During Autumn and Winter, focus often shifts from looking after your crop to clearing and preparing the soil. I’ve certainly been concentrating far more on digging than the state of my Brussel sprouts over the past few weeks.
And besides, these are winter veg. They’re tough and hardy. They can look after themselves, right?
Well, not entirely. Here are a few things to look out for over the coming months which will help keep the all-important winter harvests coming.
You can leave leeks in the ground all through winter, and pick them as and when you need them. They’re very hardy, so there is no need to dig your leeks up early if you don’t want to.
Do watch out for leek rust though. This is a disease that can still attack until late Autumn and is identified by little orange markings on top and bottom of the leaves. A little leek rust isn’t a massive problem from my experience, but a bad case and your crop is in the lap of the vegetable Gods.
I lost a crop to leek rust a couple of years ago. Here are the steps I took to try and prevent it in the future.
Also, if you have any leeks that are small and puny, don’t worry – they’ll survive winter and put on a growth spurt in Spring. I’ve harvested leeks well into May before.
Watch for the first proper frosts. Sprout flavour sweetens after a frost, especially if you pick your sprout smaller than they are in the shops.
With long, thin stalks, a strong wind can sometimes be a problem for sprouts. Try staking them if the weather is particularly gusty, and mounding the soil up around the bottom of the plant.
Chard and Perpetual Spinach
These leafy greens are pretty much pest and disease-free, give or take a few snail nibbles. Being cut and come again vegetables, remember to harvest regularly to make sure the leaves re-grow.
Chard and perpetual spinach are incredibly hardy, but they might wilt in snow. Worry not though, they’ll soon come back into shape.
The leaves are best picked before they get too big – roughly the size of your hand is perfect.
Like chard, pick the leaves when young and tender. Kale is a cut and come again plant too, so again remember to pick often. Do try and alternate between plants if you can, to give each one a rest.
If you’ve still got carrots in the soil (I have some in containers) harvest them as soon as they are large enough to use. If you leave the roots to grow big you’ll lose out on flavour.
Should the weather turn snowy, try protecting your carrots with horticultural fleece.
Parsnips are ready to be lifted when the leaves die off. However, they can be left in situ, which is useful as the frosts sweeten the root.
Sometimes you might see orangey rot appear on the crown of the root. This is a parsnip canker and is often caused by a lack of water or the soil being too rich. If you suffer from this regularly, try a canker resistant variety, such as Avon.
Don’t Forget the Store!
And of course, keep an eye on your stored veggies, like potatoes. Check bags for rotting potatoes once a week, throwing any soft ones into the compost bin.