Sow a bed of winter salads
Fancy deliciously fresh leafy greens right through the colder months of the year? Then sow a bed of winter salads. This is a great technique for putting your greenhouse borders to good use once the summer crops are cleared – and it’ll also work under a generous-sized cloche in the open garden.
All you need is a raised veg bed* – around 1.2m x 3m will produce salad and to spare for a family of four all winter. If you have fewer to feed, it works just as well in a smaller space – even a 1m x 1m bed will produce generous pickings.
Once you’ve forked over the ground, removed any weeds and added some fresh compost, divide the bed into squares or rectangles using canes or tent pegs and string. Aim for each space to measure around 60cm x 45cm.
Sow each growing space with a different salad leaf of your choice, broadcasting seed freely and covering lightly with soil. Choose from winter lettuces, corn salad, mizuna, mibuna, rocket, red mustard, radishes, winter-hardy spring onions…. whatever takes your fancy. In a few weeks’ time you’ll be picking a few of each for a delicious mixed winter salad, made to order.
* Smith’s raised bed packs can be found at the back of the shop, through the sliding doors and to your right.
Lift main crop potatoes
Now is the time to lift main crop potatoes now they’re fully mature and get them into store ready for winter.
Early main crops like Maris Piper and Desiree are ready for lifting now, with late main crops following in the next couple of weeks. Don’t leave it till September, as blight is an ever-present worry at this time of year: it’s wise to lift the crop a little early rather than lose your harvest.
Choose a dry, sunny day and use a flat-tined potato fork if possible, as they’re less likely to spear tubers. Gently ease entire plants from the soil, collecting potatoes as you go. Fork over the soil thoroughly to make sure you’ve got them all – ‘volunteers’ left behind will be troublesome next year and could carry disease.
Put aside blemished tubers to eat straight away, storing only perfect spuds. Lay the crop out in the sun for a couple of hours, turning halfway through, to harden the skins. They can then be tipped into a double-thickness paper or a hessian sack.
If you store them somewhere cool, dark and dry, potatoes will keep for months. You can then carry on eating home-grown produce long after you’ve put the veg garden to bed.
Dry and store onions
Dry and store onions now that their top growth has browned and begun to droop: this is a sign that they’ve drawn all the energy in their leaves deep down into the roots and are going dormant, ready to store.
Drying your onions hardens the skins and preserves the inner core, keeping it fresh and ready for you to use later in the year. Don’t hurry the drying process: you’ll need at least a couple of weeks. The idea is to keep the skins baking steadily while keeping the air circulating around them. Ideally you should do this in the sunshine, laid on the surface of the soil, but as we all know in the UK two weeks of solid sunshine is a tall order at this time of year!
A slatted drying rack is ideal for keeping the air circulating around your onions as they dry – and you can move it into the greenhouse or conservatory if it’s raining, then back outside when the sun is out. Spread your onions over the top and leave them somewhere warm and sunny to dry off perfectly for winter storage.