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26 September 2014

Vegetables for Autumn Planting

Judging by the number of leaves falling into my garden, autumn has arrived. Although you will probably have harvested nearly all your vegetables for this year, it is the time to think about planting over-wintering varieties. The soil is still warm enough to get them off to a good start and you will benefit from an earlier crop next year.

Autumn sown broad beans can be harvested in spring up to a month earlier than spring sown plants, with the added bonus that they don't get blackfly. ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ and 'Super Aquadulce' are the usual recommended varieties for autumn sowings, as they are particularly quick to establish. You may need to put in support for your plants to prevent wind damage during the winter.

You can try sowing peas now to produce a late spring crop, especially in mild areas. Kelvedon Wonder and Meteor are suitable varieties for over-wintering. If you sow direct into the ground, plant them one inch deep and relatively closely at about one inch apart, to make up for a higher loss rate. Plant in groups of three lines all 12in apart to form thick rows, and make each thick row 18in apart. You can speed up germination by putting seeds on a wet kitchen towel on a plate and sow (in modules) when the root starts to develop.

I have always been successful with autumn-planted onion sets and will be planting some more shortly. They are easy to grow and need little attention through the winter. Remember that onions have a long growing season and will be in place until next summer, so you will need to plan your beds in advance. ‘First Early’, Radar and Shakespeare are suitable for over-wintering, as is the red onion ‘Electric’. You can also plant shallots in the autumn - ‘Echalote Grise’ being recommended for its intense and concentrated flavour.

Garlic is another easy crop to grow. Like onions, they have a long growing season and won’t be ready to harvest until next summer, but it is well worth the wait! ‘Wight Cristo’ is well suited to most culinary dishes, but if you enjoy baked garlic try ‘Chesnok Red’ for its delicious creamy texture. Plant the cloves individually to a depth of 2.5in deep on light soils and a lot less deep on heavy soils, but always a minimum of one inch below the surface. The distance should be about one foot apart each way.

There are various leafy vegetables that can be planted now, as they will still put on plenty of growth despite decreasing light levels, and which should keep you supplied for stir fries, soups and leafy salads through to the first frosts. Varieties to sow outdoors include mizuna, winter cress, pak choi (tatsoi) varieties, spicy oriental salad mixes and spinach varieties such as 'Giant Winter'.

If you have the room then why not plant a permanent asparagus bed, choosing an autumn planting variety such as ‘Pacific 2000’ or the colourful variety ‘Pacific Purple’. It will be two years before you can harvest them properly so patience is needed, but as each asparagus crown can produce up to 25 spears per year and will continue cropping for 25 years it will be worth the wait, with the promise of tender, home grown asparagus spears to come.

You know what you need to do, so start preparing your beds and buying your seeds and sets - you will see the benefit next year.
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