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Charles Dowding 08/04/2017

Chapter 5

What to grow for winter

Planning a plot, with times of sowing and harvest


Deciding what to grow

Although there are many reasons for growing one vegetable and not another, the main factor which should influence your decision is taste. Do you enjoy eating brussels sprouts, swedes and parsnips? If not, grow something else.

However, I do recommend trying just a few of the vegetables you have not liked before because it may be that, when well grown and freshly harvested fresh and nicely prepared, they taste better than you remember.

Also it helps to be clear about which vegetables need to be stored and which ones are hardy enough to stay in the soil for picking as needed. For most parts of Britain, November is a key month when many harvests need to be made and vegetables stored, before the more severe winter frosts arrive. In the table below, the column ‘harvest period’ gives this information, and I also include a number to indicate frost hardiness.

BOX Frozen vegetables Potatoes are destroyed by any freezing at all, yet can be stored for a long time in a cool but frost free environment. On the other hand, onions and garlic tolerate being frozen and store best when dry - part 5 has much more information on this.

The vegetables most likely to grace your plot in winter are brussels sprouts, savoy cabbage, corn salad, kale, leaf beet, leek, parsnip, rhubarb, spinach and swede. Any of them can be harvested as needed. Salads are worth attempting but require protection for best results and this is covered in part 6.

Also in this table I give an estimation of how easy it is to grow each vegetable, or not. I would emphasise that some harvests are really quite difficult to achieve and beginners may do better to grow the low numbered vegetables in their first year. Have a look also at the column for giving an idea of how much time is needed, some of which is picking as well as growing time.


Vegetables outdoors

                       Spacing cm    Difficult?1-5 Time needed?1-3  Sow/plant           Seed to harvest            Harvest period+  Frost hardy  

                 average distance    easy=1 less time=1   Sow outdoors   Weeks to mature                           most = 5


Beans (dry)               30               3              2            May-Jun                 18-20                  Sep-Oct           1

Beetroot                    15               2              2            Jun-Jul                    10 -18                 Oct-Nov          3

Brussels Sprout         60               4              2            Apr-May                 25-45                  Oct-Apr          4

Cabbage winter         50               3              1            May-Jun                 25-42                  Dec-Mar         3-5

Cabbage spring         30               3              2             Aug                        30-40                  Apr-Jun           5

Carrot                     10-15             3              3            Jun-Jul                   14-20                  Oct-Nov          3  

Cauliflower spring    50               5              1            Aug                         30-38                 Apr-May          2

Celeriac*                   40               4              2            Apr                          26-38                 Oct-Dec          3

Chicory, forcing        30               2              3           May-Jun                   26-40                 Dec-Apr          5

Endive, chicory leaf  25               1              3            Jul-Aug                      6-43                Sep-May         3

Garlic                        15               1              2           p Oct                            38                     Jul                 5

Kale                          45                2              3            May-Jul                   16-46                 Sep-Apr          4

Leaf beet                   30               1               3            Jul                           10-42                 Jun-May         3-4

Leek, winter              20               2               2            Apr                          33-52                Nov-Apr         3-5

Lettuce leaves           20               2               3             Jul                            8-40                 Sep-Jun           2

Onion bulb            15-20              2               2      s/p Mar-Apr                     22                   Jul-Aug           5

Onion salad                8                2               3             Aug                         28-40                Apr-May         5

Oriental leaves      10-25              2               3            Jul-Sep                     6-30                 Nov-Apr          3

Parsnip                      15               3               1           Mar-Apr                   26-52                 Oct-Apr          5

Potato maincrop        45               2               2           Apr-May                   20-26                Aug-Oct          1

Radicchio                  30               3               2            Jul                            12-22                Sep-Dec          2

Rhubarb                   120               1              2         p Mar-Nov                1 year                  Apr-Jul            4

Shallot                        20              2               2           Feb-Apr                    16-26                   Jul                5

Spinach, true              15               3              3            Aug                           5-39                 Sep-May         4

Squash winter           120              3               2           May                          20-26               Sep-Oct            1

Swede                        30               2               1           Jun                          20-40                 Oct-Mar           5

Turnip winter         15-20              1               1          Jul-Aug                    10-17                Oct-Apr           3


+Note that the harvest period is shorter than time of use for vegetables which store

*  indoor sowing gives best results


A calendar to guide you

I set out in the chart below a monthly indication of which vegetables to sow, plant and harvest. Every month has something to do, especially if you grow a wide range.

My suggestions for month of sowing are mostly flexible in spring, so you can sow parsnips and leeks in May, but results are best when these dates are followed, especially in July and August when the proximity of autumn means a rapid loss of growing time.


