14 Aug 2018

Autumn sowing for winter leaves and spring flowers

Sowing seeds; autumn winter salad leaves
Time to get organised with some lists!

Sow, Grow, Eat, Repeat is one of my favourite hashtags as it's a reminder that despite the changing seasons, it's possible to carry on growing food throughout the year.  Yes, really. (What? You thought it was all over as the weather turns autumnal?) There are plenty of hardy vegetables that provide me with a good excuse to get outside in the garden, even in the middle of winter.  And what could be better than freshly picked produce brought back into the kitchen with a clear head and rosy cheeks?

In previous years I've always started off purple sprouting broccoli in pots, to be planted out when I pull up the broad beans.  Then, in the summer months, I sow salad onions, swiss chard and kale ... lots and lots of kale as it's one of my favourite and most used vegetables.  I grow both the dark Tuscany kale (Cavolo Nero) and curly kale. All of those veg will stand through the cold weather and fill the so-called 'hungry gap' before next year's broccoli and asparagus kicks in.  The Cavolo growing in the veg patch at the moment is a seedling from last year's crop; it sprouted in autumn, came through the harsh winter as a tiny plant with no protection and was moved to a new spot in spring where it steadily grew. Kales are fantastic all year round and are great in stir fries, soup, pesto, smoothies and as oven baked crisps - in fact, almost anything! (Maybe not ice-cream and cake.)

Confession time: This summer, although I have kale, the heat made me lazy about sowing my other winter veg. Having taken out peas, etc, I now have a bit of space in the veg patch and started to wonder about autumn sowing.

So, while the sky was throwing buckets of the wet stuff at the garden, unable to venture outside, I had a look at the packets in my seed box and made a list of what can be sown in August/September.  There were one or two surprises on the list (below), but I'm guessing that kohl rabi need to be eaten golf ball size and the rest will need protection when the temperatures drop in October/November. These are definitely worth growing, if only just an experimental small row:
  • Kohl Rabi (8 weeks to golf ball size)
  • Coriander 
  • Pak Choi (baby leaf in 30 days)
  • Spring Cabbage
  • Lamb's Lettuce
  • Sorrel
  • Radish
All images © Thompson and Morgan 

I'll definitely be continuing to grow a variety of salad leaves as the alternative is to go shopping - and it's now well known that supermarket leaves stay fresh by being washed in a cocktail of chemicals. Who needs that when you can grow organically and pick an assortment of leaves fresh! The salad leaves that I'll be sowing this month (and in September and October, with cloche protection) are:
  • Spinach 
  • Lettuce (grow in containers, cold greenhouse or under cloche in winter)
  • Oriental salad leaves (ditto)
  • Swiss Chard (seeds widely available, mine from Thompson and Morgan Heritage range)
  • Endive 
  • Wild Rocket 
Wild rocket is a more intense and hardier version of the leaf generally found in supermarket bags and a winter staple in the veg patch, going right through to spring. I didn't grow it last winter though so I don't know if it would have survived the extreme cold we had then but I'm guessing yes, with some horticultural fleece over it. I like to eat it with poached eggs on toast - it's a delicious combination and a favourite breakfast.

Interestingly (well I think so!), a book* that I found in the library recommends sowing Early Nantes carrots in August along with kohl rabi and turnips.  With Nantes being shorter carrots, if thinned to 2" apart and cloched when temperatures fall, there's a good chance of getting an early winter crop. Carrot seeds are best used up so, if space can be found - even in a large pot - it will be worth giving this a try.

*The book is Dorling Kindersley 'Grow Something to Eat Every Day' by Jo Whittingham.
Another excellent book on this topic is 'Winter Vegetables' by Charles Dowding.

So that will take care of the savoury, now what about the sweet?  And by that I mean flowers. 

