We always tend to think of winter as this grey colourless season where nothing grows, anxiously waiting for Spring’s warm embrace. Yet, winter holds so much potential, especially in the veggie department where we can still expect a bumper crop. For a culinary twist consider planting some tasty heirloom veggies this year, but more on heirlooms later.
Why we should grow veggies in winter
- No need to water your veggies as much as during summer due to the cooler temperatures.
- Longer harvesting season with leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach and oriental greens.
- Most pests become dormant during winter.
- Weed growth slows down due to cooler temperatures and less rain in most parts of the country.
- Growing veggies will add some extra colour to your garden during winter.
- You can save a significant amount of money by growing your own food. Moreover, nothing that you can buy in a store comes close to the freshness, taste and nutritional value of something you grow yourself.
Best bets for winter veggies
- Lettuce works great with the extra benefit of them taking longer to bolt during winter.
- Radish and beetroot are a must.
- Winter is the best time for any plant in the “Brassica” family of plants; think cabbage, cauliflower and kale.
- Spinach, kale and oriental greens are sure to keep your vitamin C and K count up during the cooler months.
- This is a perfect time for root vegetables such as carrots, onions and garlic.
- Consider planting peas in hanging baskets and pots.
Planting your root vegetables now and waiting to harvest them in spring will guarantee a big, bumper crop, or you can still harvest young if you fancy baby vegetables. Spinach and beetroot give quick yields, so remember to plant them regularly. Some cabbages can take a while (Savoy cabbages) while others give you a quick harvest (Baby cabbage). Getting your beds ready for winter veggies is basically the same as for winter annuals. Remember to feed your Brassicas regularly as they require more nutrients.
What is an heirloom seed?
Although definitions vary, an heirloom is a seed that was handed down from generation to generation. Not only in families, but also between gardeners and/or sold by seed companies. Heirlooms could have developed through natural selection or specific breeding and selection by humans. An heirloom will always be special with specific characteristics, otherwise, the seeds would never have been passed on from year to year and person to person. Some heirloom seed origins can be traced back more than a thousand years, whilst some heirlooms can only be traced back a few decades or so. By definition, an heirloom vegetable seed will always be open pollinated.
Must have heirlooms this winter
Black palm kale
Black palm kale derives its name from the palm tree like appearance that the plant takes on as you start to harvest the leaves. Harvest the larger leaves from the bottom and leave the smaller top leaves to mature. Kale is part of the Brassica family, however, is cooked and eaten like spinach. Many people prefer the taste of kale over spinach. As long as you keep on picking the leaves from the bottom you will get an extended harvest. Kale is very healthy, even more, nutritious than spinach.
There are few variations of this old heirloom. What all of them have in common is that Savoy has frilly leaves and produce large heads. Gourmet chefs prefer savoy for taste whether cooked or used in stir-fries or slaws- the frilly texture adds to the appeal.
Red Grano onion
Red Grano onion has been available for many years in the America’s and has only been introduced in South Africa recently. It is even more dependable than Texas Grano onion. Red Grano is referred to as a short day type onion and thus does better during the shorter days. Red Grano typically germinates much better than other onions and will give you a fantastic crop of onions with an extended shelf live.
Chiogga beet has the most fantastic colour and does not bleed when cooked. This medium sized beet dates back centuries and originated in Italy. Beetroot does well in composted soil and does not ask for much more. Turnaround on harvesting is normally between 65 and 75 days depending on conditions. You can cook the leaves like spinach as an added bonus.
This just goes to show you can grow your own tasty veggies, Heirloom or otherwise, even during winter. Time to give food prices a ‘beeting’ this winter!