Winter vegetables month by month






Celeriac*, onion, parsnip

Onion, potato

Artichoke, brussels, cabbage, kale, lambs lettuce, land cress, leek, parsnip, swede, turnip, winter purslane


Brussels sprout, leek, parsnip, squash*

Onion, potato

Artichoke, cabbage, kale, lambs lettuce, land cress, leek, parsnip, sorrel, spinach, swede, winter purslane


Brussels sprout, cabbage, chicory, kale, leek, sprouting, beans*

Celeriac, squash

Cabbage, lettuce, salad onion, sorrel, spinach, pea shoots


Beans, beetroot, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, kale, sprouting, swede

Brussels, cabbage, celeriac, chicory, kale. leek, sprouting

Broad bean, cabbage, lettuce, pea shoots, salad onion, sorrel, spinach


Carrot, chard, chicory, chinese cabbage, leaf beet, sorrel

Beetroot, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, leek, sprouting, swede


August 1

Chicory, endive, land cress, oriental leaves, rocket, sorrel, turnip, winter purslane

Chard, chicory, chinese cabbage,  leaf beet, sorrel

Onion, potato

August 2

Cabbage, lambs lettuce, land cress, lettuce, oriental leaves, salad onion, spinach, winter purslane

Chicory, endive, land cress, oriental leaves, rocket, sorrel, winter purslane



Lambs lettuce, oriental leaves, salad onion, green manures

Cabbage, land cress, lettuce, oriental leaves, salad onion, spinach, winter purslane

Potato, beans (dry)


Broad bean


Beans, carrot, squash


Broad bean


Beetroot, carrot, celeriac, chicory, chinese cabbage, endive, turnip




Artichoke, beetroot, brussels, cabbage, celeriac, chicory, kale, lambs lettuce, land cress, leek, parsnip, swede, turnip, winter purslane




Artichoke, brussels, cabbage, kale, lambs lettuce, land cress, leek, parsnip, swede, turnip, winter purslane




Artichoke, brussels, cabbage, kale, lambs lettuce, land cress, leek, parsnip, swede, turnip, winter purslane


* sow indoors for best results


Main season and second crop vegetables

Vegetables mature at vastly different speeds. I find it helps to divide them into main and second crops, where the main crops need most time to grow, and second crops can be sown or planted later in summer after another vegetable has already been grown in that soil (see below).

Some vegetables fall into both categories: leeks and kale can be planted earlier or later, depending how large you want them to grow and when you want a harvest.


Main season vegetables for winter

The main ones are brussels sprouts, celeriac, parsnip, maincrop potato and winter squash. They all need to be in place between March and early June, so there is little time to grow anything before them. Bulb onions are normally grown as a single crop but their harvest time in early August actually allows time for a second vegetable, for example turnips can be sown or endives planted.

Most whole season plants require plenty of room to grow, so I would hesitate before planting brussels sprouts, maincrop potato and winter squash in a small space. You can check this by comparing the above tables column of average distance with the size of your beds and plot. The figure is a blend of row and plant spacings: exact distances depend on whether you grow in wide rows with room for walking between, or on beds with closer and more equal spacings.


Winter vegetables as second crops

There are many possible combinations of first and second crops and the list below gives some of the many choices. I recommend that you plan ahead, to be prepared with plants or seeds, because second crops need every bit of time in their part-seasons growing, to reach a worthwhile size before winter.

More success with second cropping comes when you propagate or buy plants, which can even be planted on the same day as a previous harvest is finished. So when the last carrots of a spring sowing are pulled, the bed is cleared of any weeds, the soil or compost firmed if it has become loose from harvesting the carrots, and the next crop of leeks, kale, autumn salads or whatever is then planted straightaway.

Second crops sometimes require a little extra compost, depending how much you applied the previous autumn or winter. I usually find that my autumn dressing is sufficient, with some lingering remains of dark humus on the surface through summer, but if it has all been taken in by worms and if I have some good compost to hand, I like to spread a centimetre or so (half inch), preferably before the second planting - or it can be spread afterwards, around the new plants.


FIRST VEGETABLE                                 SECOND VEGETABLE

Beans, runner or climbing french          Garlic

Beetroot sown indoors in March            Lettuce, endives, chicories, swede, kale   

Beetroot sown outdoors in April             Turnip, oriental leaves

Broad bean sown November                 Leeks from plants sown in April, kale

Broad bean sown March/April               Oriental leaves

Cabbage (spring) overwintered             Leeks as above, or potatoes, many possible

Calabrese sown indoors March             Lettuce, endive, chicories, corn salad      

Carrot sown late March/April                 Leeks  

Dwarf (french) beans                             Spring cabbage, corn salad                   

Lettuce sown indoors February             Purple sprouting, winter cabbage, swede

Lettuce sown outdoors April                  Kale, oriental leaves, turnip

Onions sown March, planted April         Kale, winter radish, land cress  

Peas sown late March/April                   Beetroot, carrots, salads

Potato early                                           Carrots, leeks, purple sprouting, swede

Potato second early                               Oriental leaves

Spinach sown March/April                     Many possible, even celeriac



An example

Here is a seasons cropping I did in 2008 for one undug bed of 1.4x2.5m (5x8), to give an idea of how to use a space fully and for most of the time. In this case, the winter vegetables were harvested by late November and stored.

