10 May 2015

Growing winter greens; eat your garden all year round

Red Russian kale, more tender than usual curly kales and almost ornamental in looks.

It might seem a bit soon to be thinking about winter but here's a quick reminder for anyone wanting to grow brassicas (Purple Sprouting broccoli, calabrese, romanesco cauliflower, Cavolo Nero or other kales) for eating from autumn through to spring next year: Start your seeds off now.  (Having said that, mine were started three weeks ago.)

I've sown my seeds into space-saving peat-free jiffy's, those little discs that plump up with water into planting modules. I can get 16 onto an Ikea plastic plate which then acts as a drip tray. Once they've got their first true leaves, I repot each module straight into a 3inch square pot of soil based compost and that's where they stay for the next few months, usually on my balcony where I can keep them well watered, yet hardened off.

In late July/early August, I'll plant the little brassicas out into the beds that the peas and beans have vacated (see note below), five to a one square metre bed, each plant next to a stake or cane that will support it as it grows. Because they'll grow relatively slowly, I'll underplant each brassica with a row of chard or spinach. With luck and good weather, I'll be picking baby leaves from these rows before winter but, even so, the plants will establish a good root system and grow away quickly when the soil warms in spring and lighter days return.

As winter approaches, I'll mulch around the base of each plant for a bit of protection and to put some nutrients back into the soil. Last year I grew autumn broccoli, christmas broccoli, early spring broccoli, etc and managed to pick floret stems or leaves from the garden throughout winter.  Cavolo Nero and Russian Kale stand well throughout even the coldest weather and my last broccoli plant will feed me until mid-May.  A little bit of cash spent on seeds has saved me a small fortune at the supermarket plus the quality of fresh, organic home-grown produce is outstanding. I can get quite snooty eyeing up (and passing by) the veg in the supermarket!

Brassicas like PSB have got a reputation for growing really large. To be honest, yes they do - but, by the time I plant my potted brassicas out, there's very little else growing apart from herbs - or you can tuck the small brassicas in among late peas.  Give it a try as I firmly believe that growing good veg is achievable by everyone, whether starting out or more experienced, and the joy of picking your own veg right through winter will put a smile on your face even in the darkest, coldest months! (If you're anything like me.)

Top to bottom:
Calabrese, October
Calabrese, early December
Purple Sprouting Broccoli, early December
PSB, early February
Cavolo Nero kale, early February

And there's a bonus - at the end of their growth, the last florets will burst into flower giving a much needed food source for bees. It's a win:win situation.



Note: Peas and beans fix nitrogen back into the soil through nodules on their roots so it's best to cut off the old plants at soil level when clearing the bed; the remaining roots continue to deposit nitrogen into the soil as they decompose, giving a lovely feed of nutrients to the next plants in the bed, i.e. your brassicas.

Apologies to readers of this blog who are already very well informed about growing winter greens - I've posted this as there was interest in the subject after one of my late winter blogs.  I'm hoping that this information will help at least one more person to grow their own PSB this winter!

A postscript:
I buy brassica seeds in small packets from More Veg as I don't have to fill an allotment with plants so just a few plants does me. (I'm growing 10 for late summer/winter/spring and have 4 currently growing in the garden.)
Carol Klein recommends the following varieties in her book Grown Your Own Veg: Arcardia for late summer; Fiesta for early autumn; Rudolph, early maturing purple spears for midwinter. Also Belstar, Red Arrow (both long season plants) and Trixie, high yielding and compact.  Out of these, I'm growing Rudolph (as well as Red Admiral, Calabrese Green Sprouting and Summer Purple broccoli plus Cavolo Nero, Curly Red and Red Russian kales). 

16 comments:

  1. I am in the ranks of the "Converted" already! I have planted out my Brussels Sprouts and "de Ciccio" Broccoli, and have sowed seeds for next year's PSB. I have stopped growing kale and Cavolo Nero because my wife doesn't really like it, and it seems unfair to grow something that only I like.

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    1. Likewise, Mark! In fact, I think it was the regular photos of your winter PSB that started me thinking about growing veg all through the winter/spring. What a shame Jane doesn't like kale; I used to wonder what to do with it but now enjoy it roasted, stir fried and wilted over pasta. Lest I sound like a health nut, there's always lashings of butter involved! ;)

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  2. I loved this post Caro. I always fail dismally at winter greens, and I'm never really sure when to do things. So thanks for the advice, I shall have a look through my seeds and see what I have. I like that you keep them in pots for quite a while until there is space, I can see this working well for me. Fresh winter veg from the plot is such a luxury. I only had leeks this year, but even that was a treat. CJ xx

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    1. It took me ages to realise that I couldn't leave thinking about winter veg until autumn and then was SO envious looking at photos of lovely PSB (see my comment to Mark, above!). I buy a lot of broccoli and kale at the supermarket in winter so it's been such a joy to pop down to the garden and pick my own just before supper this year. The pot thing was devised out of necessity and has worked really well - continuous harvests from October 2014 through to May this year! Let me know how you get on. Caro xx

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  3. Great post Caro, though I fear I won't be starting mine off until next week now...

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    1. Thanks Janet. As long as you start your seeds off before July you'll probably be okay!! (Said as I stare at a huge pile of seed packets strewn across my floor - decisions, decisions!)

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  4. An interesting, and informative, post for anyone who wants to try growing winter greens. Flighty xx

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  5. That Red Russian Kale does look good! I agree, you can't beat winter veg, I have had fresh Kale throughout winter and spring and picked the last of the purple sprouting broccoli today, it's absolutely gorgeous isn't it?xxx

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    1. A kindred spirit! It's well worth the effort to have lovely lovely fresh garden veg in winter - I love being able to collect my dinner in the evenings straight from the garden. I'll be picking the last of the broccoli in the next few days then let the last few spindly shoots flower for the bees. Love that buzzing sound as I'm weeding in the evenings! xx

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  6. I love Cavelo Nero and Russian Red Kale, fortunately for me Wellywoman always grows both. looking forward to meeting you on Monday. Fingers crossed.

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    1. You're lucky to have the space to grow loads - it's these sort of veg that make me wish for an allotment! Luckily both of those look good tucked among flowers so I can probably sneak a few more kales in. ;) I'm getting quite excited about Monday - now just have to decide on what footwear to replace workboots ! (And hope it's not boiling hot on the day - dreadful for photos!!)

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  7. Well I think it's a very informative post. I have some white broccoli seeds somewhere which I want to try this year. I shall have to get a wriggle on & find them x

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    1. Ah, thanks, Jo. White broccoli sounds very interesting, one I haven't come across. Don't plant your brassicas out too soon after germination as they're a favourite food of our sluggy friends! x

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  8. We never had time last year with moving to grow a winter crop thank you for the timely reminder! Sarah x

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    1. You're very welcome, Sarah - glad my post was timely for you! x

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Caro x

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