll go back and hone down the order to one or two choice items, I do this with pages showing fruit and vegetables. It’s not that I couldn't do with a nice chunky knitted jumper and a new pair of jeans, but I just get more excited about an ‘Earth Chestnut’ from Thomas Etty that produces delicious edible roots that taste like sweet chestnuts, seeds that can be used a substitute for cumin and leaves that taste much like parsley, or ’Egyptian Walking Onions’ from Otter Farm, that quite literally take a stroll through your plot over the growing season!”
“Broad beans are an excellent crop to sow now, either outdoors in the plot, or, as I did, indoors in pots. Try varieties like ‘Aquadulce Claudia’and ‘De Monica’ which cope well with an autumn sowing. Sow one seed per 9cm pot filled with peat-free multi-purpose compost. I use Carbon Gold’s GroChar seed compost, which is a fantastic growing medium and kind to the environment. Don’t let the compost dry out and keep somewhere that’s cool but frost-free. I don’t have any windowsills and didn’t have a greenhouse, so had to claim a bit of space in our kitchen. It wasn’t ideal - as my husband and son kept telling me - and also meant I was fairly restricted with what I could sow. I managed to do a few sweet peas and a couple of pots of garlic cloves, but there were lots of other varieties I’d loved to have tried.”
“This year is another story: I have a gorgeous potting shed and it’s made all the difference. It will provide a great environment to get seeds off to an early start so they can produce a crop as early as May. If you have windowsills, a patient husband and children, or a greenhouse or potting shed, here’s my list of seeds you can sow now. I look forward to swapping notes in the spring!"
Plant individual cloves in 9cm pots or a modular tray, with the tip just below the surface of the soil. Place in a cool, dry spot and don’t let them dry out over the winter. Plant out in spring, about 10cm apart and keep well watered. Hard-neck types are thought to have stronger flavour but only stores until mid-winter whereas soft-neck types can be kept in the ground until mid-winter (if autumn planted) and produces, smaller tightly packed cloves.
New to me this year, I loved the sound of it being a combination of parsley and celery. It’s a winter hardy perennial, which according to Sarah Raven can be sown undercover until September. Given our warm weather, I think it can still be sown over the next week or so! They need light and a frost-free spot. plant out in spring.
I haven’t had much luck direct-sowing it this summer, so i thought I’d give it a go in a seed tray. A great leaf to sow and grow all year round, it’s going to feature in autumn suppers I hope – with chilli on spaghetti or as a pesto with gnocchi – yum! It needs a sunny spot and shouldn’t dry out.
Another all year round crop, which I grew outside in the raised beds this summer. Delicious and so fragrant when you pick the tips. Like the rocket, another great way to get some fresh, lively greens into home cooked autumn and winter dishes. In theory ready to eat in 3 weeks – will be interesting to see if this is in summer, or a mild autumn too.