This bed received a surface dressing of 5cm (2) of home made compost in December Frost then opened up any lumps in the compost and it was raked to a medium tilth, not especially fine.

I planted and sowed in rows across the beds. There were ten rows of early vegetables until July, followed by five rows of larger growing second crops until November. Here is a plan for the whole season, and the timings. Where plants were used, they were raised in modules in my greenhouse



First sowings and plantings all in March, under fleece

Sow two rows parsnip Gladiator F1, intersown with one row radish French Breakfast,

Sow two rows spinach Tarpy F1, then May plant one row celeriac Prinz

Plant three rows leaf lettuce then July plant one row red cabbage Red Flare F1

Plant two rows bulb onion Sturon then August plant one row each endive Plantation and chicory Marzatica

Plant one row early potatoes Swift then July plant one row swede Helenor



  • Mid March sow radish with parsnips between radish. Late March plant onion sets, early potato tubers and lettuce
  • Late April-May harvest radish, spinach, lettuce leaves, plant celeriac by late May
  • June harvest more lettuce and early potatoes
  • July plant swede (from sowing mid June); harvest onions; remove flowering lettuce and plant red cabbage
  • August plant endive and radicchio by mid month
  • October and/or November, depending on frost, harvest red cabbage, endives, radicchio, celeriac
  • October onwards harvest parsnip and swede



Of the winter vegetables which interest us here, the harvests were as follows. I also mention the following years harvests to emphasise how they can vary!

Onions, only 0.9kg because of mildew. Compared with 6kg in 2009, for various reasons (see chapter )

Red cabbage, 2.6kg hearts from four plants (0.2kg in 2009)

Celeriac 2.5kg from four plants (4.3kg in 2009)

Parsnip 6kg (9.7kg in 2009)

Swede 3.3kg (not grown in 2009, carrots 0.8kg)

The beds harvest of winter vegetables was 15.3kg and its total yield over the season was 27.2kg. In 2009 the same bed yielded 18.4kg of winter vegetables and 30.1kg altogether, reflecting a difference in weather and also in crop choices.


Vegetable rotation

Rotation means growing the same crop in a different place each year, a sound idea, but its application has become dogmatic, with a divergence between principles and practice. It needs thinking through for a result that is most suited to each garden and plot.

For instance, most advice on rotation assumes that one vegetable crop is grown every year. In fact it is possible and also desirable, as discussed above, to grow a second crop wherever an opportunity arises, making a four year rotation impossible to practice, as one would then need to regularly eat vegetables from six or seven groups or families.

This leads to the other problem with fixed rotations: the allocation of rigid areas for groups of vegetables one quarter potatoes, one quarter brassicas etc - when few people want to consume those proportions of food.

In smaller gardens especially, it makes more sense to start off by deciding what you like to eat, then to work out an approximate rotation based on groupings of plant families. I say approximate because a few plants or sowings may fail and need replacing, sometimes with different ones, depending on what is available.

Vegetable familiesa botanic distinction, not ‘roots’ or ‘salads- are the basis of rotation, with the aim of keeping a reasonable period of time between each growing of them. This is to prevent the pests and diseases which are specific to each family from establishing in any quantity.

Dont worry if your rotation is not classically correct, I know that mine is not, but it is worth respecting the guidelines as far as possible, for better soil and plant health.

Become familiar with this list of family groupings, then use it to make some rough plans of what you might grow where, also of subsequent sowings and plantings. The table includes summer as well as winter vegetables, with commonly used names in brackets at the end of some groups.


PLANT FAMILIES all vegetables

Apiaceae/Umbelliferae: bulb (florence) fennel, carrot, celery, celeriac, chervil, coriander, dill, mitsuba, parsley, parsnip, sweet cicely (Umbellifers)

Asteraceae/Compositae: globe and jerusalem artichoke, cardoon, chicory, endive, lettuce, salsify, scorzonera, sunflower, tansy, tarragon (Compositae)

Brassicaceae/Cruciferae: broccoli, brussels sprout, cabbage, calabrese, chinese cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, land cress, mibuna, mizuna, mustard, pak choi, radish, rape, rocket, seakale, swede, tatsoi, turnip, watercress (Brassicas)

Chenopodiaceae: beetroot, chard, leaf beet, orache, spinach (Beets)

Cucurbitaceae: courgette, cucumber, gherkin, melon, pumpkin, squash, watermelon (Cucurbits)

Fabaceae/Leguminosae: asparagus pea, broad bean, french bean, pea, runner bean (Legumes)

