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Growing Over Winter: The Basics

02nd October 2018

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Confused about how to sow and look after plants ready for the winter? Don’t worry – GYO is here to help!

What Is Overwintering?
In edible gardening the term overwintering generally refers to looking after plants over the winter months so they can survive the cooler temperatures and bear harvest during this time or in early spring. Vegetables grown over winter generally fall into four categories:
1. Those sown either in spring or summer to be ready in the depths of winter. These includes the likes of leeks, parsnips and sprouts.
2. Quick maturing types which are started in the autumn months to be ready in winter. Examples include radishes, salad leaves, spinach and Oriental vegetables.
3. Those sown or planted in autumn to be ready in spring. These can be extra-hardy varieties of plants not usually sown until the beginning of spring such as broad beans, but can also include crops such as onions and garlic.
4. Gardeners can also overwinter short-lived or tender perennials, which are generally treated as annuals. Chillies, for example, are normally started from scratch every year, but if looked after carefully healthy plants can survive over winter and enjoy vigorous growth the following year.

Why Do It?
Having crops ready in the winter months help extend the seasons and means that you can still eat home-grown produce even when there is frost on the ground and everyone else is heading to the supermarket. There’s nothing quite like picking and eating your own home-grown sprouts for Christmas day. Being prepared to sow a few hardy varieties of typically spring-sown crops early can also pay off come springtime. This early sowing allows these plants to gain a little bit of height before the weather becomes colder and growth slows right down. Come early spring, when conditions are more favourable, they will spurt forward once again, meaning they will be ready many weeks before their later spring-sown counterparts. This can help extend the seasons and shorten the ‘hungry gap’ – the time when productivity in the edible garden is at its lowest.

How Do You Do It?
The key with overwintered veg is to ensure that by the time the cooler weather comes your plants are large and strong enough to withstand the harsher conditions. For those crops you are hoping to harvest in early spring, you need to ensure that they are not so mature that they start producing crops earlier than they are supposed to – these can be damaged by frost and other winter conditions, which will ruin your plans. Timing your sowings carefully is key.

What Do I Need To Know?
Look at the different requirements for your crops and care for them appropriately. This may mean that you have to be ready with fleece or cloches if it gets too cold. Indoor-sown seedlings should be transplanted outside only when they are robust and strong, and once they have been hardened off properly as buffeting winds and plummeting temperatures will be too much for very young plants. In this way, finding a sheltered spot – or fashioning your own windbreak – is a good way to give crops the best chance of survival. Good drainage is also really important – plants won’t like sitting in cold, freezing water.

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