Cold weather is no excuse for not growing any vegetables – you just need to research carefully and pick the species that are hardy enough to thrive without so much sun.
Certain equipment is vital to protect seedlings from wind and frost – if you don’t have a greenhouse or polytunnel, then secure a small, plastic tunnel over each crop to keep each crop warm.
While pests are less of a threat in winter due to hibernation, don’t forget that produce may not need the same amount of watering as in summer and plan to leave enough space for more planting next year.
This preparation will pay off in spring when you are munching on a home-grown salad or freshly picked peas weeks ahead of the usual harvest time.
1. BROAD BEANS
A great variety to sow in the autumn and winter is the hardy Aquadulce Claudia. By planting a little earlier, you will harvest a crop up to a month before spring-sown beans are ready, and they will be less affected by blackfly.
Plant the seeds relatively close together so they support each other as they grow. Don’t forget to keep the plant tips – they taste delicious wilted with a little butter.
2. WINTER LETTUCE
There are a few types that can stand the British winter, offering harvests right through to spring.
The hardiest ones to go for are the Winter Density and Winter Gem - a variety of the popular Little Gem.
You can plant right up until mid-November, but ensure you have good drainage as the seedlings will freeze if pooled in water.
Try to get a sunny spot – consider a polytunnel if your location is prone to severe winters.
For a late spring crop you can start sowing seeds in late autumn.
Plant them directly into the ground at a depth of one inch, being careful not to plant on the same patch as the previous year to avoid pest and disease issues.
An early variety such as Douce de Provence works well, or a similar rounded seed type.
When you harvest, don’t throw out the pea shoots – their strong flavour works really well in salads and stir-fries.
As it has a long growing period, you can plant garlic at most times of the year. The optimum months are October and November, which will result in a crop by the following summer.
Plant the individual cloves at a depth of 2.5in–1.5in for heavier soils – and leave around a foot between each one.
The Solent Wight, which was bred especially for the UK on the Isle of Wight, is a great choice for beginners.
5. PERPETUAL SPINACH
Strictly speaking a chard, perpetual spinach has a very similar flavour to true spinach. However, it is much easier to grow, especially in the colder season. It constantly produces new crops, too, when it’s picked. Plant in the shadier areas of the garden, but with good drainage, and ensure you remove the flowers to prevent it running to seed.
Certain varieties of carrots, such as Adelaide and Giant Red, can be grown in your garden, but only if you have some form of cover.
Ideally, grow them in a greenhouse or polytunnel.
7. ONIONS AND SHALLOTS
Autumn planting onions will virtually look after themselves over the winter, and you can get away with setting the seeds as late as November. Be sure to pick the correct types for this season, including Troy, Shakespeare, Electric and Radar.
Shallots will also work well. Be careful where you plant them because if you plan to do more planting in early spring, they will still be in the ground. Leave 10cm between the plants and cover with fleece to stop birds uprooting them.
8. SPRING CABBAGE
It’s too late to sow these now, but if you can get hold of some seedlings then they can be transplanted. After planting out, cover with nets to protect them from birds.
Firm planting is important, so don’t be afraid to really press down on the soil around the transplanted seedlings – but be careful not to damage the stem.
Straight after watering, place felt discs around the stems to avoid attacks from cabbage root fly.
Unlike most other vegetables, asparagus plants are perennial, so choose where you plant them carefully.
Pick an autumn type, such as Pacific 2000, and ensure the bed is weed-free.
Although the plants will take two years or more before you can harvest them, each crown will produce up to 25 spears a year and, if looked after, will continue producing for up to 25 years.
10. PAK CHOI
This oriental vegetable can withstand chillier temperatures. It is typically grown over the summer, however if you keep it under the cover of a greenhouse you will be able to harvest the following year.
Opt for a variety that is resistant to disease because Chinese cabbages can be susceptible to yellow virus, clubroot and black rot.