How to Grow Winter Vegetables by Charles DowdingCharles DowdingSowing and planting winter vegetables – in early summer!

What you need to do in July

Charles Dowding has not dug, except to clear perennial weeds and turf, for twenty-five years; he started growing organic vegetables commercially in 1982 and has farmed in both Somerset and France, and had a programme of Gardener’s World devoted to his farm. He now crops almost an acre on intensive raised beds, runs courses, and sells salad bags and veg boxes from his farm. He contributed to The Complete Manual of Organic Gardening (Headline 1992), and writes for RHS magazine and Blackmore Vale magazine. He lives in Shepton Montague, Somerset. His website is http://www.charlesdowding.co.uk.

In this article, taken from his book How to Grow Winter Vegetables, Charles Dowding tells you what you need to do in July to sow, plant and prepare for an abundance of vegetables ready for to harvest and enjoy all the way through winter.

“An invaluable book, intelligent of course, and inspiring too.” – Anna Pavord

“Charles’s book celebrates all that is good about growing year-round – I guarantee that you’ll actually look forward to winter after this read.” – Alys Fowler

“This book opens up a needlessly neglected and wonderful part of gardening – winter with your own vegetables is a much better place to be.  Charles’s book is a comprehensive, practical and inspiring guide.” – Sarah Raven

 


Sowing and planting overview for July

  Indoors Outdoors
Sow   

Early July: chard / leaf beet, chicory for hearts, kale, parsley, spring cauliflower

Late July: chard / leaf beet, chervil, chicory for leaf, Chinese cabbage, coriander, parsley, wild rocket

Early July: carrot, chard / leaf beet, chicory for hearts, parsley

Late July: chervil, Chinese cabbage, coriander, wild rocket
Plant   Beetroot, kale, leek, purple sprouting broccoli, spring cauliflower, swede, winter cabbage (savoy)
General   Thin carrots and possibly swedes and beetroot. Water celeriac. Clear ground as harvests finish.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be wary of the seductions of July – there are wonderful harvests to gather and savour, the garden is full, meals are adorned with fresh vegetables now and for weeks or months ahead. But how many months?

Vegetables that see their final harvest in July include overwintered plantings of garlic and broad beans, and most early plantings of lettuce, carrots, peas, broad beans, cabbage, cauliflower, calabrese, spring onions, early potatoes and spinach.

This frees up ground for the impressive number of vegetables that can be sown and planted in July – several of them for harvesting in winter months.

However, the weather in July can cause some difficulties. On the one hand it may be hot and dry, so that new sowings and plantings need careful watering, at least until plants are well established. On the other hand it may be relentlessly wet, in which case slugs will probably cause damage to small seedlings.

In either case it is often easier to work with plants than to sow direct. Tiny seedlings are quickly mown off by summer slugs, whose appetite seems more voracious than that of spring ones. And wellgrown plants can establish quite quickly in hot, dry soil that has enough organic matter to hold moisture from a couple of welltimed waterings, with water applied only to the roots of the plants – once at planting time and then again two or three days later.

Order of weekly sowings in July

An approximate order of sowing in July, for winter harvests, is as follows.

• First week: carrot (though June better), cauliflower, chicory for hearts, kale

• Second week: chard / leaf beet, chicory for hearts, parsley

• Third week: chard / leaf beet, parsley

• Fourth week: Chinese cabbage, chicory for leaves, chervil, coriander, wild rocket

Beetroot

Beetroot plants can be set out until late July, but early in the month is more likely to yield roots of a good size for winter storage. Of all plants suitable for July planting (mostly brassicas), beetroot is the least likely to suffer pest and disease problems.

Broccoli, purple sprouting

Plants of purple sprouting broccoli may go in right at the end of July, although mid-month is a good average time, from a June sowing. As with swedes and cabbages, they often need netting against birds.

Cabbage, winter (savoy)

Savoy cabbages can be planted as late as mid- July and are easier to grow than ballheads.

Chard & leaf beet

Rainbow Chard

• Best sowing time: mid-July, indoors or outdoors, for autumn and winter harvests

• Other possible times: until early August indoors

• Chard is more colourful; leaf beet is tastier – both can be eaten raw when small

• Can follow a huge range of early-cropping vegetables, especially when raised as plants

 

 

Varieties

Leaf beet is often offered with no named variety, or perhaps as ‘Erbette’, which is certainly of good flavour. Chard varieties have more to do with stem colour, such as ‘Rhubarb Chard’, with red stems, and ‘Rainbow Chard’ or ‘Five Colours’, which is usually a mix of white, yellow, orange, red and violet stems.

Sowing & planting out

Sowings in mid-July should have mediumsized leaves by late August, for harvests throughout autumn as well as winter, if it is mild. Sowings in late July still have time to establish well before winter and should start cropping by mid- to late September. Early August sowings will make smaller plants, still worthwhile for winter and spring.

