Good gardening is all about good planning. We prepare flower beds months in advance, planting autumn nerines in spring and spring dwarf tulips in autumn. The same applies in the veg garden. Every fruit and vegetable has its time, so enjoy the thrill of the first taste of the season, with more in store next month. Succulent sun-ripened strawberries and tomatoes are for summer, not the depths of winter, when leeks and Brussels sprouts come into their own.
And freshness is all. There’s nowt beats asparagus cut minutes before basting in the oven, or a cob of sweetcorn cob straight from the plant.
Dedicated veg growers are planning winter pleasures now. Against the odds, neeps and leeks are important players. Take the humble neep, once considered only fit for animals. The traditional view is that these turnips need a touch of frost to bring out the flavour, but I thoroughly enjoy their more delicate, less intense flavour in the autumn. And the leafy tops are a bonus when chopped over some champit tatties. But you’ll only get that when growing your own.
So, crazy as it sounds, I’m busy preparing a full third of my kitchen garden for these winter crops. Visitors are astonished when they see a 10m x 1m bed stuffed with leeks until I explain they’re looking at six months of eating, and they’re amazed at how tasty freshly dug leeks can be.
As with tatties and peas, most winter vegetables have varieties for harvesting successionally. The early, mid-season and late varieties are sown or planted at the same time and programmed to grow quickly or slowly to provide successional harvesting. I have three leek varieties: Pandora for autumn and early winter; Tadorna for December and January; and St Victor to last until early April. And I start the sprout season with Nautic and end with Cascade.
You might get away with one or two Black Tuscan kail plants in a restricted space, or one in a large container – they are attractive from autumn to spring and provide a rewarding harvest.
But most winter vegetables need space and feed. When using manure, make sure it’s very well-rotted, so it can release its nutrients to the crop straight away. And there’s no doubt a generous dose of home compost works a treat. I reckon you need two or preferably three barrowloads for a 10m x 1m bed of leeks or brassicas. If you can’t spare that much, use what you’ve got and supplement with pelleted chicken manure.
Good spacing matters. A 1m-wide bed takes four leek plants, 22-25cm apart, with 30cm between the rows. Plant more closely and you’ll have to dig twice as many pencil-sized leeks at a time.
Brassicas are even greedier, especially cauliflowers. They’ll only develop decent curds if spaced 60cm apart. Sprouts, broccoli and kail should have the same spacing but tolerate 45cm, and cabbages cope with 40cm.
As with all new planting, regular watering is essential. The planting technique for leeks shows this. Make a narrow hole, 15cm deep, using a dibber – the top of an old spade shaft works well but you’ll also get one at a garden centre. When dropped into the hole, leek roots sit on the ground and are gradually covered as water washes in. Water over the first few weeks.
Young brassicas must also be kept moist. When planting, first fill the hole with water. Then water regularly until fully established, after which the plants usually look after themselves. I continue to give them a weekly soak with my leaky hose system.
When planting, remember to wrap cabbage collars round each of the brassicas to prevent cabbage rootfly laying eggs close to stems: the larvae consume the roots, killing the young plants.
Source : HeraldScotland