Darsham Nurseries Cafe, potager, kitchen garden, vegetables from seed, harvesting vegetables,
The Daily Dibber

Kitchen gardener for the Darsham Nurseries Cafe. Seedaholic. Grower and lover of food and flowers.

The Food Chain

Although I am only just starting to collect daily harvests of courgettes and cucumbers, if you want the homegrown  food chain to continue without a dip in harvests then it’s time to think about planning the Autumn/Winter crops. A winter kitchen garden is a lot trickier to plan than a summer one and for me personally just slightly more of a challenge.

Last winter many customers commented on the fact that they were surprised to see the potager still full of produce and continuing to function as a kitchen garden. I think they expected to see the raised beds full of well-rotted manure and laying empty. Borders had died back, the summer was long over and the combination of speckled radicchios, rich deep purple mustards and kales worked well for the kitchen and made a cracking display.

It will shortly be time to imagine late September when the pickling jars are filling with chillies and the tomato glut will be fermented or whatever our in-house frustrated scientist disguised in kitchen whites decides to try next.

My top tip is to ask the cook. Harvesting in winter is not fun; it is cold, dirty, and muddy and will probably be windy. You may temporarily lose feeling in your fingers, waterproof mascara is necessary (for me…do not feel obliged!) If you are not motivated by the produce then there is absolutely no point growing it.

Last year we had various brassicas, radicchios, chard, artichokes, winter salads, leeks and many different types of mustard.

This year we will repeating these and will have the editions of winter squash, Jerusalem artichokes, kohl rabi, winter radishes, rapini, spigariello, ulloco and uco.

This will be my third winter sowing seeds for a winter harvest, and it is definitely not rocket science, more my perfect way to spend a quiet morning. This reads a bit like a maths lesson but bear with…

So in order to plan for regular harvests during the winter I look at the ‘days to maturity’ and take into account the germination temperatures required and the ideal temperature for maturity and work backwards. For example kale matures in 60 days and germinates above 5 degrees, now if it was July then it would quickly go to seed (yes we have a kale bed right now but it’s ‘Seaweed’ kale…think salty beach towels, damp tents and it’s incredibly beautiful) but in November that process slows right down and they can sit happily in the beds for weeks on end. Christmas-time kale will be sown in the polytunnel in mid-September; it will be at its peak by about the end of November and should be harvested regularly for about 8 weeks. Because we want Kale in November too, a sowing has just been made which should be perfect by mid-October.

Kale and mustard leaves are a winning combination visually. Mustard however matures in 45 days, so this will be sown in mid-September and again in mid-October. This will give us an autumn / winter packed with beautiful rich leaves and pickings of mustard greens.

Radicchio must not mature in the heat or its leaves turn bitter. 65 days are needed but it will not germination in low temperature (unlike kale) so late autumn radicchio needs to be sown twice indoors from mid-August onwards, aiming to plant it in its final position in mid-September and then again in early October.

Spring onion seeds can be sown up to the end of August; fully hardy they will sit quite happily during the winter and will start to swell in the springtime when the rising temperatures give them their secret signal.

Spigariello sown this month will provide a December and maybe a January crop.

Kohl Rabi is fully hardy but needs the warmer weather to ‘swell’ those bulbs so now would be about the right time to sow that last batch.

Chard also takes two months to reach its peak and unlike kale, its growth stops in the depth of winter. The chard that will be hopefully mature and colourful from November onwards will be sown in mid-August. At home, I will be planting these in my borders along with the red mustards to cheer me up on a December morning.

Corn salad takes about sixty days but germinates happily in low temperatures so these seeds will be sown in late September and repeated a month later.

Winter radishes will be sown in August for outdoor growing and then in late September directly into the polytunnel tomato planters as they empty of their last offerings.

I will also plant kale seedlings into the indoor pots that currently have chillies in them; the indoor grown kale was a top performer last year, giving a box a day from Jan until late March when they finally went to seed. It was such a good value crop last winter when it featured almost daily on the menu.

For ornamental interest, if you choose wisely most crops double up. The artichokes in the potager now are big, strong and very handsome. In the depth of winter ‘Cavolo Nero’ and Mustard ‘Red Giant’ are visually just as striking. The feminine delicate mustards leaves of ‘Red Lace’ and ‘Red Frills’ don’t harvest well, as they have a tendency to wilt immediately but they add depth and beauty to the beds. Coloured chards particularly ‘Fantasia Orange’ and ‘Magenta’ literally hum in the autumnal light. Mature grasses will turn golden and become more prominent. Flowers, well there will be rudbeckias, asters and chrysanthemums. The stunning Marigold ‘Harlequin’ , zinnias and cosmos planted out recently may last into November, weather permitting. A real hit last year was the ornamental kale, if we want these to look good in November then back to the calculator… 65 days, therefore early September should be about right. This winter I am intrigued by the new 2016 kales on offer ‘Midnight Sun’ and Buttonhole ‘Starmaker’ are fully edible but visually seem more like an ornamental kale.

A new mini kale 'Starmaker'

A new mini kale ‘Starmaker’

 

'Midnight Sun'

‘Midnight Sun’

So there you have it, it is actually not that difficult, go forward, work backward, job done.

Here is a summary:
Now: First sowing of kale, spigariello, and kohl rabi (hurry). Spring onions can also be sown.

Mid-August: The first sowing of autumn radicchio. The last sowing of chard and spring onions, sow winter radishes outside.

Mid-September: A second sowing of kale, the first sowing of mustard, the second sowing of radicchio, sow ornamental kale, rapini, and corn salad/winter salads.

Mid October: The second sowing of mustard and salads.

Give it a go, it’s highly rewarding both to the eye and to the kitchen.

limegarden@sky.com • 6th July 2016


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