By Shinead Cooke
It may be the middle of summer (although the wierd weather patterns make it feel more like autumn!) but now is the time to think about your winter crop of vegetables. Planning ahead and planting now will ensure that you have an abundance of delicious, fresh and healthy homegrown veg...I can't think of anything better.
I have included some of my favourite winter veggies below and will continue to give a run down of the best crops to grow at the best times of the year as we head further into 2011!
Homegrown carrots are deliciously sweet, tender and bursting with flavour and they are one of the most satisfying vegetables to grow. In winter, they can be eaten with any meal: you can roast them, boil them, add them to stir fries or whip up a delicious carrot and coriander soup or carrot cake so they are incredibly versatile. And as they as jam packed with beta carotene and vitamins, you will reap the benefits of your crop!
It is best to grow carrots from seed so plant the seeds directly into the ground as they do not tend to transplant well. You may be able to find some varieties that you can plant all year round, but otherwise, February is a good time to plant in time for winter. Choose a spot with good drainage in full sun and be sure to dig over the soil well before you plant the seeds. Water them well in hot months and ensure that you thin out your carrots to allow larger ones to grow.
I think one of the best things about winter is parsnips...I adore them! They are one of my favourite vegetables and can be used in many of the same dishes and recipes as carrots, providing a delicious sweetness and a wonderful texture.
They can only be grown from seed and there are a number of varieties available so it is just a case of picking your favourite. Like carrots, they need good drained soil that has been dug over and is in full sun, so you could perhaps plant them together. Once you have planted the seeds, a great tip is to pour boiling water over the seeds to break the seed coat and encourage growth. Do not harvest your parsnips until there has been about 2 weeks of frost or near freezing temperatures as this will give a wonderful sweet taste.
Rhubarb makes the most amazing winter desserts. I can think of nothing better than a bittersweet rhubarb crumble served with whipped cream on a cold winter's night by the fire. So this is definitely something you want to ensure is in your winter harvest!
Rhubarb loves well drained soil in the full sun and you will need to add lots of organic matter if you have sandy soil. Rhubarb is hardy and will survive colder climates and cold winters and you can either grow it from seed or from splitting existing plants. Be sure to plant and germinate the seeds first before you plant them out in the soil and also watch for any flower heads that grow as these will need to be removed immediately. Keep the rhubarb well watered in dry spells but be sure they don't get 'wet feet' as they hate this! And harvest when the stalks are thick enough for you to use.