Lamiaceae/Labiatae: basil, chinese artichoke, marjoram, mint, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme

Liliaceae: asparagus, chives, garlic, leek, onion, salad onion, shallots (Alliums)

Malvaceae: okra

Poaceae/Graminae: sweet corn

Polygonaceae: rhubarb, sorrel

Portulacaceae:  summer purslane

Rosaceae: salad burnet

Solanaceae: aubergine, capsicum (sweet pepper and chilli), physalis, potato, tomato (Solanums)

Valerianaceae: corn salad


Notice how salad plants come from many different families, so if you wish to grow only salad it is possible to devise a rotation of sorts, around groups of brassicas, compositae, umbellifers, legumes, the odd allium and other smaller groups.

Do also bear in mind that rotation is a principle as much as a rule, and is most practical in larger plots.

          BOX If you have only one small bed, it is bound to have mixed plant families at different stages of a season. A healthy variety of different plants from many families is a good way of achieving some balance of pest and predator, and lowers the risk of suffering damage from any one disease.


Winter vegetables in containers

Containers are less suitable for winter vegetables than for summer ones, because of the one-off nature of so many winter harvests. This means a lot of effort and compost for relatively little return, compared to salad leaves or tomatoes.

Also there is the question of frost and whether containers will stand their compost being frozen and expanded, as well as how the vegetables will survive.

The vegetables I recommend for containers in winter are mostly salads such as land cress, endives, mustards and spinach, also herbs such as chervil and coriander. Container salads indoors are probably the most worthwhile vegetable to grow see pX.

Vegetable wise, Red Russian kale is well adapted to containers, being more compact than other varieties, and it has pretty leaves. Salad onions are compact and can be sown as late as September, or planted in October after summer crops have finished; they wont be ready until April - right in the middle of the hungry gap when you will bless every one.

Garlic can be planted in containers to grow through winter while, for example, winter salads are cropping. After they flower in early May the garlic can finish growing strongly, having spent much of the winter putting down some strong roots.

At the end of winter I recommend top dressing containers with a layer of well rotted manure or compost, right up to the top, to replenish their nutrient status and rooting area. Or you can empty containers onto beds and borders, then fill with new multipurpose compost.


In shaded gardens

Vegetables like plenty of light to grow, but shaded plots can still be reasonably productive. Trees and hedges take a lot of moisture as well as light, but at least this aspect is less of a problem in winter, with more growth happening under deciduous trees in winter and spring than in summer. However, if there was an evergreen tree close to my vegetable plot, I would surely bring out the saw, and plant a rose instead.


Herbs for winter

Many herbs are encouragingly winter hardy and one or two offer a surprising amount of new growth in any milder spells. Three which stand out are parsley, coriander and chervil, all members of the umbellifer family.

Perennials such as sage, rosemary and thyme keep some leaves in usable condition, but must not be over-picked. In late winter there is a reassuring burst of growth from established clumps of chives and sorrel.

How to grow and harvest these herbs is explained under the monthly sections of parts 3 and 4, also in part 6 because it is really worthwhile to have some biennial herbs undercover, to make more of their ability to grow for many months in low levels of light.


Charles Dowding Mar 8, 4:10 PM

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Jan 11/08/2017

Thank you so much for your knowledgable advice. I shall print out this page and hang it up in my greenhouse for future reference! My husband has just created some fantastic raised beds for me to grow my veg, so I shall experiment with some winter crops. By the way, would your passata machine be suitable for juicing apples for cider??

admin 11/08/2017

Hello there Jan and thanks for the compliment but I never wrote this one!! Charles is the guru of salad leaves though all said so I do bow to his authority on the subject. Interesting idea but I would say no on the passata machine for making cider. The thing is that the 'seive' (passata comes from the verb 'passare' to pass through) is large enough to allow the pulp of the tomatoes through but not the pips and skin but of course a tomato is riper, softer, even a hardish one. That said, I am going to trial it on my pear tree and see if it will work to make perry with if I then seive it afterwards in a finer seive to get just the juice. THey are great for raspberries, kiwi with skin on, soft fruits, even peeled citrus..... and of course they major at tomatoes. My grocer knows me and he'll say 'I've got a tray of tomatoes, their ripe!" meaning of course that he couldn't sell them, but that is fine, I pay half and I make passata! Regards Paolo

David Aldred 31/07/2017

Wow! That's quite a comprehensive set of lists and advice. Pretty-much a whole book's worth! Thank you! I'd better get out and do some gardening now.

admin 11/08/2017

Just shout if you have any questions!!

John Devereaux 02/02/2018

Thanks, this helps. I will use your seedling transplant methods this year for beets, onions and spring onions plus spinach. We had a terrible drought here about 3 years ago and now the soil is getting plenty of wet weather. I am Irish and live in Poland so you can imagine I like wet weather.