I’ve never quiet understood why Shakespeare called his play The Winter’s Tale as it’s not particularly set during the winter period. Maybe it’s because it’s not a bellyful of laughs and a sad tale is best told in the winter.
Certainly the weather at present is a sad tale and hardly a bellyful of laughs. To overcome this malaise I thought I would reflect on the successes, and failures, of allotment growing during the winter.
Firstly parsnips. The traditional advice has been to sow parsnip seeds in February and March. I used to do this and always got very patchy germination which I put down to the theory that parsnips are difficult to germinate. Then I switched sowing to mid April when the soil is warmer and dryer (hopefully). Since then I’ve had very good germination rates and the plants quickly catch up with any sown earlier in the year, and I’ve still have many ready to harvest.
Another winter crop which I tend not to follow the recommended sowing dates is leeks. Tradition, and indeed seed packets, tells us to sow leeks from January onwards. I leave it until the beginning of April. I then sow into an old wine box filled with multipurpose and plant out in July, and again they soon catch up on plants sown earlier. One advantage is that not planting out until July allows time for ground to be cleared from earlier crops such as broad beans and early potatoes.
Another crop which I’m still harvesting is celeriac. Is it me or is celeriac the new kale and loved by chefs and health food writers. I’ve noticed it increasingly on restaurant menus recently – particularly salt baked celeriac. I believe the chefy way of cooking it is to bake the peeled celeriac in a crust of eggs whites, flour, salt, and herbs in the oven set at 185 degrees for 45 minutes. It is then served by being cut into segments or, how we recently had in a restaurant, cut into very slim slivers. Is it all worth it, discuss.
Something which didn’t make it well through the winter is sweet potatoes. I grew them in 3 very large pots in the greenhouse. They were fine until the frosts started to have an effect and the tubers became discoloured and started to rot. Obviously in future I’ll harvest them all prior to November. Also the cuttings I took in September for this years crop died down in the greenhouse at home despite the heating thermostat being set at 8 degrees minimum. Oh well, we all live and learn.
Two crops I would recommend growing for winter use are Pak Choi and raab 60 days Broccoli. I sowed both in September in a border in the polytunnel. Neither grow large but do keep going through the winter. When harvested I chop up the whole plant and used it in stir fries, stews, or boil them lightly similar to greens.
Lastly, a crop I’m going to try this year, Oca. We saw it growing in West Dean Gardens near Chichester (well recommended) and thought why not give it a go. Oca is basically a South American potato and grown very similarly. The difference is that they aren’t harvested until November onwards. I bought the tubers from an interesting company called the Real Seed Catalogue which encourages us to keep our own seeds, even giving tips on how to do it. Which seems a policy designed to put themselves out of business. Perhaps it’s all a cunning plan Baldrick.