Only a few plants are needed for most households, so it works well to sow in pots or modules, two or three seeds in each, for planting out three or four weeks later. A fortnight after sowing, if there are any seedlings in colours you do not want, you can remove them.    

Spacing

For large leaves, 30cm (12") is good, or down to 15cm (6") in all directions for smaller leaves and for use in salads.

Problems

Small seedlings may be nibbled by birds, which is another reason to sow seed in pots in a protected space. Slugs are often a pest, at all stages of growth: remove any you see while picking leaves, and keep soil weed free around plants at all times.

Stems can become tough if allowed to grow large, but chard stems do look impressive and lend a beautiful element of colour and sculpture to the vegetable plot.

Older leaves tend to discolour with pale brown spots of fungal origin, but they are still edible.

Leaf miner causes rotten brown patches in leaves as the maggots chew around inside, after small flies have laid eggs on the leaves. The maggots pupate and live in soil before hatching after a few weeks, so there is no easy answer. Try growing chard in soil where nothing related was grown last year (leaf beet, beetroot, orach, tree spinach – also fat hen!) and cover new plantings with fleece or mesh.

 

Chicory (hearts)

'Luisa' chicory• Best sowing time: early to mid-July

• Other possible times: until 25 July

• Best sown under cover in seed trays or modules, but can also be sown direct

• Chicory can follow many vegetables, even onions

• Seedlings are susceptible to slugs, but older plants have few pests

• The potential rewards are high: a second crop offering delicious winter salad

Varieties

Most sources offer chicory for hearting called ‘radicchio’ of one kind or another, with names such as ‘Cesare’ or ‘Red Devil’. They are ‘Palla Rossa’ types, meaning ‘Red Ball’ – a fair description of their hearts. Alternatively, the pretty ‘Lusia’ has a mostly green outer heart with gorgeous yellow-and-pink inner leaves, and there are different varieties of longleaved, deep red ‘Treviso’ chicories, which have exceptional frost hardiness, although their yield is poor. Chicories from Verona are good for making small hearts in late winter. There are also ‘Sugarloaf’ chicories, whose hearts are long, large and pale green, to harvest in autumn and store.

Watch for the hearts: once plants are well established they can tolerate dry conditions in August and early September before growing strongly in autumn, when they look shiny and beautiful. Hearts develop quite late in the plants’ lives and, once firm, do not stand for more than a few weeks before some of their leaves start to rot.

Sowing & planting out

The date of sowing is extremely important. Too early, in May, for example, mostly results in plants flowering rather than hearting. June and even early July sowings are on the early side for winter use, giving hearts by September or early October, while sowings in late July give plants too little time to make tight hearts.

Which leaves the middle of July. My preferred date is around 15th-23rd for winter hearts, and I suggest sowing in early July in colder areas.

Summer slugs can cause havoc among seedlings and even small plants, but are largely avoided by raising sturdy plants indoors. Sow in seed trays to prick out one seedling per pot or module, or sow three seeds per module and thin to the strongest.

Spacing

A spacing of 30-35cm (12-14") allows enough room for good-sized hearts.

Problems

Slugs are the main and, thankfully, only significant pest. Rotting of heart leaves occurs when hearts stand for too long.

Early frost of about -3°C or -4°C (27°F or 25°F), from about late October onwards, can damage hearts that have firmed up at that point. Covering chicories in November and December with a layer or two of fleece is often worthwhile.

 

Jobs for July

Carrots that were sown in June will benefit from some thinning in July, if you want large roots for winter. Other plants that were sown direct, such as swede and beetroot, will also need thinning.

In some years you may need to spend quite a bit of time watering in July, and little time weeding, while in other years of abundant rainfall there may be plenty of weeds and no need to water.

In either case, July is a busy month, especially when you are serious about raising new plants and clearing ground of old ones, all in good time for second crops.

Harvesting of summer crops also takes more time than in June, as courgettes, peas and beans all become increasingly productive. Sometimes, when all this is happening, it takes a real effort to remember those sowings for winter vegetables – and there are more to come in August and early September.

BUY CHARLES DOWDING'S HOW TO GROW WINTER VEGETABLES for information on other vegetables that need attention in July, including:

CHICORY (leaves)

CHINESE CABBAGE

KALE

LEEK

SWEDE

WINTER HERBS

Extracted from How to Grow Winter Vegetables by Charles Dowding, published by Green Books

 

How to Grow Winter Vegetables by Charles Dowding

For more information or to buy the book now, visit our online bookshop

Other best-selling titles from Charles Dowding: 

Salad Leaves by Charles DowdingOrganic Gardening by Charles Dowding