With the damp, cold grey days that October can often bring, the idea of sowing seeds is far from most peoples minds. In fact, growing any edible crops over winter would appear to be – at least at first glance – a waste of time and effort. However if you choose your crops carefully you can steal a march on your fellow gardeners by reaping the rewards of an early crop. Check out below for my edible recommendation.
Pea Meteor

Pea Meteor has a neat, dwarf habit producing an abundance of small, well-filled pods. Unlike most peas this variety has very good winter hardiness - even in exposed areas - making it an ideal autumn planting variety. Pea Meteor is better flavoured than the old variety Feltham.

Although best sown from October to November for over-wintering, they can also be sown in March if you have any seed left over.

When then the plants are about 4inches tall provide twiggy sticks or netting for support. Over-wintered sowings will be ready in May and regular picking will encourage further cropping. Remember to protect with netting to prevent damage from pigeons.

Lettuce Winter Gem

A specially bred, Little Gem Cos lettuce, this late season salad is ideal for sowing from September to January. Although this fantastic variety loves the cold it will need to be kept under protection during the worst of the winder either in an unheated greenhouse or in a cold. Lettuce Winter Gem has delicious small, crunchy, sweet hearts equal in taste to Little Gem. Sow seeds into individual pots or a seed tray of a good quality seed compost, cover seeds with 6mm (¼in) of compost or vermiculite, keep at a minimum of 15C (60F), until germination which takes 7-10 days.

Also try Lettuce 'Winter Density - a semi-cos type with outstanding winter hardiness. and one last batch of Lollo Rossa and Bioda, Oriental Mustard,Lambs lettuce - also known as Corn Salad or Mache, Mizuna Kyoto - oriental baby leaf salad, and Mesclun- a mix of small salad leaves popular around the Mediterranean.

Spring Onion Performer

For winter production of delicious spring or bunching onions, Spring Onion Performer is one of the best. It will produce upright, dark green leaves and mild flavoured stems which do not bulb up. The spring onions will prefer a fertile, well-drained soil in full sun. You can in fact sow spring onion performer even later, but they will need the protection of a green house or cloche to perform.

Broad Bean ‘Aquadulce’

Of all the broad bean varieties ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ is universally recognised as being the best for an autumn sowing. It establishes itself quickly and is able to produce a very early crop. In fact it actually needs the cold winter temperatures in order to perform so plant early in cool conditions and try not to sow any later than mid January as this will have a detrimental effect on both the quality and the quantity of the harvest. If the ground is frozen before sowing, lay and secure some polythene or other material down to warm it up.

Click here to learn How to Grow the Autumn Broad Bean 'Aquadulce Claudia'

Green Manures

The practice of growing a green manure comes from agriculture. Historically, it can be traced back to the fallow cycle of crop rotation, which was used to allow soils to recover. They are used as a type of fast growing ‘cover’ crop primarily grown to add nutrients and organic matter to the soil. Leaving your land bare of plants can lead to the breakdown of soil particles, leaching of nutrients, and poorer drainage.

Green manures, especially autumn sown ones, are effective in mopping up nutrients remaining after crops, preventing them being washed away by rain. Italian ryegrass, and rye sown in September are both very hardy, growing all winter before being dug in during the spring in order to release their nutrients as they rot. Fast growing fodder radish or mustard sown before mid-September can be incorporated in October, or their frosted remains left as a mulch.

Using plants from the legume family – such as the broad bean - as a green manure will help to accumulate nitrogen from bacteria in their root nodules. Although they will function best in summer, field beans and vetches can be sown in autumn for cutting in the spring.

Green manures will not only add nutrients to the soil but they will also protect and improve the soil structure – especially important over the winter period – as well as restrict weed growth, and encourage the proliferation of beneficial soil borne organisms. Green manure can also attract native wildlife providing cover and food for predators like frogs, and hoverflies, and - if left to produce flowers - for beneficial insect pollinators.

Typically, a green manure crop is grown for a specific period – usually immediately after one crop finishes but before the next crop is sown - and is then ploughed back into the ground to rot down to release its nutrients. The crop should be cut back before the stems become woody and before flowering to make the most of the available nutrient. At this stage the available nitrogen content is relatively high. Depending on the species of green manure used, you can cut it and just leave it on the soil surface to decompose naturally.

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