How to Grow Winter Vegetables by Charles DowdingCharles DowdingIt's not too late to sow and plant in September to harvest a delicious feast of vegetables throughout winter.  Read on to find out what you need to do...

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 toThe 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 September 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 September

  Indoors Outdoors
Sow  Corn salad, oriental leaves in first ten days, salad onion. Also winter salads for cloched & indoor growing. Corn salad, garlic, oriental leaves in first ten days; broad beans & mustard as green manure.

Plant

Some salads & vegetables for winter leaves.

Corn salad, endive for hearts & leaves, garlic, land cress, lettuce, oriental leaves, salads for cloches, salad & wild rocket, sorrel, spinach, spring cabbage, winter purslane, salad onion.

General

Sow first salads for winter leaves, after clearing summer vegetables.

Sow mustard green manure if you have bare spaces.

September is part summer and part autumn, but more of the former. A few last sowings may be made outdoors, and a lot of plantings can happen, in the first week especially. At the month’s end there are some vegetables to plant whose harvests will not happen until the spring.

September plantings are for two different seasons of harvest.

• Plantings in the first half of the month should provide leaves for salads and cooking by late autumn, then through winter in small amounts and more significantly in early spring, especially when covered with fleece or a cloche.

• Plantings after midmonth are of vegetables to overwinter as small plants, but with well developed root systems. These roots enable them to grow quickly in early spring, providing harvests from April to June, at a time when most spring sowings are still growing and are not ready to eat. Other September plantings are made under cover, mostly late in the month and for salad.

Broad beans – both green manure & salad leaf Broad beans can be sown as a green manure in September, in rows about 30cm (12") apart and beans set every 10cm (4"). Keep them weeded, and from about the middle of October you can take a harvest of bean tops for salad, by pinching out the top 3-5cm (1-2") of growth. New growing points will then develop lower down and harvests of shoots can continue all winter in mild areas, but plants are usually killed by frost at some point.   

Corn salad - Corn salad (lamb’s lettuce) can be sown until about 10 September, but every day of sowing later will result in the winter harvest being postponed by about a week, and it will probably be smaller too. Plants can be set out at the end of September and take a few weeks to settle in.

Endive Endive planted in early September may make a small heart, and it needs planting by mid September for winter and spring harvests. Harvesting a few outer leaves should also be possible in November, if the autumn is mild.

Green manures

How to Grow Winter Vegetables - Leaf radish in October

Leaf radish in October, still growing rapidly: the leaves and roots are good to eat if wanted

Mustard, leaf radish, mizuna

• Best sowing time: early to mid-September

• Other possible times: August for leaf radish, late September for mustard

• Either sow broadcast, lightly raked in, or in 25cm (10") rows

• Seed can be covered with a light dressing of compost Mustard is a fast-growing plant and is usually killed by frost

• Leaf radish and mizuna can be hoed off if they survive winter

• Sow seed sparingly, about 5cm (2") apart, or more thickly for later sowings

These plants are useful if you don’t want to keep planting up the post-harvest bare spaces with vegetables. They pull in energy from the sun and add it back to the soil, smothering many weeds at the same time. Mustard is killed by any hard frost of about -5°C (23°F) or lower. By spring, all that remains are some strawy stems on the surface and decomposing roots underneath: rake off the debris of old stems, remove any weeds, and soil is then ready to sow or plant. If you spread some compost on top of the mustard seed in September, your soil will be in a lovely friable condition by spring.

Mizuna and leaf radish are two fast-growing oriental leaves, which can be grown both for green manure and to eat if needed. Sow at about twice the usual rate, as early in September as possible.

Land cress, rocket (salad & wild), winter purslane Early September is the best time for planting these, to have a fair chance of salad leaves in the winter half of the year. Later plantings until the end of September can be covered with fleece or a cloche to help them grow.

Lettuce, spring cabbage & salad onion These vegetables are not expected to grow large before winter, so planting them in the last week of September is a good time – so that they have just enough warmth and light to establish roots and grow a little before winter sets in. Cabbage probably wants covering with netting against pigeons, lettuce may be fleeced from about December, and spring onions usually stand all weathers.

Oriental leaves Komatsuna, leaf radish, mizuna, mustard, pak choi & tatsoi Oriental leaves can still be sown in the first week of September and should reach a worthwhile size before winter. Although these sowings may not give many harvests in autumn, they should be well placed to survive winter outdoors, especially if protected with fleece or a cloche, from the middle or end of October (see Chapter 14). All oriental vegetables for leaves can be planted outdoors in September, preferably by mid-month. They survive outdoors in temperatures as low as -5°C (23°F), but below that some plants may be lost and fleece or a cloche is worthwhile.

Salads, winter Indoor sowings of salads for growing in greenhouses, polytunnels and conservatories are explained in Chapter 15 (page 202 onwards). Most of them are made in September. Many kinds of salad plants can be set out in about the middle of September, from late August sowings, then covered with cloches in October.

Sorrel & spinach Early in the month is an excellent time for setting out spinach plants to crop in the spring. Later plantings will do better for being covered with fleece or a cloche. Sorrel needs planting by the first week of September, but August is better.

Jobs for September This month is more about harvesting than new planting, but I hope these notes encourage you to realise the possibilities for keeping your plot productive until the season’s end. Remember to keep pulling any small weeds, which would otherwise grow and mature fast, at a time of year when growth is still rapid.

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

How to Grow Winter Vegetables by Charles Dowding

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Salad Leaves by Charles DowdingOrganic Gardening by Charles Dowding