Of course there are plants that will go right through the winter quite happily, and indeed some, like garlic that will need the cold to help it along. Garlic (particularly the hard-neck varieties (they have a tougher stem, and keep better) needs several days of low temperatures to properly set cloves within the bulbs. Therefore you plant them in the autumn and leave them in all through the winter, harvesting in late spring.
It’s also said that parsnips taste better if they’re dug after there has been a frost, they certainly taste sweeter - which I believe is something to do with the cold affecting the sugars in the parsnip.
Leeks and rainbow chard will also go through the winter, as will purple sprouting broccoli and other brassicas. The only problem with leeks and root veg like parsnips is that if it gets too cold for prolonged periods, you can’t get them out of the ground. If the ground freezes you either can’t get a fork in to lift the plants or you risk damaging the crop in the process.
There’s still plenty to do across the plot as we move through the winter months, as crops are harvested, and areas become clear, they need digging, and manure adding in some areas to rot down and provide nutrients for next year’s crops. I like to use green manure as well as the more traditional sources from horse stables. The green manure, is in effect another crop, only rather than eating this one, you leave it to add goodness to the soil, either by digging the plants in before they set seed, or by allowing the action of frosts to rot the plant down for you.
Despite the changing weather there is still plenty to harvest. Courgettes seem to keep on going no matter what, or at least until the frost really sets in. Although some years haven’t been too prolific, there have been years when the glut of fruits has threatened to overwhelm not only my kitchen, but also the kitchens of friends, neighbours and work colleagues, giving the surplus away to anyone who wasn’t able to hide from me first! If you’ve had a glut of courgettes in your own garden this year, there’s a recipe below which you might find as an interesting alternative.
It’s also the time of year when pumpkins are becoming ready to harvest, in addition to potentially using them for Jack-o-lanterns at Halloween, they make a great soup. Apples are also nearing the time for picking. You can tell when they’re ready by simply seeing if their stalks come away easily from the branch that they’re hanging from. If you have to use any force at all then they’re not quite ready and you should leave them for another day, but if they come away in your hand with no effort, then they’re ready to eat or to store in a cool, dry place, to have a supply over the rest of autumn and into winter.
Plant of the month: The humble courgette.
I’ve chosen the courgette as my plant of the month, simply because it gives me a chance to pass on this recipe to those who have problems with too many courgettes, and not enough things to do with them.
Courgette and cheese muffins recipe
Muffin tray (this recipe will make about 10 to 12 muffins, so depending on your tray, adjust the measurements accordingly)
450g self-raising flour
2tsp baking powder
200g courgettes (grated)
Salt and pepper to season
150g cheddar cheese
350ml full-fat milk
2 eggs (beaten)
150ml virgin olive oil (plus a little extra to grease the muffin tray)
2 tbsp rosemary (chopped finely)
Preheated oven to 180°C/350F/Gas 4
- Grease the muffin tray with the spare oil and set to one side.
- Mix the flour, baking powder, courgette salt & pepper, and about two-thirds of the cheese together in a large mixing bowl. Combine well.
- In a separate bowl whisk together the milk, eggs and olive oil. Make sure that the liquid is also well combined. Add the rosemary and mix again.
- Add the liquid to the flour mix, and stir until well combined. You should end up with a fairly stiff mixture, but one that you will be able to spoon / pour into the muffin tray.
- Pour into the muffin tray and bake for about 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the muffins. Return to the oven and bake for a further 10 to 15 minutes until the muffins have risen and are a golden colour.