Posted by David Domoney, on November 1, 2021.
During this time of the year, it’s important to keep an eye on the weather to check if there are cold frosts on the way. It might not be easy to anticipate oncoming frosts but preparing as much as possible could be a saving grace for your plants. Here are some tips for growing your own winter crops and protecting them through the colder months.
In the ground
When growing crops in the ground it’s not always easy to bring plants indoors. Instead, there are measures to take to protect them in situ. Cloches, polytunnels, and horticultural fleece are some of the popular ways to keep plants sheltered from strong winter weather as well as pests and diseases.
The benefit of cloches is that they work like mini greenhouses or polytunnels, but their small size means they can be moved about easily. However, the benefits of Garantia’s forcing cloche include them having water recesses which allow rainwater to be collected and filtered through, without needing to remove the cloche from the soil. The efficient aeration system also ensures the plants still have the ability to breathe. This way, your broad beans, parsley, and Swiss chard will all be covered but still have access to water.
On the other hand, if you have a line of plants that need protection, such as leafy crops like salads, cabbages, and spinach, these will benefit from shielding. The structures keep them safe from wind, hail, heavy rain, and pests. For long lines of crops, growing tunnels are well suited as you can easily click together the tunnels, as well as the convenient end cap sets, that close onto the end of the tunnel.
With winter weather comes regular rainfall, so preparing your containers by ensuring they can drain efficiently is vital, because herbs are more likely to die due to wet weather compared to cold temperatures. Add pot feet or small bricks underneath pots so that water can exit the holes. Even using old wine corks is an efficient way of raising pots off the ground. Moving plants underneath the eaves of your home or shed will help to shield them from downpours that lead to water logging.
Mint, parsley, and rosemary are all hardy herbs that survive winter, even the snow. However, the cold temperatures will reduce growth therefore it’s vital to harvest less because taking too much can harm the plant. Bay, sage and thyme can be grown outdoors but protected against the cold weather using a cold-frame, cloche, or unheated greenhouse.
Winter may be the time for comfort foods, but you can still pack in plenty of nutrition by growing nutrient dense foods like Swiss chard, which is packed with vitamins A, K and C. Not only is it good for you, but it’s also easy to grow. Over winter, these plants are slow growers, but you can work around this by planting early enough so they reach maturity before the chills of November or grow them in a polytunnel or cloche to give them a little bit of warmth. Keep the roots warm by mulching around the base too.
Alternatively, if you want something that keeps on giving, cut-and -come-again crops like lettuce, spinach, pak choi, perpetual spinach, and coriander are a valuable asset to the veg garden. Perfect for growing in open ground or containers, they can be grown no matter what garden space you have. If you’re short on open ground, the Urban balcony raised bed provides extra space with protection from the cold and birds, as well as relieving you from having to bend down to tend to the crops.
Simply make small drills in peat-free all-purpose compost and water the drills before sowing the seeds and covering them with a thin layer of compost. As the crops will be harvested early and often, the seeds can be sown closer to each other compared to growing mature plants. Water to keep the compost moist to help production of leaves and once they grow to a good enough size to be cut, use clean scissors to snip off a few leaves as you need them.
Prepare plants for the chillier season ahead to ensure they make it through winter, ready to get growing again come spring. From wrapping up plants to moving tender ones indoors and under cloches and polytunnels, there are many steps to take to ensure your garden is kept in good check over winter.