Winter vegetable growing for northern climates

Information sheet

With some planning the vegetable garden can be productive all year round. Plants grow for longer in northern climates and there is less need to water or weed winter crops.

  • School term: All year round
  • Level of experience: No experience needed
  • Subject(s): English, Science, PSHE

Cooler winter growing conditions mean there is more moisture in the soil and fewer weeds in the vegetable garden. Lower levels of pests and diseases make for less challenging growing conditions than the warmer months of the year. A greenhouse, poly tunnel or other winter protection methods can be fully utilized to either extend the growing season or protect tender crops. Look for winter varieties when selecting seeds.

What you can grow for winter

Broad beans, spinach, kale, green curled borecole, spring green cabbage, calabrase, winter purslane, land cress, corn salad, mustard, mizuna, pak choi, onion, spring onion, garlic, leek, chicory, turnip, rainbow chard, parsnips, winter lettuce and winter cropping potatoes.

When to sow vegetables for winter harvests

Spring & summer

Sow hardy winter vegetables such as sprouting broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, winter cabbage and leeks in late spring or early summer as they take several months to reach maturity. They stand well in frosty weather and can be harvested throughout the winter months.

Sow leafy crops such as chard, chicory, land cress and parsley in early summer for autumn harvests that can last into winter if they are provided with some fleece or crop protection.

Late summer & autumn

Sow corn salad, land cress and ornamental salad leaves such as komatsuna, mibuns, mizuna, mustard and rocket.These will provide cut and come again leaves through the autumn and winter if covered with a cloche, coldframe or fleece. Spring cabbage can be sown in August.

Potatoes can be planted in mid to late summer for winter harvests. Broad beans, garlic and overwintering onion sets can be planted in October. Whilst spring onion crops require protection from the cold from October onwards.

How to grow vegetables for winter harvests

Sow brassicas and leeks into a seedbed outside or in seed trays, module trays or pots indoors. Parsnips can be sown direct into the ground. Be aware they may take several weeks to germinate.

Harden off seedlings raised in the greenhouse thoroughly before planting them outside. Then transplant seedlings to their final conditions when they have formed small sturdy plants with two or four pairs of true leaves (in the case of leeks when they are pencil thick). Sow salad plants direct into the ground in summer in shallow drills, water the drill beforehand if the soil is dry.

Use space wisely by sowing or transplanting seedlings into the ground vacated by early crops. Water plants if the soil is dry and hoe to remove any weeds. Cover salads and leafy crops with cloches or protective structures before the first frosts begin.

Cultivation notes

  • Brussels sprouts can withstand harsh winter weather in-situ
  • Kales will produce green all winter and later a flush of tasty shoots in late winter or spring, they also add an ornamental element to the vegetable garden.
  • Leeks can look a bit sad after severe frost but can recover
  • Modern hybrid savoy cabbages and other overerwintering cabbages such as January King are hardy and can be sown after other over wintered crops for the following year (such as Broad beans)
  • Broad beans should be an autumn sown variety such as Aquadulce
  • Parsnips are resistant to frost
  • Purple 'Cape' cauliflowers produce small heads in February
  • Sprouting broccoli shrugs off hard weather and develops shoots when the air warms up

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