It’s summer’s final push. As we harvest the last fruits of the season, it’s time to plan what to grow next as we barrel towards cooler days and colder nights.
Gone will be the days of randy courgettes popping up faster than baby bunnies and runner beans dangling gayly from their poles, wolf whistling as we pass by with our empty trugs. The smell of fresh tomatoes being picked from the vine will soon become a distant memory.
For many of us, the winter veg have already been planted. Right now, I’m eagerly watching my red variety of sprouts reveal their tiny nuggets of brassica joy. However, whilst they fill their beds with the promise of winter casseroles and Sunday roasts, there’s still things to grow to fill the gaps.
Pak choi, lettuce, beetroot, ‘perpetual’ spinach and Kohl rabi are the answer for me. With a cooler climate, bolting is no longer an issue. Also, lettuce seeds germinate more easily at slightly lower temperatures. Apart from raids from the local slug posse, these are vegetables that take care of themselves.
But if the idea of wandering over to the plot on a chilly autumn morning for a handful of leaves seems a stretch too far, then why not grow them in pots or containers at home.
We have several old victorian chimney pots in our garden so I like to put terracotta pots in the top of them. Terracotta holds the heat and keeps the soil warm, ideal for nurturing my lettuce leaves. Also, it seems too much of an effort for the pests to climb up.
As there’s only two of us at Agents of Field HQ, plus our ever fattening cat, there’s only so much we can eat. At this time of year I grow lettuce leaves rather than ‘head forming’ varieties. They’re quicker to reach maturity, nothing gets wasted, and we’re picking right up until the winter months. After that, it’s switching to more hardy lettuce varieties, growing in warmed greenhouses or on kitchen window ledges.
But if you like your winter leaves to have more of a bite, why not grow young kale, such as the Nero de Toscana variety. I grew this the first autumn we had the allotment, and it just kept giving without ever getting tough or tasting bitter.