Just a few of the many flowers that can be sown in autumn! All bee magnets with calendula and violas also being edible.
All images © Thompson and Morgan
Top: Calendula 'Sherbet Fizz', Limnanthes douglasii 'Poached Egg Plant'
Middle: Poppy 'Pink Fizz', Nigella 'Blue Starry Skies', Chicory
Bottom: Cerinthe (honeywort), Viola, Hollyhock 'Creme de Cassis'

Every year I forget that some flower seeds sown now will get off to an earlier start next year. I've already decided that, somehow, I want to make room for more flowers for both cutting and colour next year - and all, of course, to be bee friendly.  I've deliberately left a white foxglove to self seed in the garden and that gives a clue about what else can be sown - basically, anything that's dropping seeds all over the garden now. So, in the veg patch, that's poppies, Cerinthe (honeywort), Eschscholzia (Californian poppies), hollyhocks, honesty, and calendula.  Also on my list is Nigella, Sweet Rocket (if I sow asap!), the umbellifers Daucus carrota and Orlaya grandiflora, Verbascum, Lysimachia, and Viola for edible flowers.

If I can manage all of this it will be a miracle - not least because my balcony shelves are still stuffed with tomato and chilli plants, plus micro leaves and herbs - but onwards and upwards, heh?

What about everyone else ... 
plans to keep growing or looking forward to giving the plot a rest in a couple of months?


  1. Very timely and informative post. Which kohl rabi can be sown this late in the year? Both sorts I am trying (for the first time this year) say March to June. Sometimes the later sowing option is flagged up on the seed packet, but only in the "handy tips" section. I have myself sown three types of spinach outdoors yesterday, and am trialing 5 different corianders. Another strong contender for this time of year is mooli, provided you like eating it.

    1. Hello Mal, thank you, I'm very pleased that you enjoyed the post. I don't think it matters which sort of kohl rabi you sow; at this time of year you're sowing for mini kohl rabi, ping pong ball sized, small and tender. They grow fastest between 64 - 72F (according to renowned veg grower, Joy Larkcom) and should be ready 8 weeks from sowing. It will be a quick crop to squeeze in before winter. Or sow under cover indoors for an early winter crop.
      To quote Joy from her book 'The Salad Garden': Purple is possibly sweeter but more inclined to be fibrous. Normally cooked, it is also grated or sliced into salads; young leaves are also edible."
      Hope this helps! Btw, the book mentioned is a great read for the salad grower! And I've never actually tasted mooli - how do you use yours?

    2. Mooli is an key ingredient in kimchi (which I have yet to make), but we use it most frequently in "Jaipur Slaw" as described by Meera Sodha (Made in India). Essentially it is a big radish available throughout the winter.

    3. Thanks for that info, Mal. That Jaipur Slaw sounds good; I'm a big fan of slaw and even tried remoulade for the first time recently - grated raw celeriac, mustard and creme fraiche dressing, delicious! I've also recently read that mooli is used quite a bit in Japanese food - sounds like it would be worth my while searching out some recipes and giving it a go/grow! Thank you! :)

  2. That's a great reminder to me to look at our seeds for vegetables and flowers. After the main growing season it is easy to forget that there is still time to plant more seeds for Autumn and Winter. Our rocket has survived all year despite the snow! Sarahx

    1. Hi Sarah, Rocket is brilliant, isn't it! I hadn't realised how hardy it was until it kept going through the winter - I guess the best way to learn about plants is by growing them. And, yes, I usually forget about autumn sowing, too busy fretting about summer drawing to a close! :D xx

  3. We have just planted some cabbage and cauliflower for overwinter and some purple sprouting broccoli is waiting to be planted, I intend to sow some hardy annuals in September if I manage it this year.

    1. Hi Sue, I hope that cabbage sown now will do well for me in spring. (Slugs permitting!) Annuals sown in the next 6 weeks for next year should get off to a stronger start (as long as they don't get too leggy this year). For me, the bonus will be that there's less to sow in spring!

  4. You put me to shame! I must get more organized! I love your sowing lists, especially kale, I love it too.xxx

    1. Hi Dina - Surely not! I don't have half the active life that you do, so I'm convinced that you're far more organised than me ... remembering to feed all your animals and adoptees must take a fair bit of organisation!! Kale is an easy one and practically looks after itself if you can find the time to sow some, although it might need protection from the dogs! xx

  5. Fall is my favorite time of the year when it comes to gardening, all the preparation coming together to create something special for next spring!

    1. It's all the fun and anticipation without the rush of spring's seed sowing. My favourite though is tidying the garden, raking up leaves, and admiring the gorgeous autumn colours - all the golds and reds, glorious!


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