5 Super-Early Vegetables to Start in Winter


Winter can be a frustrating time for the vegetable grower

with several weeks still to go before the official start to the growing season.

If you're craving fresh home-grown produce, I've got some good news:

many vegetables can be sown by late winter to give a super-early start.

In this video we look at 5 veggies that fit the bill

and share some tips, so that you can enjoy your earliest crop yet.

Peas can germinate at temperatures as low as 39 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius),

which makes them an excellent starting point.

Growing peas for shoots is an easy way to get a fresh hit of flavour within just a few weeks.

The shoots tastes just like peas and are packed full of nutrients.

Pick a vigorous, tall-growing variety to give plenty of leafy growth.

Start the seedlings off in a greenhouse or cold frame,

sowing 2-3 seeds per pot or module cell.

Once the seedings have filled their modules they can be planted out to leave 8in (20cm) between each clump.

Cover the newly-planted shoots with horticultural fleece to help them get going.

Pick little and often by snipping off just above the second set of leaves.

If you don't have a greenhouse or cold frame, you can start seedlings on a sunny windowsill

or, even better, supplement natural light with grow lights

which will prevent seedlings becoming leggy, and promote strong growth.

See our video on using grow lights for more on this.

Many leafy salads such as winter hardy lettuces and endive

can be sown inside a greenhouse or cold frame, or under row covers or cloches.

Sow into modules and grow on before planting out into greenhouse borders or containers,

carefully avoiding root disturbance.

Space plants at least 10in (25cm) apart to give them plenty of room

Pick just a few leaves from each plant at a time to avoid exhausting the plant.

Other early-rising salads include Oriental leaves such as mizuna and mustard,

cilantro (coriander),

corn salad (also known as lamb's lettuce on mache),

and the fleshy leaves of winter purslane, or miner's lettuce.

Starting off cabbage this soon in the season has its advantages.

Slugs are thinner on the ground, and you'll enjoy a cuts of vitamin-rich leaves by early summer -

way ahead of spring-sown cabbages.

As with any early-sown vegetables, choose varieties suited to sowing in the cooler weather.

Sow into modules then plant out once the young plants have established,

usually within about 4-6 weeks.

Plant them 9in or 22cm apart.

Spinach is ready to sow undercover from late winter

as light levels start to improve from their mid-winter low.

Spinach is crammed full of vitamins and iron,

making it a valuable crop for health as well as taste.

Sow directly into containers of potting soil

or into modules or pots for planting out a few weeks later.

Sow 3-4 seeds per module for planting out 6in (15cm) apart

When the plants are growing more vigorously

you can pick a few leaves from each plant at a time, allowing replacement leaves to grow.

This way you will enjoy several harvests from each plant.

Hardy varieties of spring onion, also known as green onions or scallions,

can be sown directly into fertile, well-drained soil.

Sow seeds thinly in rows 6in (15cm) apart.

The seedlings shouldn't need thinning out if they are sown thinly enough.

You can also sow 3 seeds per module

to plant out 3in (7cm) apart in both directions.

Place covers over your spring onions to help them along.

Depending on your local climate and weather, the first stems will be ready by mid-spring,

when most gardeners will only just be starting to think about getting them under way.

In most cases you will need to offer your early risers some form of cold protection,

particularly in snowy regions.

The main priority is to raise the soil temperature high enough for successful germination,

while holding off the worst of frosts.

Greenhouses and tunnels (or hoop houses) trap the heat very efficiently,

making them several degrees warmer, especially on sunny days.

They create a micro-climate that's at least one month ahead.

Cover seedlings with bubble wrap or horticultural fleece to trap daytime heat overnight.

Young plants raised in pots or modules

will need acclimatising to colder temperatures before they are planted outdoors.

Cold frames can make a handy halfway house.

Lift off the lid during the day, then replace at night.

Do this over the course of a week to ready them for planting.

Outdoors, row tunnels, cloches or horticultural fleece

will help to lift the growing temperature enough so that newly planted

or direct-sown vegetables can thrive.

Lay covers over the ground at least 2 weeks beforehand to raise soil temperatures in advance

and reduce sudden cold shock.

Our Garden Planner allows you to draw out a range of season extenders onto your plan.

Simply select the desired object (for example a cloche or row cover) from the selection bar,

drop into position on the plan,

and hold down your mouse to drag it out to the correct size.

The object can be resized or rotated as necessary.

The accompanying Plant List automatically adjusts sowing, planting and harvest dates

to reflect the additional protection this offers.

It doesn't take much to protect plants from hungry pests.

In most cases, starting seedlings undercover will avoid slug and mouse damage.

Make it easier to spot and destroy slugs by picking off any dead or yellowed leaves,

and by keeping the ground between plants free of weeds.

Then check regularly after dark, or lay beer traps to drown them.

If mice become a problem undercover you may need a few strategically placed humane mousetraps,

or talk nicely to the neighbourhood cat.

Outside, birds such as pigeons and sparrows can attack young shoots

such as cabbages and peas.

Don't let them compromise your early start -

set up netting covers if necessary and keep your crops safe.

With a little protection from the cold, there's no reason to wait until spring to start sowing.

Sneak a head start and you could be enjoying fresh produce weeks in advance.

Please share your own experiences of growing super-early vegetables by leaving a comment below,

and with warmer days ahead, why not subscribe to enjoy more great gardening videos.