Vegetables in December

Surveying your garden’s ability to feed you now is a good opportunity to review growing tactics for next year.

This year most crops did well on the back of a really hot June and July, and we have had a very mild autumn so far. Surprising, then, that many winter crops are looking only a fairly standard size.

Winter leaf crops are most space effective, followed by roots and then fruits (dried beans and squash). Swiss chard and perpetual spinach give green leaves all winter. Also rocket, chervil, coriander, land cress and other outdoor salad such as the mustards, will survive but produce rather tough and coarse leaves unless kept under cloches/fleece or in the greenhouse. Radicchio hearts make our salads beautiful until Christmas, planted in early July and transplanted at 13” spacings after broad beans.

Leeks do well if you don’t have leek moth problems—we grow ours under Enviromesh, which allows us to space them closely at 7” x 13”. We planted both early autumn and late leeks in late April and dibbed the largest in early July.

Cabbage take up a lot of space: for large plants at 24” spacing both ways is needed to get large leaves or large cabbage hearts. We planted Red Drumhead, January King savoy, sprouts and purple sprouting on 1 June and transplanted 3-5 weeks later, mostly under Enviromesh. All the ones under mesh look fabulous, with Drumhead hearts weighing 3kg. Running out of mesh, we transplanted some of these without protection. Some were eaten by blackbirds, so we put netting over as many as we could, but the birds found something else to eat and they are all looking well now even without netting. For some lovely reason we had hardly any caterpillar damage this year. The kale and sprouting had the same treatment, and some were eaten but re-planted from modules and now look good and ready to feed us.

Parsnip sown at 8” x 13” are digging up well and repel pests all winter. Carrots sown at the beginning of June have grown well, but are being attacked by a lot of wildlife in the warm weather, even the root fly has got in there. We prefer to keep them in the soil, but may store some in a sack, where there is often a loss of flavour. Celeriac need 15” square, a lot of water and rich soil, but are eating well now and left in the soil until we have a proper frost.

Beetroot Boltardy from an early July sowing are looking huge but still sweet, and we will lift and store when frost looms to stop them going woody. Turnips sown at the beginning of August area sweet size now, can either be lifted or left to get bigger and perhaps a little tough. Swedes sown in June can be left out until harvested too.

There are plenty of others to feed you through winter. Apart from potatoes and winter squash, which take a lot of room, we also have several kilos of dried Borlotto french beans from two 4’ circular wigwams. Jerusalem fartichokes will grow almost anywhere as perennials, so perfect for low maintenance gardeners! And who will be hiding in the bakery this Christmas? A mince spy.